By Ryan Wichelns, Special to The Denver Post
When it comes to hut trips in Colorado, wintertime gets all the love, and for good reason: Coming back to a warm hut and a comfortable place to sleep after a day of skiing definitely beats crawling into a cold tent. But come summertime, the Rockies are still littered with huts as well-placed, accessible, warm and comfortable as they are in the winter, perfect for use as a basecamp to explore the mountains.
Even better? In the summer, it’s far easier to book one. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, which operates 11 huts in the summertime (two of which are closed for elk migration) between Aspen, Vail and Leadville, sees roughly half as many visitors booking during the warmer months. But according to Cindy Carpenter, they’re as cozy as ever.
“We all know the dangers of lightning and sometimes early and unpredictable harsh weather conditions at or above 10,000 feet in Colorado,” she said. “A summer hut trip is a secure and warm shelter from the elements.” Plus, because many are close to forest roads, they’re more easily accessible to hikers that couldn’t get there in the winter, “even grandma and grandpa,” Carpenter said.
Whether or not you’re a young family with kids or an experienced mountaineer looking for a peakbagging basecamp, start with these huts while planning your summer adventure.
Cameron Pass is a popular backcountry ski area in the wintertime, but it really comes into its own in the summer. A night at Nokhu Hut will get you close enough to explore it. Just a mile uphill from the small six-person hut run by the Never Summer Nordic yurt system is beautiful Agnes Lake, ringed by Nokhu Crags, Mount Richthofen and Mount Mahler, all within day-hiking range.
Continental Divide Cabin
The 0.8-mile hike from Tennessee Pass to this eight-person 10th Mountain Division-booked hut outside Leadville is perfect for families with kids. Sitting on the Colorado Trail, a web of trail and hiking options branch out in all directions, including a number of lakes to the west and Cooper Hill across the road to the east, plus fishing at Camp Hale Lake or Turquoise Lake, and a nearby teepee kids can explore. The inside of the hut comes equipped with portable cribs, high chairs and potty seats for those getting their kids hooked on hut trips at an early age.
Another 10th Mountain Division-managed hut, Francie’s is located at the base of the Ten Mile Range just south of Breckenridge, making it the perfect basecamp for peakbaggers and hikers who like the alpine. From the 20-person shelter, head north on the Wheeler Trail which follows the northern part of the range almost to Frisco. For shorter hikes, visitors can head toward the Crystal or Mohawk Lakes, even climbing to Crystal Peak and beyond. After a long, cool day in the alpine, head back to the cabin to warm up in the sauna.
Jersey Jim Fire Lookout Tower
This privately-operated shelter outside Mancos is truly a room with a view. Originally the home of U.S. Forest Service employees tasked with watching for forest fires in the San Juan National Forest, it was saved from demolition and renovated in the early 1990s by the nonprofit Jersey Jim Foundation. Now, for $50/night for the entire tower, campers can stay in the fully-enclosed cab 55 feet off the ground with 360-degree views of the southwestern San Juans. The tower comes complete with a propane stove and heater, double bed, and historic tower log books and fire-spotting table. Anything you need to bring up yourself can be hoisted to the top via a pulley and rope.
San Juan Hut System’s Durango to Paradox Ride
Huts aren’t only great basecamps for skiers and hikers. This linkup of four huts (Bolam Pass, Black Mesa, Dry Creek and Wedding Bell huts) in the San Juan System connects some of the best singletrack mountain biking trails in the state, cutting a route through alpine terrain and high desert and making it a mountain biker’s dream trip. Plus, with SJHS’s support, you won’t have to worry about sleeping bags, food or support for the entire 146-mile ride — everything from custom maps and GPS to creek chairs will be provided. Those with extra time can extend their trip into the MTB mecca of Moab.
Ridgway Backcountry Hiking Hut
Tucked on the north side of the 14er Mount Sneffels, Ridgway hut is the perfect position to make it easy to explore some of Colorado’s most rugged peaks, the San Juans. Spend days exploring Sneffels and the cadre of other rocky summits and lakes nearby then return to the eight-person San Juan System hut, replete with padded bunks and sleeping bags, at night. The adventurous can link the Blue Lakes, Ridgway and Burn Huts, all just a few miles apart, for a weekend.
What Not To Bring On Your Summer Hut Trip
Having a shelter full of amenities waiting for you is one of the best perks of a hut trip — summer or winter. Freeing up a little space in your pack means you’ll have more room for food and drink, games, music or anything fun. Check with each hut individually before you head in, but many will allow you to leave these items at home:
- Camp stove: There is generally a fully-stocked kitchen. Just research whether or not you’ll need to supply fuel.
- Pots, pans, and cookware.
- Sleeping pad: Many huts come with bunks or beds already furnished with mattresses.
- Tent: This one is obvious. The biggest benefit of a hut is the roof over your head.
- Excess layers: Rather than spending the night hanging outside around a fire, you’ll be able to stay warm inside.
- Guide books: Always carry your own map and do research, especially if there’s an approach to get to the hut, but many have a library of local guidebooks and maps.