Forest service cabins

Trip takeaway:

A watched pot never boils; a tiny pot for melting snow never fills a camelback.


My friend, Camille, called and asked if we had ever rented a forest service cabin.  We hadn’t, so we decided we should probably do it the next weekend.  We scoured the list of cabins on the USDA Forest Service website only to find that renting them is a lot more popular activity than we expected.  Most of them were booked but we did find one available, the Racetrack cabin.  Turns out it’s only $20 a night plus a $10 registration fee.  Pretty good deal.

The forest service sent me an email with the combination and directions to the cabin.  They also called me to see if I had any questions which I thought was nice.

The website said we should be prepared to hike or ski up to 11 miles to the cabin.  My husband, Nate, drove up there ahead of time to see how far we’d be able to make it in our car.  He guessed it would be about 9 miles of Nordic skiing.  I had to rent cross-country ski equipment; Nate and Camille had their own.


We were doing a short, one night trip.  We packed bagels, trail mix, and granola bars for lunch, a box of just-add-water rice and beans for dinner, instant oatmeal for breakfast Sunday, and more trail mix and granola bars to snack on our way out.  We had our jet boil and 2 liters of water each.  With snow on the ground, we figured it’d be easy to refill on water so we left our filter at home.

We brought our dog, Cedar, whom we have doggy pack for but we decided not to bring it.  She’s short-haired (bull terrier mix) and we wanted to bring her coat – yes, coat, I know how wussy that makes her sound, but she get’s cold.  So to avoid having too many doggy accessories to juggle, we just carried Cedar’s food.

As for clothes, I wore most of my layers and in my pack simply carried one shirt to sleep in, an extra pair of leggings, an extra pair of socks, and light fleece pants.  At night, we all hung our sweaty clothes by the wood burning stove to dry and re-wore them on the way out.  It adds a lot of weight but we each brought a pair of shoes to wear at the cabin, and in case our trail got too steep to ski up (the backup plan was to stash the x-c ski supplies in the forest and use them after we get back to that point on our way out).

Beyond that, all we had were our sleeping bags, basic toiletries, camping cups, utensils, and first aid supplies.  Oh, and I threw in four airplane bottles of liquor.

The Journey:

It was a beautiful day.  We left our house at about 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, met Camille in Deer lodge at about 9:00 a.m.  She hopped in with us because we figured if we get stuck, it’s better to deal with one vehicle than two.   After picking up lattes for the ladies and a short 20 more minute drive, we were at the pullout we thought we could leave our car without getting stuck.  We layered up, put on our x-c boots, closed up our packs, and we were on our way.

January 17, 2015

January 17, 2015

We arrived to Racetrack campground surprisingly fast.  We knew from the directions mailed to us that once we got to the campground, it was only 5 and a half more miles to the cabin.  My guess is, we only skied 2-3 miles to the campground so it was good news we would only have to ski 8 miles total that day.

The path was surprisingly easy going thanks to a few snowmobilers who paved the way for us.  Also, it was a fairly mild grade with nice rolling hills most of the way.  We really lucked out.  There was one very steep section we took off the skis and walked up but that was it.  The top of that hill also turned out to be a great place to stop and eat lunch.

IMG_2801Quiet, sunny, warm, it was a great day for the trip.  It went by fast and before I knew it, we were at the bridge.  That was a moment of celebration since we knew that meant we only had a half mile left and we were all feeling it by then. Except Cedar who was acting like she could easily do another 8 miles.  The cabin was close to a historical post office that we opted not to see because our legs were pretty tired.  Well, Camille and I knew we weren’t going to go the extra mile, Nate had a moment of unrealistic optimism where he thought he’d go after warming up.  He never went.

The cabin was adorable.  One room, a wood burning stove, 6 bunks, and a table.  I got the fire going then we all hung our clothes up and curled up by the fire with some hot chocolate that was left (to our immense joy) in the cabin by a kind soul.  Cedar also enjoyed the fire.

Racetrack, cabin

Racetrack, cabin

Now, there’s always at least one thing that ends up problematic on all of our adventures.  This time, it was lacking a proper pot to boil water in.  On the forest service website, it had said there were minimal cooking utensils but that there was a cooking pot at the cabin.  The website didn’t lie, and in fact there were two pots.  However, they were tiny.  I’m talking maybe a liter between the two.  So we’d go outside, fill them up with snow, put them on the wood burning stove, wait for them to boil, take them outside to cool, then dump the cup of water into one of our water bottles.  Refilling our water for the next day was an all night task.  We used the Jetboil to cook our rice and beans in and then put that on the melting snow task as well.  At least we had a deck of cards and some whiskey on the snow (whiskey slush as we called it) to keep us busy while we spent hours getting clean water.

My rental ski boots turned out to be too small so I woke up to blisters on my heals.  I took ibuprofen and called it good.  We had instant oatmeal for breakfast then packed up, cleaned the cabin and we were off (Nate wanted to make it to Deer Lodge in time for the Packer game).  Sunday was even warmer than Saturday so most of our layers were tied to our packs.  The way out went by fast!  We had to have made it out an hour or so faster than we took to get there.  Of course it was downhill this time so that probably helped.  At the half way point, it started raining turning our semi-groomed trail to slush so we didn’t waste any time getting out of there.  By the time we got out we were all soaked but in high spirits, having completed our trip and ready for the big game.

IMG_2822 IMG_2833

To do:

Buy a big pot to donate to that cabin and drive it there sometime in the summer.


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