How to Book Your Dream Public Cabin in Alaska, Even if You’re a Late Start
Summer is heading to Alaska, and so is the tantalizing promise of weekends spent enjoying the state’s bountiful wilderness.
But perhaps the realization that summer is approaching prompts a troubling thought: You forgot to book a public-use cabin for a weekend, and now all the popular cabins are booked.
Do not lose hope. According to experts, it’s still possible to find a place at rustic cabin rentals run by a patchwork of agencies across the state — you may need to get creative and stay flexible.
“There will definitely always be something available,” said Wendy Sailors, development specialist with the state Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. “It might not be exactly that one, unless you’re planning seven months, unfortunately.”
Here are some tips for hanging a cabin for public use, even if you are late to the game.
Be flexible with dates and locations
“The more flexible people are, the better,” said Erin Kirkland, Alaska State Parks Ambassador.
Kirkland recommended looking beyond the usual choices and instead watching all cabins and use them as a way to see other parts of the state.
“Go into the repertoire of these cabins and use it as a vehicle to try a new place in Alaska,” she said.
Kirkland couldn’t find any local cabins herself one summer. This is how she discovered the Big Delta State Historic Park north of Delta Junction, where she stayed in a cute log cabin with electricity that was still on the state highway system.
“I just recommend people to think a bit outside of the public-use cabin,” she said.
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She also suggested taking time out and trying a midweek cabin instead of a popular summer weekend. According to Sailors, some places like Chugach State Park Cabins and Lake Eklutna Cabins can be hit or miss: They book on weekends, but usually have weekday availability.
Look for hidden gems
Mary Kate Repetski, a National Park Service ranger and former senior manager of the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, said park service cabins tend to be on the “adventurous side of the spectrum,” but highlighted a few that are still quite accessible.
She noted two fairly accessible and bookable cabins in Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve (there are 14 in the park that can be stolen or hiked). Both Viking Lodge Cabin and the Caribou Creek Cabin are located off Nabesna Road. Viking Lodge is 400 meters away on foot, while Caribou Creek is 5 km away. Both huts can only be booked by contacting the park directly. Plus, unlike most public-use cabins, they’re free.
Since the cabins aren’t listed on reservation websites like Recreation.gov or Reserveamerica.com, they might not be on everyone’s radar, she said.
It’s also important not to lose hope on a favorite cabin, even when approaching a sunny summer weekend, as some people may cancel at the last minute.
“I’m just going to go to Recreation.gov, plug in a weekend and see what’s available,” Repetski said.
Repetski said she’s been able to land some great stays due to cancellations. She once booked the uber-popular Callisto Canyon Cabin near Seward on a sunny weekend in late May.
She also recommended a Facebook page, Cabin Cancellations in Alaskawhere people post about canceling their cabin reservation, often just a day or two in advance.
Think about other seasons
Many public-use cabins stay open year-round, which means thinking about fall, winter, and next spring might be another way to score a prime cabin.
Some super popular cabins, like the K’esugi Ken cabins, are booked most of the year. But grayer seasons, like October and now, might have some availability, Sailors said.
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Repetski suggested the Willow Public Hut, only available in winter. This is a 7 mile trek on foot or on skis in Kenai Fjords National Park. The hut has gas, a hut keeper supplies it with water and there are even cooking utensils to prepare breakfast. If the forecast is good, there is the possibility of observing the Northern Lights.
Similar to the Wrangell cabins, it can only be booked by contacting the park directly and is not listed on booking sites meaning people may not be as aware of it.
More Ways to Enjoy the “Public Use Cabin Lifestyle”
There are a large number of cabins in Alaska. Although getting a cabin for public use can be a “little cut-throat”, other options like Airbnbs are also available.
“There are definitely Airbnbs out there that don’t have electricity or running water,” Repetski said. “So if people want to get into the public-use cabin lifestyle, that could be a way too.”
Mark your calendar for next summer
Some cabins are reserved several months in advance, as soon as reservations open.
This means that the most popular state-run cabins go fast, like Callisto Canyon and Derby Cove cabins near Seward, K’esugi Ken cabins near Parks Highway, Sailors said with the state Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
“That’s really where the struggle is,” Sailors said.
Some people are planners, Sailors said, whether it’s because they have big families, visitors or for other reasons. People who don’t plan, or who can’t because of their circumstances, are the ones who get upset when they can’t get the cabins when they want them, Sailors said.
So consider this your reminder to set a reminder: reservations for the 93 state-run public-use cabins open exactly seven months before the reservation date.
Where to start
• Cabin reservations are also available through the Alaska Cabin Association.
• The Wrangell-St. Elias cabin reservations are available here.
• ADA accessible public use booths can be found here.