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Vacationing Forest Service Style

The Ponderosa Pine serves as Montana’s state tree, and there’s no better way to discover these trees than with a visit to one of Montana’s many pristine forests. Forests are scattered throughout every region of Montana, offering plenty of outdoor recreation as well as a unique lodging option. Unbeknownst to many visitors, the U.S. Forest Service in Montana rents out cabins and lookout stations for a nominal fee. These cabins are available throughout the Treasure State, but one of the most popular rests southwest of Bozeman in the Gallatin Canyon.

Garnet Mountain Lookout Station provides unparalleled panoramic views of the Gallatin Range, Spanish Peaks, and other distant mountains and forests. The lookout cabin is available year-round and can accommodate up to four people for just $30.00 per night. Reservations are recommended well in advance (as Montana residents are very aware of the Forest Service’s best-kept secret)!

To access the cabin during summer, travel south on Highway 191 to the Squaw Creek Road. The cabin lies 3.5 miles up the Garnet Mountain Lookout Trail, and guests must hike or bike to the cabin. During winter, visitors should park near the Squaw Creek Ranger Station and snowmobile, ski, or snowshoe 10 miles to the cabin via the Squaw Creek and Rat Lake Roads. Avalanches plague the Garnet Mountain Lookout Trail, so visitors are highly discouraged from taking this path to the cabin during winter.

In general, permits for all of Montana’s Forest Service cabins are granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and visitors must limit their stay to 14 days or less. Permits, as well as maps and access directions, are available from the Ranger District governing the area where the cabin of your choice is located. Visitors should keep in mind that these cabins are primitive and are generally equipped with a table, chairs, bunk beds, and a wood stove. Guests must bring their own bedding and should be prepared to treat their water from outside sources. Electricity is generally not available, and at times, guests may have to cut their own firewood.

Although the cabins certainly are not a four-star retreat, they do offer a unique means of experiencing Montana’s beautiful outdoors year-round. On your next trip to Montana, consider taking a step up from tent camping with a Forest Service style vacation!

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