Once Upon a Hut

Travel under your own power to a cozy, remote shelter in one of the state’s many backcountry hut systems—we show you how

Bundled head-to-toe in fleece on the frosty deck of the lower Montgomery Pass yurt, it seemed slightly absurd to be huddling over a heaping bowl of ice cream. This was not Ben & Jerry’s, mind you, but a backcountry dessert made of fresh snow, condensed milk, vanilla and sugar. After one taste, however, it suddenly didn’t seem quite so silly after all.

As a hut trip first-timer, I watched with curiosity and admiration as a woman in our group prepared the ice cream by the light of a headlamp, exuding the easy confidence of someone who had logged many hours in the outdoors.

One of five loosely acquainted women, I had traveled by ski and snowshoe that morning to the yurt located in the Never Summer Wilderness, west of Fort Collins—a 2.8-mile trek from the trailhead. I knew precious little about what we would do after arriving at our simple canvas shelter, but my companions, fortunately, knew more. These were women with mad backcountry skills.

I looked on as one woman heaved an axe at a piece of wood with the ferocity of Paul Bunyan, then loaded a giant metal pot with snow to melt for drinking water. A team of two prepped a multi-course Indian dinner on a propane stove. Playing cards and miniature board games emerged. Wine was poured. We danced around each other in a space the size of small living room, our faces flushed crimson from the wood-burning stove, laughter and the hum of conversation filling the air.

Outside, the alpenglow that evening was otherworldly, with the Medicine Bow and Never Summer mountain ranges bathed in stunning pale pink and yellow light.
Tucked into my sleeping bag later that night, I felt like I had been let in on a big secret. The world once again felt vast and wild. Spending time in the yurt was a reminder of how important human connection is, far away from the real world and all its distractions.

A few weeks later, when fresh snow fell outside my home, I considered scooping up some of the flakes and trying my hand at a batch of ice cream. But it wouldn’t be the same. The recipe, I decided, would have to wait until the next hut trip.

Ten things to know before booking a hut trip:

  1. Avalanche risk. Many 10th Mountain Division Huts feature routes with low risk of getting caught in a slide. Others, like the Alfred A. Braun Huts, pass through known avalanche terrain.
  2. Terrain and ability level. Though the general rule of thumb is to plan on traveling one mile per hour to a hut, if there is steady elevation gain, expect that a two-mile trek can take the better part of a morning—or longer.
  3. Pets. Furry friends, as much as they are part of the family, might have to be left behind. Ask first.
  4. Creature comforts. Some huts feature amenities akin to what you would find at home; others have outhouses, sinks that drain into buckets, and no insulation. Choose a comfort level that suits you and your travel companions.
  5. Shared spaces. Larger huts will book out to multiple parties, providing an opportunity to strike up new friendships. For a more private experience, reserve an entire hut for your group.  
  6. Type of getaway. Ladies only, romantic tête-à-tête, ski extravaganza or multi-generational family reunion? Your group and event will help dictate the type of hut you reserve.
  7. Length of stay. If one night doesn’t seem like enough, many of the hut systems make it possible to travel from hut to hut for multiple days in a row.
  8. Gear. Hut-necessary gear, if you don’t already own it—such as an avalanche shovel, beacon or bivouac sac—may be purchased or rented from a local outdoor store.
  9. Knowledge. For first-timers, the benefits of traveling with a seasoned veteran are huge: enlist a friend, family member or hired guide to show you the ropes.
  10. Etiquette. Hut trips are as much about teamwork as they are about fun; the unwritten rule is that everyone is expected to pitch in—shoveling snow, cleaning dishes, stoking the fire, sweeping floors or heating water.


Wood-fired sauna, catered meals, hot running water—oh, my. Save for the composting toilets, the Opus Hut, located in the San Juan Mountains, is every bit a luxury lodge. opushut.com

10th Mountain Division Hut Association
Plan ahead—way ahead—to gain a spot (or 16) in one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts. A lottery system is in place to distribute beds in these popular back-country cabins. huts.org

Summit Huts Association
Of the Summit Huts’ four shelters, Ken’s Cabin is the one most steeped in history. Built in the 1860s, the accommodations are the definition of rustic. summithuts.org

San Juan Huts
If intermediate to extreme powder skiing is on the agenda, look no further than the San Juan hut system. This backcountry ski route links five huts from Telluride to Ouray. sanjuanhuts.com

Never Summer Nordic
Just as cozy as a cabin, the canvas and wood Never Summer yurts are a welcome respite after a day spent in the elements. neversummernordic.com

Crested Butte Nordic Center
Two huts in the ghost town of Gothic are easily accessed from Mt. Crested Butte: Forest Queen Hut (small and bare-bones) and Maroon Hut (spacious and modern). cbnordic.org

Categories: Colorado Destinations