Recreation Residences (“Government Leases”)
Recreation Residences are cabins located on National Forest land throughout the country. The cabins are part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Recreation Residential Program, started nearly 100 years ago to encourage use of what was then the fledgling national forest system. The cabins themselves are privately owned by individuals, while the land on which they sit is owned by the American public under Forest Service management. Cabin owners receive a special use permit to occupy forest land for a period of up to 20 years with an option to renew at the end of that period. As recreation residence permit holders, cabin owners partner with the Forest Service in stewardship of these historic resources. It is their responsibility to maintain the natural and historic character of the structures, improvements, and land around them.
Many people mistakenly refer to recreation residences as “Government Lease Cabins” – they do not operate under a lease, but a special use permit. The permit does not convey any interest in real property, but permits the permittee to maintain the cabin on National Forest land. The cabins are considered personal property rather than deeded property.
The classic “cabin in the woods” …for less
There are about 450 recreational residences in the Big Bear area. These cabins are popular because of their rustic charm, secluded forest setting, and spectacular views. They are also relatively inexpensive compared to cabins where you own the land.
Rules, Regulations and Restrictions
These cabins are not available for rent to the general public
They are privately owned and their special use permits prevent them from being rented except with prior approval.
The Forest Service does not permit full-time occupancy of the cabins
The lots were originally designated in the early 1900’s to acquaint the public with the recreational opportunities of the National Forest and were originally referred to as “summer homes”. Access roads are generally narrow and winding, conforming to the natural terrain and are maintained by permittees.
Maintenance and Improvements
The management of the tracts on which the cabins rest is designed to maintain the forest environment. There are certain restrictions and requirements to uphold. For example, paint colors allowed on cabin exteriors must blend with the surrounding forest environment. Changes may be made to the cabins, as long as the general historic character of the structures is maintained. Modern building materials may not be used, such as vinyl windows and siding or composite decking. It is the responsibility of the cabin owner to keep the cabin neat, in good repair, and in compliance with Forest Service regulations and all local, county, state, and federal codes and laws.
Purchasing a Recreation Residence
The Forest Service does not sell these cabins. Most sales are handled by local Realtors. Buyers must meet with the Forest Service prior to the close of escrow to go over the terms and conditions of the special use permit.
Since the land is not owned by the individual, lenders will not loan on these purchases. Cash and owner-financed transactions are typical.
As personal property, the cabins are subject to annual personal property tax (possessory interest tax).
There is an annual land use fee charged by the government. The fee is based on the land value on which the cabin sits. Fees are based on lot appraisals and vary from $800 to $7000 annually.
Danny DiNardo says
Where are these cabins located? I may be interested in “purchasing” one.
They are located in various places on US Forest Service land surrounding Big Bear Lake. Many are located at the south shore in the Boulder Bay area and also along the north shore in the Fawnskin area.
Robert McKenzie says
I have had a cabin on the north side since 2008. Great community in the Minnelusa Canyon area. When I signed the permit paperwork it specifically had a 2 week minimum occupancy per year but no maximum occupancy. I asked the ranger to clarify and she agreed with the wording, plus the 14 day minimum can be spread out in 1 day stays throughout the year and it seems to be there to encourage maintaining a livable state of the cabin. And yes we can stay there every day of the year but we are required to have another place we could go stay should the forest service need to close the area for whatever reason. It is considered a 2nd home.
Thanks for your input, Robert!
Terri Hubert says
I am seeing that there is a rule about not living in these homes full time? What is the rule about how many days you can live in a recreational residence if you own one?
You are correct that the Forest Service does not permit full-time occupancy of these cabins, but they do not specify a number of days that the property may or may not be occupied. Owners of these cabins must have a full-time residence elsewhere. These cabins were originally meant to be used as “summer cabins”; some are inaccessible in the winter due to snow and unmaintained roads.
Debbie Bryan says
Does the owner pay annual property taxes and the the annual lease fee? Any examples of these fees for an average cabin would be helpful.
The owner pays annual possessory interest tax, but not property taxes. The cost is similar, and may be a little less. The owner also pays the annual lease fee which is typically around $1800, but could be much higher i.e., $5,300, depending on location.
Thank you for the details.
What does “incidental rental” mean in the permit contact? How does that relate to short term vacation rentals … are they ever allowed?
These cabins are not available for rent to the general public – they are privately owned, and in fact, their special use permits prevent them from being rented except with prior approval, or used for other commercial purposes. For more information, please contact the Big Bear Ranger Station (909) 382-2790, the Lytle Creek Ranger Station (909) 382-2851, or the San Jacinto Ranger Station (909) 382-2921.
Wendy Arnett says
How do you find out what might be available now and how much? My family had one for years. I would love to have it back. Soo many childhood memories
Hi Wendy, We are happy to assist you. One of agents will be in contact with you shortly. Thanks!
Mark Carlson says
Hi! Interested in Forest service land lease cabins with Lakeshore access. Sure they don’t come up too often but please contact me if one does.!
Brian Kelly says
Hi, I too am interested in the U.S. Forest Service’s Recreation Residential Program in the Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead areas. Open to what may be available, if anything. 😉 Thanks, Brian
I am also interested in looking into the RRP. My grandparents owned a cabin and would to see if it’s available or what else might be in the general area. They lived off of Mill Creek Road in Big Bear.
Hi, I too am interested in the U.S. Forest Service’s Recreation Residential Program in the Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead areas.