Whether it’s pouring rain, dumping snow, or a bluebird day, something about a rustic shelter surrounded by nature entices wanderlust to the nth degree. National Forests across the country have numerous cabins, lookout towers, and huts to explore, but some National Forests boast intricate hut-to-hut systems connected by hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails. While the topography, time zones and seasonal attractions differ between these National Forests, their hut-to-hut systems share the same wild sense of exploration.
Rendezvous Huts— Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
On the eastern flank of Washington’s North Cascade Mountains, the Methow Valley has some of the best cross-country skiing in the nation. Maintained by the nonprofit Methow Trails, more than 120 miles of groomed ski trails span the Methow Valley between the quaint towns of Mazama and Winthrop. For even more adventure, the Rendezvous Huts provide five rustic and warm places to spend the night on this world-class trail system.
Set in the stunning Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Rendezvous Huts are located approximately five miles apart and are only accessible in winter by cross-country skis or snowshoes. The huts provide basic accommodations including bed pads, cooking utensils and a wood-burning stove with a stack of firewood. Guests can pay for a delivery of water, food and any comfort items like extra rations of hot cocoa or peppermint schnapps.
Skiers can connect all five Rendezvous Huts in a multi-day excursion, with the Heifer Hut being a popular choice to begin this winter-trip-of-a-lifetime. Guests can also book one hut as a basecamp for multiple nights in a row. Huts sleep eight to ten people comfortably, and dogs are welcomed at three of the Rendezvous Huts. Those forgoing the delivery need to pack in their own food and water (or boil snow).
When To Go:
The Rendezvous Huts often book a year in advance for winter weekends. Reservations are available online or over the phone. Mid-week trips have more availability. For more information and an availability calendar, head over to RendezvousHuts.com.
10th Mountain Division Huts—White River National Forest
The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association oversees 34 backcountry huts connected by approximately 350 miles of trails within the White River National Forest. The name of this Colorado nonprofit pays tribute to the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division who trained at the nearby Camp Hale during World War II. The 10th Mountain Division Huts offer spectacular views of Rocky Mountain skylines and the chance to share in the spirit of fortitude and resilience exemplified by the skiing soldiers.
Elevations of 10th Mountain Huts range from 9,700 ft. to 11,700 ft., and they’re modeled after hut systems in the Swiss Alps. Users can travel hut-to-hut or out-and-back from trailheads near Aspen and Vail. Routes to many of the huts cross through avalanche terrain, and at least one member of a party needs proper backcountry experience and education.
Although they were built for backcountry skiing, the huts have become popular mountain biking and hiking destinations during the summer. Accommodations at 10th Mountain Huts include wood-burning stoves, cooking utilities and solar panel electricity. Many huts sleep up to 16 people and are shared by multiple groups each night. Technically, the 10th Mountain Association owns only 14 of these huts, but it oversees reservations for an additional 20 huts in the region including the Alfred A. Braun Huts—Colorado’s first hut-to-hut system.
When To Go:
The 10th Mountain institutes a lottery system for winter reservations, with members of the Association getting first dibs. For more information on hut availability and how to join 10th Mountain Division Huts Association, check out Huts.org.
White Mountain Huts of New Hampshire—White Mountain National Forest
Operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the White Mountain Huts of New Hampshire have been enabling mountain adventures for over 125 years. These eight mountain huts provide a hearty breakfast and dinner with each stay. All the huts are on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and located approximately six to eight miles apart. Meals are only served during the summer, when visitors can expect to meet thru hikers who are often vying for coveted work-for-stay positions at the huts.
The White Mountain Hut System is only accessible by foot, which makes the family-style meals taste that much better. Alongside calories needed to complete a thru hike, every hut provides a wooden bunk with mattress pad, access to potable water and often a camaraderie with other "hike-minded" guests. The “High Mountain Huts” are self-service outside of the summer season, and three of the huts stay open throughout the winter.
In addition to the High Mountain Huts, the AMC also operates nearby mountain lodges like the Highland Center at Crawford Notch that offer similar meals with a view. Guided trips are available through the AMC, including four-day lodge-to-hut hikes. They also run a hiker shuttle during the summer and fall, a great option for a point-to-point hike that alleviates the need to set your own shuttle. Through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, the AMC also manages several backcountry campsites on the Appalachian Trail.
When To Go:
Accommodations at the High Mountain Huts include bunkhouses and coed bunkrooms, and many huts can sleep more than 40 people. The Mountain Lodges operated by the AMC also feature bunkrooms, as well as a private lodge rooms with private baths. Reservations are recommended during the summer season and can be booked online. Head to Outdoors.org for more information and availability.
Find Your Own Place to Stay:
Alongside these unique hut-to-hut systems, National Forests across the country are home to hundreds of cabins, yurts and reservable fire lookouts to spend the night. To find your next favorite National Forest getaway, book reservations and research places to stay, visit Recreation.gov.
About the Author
Brad Lane is a Missoula, Montana-based writer focused on outdoor recreation. This is his second piece for Your National Forests. Find more of his writing at BradLaneWriting.com.