Nothing can keep a true adventurer from responding to the allure of a multi-day backpacking trip in the American wilderness. There’s something within hikers that compels them to blister their feet, burn out their legs, and deplete their calorie reserves in order to feel and see something more primal and beautiful than what’s offered in everyday life. But that season is coming to a close, and it’s always difficult to put all your gear in storage for the winter, waiting for the snow-pack in the mountains to recede while you fatten up during the drinking season.
Well maybe it’s time to start looking at the other three seasons of the year with a fresh perspective. That snow that’s blanketing all of your favorite trails no longer has to prevent you from enjoying the outdoors. Just think about all the times you wished you were able to ski down those long descents that were destroying your knees. And there are plenty of trails around the country that are broken up by comfortable ski-huts. Take a look at these hut-to-hut cross-country skiing trails so that you can enjoy backpacking without all the limitations of friction.
Washington’s Rainier National Park Hut Network
For great cross-country skiing in the northwest, look no further than Mt. Rainier National Park. The Rainier National Park area boasts the largest network of free hut-to-hut cross-country skiing in North America. It has 50 miles off trails, 20 of which are groomed and all of which are monitored by volunteer ski patrol. Skiing the Rainier Ridge trail provides world-class views of the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range. But there are plenty of other trails that provide more seclusion in the snow-laden forests. There are a total of three huts and one yurt, so depending on the day; you might be sharing space with a group of adventurers in damp wool.
Oregon’s Gold Lake Snow Park
Located near Willamette Pass, the Gold Lake Snow Park in Oregon is the perfect escape if you’re looking for a quaint, small cabin that provides the bare necessities. The three most accessible huts are within 2.5 miles of the ranger patrol cabin and are well marked. There are a total of 6 huts that are freckled along a short stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Deschutes National Park. The three more difficult-to-find huts are 5, 6, and 10 miles from the patrol cabin and require navigation skills to prevent skiers from getting lost in the thick Oregon woods. The huts are all equipped with wood-burning stoves, lofts, a splitting maul, firewood, and matches. Your experience in the Gold Lake Snow Park will surely be rugged if you choose to stay in these huts.
New Hampshire’s Crater Notch Hut
In the Appalachian Mountains, between Crater Dome and the Wildcat Ski Area lies Crater Notch Hut. Crater Notch is one of the oldest operating ski huts on the east side of the continent, being built in 1904. It has a 40-person bunk room and is powered by solar panels and wind turbines, so if it’s not sunny, you’d better hope the wind is blowing. From the trail-head, it’s a 3.8 mile ski to Crater Notch hut, then a 2.6 mile ski to the top of Crater Dome, where you are standing on a unique bald-spot of the Appalachians that opens up wide views of the mountain range. After this rough 1,500 foot climb, it’s an easy 4.4 mile glide back down to Crater Notch Hut.
Vermont’s Catamount Trail
For the ultra-distance skier, the Catamount Trail in Vermont is a perfect fit. The entire trail weaves together old ski trails through the Green Mountains from Readsboro Vermont and all the way to North Troy. In certain sections, the Country-Inns along the way will transfer your luggage and feed you between sections of trail. It’s not quite the rustic cabin experience you’ll find on other trails, but Vermont provides a perfect mix of quaint country towns alongside deciduous national forests that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.
Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts
Nestled in the Rockies, the 10th Mountain Division Huts (named after the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, whose members trained in central Colorado during WWII) are geared toward more practiced skiers with avalanche training, self-rescue skills, and navigation experience. The 29 high-altitude cabins are at or near Timberline and there is no housekeeping. Skiers must pack-in all their own gear except for cooking utensils. The huts are all outfitted with either wood-burning or gas stoves and are each separated by about 8 miles of trail. If you’re looking to push yourself to the limit between nights inside snow-covered, rustic cabins this winter, the 10th Mountain Division Huts are for you.
Utah’s La Sal Mountain Loop
You’ll need to know how to use your map and compass in order to find your way through the La Sal Mountains when they’re covered in snow. This Loop does have marked trails between it’s three huts, but the 5.5 miles from hut to hut in this loop are sure to expand when you realize that you can’t help but venture off in to the openness of the slick rock/sandstone landscape. If you decide to follow your wild spirit off the marked trails, be sure to be aware of the how to spot areas of potential avalanche danger. The beginning of the loop is located only 8 miles out of Moab and takes you up La Sal pass immediately, a 1,000 foot climb over 3 miles. There’s nothing like getting all the hard work out of the way right off the bat.
Maine Huts and Trails
Maine Huts and Trails are in the middle of completing their goal of building the longest luxury ski trail in the United States. Eventually, the ski trail through Maine will cover 180 miles, stretching from the Mahossuc Mountains to the Baxter State Park with a total of 9 eco-lodges. Right now, there are 45 miles of trail with three heated eco-lodges that have high ceilings, pine-paneled walls, bunk beds, and meals made by the lodge staff. You may be living in comfort during the night, but the long, cold, sunny days will put a sun and wind burn on your face to convince all your friends that you did some hard work too.
Yosemite is normally packed full of wide-eyed tourists discovering the wonders of the area’s iconic bulbous rock-cliffs, but once the snow falls, it’s all yours. The Sierra summits of Yosemite, where John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt used to hang out back in the early 1910′s, are a paradise for skiers in winter months. The 10-mile groomed trail follows a gentle grade to Glacier Point Ski Hut, where unrivaled mountain-views are spread across the horizon. Skiers are then stuffed with buttery calories by professional cooks.