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Nearly all of Southeast Alaska, stretching 500 miles from Ketchikan to Yakutat, is in Tongass National Forest. The towns sit in small pockets of private land surrounded by 17 million acres of land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service -- an area nearly as large as the state of Maine, and considerably larger than any other national forest or national park in the United States. The majority of this land has never been logged, and the rate of logging has dropped dramatically in recent years, preserving one of the world's great temperate rainforests in its virgin state. It's an intact ecosystem full of wildlife, and mostly free of human development. Indeed, you quickly forget it is the Tongass National Forest. Since it always surrounds you when you're in this region, it's simply the land.

Forest Service Cabins

One of the best ways to get into the Southeast's wilderness is by staying at one of the scores of remote Forest Service Public Recreation Cabins. These are simple cabins without electricity or running water where you can lay your sleeping bag on a bunk and sit by a warm woodstove out of the rain. You need to bring everything with you, as if camping, but it's a good deal more comfortable than a tent. Do your research, pack carefully (take all the essentials, but little more), and spend at least 3 nights to make all the effort pay off with real relaxation.

Getting Cabin Information

For complete information on cabins, check the Tongass website (www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass) or contact the visitor centers and ranger offices listed with each town section in this chapter. The main contact point for recreation information for the whole forest is the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, 50 Main St., Ketchikan, AK 99901 (tel. 907/228-6220).

You'll need a good map to figure out where the cabins are, and an idea of how to get there and how much travel will cost -- generally, the cost of transportation will be many times larger than the cabin rental fee of $25 to $45 a night. Few cabins can be reached without a boat or aircraft, and for all but large groups, flying is the most economical way to go. A flight service can help you choose a cabin according to your interests and how far you can afford to fly.

Reserving a Cabin or Campsite

The cabins and some campgrounds are reserved through a national system. When you're ready to book, the easiest way is to use www.recreation.gov, where you can check availability dates at various places. By telephone, contact the National Recreation Reservations Service at tel. 877/444-6777 or 518/885-3639.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.