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Gifford Pinchot National Forest's brand-new Peterson cabin, available to reserve later this summer.

Want to rent a cabin in a cozy Pacific Northwest cabin? Now is the time—while the sun’s still hot—to book that woodsy winter getaway. And be forewarned: just like all that downhill you're dreaming of, renting cabins in our public parks and forests can be a very competitive sport.

“You can’t book more than six months in advance,” warns Robin Rose, the recreation program manager for Gifford Pinchot National Forest. “If you have a date in mind, back up six months and mark your calendar.”

Scenario: let's say you want to book a cabin for January 12. By Rose's calculations, you'd set a reminder on your phone to reserve it bright and early on July 12, when the date will become available to book. Not the forecasting type? Says Rose: “You can sometimes reserve a weekend in the winter less than six months out, but people that really love cabins are thinking ahead.”

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Gov. Mineral Springs Cabin in winter. https://www.flickr.com/photos/musguy/

Keep in mind, however, that those cabin-renting super-planners stay active all year. For example, in Gifford Pinchot, the Gov. Mineral Springs cabin is fully booked for the summer apart from a few weekdays here and there. Last we checked, pockets of availability only begin to reappear come mid-September.

(Want to really up your game? While booking your winter 2018 cabin this summer, also set a calendar reminder to reserve next summer's getaway right about the time you leave for your snowy escape.)

What to Look For

Gifford Pinchot currently has just one cabin—Gov. Mineral Springs—available to rent. But come late summer and the replacement cabin for the Peterson Prairie Guard Station, which burned down five years ago, should become available to rent. There will also be an additional cabin and a lookout that will go online in summer 2018. Situated high on Red Mountain, the lookout will offer 360-degree views of three peaks: Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens. Rose suggests following the park on Facebook for updates on these new rental opportunities.

Looking beyond Gifford? The Forest Service offers more than 75 cabin and lookout rentals across the Pacific Northwest; Oregon State Parks and Washington State Parks offer additional options. Rose names the Crescent Lake Guard Station in the Deschutes National Forest as her favorite cabin getaway. “It hasn’t fully been discovered yet, so there’s lots of availability. It’s got five stars in my book,” she says.

What to Bring

  • Water for drinking and washing.
  • Linens, pillows, and sleeping bags for the beds. Bring warm blankets as the cabins are not well insulated and can get cold at night.
  • Cooler for food and drinks as not all cabins have refrigerators.
  • Specialty cookware for making a unique dish. The kitchens are stocked with the usual pots, pans, plates, and silverware, but you may need to bring specialty items like a pizza pan.
  • Flashlights for nighttime navigation. There is an outhouse near each cabin, so you may want to bring a flashlight for finding the facilities in the dark.
  • Games for fun. Most cabins have cards and puzzles that have been donated, but you may want to bring some family favorite games as well.
  • Snowshoes, skis, or snowmobile for getting to the cabin in the winter (November–April). Most cabins have a mile or two trek in the snow from your car. 

Most cabins have propane for lights and heat. If the cabin has a fireplace, there should be firewood on property.

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