Tiny Cabin, Big Alaska

Tiny Cabin, Big Alaska

Folks, take seat and a deep breath. We purchased a cabin in Healy, Alaska.

They say, Alaska gets in your blood. When you leave, it beckons you to come back. And if you stay too long, you can never leave.

Alaska immediately overtook Justin’s blood upon his first summer working in the state in 2003. I can remember him calling me (living in Arizona at the time) and asking if he should buy a piece of land. I was not a risk taker back then; I firmly said no. Obviously, it took a little longer for me to come on board the Alaska train, but now I emphatically associate the Last Frontier as my happy place and home more than any other place we travel.

By no means does this mean our nomadic way of living is over. We still do lots of contract work that can be done remotely from anywhere. We still own a camper van. We still hope to continue working for Leave No Trace in some capacity. We still hope to do some more long-distance hikes. We would still do property care taking.

What it does mean, is we have our own space again. Our getaway for those in-between times. Because the duality of travel exists for me! When I’m on the road, I miss being rooted, balanced and hibernating. When I’m settled, I miss the road.

And when we aren’t there, it makes for a perfect rental property. Healy typically has a population of about 1,000 people in the winter, but being that it is located right outside of Denali National Park, the population triples come summer thanks to seasonal employees in the tourism industry.

This may be a surprise to many people, but we’ve been looking for a property to buy for quite some time. Not necessarily in Alaska. Our criteria was simple: small town with big mountain scenery. In my opinion, we ended up scoring the motherlode.

Red arrow signifies location of our cabin.
Mountain scenery – CHECK.
Remote & small – DOUBLE CHECK.

Buying in Alaska always seemed like a pipe dream. We made excuses to rule it out–too far from families, too drastic, we never experienced an Alaskan winter.

Then we spent some time in the Alaska again this summer and started looking … for fun.

As my good friend and fellow nomad says, sometimes the universe just throws an opportunity at you and you have no choice but to just concede. That’s how buying this cabin went … right time, right place.

You see, the 49th state is different in many ways, including properties for sale. Often times, it’s word of mouth and done over a handshake. For us, we had been staying in Healy for our Leave No Trace/Subaru work, and some new friends mentioned a cabin up for sale within our price range and size. They put us in touch with the person and we went to look at it before she and her husband made any definitive plans for the sale. Within just a few weeks, we signed the for sale by owner paperwork, recorded it all with a title company and picked up our keys. We are typically very indecisive, something that thankfully didn’t happen this time.

It actually still feels quite surreal, but we couldn’t be happier with our decision. We now own a 300-square-foot log cabin on 2 acres within a boreal forest minutes outside of Denali National Park. [Because I know my sister will ask … boreal forest = a forest in a high-latitude environment with severe winters producing a swampy, moist canopy of both conifers (spruce, balsam fir) and deciduous (aspen, birch).]

Our seasonal pond! Can’t wait to spot a moose there!

Alaska standards fall below what others are used to. Yes, we have road access and electricity. No, we don’t have running water (there is a well on the property, but we do not and will not hook up plumbing to the cabin just yet … keeps things simple … keeps things Alaskan).

Raise your hand if you love outhouses!!

The cabin comes fully furnished, down to the forks and spoons. And while over time, I’m sure we’ll bring more and more of our stuff up there, it couldn’t be easier to have it be move-in ready.

Plans are not set in stone, but we definitely hope to spend some time living there this winter. Yes, I did say winter. In subarctic Alaska. A place where it gets 40 below plus major wind and enjoys 4 hours and 15 minutes of daylight during the heart of the winter. In 300 square feet of living space with an outhouse. My guess is 50% of you will think we are certifiably crazy. The other 50% will chuckle and call it a typical “Patrice and Justin” adventure.

All we know right now is glee. Let’s see how we fare come April …

18 responses to “Tiny Cabin, Big Alaska”

  1. Katherine says:

    You look as happy as ever. So glad the two of you continue your journey but your roots in Alaska sound GREAT!!

  2. Misti says:

    So exciting for y’all! And I totally get the falling for Alaska bit! I think I’d like to spent more time in the interior to get more of an impression, but I fell hard for coastal Alaska.

  3. Jamie says:

    I hope you will get to see lots of northern lights and your moose by the pond. Congrats!

  4. Jason says:

    Love it!! Happy for you guys!!

  5. Curtis says:

    You forgot the percentage of us who will be envious and dream of spending a winter up there. Is there a fire place or wood burning stove? Congratulations from both of us.

    • plavigne says:

      It’s a Toyo oil heater! I am a big fan of the wood stove, but everyone in Alaska swears by the oil heaters–less work and more efficient. We are taking their advice!

  6. Gerald Witt says:


  7. Shayna says:

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, Pay–you were itching to be with J in Alaska even way back in 2003. We are so excited that you’ve achieved your life-long dream of living in Alaska! You know there’s a new PBS show called “Molly of Denali”, right? First it was THE Mt. McKinley, then the lovable cat McKinley, back to Mt. Denali, now home in Denali…I can actually see you eventually settling there permanently (but of course, not for a long time, when you’re old and gray and unable to lift your legs anymore).

  8. Shayna says:

    P.S. It looks so cozy, cute, rustic. Reminds me of your NH apartment. J’s luck must be holding up with the great deal that you got, and fully furnished! Daniel will want you to take him ice fishing if we go visit someday, and of course to see the salmon and glaciers.

  9. Anita says:

    So fantastic. Big congrats!!

  10. Jill says:

    Congrats to you two. You did something my partner and I have also been discussing for a while now. Our problem is that we can’t settle on where in Alaska we want to have space … Fairbanks? Homer? Eagle River? Nome? And also that we’re pansies who are not quite willing to go full Alaska rustic with no plumbing, but it’s difficult to keep a place part-time if there are pipes.

    I love that you purchased a cabin before experiencing an Alaska winter. That’s actually another pause of ours. Can we *really* spend an entire winter in Interior Alaska? As much as we love winter? Thus the draw toward Southcentral.

    My last question was going to be whether you plan to spend the whole coming winter up there, or whether you are going to rent it out part of the time. I’m in the market for a cabin to spend one month in Alaska. I was leaning toward Fairbanks, but Healy is intriguing as well. I’ve done some explorations on the winter trails near Denali, and they are stunning! Let me know if you have an opening. 🙂

  11. Patricia A Stevens says:


  12. Dean says:

    So rad. I’m coming up!!!

  13. Janet says:

    Congratulations on your new home! Sounds like a great place! Enjoy!

  14. Ginger Baron says:

    This sounds like a perfectly wonderful next step in your journey! Looking forward to following in your adventures! Love to you and Justin!

  15. Abana says:

    Living the dream! Congrats!!

  16. Mary says:

    Oh I love it. I would have bought it too.

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