When I was young and knew everything, I thought camping in a war-surplus tent was just ducky. I don't know much anymore, but I do know that cabins are more comfortable than tents.
Much as I'd like to, I'll never forget a deer hunt on Montague Island during a rainstorm of biblical proportions. It would've been grim in a tent, but we stayed warm and dry in our cabin while the clouds unloaded and the wind howled and shrieked through the long night. Another time, on a fly-out fishing trip in the Interior, mosquitoes would've drained us dry if we hadn't taken sanctuary in a cabin.
Public-use cabins, maintained by state and federal landlords, can be found in most parts of Alaska. For a reasonable daily fee, you can be comfortable in a wilderness setting, with great fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities available at your doorstep. Most cabins are accessible only by boat or airplane, and some can be reached by trail. Almost all can be reserved in advance.
Alaska State Parks offers 60 cabins, located from the Ketchikan area to the Fairbanks area. Access ranges from "drive-up" to "boat or float plane." On Shuyak Island in the Kodiak Archipelago, there are four 12-by-20-foot cedar cabins at waters edge, each on its own protected saltwater bay in old-growth Sitka spruce forest. The cabins sleep eight, large enough for a family. The Eagle's Nest cabin, the most popular of the four, is located between two salmon streams, and trails lead to both streams.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has 13 reservable cabins and two others that are on a "first come, first served" basis. The refuge's 14-by-18-foot Caribou Island cabin is on Tustamena Lake in a Wilderness Area. More than 100 years old, it was built by hunters and trappers. Access is by boat from Kasilof River Landing, or by float plane, ski plane, skiing or snowmobile.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains 40 cabins in the Chugach National Forest in Southcentral Alaska, and 150 more in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast.
On Kodiak Island, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge offers nine public-use cabins, all in remote parts of the island. Some are located in good hunting areas.
Near Seward, the Kenai Fjords National Park maintains cabins in Ailik Bay and Holgate Arm. Both locations are spectacularly scenic.
Some cabins are popular during fishing and hunting seasons, so it's a good idea to reserve your cabin as soon as possible.
The downside of cabins is that they take some of the "fun" out of camping. You're deprived of the surprise of waking up with your air mattress floating because you pitched your tent on a Prince William Sound beach during a series of extreme tides. You won't get to enjoy an onslaught of flies and mosquitoes. If a bear comes sniffing around your cabin, you probably won't even know it.
Not that tent camping is all bad. With the gear available nowadays, it's easier and more comfortable than ever. If you're young, it's just ducky.
As for me, cabins are looking better and better.
For information about public-use cabins and reservations, visit: http://alaskacenters.gov/
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.