Recreational Residences

What Is A Recreation Residence?

Back in the early 1900's, the Forest Service Recreation Residence program started to give private citizens the opportunity to own a single-family cabin in designated areas on the National Forests. They are commonly called "summer homes" or "recreation cabins".

These privately owned cabins (improvements) are located within formally established "tracts" on "lots" designated for that purpose and are authorized and administered under the terms and conditions of a special use authorization (SUA) called a permit. The individual owns the improvements but not the land. The permittee pays an annual rental fee as directed by the 2014 Cabin Fee Act..

To review a sample Term Special Use Permit for Recreation Residences.

Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • 15,570 recreation residences occupy National Forest System lands throughout the country.
  • 6,314 are in the Pacific Southwest region (California).
  • 975 are on the Eldorado National Forest.

Historic Residences

Depending on the historic nature of your cabin you may not be able to use the convenient modern windows or siding for example. You need to replace items in-kind to preserve the historic integrity.

Sale of a Cabin

Permit holders who wish to sell their improvements must contact your district Special Use Administrator.   Form, FS-2700-3a is required to begin the reissuance process. Part I, is the relinquishment and the permit holders signature is required.  Part II, is the application for the purchaser to complete.  It is important that an Eldorado NF representative be involved early on in the process, to ensure all regulations and requirements are met. The Forest Service does not handle the sale of recreation residences, nor does it keep track of those that are for sale.  This information is best obtained from a local real estate office.

Note: In 2024, the Transfer Fee was $1,412.00 (check with special use administrator for current fee).

Permit Re-Issuance

The last term permits were issued in 2005. Permit holders must be in compliance with the terms and conditions of their current term permit. Those permittees not in compliance either due to maintenance issues or missing documents will be issued an annual permit until the issues have been resolved and a new term permits can be issued. If you have any questions please call your district Special Use Administrator.

Maintenance and Repairs

An objective for a recreation residence tract is to give the impression of a forest having a few cabins - rather than a subdivision with a few trees. The dominant character of the tract must therefore be the forest environment, not human improvements. The residences and lots should be cared for to retain the tract's visual and historic character.

Permit holders are required to keep their cabins maintained and be in compliance with the terms and conditions of their permit.

Any changes to the cabin need to be authorized by the Special Use Administrator for that district; including paint color, roof replacements, etc. Unless it is light maintenance; such as, painting or replacing a few boards, the County will most likely require a permit. Keep an up-to-date Operation and Maintenance Plan on file at your local district office.

Remember that the season is usually short for handling repairs. Since your district Special Use Administrator must approve many of the repairs and projects, notify him or her ahead of time.

Typical Maintenance Items: fire clearances need to be maintained, structures kept in good repair with natural looking materials and colors, vehicles parked in appropriate places, no junk left around, etc. A bright colored roof, deck, or exterior paint would not be considered appropriate.

  • TIP: reds, yellows, blues, whites will not be likely candidates for approval. Darker forest type colors like; browns, greens, etc. will work much better.

Information about the terms of use, maintenance, or reconstruction of a cabin may be found in chapter 40 of the Forest Service Handbook​.

New Construction or Reconstruction - Plans

Whether you are planning to repair your septic system, re-roof the building, or fix your deck, you need to have a plan and talk to the your Special Use Permit Administrator.

  1. The special use permit requires a permit holder to submit conceptual design and site plans for proposed development or changes to Special Use Administrators for review and approval by the District Ranger. The conceptual plans should be detailed enough to allow preparation of an analysis, and details shown should include roads, trees, rock outcrops, planned and existing improvement location, structure size, and lot boundary accurately as possible.
  2. The District Ranger will review the proposal for environmental, visual, and historic concerns and, if there are no concerns, give written approval-in-concept.
  3. The permit holder will submit their construction plans to the Eldorado County Building department for approval, and obtain the required permits.
  4. After the Forest Service receives copies of any necessary permits and gives final written authorization, construction may proceed.

The Forest Service will approve only the conceptual design and site plan for the construction project. The permit holder must obtain required permits or authorization from other agencies (where applicable) before the project can start. This is to ensure health and safety standards, such as snow loading and septic location, are met.

Recreation Residence Permit Administrator Contacts 

Pacific Ranger District -
Placerville Ranger District -
Amador Ranger District -