ANCHORAGE (AP) -- In late December, while others scurried about taking care of last-minute holiday shopping, Mark and Leslie Kroloff watched the calendar for another reason. They knew they had to if they wanted to be on a Prince William Sound beach the last week of June.
And on Dec. 21, exactly six months before their planned trip, one got on the phone while the other was on the computer to reserve a public-use cabin in the Sound. A day -- or perhaps just hours later -- and they might have missed out. Competition for many of the cabins is that stiff.
If you're contemplating a leisurely weekend at a U.S. Forest Service, state park, or National Park Service cabin this summer, now is the time to act. In fact, you may be too late to get the cabin of your choice for Memorial Day weekend. But you'll be near the front of the line for July Fourth.
Most public-use cabins in Alaska can be reserved six months in advance. So between late November and February veteran cabin users work the computer and phone lines to be first in line for their favorite cabins.
''For the high-profile cabins, like Byers Lake No. 2 in Denali State Park or the Resurrection and Kachemak Bay cabins, we have lines,'' said Wyn Menefee, a public information officer with the state Department of Natural Resources. ''But there's no competition for a lot of them, like the Nancy Lake cabins.
''Byers Lake Two is so popular because it is the cabin with a view of Mount McKinley, it's a little bigger and because it's right on the road system,'' he said. ''So both tourists and locals want to use it.''
''The Kachemak Bay cabins? People just love it over there in the summer,'' he added. ''They really are ideal. They have lots of trails, so you can hike, plus you get the coastal experience of going across the bay.''
More than 100 public-use cabins dot Alaska's backcountry. Rental varies from $25 to $50 a night. Reservations are made on a first-come, first-serve basis with reservations taken up to six months in advance. The cabins sleep four to eight and are rugged, usually offering bunks with no mattresses, a cooking area but no stove, and a wood stove -- but you have to gather or haul in your own wood. Many have an outhouse nearby.
''It's a nice way to go with the kids,'' Leslie Kroloff said.
''We consider this indoor camping,'' Menefee said. ''These are not B&Bs. They are not luxury suites. They are rustic.'' While some of the cabins are more than 20 years old, during the past couple of years the state parks division has built a half dozen cabins, including one at Bald Lake and two in Thumb's Cove in Resurrection Bay.
Snagging a cabin for a special weekend means knowing how to work the systems. Most public-use cabins in Alaska are managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service.
For state park cabins, log on to the state's Web site. There you will find for each cabin a photograph, description and a calendar laid out six months in advance. If a day has an X through it, the cabin is taken. If not, it's available.
You can then print out a reservation form and mail in your check -- or go to a state Department of Natural Resources office.
Mail-in applications are treated like they were the first applicant to walk in the door the date the cabin becomes available for rental, according to Menefee. Mail-in applications can be sent a week in advance of a requested rental date, but not sooner. Menefee said the state hopes to be able to accept credit-card reservations on its Web site soon.
State park cabins at Eklutna Lake, Kachemak Bay and near Seward are the most popular, Menefee said.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains the popular cabins along Resurrection Trail and many in Prince William Sound. A private company handles the reservation system. Some consider it more cumbersome than the state system, although online credit card reservations are accepted.
When you log on to the reservation Web site, descriptions of all the Forest Service cabins are available. Currently, there isn't a calendar showing what days have already been taken, so you have to plug in your dates and wait for the system to tell you if the dates are available.
That may change, said Mona Spargo, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service in Anchorage. In the meantime, some users get the cabin information from the Web site then call the toll-free phone number to make reservations.
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