Europe is known for its network of high alpine huts, where you hike from hut to hut and eat dishes such as goulash and spaetzle before retiring to cozy accommodations and hike to the next hut the next day. But you don’t have to leave the country to have this experience.
“The US is about to accept what huts are,” says Sam Demas, author of the forthcoming travel guide Hut to Hut USA: The Complete Guide for Hikers, Bikers, and Skiers, which will be published in October. “There is a huge appetite for hut travel in the US and we see more and more communities developing new systems.”
Demas, a self-proclaimed cabin freak who runs the Hut2Hut website, estimates there are well over a dozen such systems across the country, with hundreds of lodges, yurts, and cabins in the back country that you can hike from Maine to Oregon. And more are on the way. The Alaska Huts Association plans to lay the groundwork for an affiliated three-cabin system in the Kenai Mountains in 2023, the Vermont Hut Association has a long-term vision for a number of huts across the state, and Colorado’s Grand Huts Association is hoping for one day nine huts connect from Berthoud Pass, near the Winter Park ski area, to Grand Lake.
To find cabins near you, check out Hutmap, a comprehensive resource of all the cabins, lookouts, and shelters in North America. You can filter by accommodation type, available services, capacity, access and more. Some of these destinations, like the Sperry Chalet in Montana Glacier National Park or the High Sierra Camps in California’s Yosemite National Park, are fully booked as soon as reservations are cleared. Others, like the US Forest Service land fire towers, are often first come, first served, or rarely reserved.
Amenities vary greatly – you get chef-prepared meals and luxury accommodations at Red Mountain Alpine Lodge in Colorado versus a rustic cabin with no electricity or running water at the Doublehead Cabin in New Hampshire. “Most cabins are well stocked with things like firewood, mattresses, cookware and stoves,” says Kendra Cobourn, founder of Somewhere Outside, a company that plans custom backpacking, hiking and camping trips across the continent. If your choice is an easier surgery, make sure you follow food storage and waste disposal protocols, including Leave No Trace practices.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most remote American cabins and lodges to visit in the summer and what you will find there.
If you are looking for a quaint hut experience
The Appalachian Mountain Club operates America’s oldest hut system. His first estate – the Madison Spring Hut in New Hampshire – dates back to 1888. Today, the AMC operates eight backcountry cabins in the White Mountains, including the ever-popular Lakes of the Clouds Hut on the flanks of Mount Washington.
AMC huts can only be reached on foot and can be combined into a multi-day hike on sections of the Appalachian Trail. In summer the huts are fully serviced so that meals are included in the stay. REI Adventures leads a guided, four-day hut-to-hut hike (starting at $ 799) through part of the AMC system.
The San Juan Huts in southwest Colorado are still one of the original year-round hut systems in our country with four hiking huts along the Sneffels Traverse from Telluride to Ouray. Cabins are less than ten miles apart However, plan your trip well as it is a self-sustaining adventure.
Also in Colorado is the Tenth Mountain Division Huts, a collection of over a dozen classic backcountry huts scattered across the state. They are best known among backcountry skiers, but many are open year-round. Combine routes like Point Breeze Cabin, Tenth Mountain Division Hut, and Uncle Bud’s Hut for an incredible multi-day hike. These are basic accommodations with no staff so you have to pack and prepare your own meals. If you want an experience with more catering, you can hire a guide: Paragon Guides leads multi-day excursions (from USD 385 per person per day) with llamas to transport equipment and Aspen Alpine Guides (from $ 545 per person per day) offers overnight backpacking tours.
The Tenth Mountain Division website, Huts.org, also lists privately owned cabins and other cabins across Colorado, but keep in mind that summer bookings opened last October and many are booked six months in advance for popular summer weekends. However, there are cancellations. Sign up for the email waiting list or search the forum for other users who are selling their reservation or are available in their group.
“There is a perception that there is no availability in our cabins, but the reality is that summer is not as busy as winter,” says Ben Dodge, executive director of the Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association. “During the week, even in the peak months, you can find availability, and the off-season like September is a great time to be up there.”
If you prefer mountain biking than hiking
(Photo: Courtesy of Aquarius Path)
Last fall, a new hut-to-hut mountain bike system called the Aquarius Trail opened in southern Utah. Five cabins are connected over 190 miles of gravel and single track from Brian Head to Escalante, with approximately 30 to 40 miles in between. (You can hike or run the trail too, but the distance between cabins is slightly better for those on gravel or mountain bikes.) These solar-powered units are built from converted shipping containers and can accommodate up to 12 people. Self-guided packages are available between July and October (from USD 889 per person for five nights) or opt for a six-day guided tour with Escape Adventures from USD 1,800 per person.
Two yurts remain open during the summer at Sun Valley Mountain Huts in Idaho, a premier ski vacation destination that operates six huts during the winter. There is an extensive mountain bike trail system from the Coyote Yurt (starting at $ 200 a night) accessible via a 10 km trail, or you can cycle up to half a mile from the refuge. The 16-person Pioneer Yurt (from $ 200 a night), accessible via a 3.5-mile hike, has a propane stove, bunk beds with sleeping mats, and a wood-burning sauna, as well as access to the region’s highest peak, 4,000 m high Hyndman peak.
“Coyote Yurt is more accessible, but you still have a non-mechanized, remote backcountry experience,” said Francie St. Onge, owner of Sun Valley Mountain Huts. Go on your own or choose a catered, guided tour that serves dishes like fish tacos or grilled steak with chimichurri sauce. And best of all: it’s not too late to book – there are still places available for this summer.
If you want full service
(Photo: Courtesy Maine Huts and Trails)
At one point, Montana’s Glacier National Park was home to nine backcountry lodges that were built between 1910 and 1915. Over the years, fires, avalanches, and World War II took their toll, and all but two of the cabins were wiped out. The beloved Sperry Chalet remained, but was destroyed by wildfire in 2017; however, it was remodeled and reopened in 2020.
Getting to the Sperry Chalet is a challenge – it’s nearly seven miles long, with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain – but it’s well worth it. From the lodge you can explore the Sperry Glacier, one of the last remaining glaciers in the park. “I’ve always referred to the Sperry Chalet as the last bastion of hospitality in the wild,” says Courtney Stone, who first visited the chalet when she was ten and now works for Glacier Guides, a local hiking and rafting company. “When you get there, the staff greets you with lemonade. At dinner you sit at a table with bed linen and introduce yourself to the people next door. “
Granite Park Chalet, the other remaining backcountry lodge in Glacier National Park, is the more rustic option – you prepare your own meals in a shared kitchen, but linens are provided. You can reach it via an 11 km hike on the Highline Trail. Both chalets in the park are booked out quickly (and months in advance), but cancellations will occur. Glacier Guides offers guided three-day hikes (from $ 1,390) to both chalets, but all trips for this summer are already sold out, so plan ahead for a future year.
On the east coast, Maine Huts and Trails typically operates four full-service huts that are modeled on the European hut system and run along an 80-mile network of trails. This summer, only the Flagstaff cabin will be operational due to COVID-19 and is ideal for families or groups, with self-service from June to October (starting at $ 1,500 for a three day stay). You still have full access to the extensive hiking and cycling trails in the region.
Or if you are essentially looking for a hotel in the back country
Do you want to wander in but not be gruff while you’re there? Check out the Len Foote Hike Inn (from $ 132) in Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia. It’s eight kilometers to this secluded, year-round lodge, located directly on the Appalachian Trail. Once there, you’ll find 20 guest rooms, hot showers, and home cooked meals. The rooms for this summer are still available at the time of going to press.
Or check into Oregon’s Minam River Lodge (from $ 225), accessible via an 8.5-mile hike into the vast Eagle Cap Wilderness (some guests arrive on horseback or on a charter flight). Dine from farm to table and sleep in tents, huts or a room in the lodge. During the day, hike or catch rainbow trout in the Minam River, known as the Wild and Scenic, which flows in front of the property. Relax in the full-service bar at night.
Main photo: Courtesy of svtrek