Dotting the American West from California’s High Sierra to Washington’s North Cascades to the Colorado Rockies are a small collection of backcountry huts that have stayed, inexplicably, relatively unknown. Some of these huts are deep in the wilderness, accessible only to the ultra fit and experienced – others are much closer to civilization, great for a weekend trip for almost anyone.
These huts are hidden on mountainsides, in alpine meadows, and perched on jagged ridges, with views of surrounding valleys, forests, and mountains. They are few in number – less than 100 in the entire country – and each has their own story to tell.
Built as fire lookouts, ranger cabins, and private retreats, each hut has a unique history, often been handed down from owner to owner. And every hut on this list is now open to the public. Here are nine of our favorites …
Hidden Lake Lookout, North Cascades, Washington
Atop a rocky ridge at 6,900 feet (just outside North Cascades National Park) lies this gem, with 360-degree views of surrounding mountain peaks and ancient glaciers.
A two hour drive from Seattle, the Hidden Lake Lookout hike is 4 miles one way, climbing 3,300 feet from the trailhead to the hut. The hut itself is 85-years-old and maintained by volunteers who have done an amazing job keeping it in good repair. The hut operates on a first-come, first-serve basis and on a clear day the views of Mt. Rainier are hard to beat.
Tilly Jane A-Frame, Mt. Hood, Oregon
Just below treeline at 5,900 feet on the northern side of Mt. Hood lies Tilly Jane, the biggest cabin on the list.
With room to comfortably fit 20 guests, the cabin is great for big families or large groups looking to adventure together. Over 80 years old and originally built to support climbing parties on Mt. Hood’s challenging northeast route, the cabin is used year-round. Access in the summer is quite easy – but when the road is closed in the winter, it’s a steep 2.7-mile uphill slog to Tilly Jane. The cost to stay is $20 per person per night, reservations required.
McCarthy Point Lookout, Lassen National Park, California
Built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps., the lookout was originally used as an air defense monitoring system during World War II. The Lookout is comfortably nestled at 3,600 feet in a grove of evergreens and the stunning cabin has a panoramic view of nearby Mill Creek Canyon and the Ishi Wilderness. The area surrounding the hut is a state game refuge and great for hiking and trail running.
To get to the lookout you’ll want a high-clearance vehicle, preferably with four-wheel drive. It’s a short hike along a paved trail to the lookout. The cost to stay is $75 per night.
Benson Hut, North Lake Tahoe, California
This hut is one of the four Sierra Club huts in the area managed by Clair Tappaan Lodge. Benson Hut lies at 8,300 feet just below Anderson Peak, with unrivaled views of Lake Tahoe and much of the Sierra. Built 65 years ago by the Sierra Club, the hut offers some of the best backcountry ski access in the area and can be linked with Bradley hut – also owned by the Sierra Club – for a two-night, three-day epic excursion.
Access to Benson is 5.5 miles with a 1,800-foot climb. In the winter the route is icy and laden with dangerous cornices, so it’s advised that only experience winter travelers attempt it. Up to 12 people can stay at one time for only $25 per person per night.
Ridgeway Hut, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
One of five huts in the interconnected San Juan system, Ridgeway sits at 10,200 feet on the north slope of Reconnoiter Peak. Surrounded by stunning jagged mountains with ample adventure opportunities, Ridgeway is a great basecamp location.
Access to Ridgeway is a steady 2,000-foot climb for 6.7 miles, primarily on an unplowed road. Up to 8 people can stay in bunk beds for $30 per person per night. With some of the fluffiest powder in the country, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Lone Wolf Hut, Three Sisters Backcountry, Bend, Oregon
One of two identical huts in a linked nordic traverse, Lone Wolf sits at 6,500 feet in a mostly open meadow below Mt. Bachelor. The hut offers stunning views of Three Sisters and Tam McAurthur Rim. The ski to Lone Wolf is 8 miles from the first hut on the traverse, Happy Valley.
The entire route is void of avalanche danger, making it great for beginners and intermediate skiers. The cost is $275 per person for the full 3-day adventure and 8 people are able to fit comfortably at both huts.
Camp Norway, Wallowas Huts, Eastern Oregon
Sitting on the edge of a ridge just below 7,000 feet lies this unknown gem. The yurt is located in lesser-known Eagle Cap Wilderness, one of the best backcountry ski zones in the country.
Getting to Camp Norway isn’t easy, though. A 9-mile slog with over 3,000 feet of climbing (some get a snowmobile tow for the first 6 miles to make it a bit easier) typically takes a full day to access. The area around yurt has almost everything you’d want – great tree skiing, big open bowls, and steep cols. The cost is $30 per person per night, and it's more than worth it.
Tuolumne Ski Hut, Yosemite National Park, California
This is my personal favorite for many reasons. Tuolumne Meadows in the winter is a surreal place – empty of crowds, desolate and wild.
In the summer the hut is the campground reservations office, and in the winter it is converted to a 10-bunk first come, first serve ski hut. A small stone building with a fireplace at one end, the hut sits at the eastern end of the Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet. Getting to this hut isn’t easy – Highway 120 is closed during the winter making it a 16-mile pilgrimage to the hut, including a 3,500-foot climb over a 10,000-foot pass. That said, once you get to the hut you’ll find yourself in a backcountry ski haven.
Three Fingers Lookout, North Cascades, Washington
Located near the Canadian border in the Baker-Snoqualmie Wilderness is Three Fingers (possibly the most eye-popping of our list). The lookout was built in 1932 and is maintained by volunteers, perched delicately on a rock mantle at 6,900 feet.
Due to a road washout a few years ago, getting to Three Fingers has become even more challenging. To get there, most people ride mountain bikes 10 miles then hike 7.5 more miles to the hut itself. The entire elevation gain is almost 5,000 feet, including the final 100 feet on wooden ladders to the summit. Technical glacier experience is recommended for the last 3 miles of the hike in most seasons. The lookout is first come, first serve, and has views you’ll never forget.
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