Rhein Lake Cabin overlooks a large, pristine lake with great paddling and decent fishing for rainbow trout in the forest of Nancy Lake State Recreation Area near Willow. This handsome (brand-new in 2018) log cabin offers something special in a vast park known for its backcountry outposts:
You can drive right to the back door in summer!
Located about Mile 5 of the Nancy Lake Parkway, the 16-by-20 blond-wood cabin perches on a high spot about 120 yards up a dirt road from the lake trailhead. State parks plans to make the facility fully handicapped accessible. For now (spring 2018), the site still has a work-in-progress aura, with a regular pit toilet and only one wheelchair ramp to the back door. (No ramp to the deck.) But for users who don’t need special accommodations—and don’t mind the lack of new vegetation close to the structure—it is already one of the nicest and most accessible PUCs in the state. Easy to supply, and easy to visit.
A fully appointed PUC
For a postcard view of Rhein Lake (“Rhein” rhymes with “Mine,”) the cabin features an 8-foot-deep, north-facing deck that receives early and late sunlight. Like Bald Lake Cabin, the Rhein Lake Cabin offers a “best of both worlds” recreational vibe. It’s far enough from the road to mute traffic noise, yet close enough that you can quickly drive out to explore or fish other lakes along the parkway. The surrounding forest is dense and almost primeval, yet the site feels less like a “rustic” backcountry cabin and more like a lakeside cottage. In winter, the park’s maintained ski trail loop passes along the lakeshore in front of the cabin, giving great access to the park’s non-motorized northern zone. The summer canoe-landing lies less 200 yards down the driveway and access trail, both smooth enough to use a boat cart. No dock, but you’ll find a stable launch between stumps on the shore. Other people use the same trailhead to visit Rhein Lake for paddling or fishing—often families with kids—but the activity remains low key and does not approach the cabin.
With space for 8, the cabin offers two separate sleeping areas with a modicum of privacy (great for parents with kids!) One double and one single bunk are downstairs, with space for five up a stairway in an airy half loft. (Yes—Rhein’s loft has a stairway instead of a ladder!) The interior features a barrel wood stove with a spot for a pot, large and small tables with benches, broom and dustpan, a cooking shelf, and plenty of storage space. The windows have screens, and the locking doors feel solid and secure. Outside, a roof overhang lends the deck some rain protection. A picnic table, fire ring and outhouse complete the scene. Owing to its pioneer status, Rhein Cabin is currently surrounded by gobs of dead and downed trees, providing an exceptionally rich source of firewood for those who bring a camp saw. Water can be hauled from the lake, but must be purified.
The lake—inside the park’s non-motorized zone—is closed to aircraft, motorboats and snowmachines. However, during winter, cabin users can drive snowmachines from the parkway directly to the cabin over the access driveway. Not beyond!
What can you do at Rhein Lake Cabin?
- Spend a long summer day paddling its wild, heavily wooded shoreline. Or take the “pioneer” canoe trail north to Suncrest and Sunbeam lakes on the recreation area’s little visited northern frontier.
- With your vehicle parked at hand, you can easily explore other trails and lakes along the Nancy Lake Parkway. Less than a half-mile walk to the canoe trailhead and pike fishing of Tanaina Lake.
- Sit on the deck and watch for wildlife. Thrushes, woodpeckers, bald eagles can be seen or heard. Beavers swim the lake, and moose frequent the woods.
- Go paddling! The launch site is a short walk down from the cabin. A canoe stashed near the lake can be rented from Tippecanoe Rentals at 907-355-6687 or the rental shack at South Rolly Lake campground.
- Go fishing! State biologists stock Rhein Lake regularly with rainbow trout, and fishing with light tackle can be productive. For best results, work the shoreline from a canoe or kayak.
- Go exploring! The winter trail system circling the lake is often muddy or flooded during summer, making it a bit of a slog in places. But if you are up for it, the well-flagged route will deliver you into untouched forest that feels remote.
- Ski the loop! In winter, park rangers pack a 5-kilometer trail loop that passes right in front of the cabin, making Rhein Lake Cabin a great basecamp for cross-country skiing. It connects to other maintained ski trails, creating a grand tour almost 10 miles long.
- Use Rhein Lake as a first-night stop for a multi-day snow-season expedition to cabins on Red Shirt Lake.