Forest Service cabins provide rural getaway

Courtesy photo The Sheep Mountain Fire Outlook provides a one-of-a-kind view of the Bighorn National Forest. The outlook is one of three extremely popular rental cabins provided by the U.S. Forest Service in the national forest.

SHERIDAN — The Sheep Mountain Fire Outlook has one set of bunk beds and one vault toilet. There is no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity.

For eight months of the year, the cabin is inaccessible and buried in snowpack. During the four months it is open, it isn’t uncommon to see uninvited tourists climbing the catwalk and interrupting the cabin tenants’ privacy to take in the gorgeous view.

And yet, the cabin has been booked out for six months now, according to Brian Boden, natural resource specialist with the Powder River Ranger District of the Bighorn National Forest.

“All of our cabins are super popular locations, the Sheep Mountain Lookout especially,” Boden said. “These cabins become available six months in advance, and there are many people who sit at their computers at midnight to get the days they want. I myself cannot plan six months in advance for anything, but there are many who schedule their entire personal lives around staying in one of our cabins.”

For many, what is offered at the cabins far outweighs the lack of other amenities, Boden said. The cabins provide a chance to inhabit pieces of forest service history, surrounded only by four sturdy walls, a sound roof and stunning vistas.

The U.S. Forest Service currently rents out three cabins in the Powder River Ranger District, with the hopes to bring other cabins online as time and resources allow, Boden said. Each cabin represents a unique piece of the forest service’s history.  

Constructed in 1950 by the Civilian Conservation Corps atop Sheep Mountain, the lookout was historically occupied as a fire lookout until the early 1970s.

The Pole Creek Cabin, located within the Pole Creek Cross Country Ski Area trail system, was built in the mid-1950s by the E-La-Ka-Wee Boy Scout troop for a summer camp retreat. In the early 1990s, the cabin was refurbished and used as a winter snowmobile and ski warming hut. 

Muddy Guard Cabin dates back to the late 1930s and was originally used as a Forest Service guard station.

Pole Creek and Muddy Guard are rented out year-round for $35 and $40 a night, respectively. The Sheep Mountain lookout is available from June 15 to Oct. 20 for a rate of $50 a night.

Boden said the forest service is generally hands-off in regards to its cabins, performing a week of maintenance at the beginning of the season and only visiting on occasion throughout the season to drop off freshly cut firewood. The forest service rarely interacts with the tenants renting the properties.

In return for their privacy, the tenants take care of these historic buildings during their stay. The cases of abuse of the properties — a kicked-in door at Muddy Guard, for example — are rare. More common are cases of people going above and beyond to care for the properties, as when one visitor fashioned a homemade snow shovel from a log so tenants could shovel near one of the cabins.

 “As far as I’ve heard, people have been really good and respectful of the buildings,” said Sara Evans Kirol, Bighorn National Forest public affairs officer. “There has been very little neglect or misconduct.”

“Everybody is so respectful, and they take a lot of extra time to clean for the next tenants,” Boden said. “As someone who deals with rentals in my personal life, I only wish I could get people to behave like they do in the mountains. But I think everybody realizes these are pretty special facilities and they need to be taken care of.”

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