Colorado Mountain Cabins for Sale--How to Buy a Mountain Cabin

September 14, 2022

How to find the right mountain cabin with National Forest access

Colorado Mountain Cabins for Sale—How to Find and Buy a Mountain Cabin


By Gary Hubbell, ALC

Accredited Land Consultant

Broker/Auctioneer, United Country Colorado Brokers


When it’s hot in the city, traffic is backed up, and the annoyances of living with too many other people become overbearing, it’s time to go to the mountains and spend a week or two in a quiet mountain cabin, right? Who doesn’t have that dream?


We are Colorado mountain cabin experts—we know where and how to find a cabin property


The dream of buying a mountain cabin retreat is an attainable dream. Such a property may be more affordable than you might think. At United Country Colorado Brokers, we have sold cabins and mountain getaway retreats all over the state, and we know which areas have a good selection of mountain cabin properties. We are mountain cabin experts.


Year-round access or seasonal access to your mountain cabin—can I live there year-round?


Many people think they can live on a mountain cabin property all year long, but the reality is that this is a questionable idea. It has to do with road access. In some areas such as Granby, Grand Lake, Creede, Lake City, and Durango, many cabin properties will have year-round access via maintained county roads. In other words, the county comes and plows the snow off the roads in the winter. In other areas such as Gunnison, Montrose, Cedaredge, McClure Pass, and Pitkin, many cabin properties are accessible by vehicle only in the late spring, summer, and fall, and can be accessed in the winter only by snowmobile or tracked vehicle. Some people say, “Well, I can just plow the road into the property. It’s only two miles. I don’t mind.” Yes, but there are a couple things you haven’t thought of. First, a road must have an adequate “borrow ditch” and drainage system to handle several feet of snow mounded into the ditch; and second, any neighbors up there are going to be hopping mad about your snowplowing idea because they like to snowmobile into their properties. Thirdly, what about early winter, when the snow is too deep to drive in and not deep enough to snowmobile, and same with the spring, when the snow is half melted and half drifted, and if you try to drive the road, you’ll leave ruts a foot deep. No. The property will not be accessible year-round, no matter how hard you try.


Mountain cabin subdivisions comprise much of the mountain cabin inventory


For many people, the word “subdivision” doesn’t match with “mountain cabin” because that’s exactly what they want to get away from—rules, regulations, and people nitpicking each other. True enough. But that is what comprises a great deal of the mountain cabin inventory. Years ago, ranchers patented large swaths of mountain land from the Stock Grazing Act of 1914. This is land that wasn’t suitable for farming or year-round living, so the land sat unclaimed in the Homestead Act. The US Government allowed these lands to be patented for summer grazing, and many thousands of acres were snapped up. The only catch was that the government retained the mineral rights for coal, oil, and natural gas. Over time, the ranching business model became less and less profitable, so ranchers sold these large acreages with their aspen groves, mountain views, and often very good hunting. Developers bought the acreages, divided them into 35 or 40-acre parcels (it is a use by right in Colorado that you can subdivide any property into parcels 35 acres or larger), and sold them to mountain cabin buyers. Yes indeed, there are HOA regulations as with practically any subdivision, but usually the rules are pretty reasonable and oriented to common goals such as enjoying a mountain hunting or recreation cabin. Some of these communities have a central lodge, restaurant, and even such amenities as trout ponds and riding stables. HOWEVER, we have sold two cabins in one subdivision where the HOA regs are so restrictive that 90% of the buyers wouldn’t even go view the property, no matter how nice, after they have read the HOA regs. For example, they don’t allow horseback riding on the subdivision roads and no one can cut a live tree without permission from the HOA board. No target shooting. No rifle big game hunting, archery only. That cuts out a huge percentage of the buyer pool.


Road maintenance, fencing, and other common areas often subsidized by summer grazing


Just because the property is now a cabin subdivision doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable for summer grazing, and many of these subdivisions lease the property to local ranchers for cattle grazing, which provides a source of income for maintaining gravel roads, culverts, drainage, fencing, and other necessary expenditures for the properties. So if you have an aversion to cattle, you’d better ask first if there will be any grazing. In fact, grazing helps greatly with fire mitigation, so it's my suggestion that you should embrace the idea. But there could be cows roaming your 35 acres without your express permission, and that’s part of buying a mountain cabin property in many areas. In Cathedral Peaks, a large mountain cabin development near Crawford, Colorado, the private lands comprise over 4,000 acres, and each property owner is allowed to hunt on all the other properties. Owners are restricted to a 5-acre building envelope on their individual 40-acre properties and others may access the other 35 acres anytime they want. Hunting is generally good, and this subdivision also has access onto public lands for more hunting access.


Access to National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, and other public lands


Many mountain cabin communities are located so that they border National Forest and BLM lands, offering excellent access for hunting, fishing, horseback riding, ATV riding, hiking, and exploring. Often there is an easement through these properties offering excellent access for all the homeowners into the National Forest. Other cabin properties do not have direct access to public lands, so if you’re searching for a mountain cabin, this is an important question to ask. Beware of unscrupulous real estate agents who will verbally promise direct access to public lands; make them actually prove it in writing. Often they can’t. The ability to access public lands from the cabin site adds significant value to a cabin property.


Electricity, plumbing, heat, water supply—mountain cabins have different sources and supply


Okay, so you want to get back to nature and live off the land? Nothing does that for you like chopping your own firewood and hauling water, which may be the it is in your mountain cabin. You may also end up doing your business in the outhouse in the back yard, too. It is actually somewhat rare for our mountain cabin listings to be hooked up to the electrical grid. It’s just too far and too expensive to bring in power. However, propane lanterns work just fine, and many people don’t know that propane refrigerators work great, too. Solar systems with battery backup are very efficient, and many mountain cabins have a backup generator powered by propane, gasoline, or diesel fuel. (I like propane generators the best—they run clean and quiet). This requires thought and preparation. You may end up loading a 100-pound propane tank in the truck before heading up to the cabin for the weekend. Domestic water is often supplied by a mountain spring flowing into a cistern. Sometimes there is no water and you have to haul it in. There may be problems with frozen or broken water lines, cows getting into the spring and muddying the water, elk using the spring for a wallow, porcupines chewing up your electrical lines—you can run into unanticipated challenges. Most cabins are on septic systems, which usually function well, but also have their own maintenance issues. Mountain cabins have maintenance concerns, particularly with freezing water lines, and it’s critical to keep an eye on the water supply to make sure lines don’t freeze.


Mountain cabins can be a good income generating property investment


Realistically, how many days or weeks a year will you spend at your mountain cabin? Two? Three? A month? That leaves a lot of time that the cabin will be vacant. Why not rent it out? Many people are willing to pay good money to rent your cabin for a long weekend, a week, or even longer. Hunting season rentals are particularly sought-after. There are logistical challenges with changing the sheets and cleaning the units, but the proceeds can be excellent and can significantly defray the cost of ownership. Often there is a local person who is willing to do the change-over for a generous cleaning fee. If this is your goal, check with county governments and any HOA’s prior to embarking on this plan, because it may be prohibited.


Where can I find a mountain cabin? What’s a good place to start looking?


That’s a good question, but we have answers. We’ve sold several cabins near Horse Creek and Aspen Hills north of Cedaredge; Cathedral Peaks near Crawford; Buckhorn Road east of Montrose; Silverjack Reservoir near Montrose; Pitkin, east of Gunnison; McClure Pass, between Carbondale and Paonia; Hubbard Park north of Paonia; the Granby and Grand Lake area, near Winter Park (many of these cabins are much older, built in the 1940’s and 1950’s); Vallecito Reservoir, northeast of Durango; Forbes Park, east of Alamosa; South Fork, Creede, and Lake City, south of Gunnison; Marble and Redstone (many of these cabins have year-round access and power); Divide Creek and Mamm Creek south of Silt; Main Elk Creek and East Elk Creek north of New Castle; Vega Reservoir east of Collbran and Grand Junction; and the Taylor River and Almont area between Gunnison and Crested Butte. Of course, there are many other areas state-wide, but those are places where we have listed and sold cabin properties.


Listing and selling mountain cabin properties—it’s not “regular real estate”!


Our team is very familiar with mountain cabins and how to list and sell them. If you are a seller, there are several things to keep in mind. First, many of these cabin communities are behind a locked gate and it’s not possible to just give a potential buyer the gate key or the code to drive in and view your cabin from the road, as you can do with a home in suburbia. Each showing must be accompanied by a licensed agent. Secondly, it takes a lot of time to show just one cabin! Several of our cabin listings are a couple of hours from town. One showing might take 6-8 hours round trip. Buyers might be looking across a wide geographic area and it could take a buyer’s agent several days, lots of time, and a lot of gasoline to help a seller find the right property. Thirdly, it often takes specialized equipment to access a mountain cabin. We have sold several cabin properties using snowmobiles in the winter, and our side-by-side Polaris General is often put into service to access and show remote mountain cabins. We have made a substantial investment to be ready to serve these properties, which not many agents can match. Fourth, selling specialty properties like this takes specialty marketing programs that are far outside the typical platforms. In order to reach the right buyer pool, platforms such as United Country’s stand-alone “log homes and cabins for sale” website are critical for a seller’s success. Lastly, this extra effort and marketing requires a higher commission rate. We will sell your cabin at top dollar, netting you more than the average “house mouse” agent, and we accordingly charge a higher commission. Be prepared for that.


At United Country Colorado Brokers, we are mountain cabin experts!


Our agents and brokers at UC Colorado Brokers know mountain cabin properties. We have a dynamic young crew and they love to get into the backcountry! Loren Williams, who is also a hunting guide and outfitter, is very familiar with northwest Colorado, from Craig to Steamboat, Douglas Pass, Rifle, and New Castle. Scott Reece, who is an accomplished archery hunter, is very familiar with Glenwood Springs, Rifle, New Castle, Silt, Basalt, and Carbondale. Jake Hubbell, ALC, has sold more cabins than any other agent in our office, with sales in Pitkin, Gunnison, Saguache, McClure Pass, and other places I’ve forgotten. Spencer Jordan and Dan Vigeant are knowledgeable about Gunnison, Crested Butte, Almont, Hotchkiss, Carbondale, Redstone, and Marble. Gary Hubbell, an Accredited Land Consultant, has sold cabins all over Colorado and Utah, with several dozen cabin sales.