August 23, 2016

Hut-Hiking and Hike-In Trips in the Lower 48


Tom designed our upcoming Hero’s Journey travel backpack (debuts September 27th) to be a best tool for fly-to-hike travel. It's great for world travel / backpacking to be sure, but also for hut-to-hut hiking and hike-in lodge trips, too. Think of hut-to-hut hiking as a civilized form of camping: the “huts” (often beautiful lodges) provide you with a bed, food (often gourmet), and a place to meet new friends over wine or hot chocolate, conveniently located in the middle of nowhere.

Most of us associate hut-to-hut hiking with Switzerland, and while a trip to the Swiss Alps is certainly on our bucket list, there are places to go nearer to home. Here's a few of our favorites.

Glacier National Park: Sperry Chalet
Staying at the Sperry Chalet, you'll be treated to three meals daily and glorious views. Day hikes from the Chalet abound, including the Sperry Glacier trail, on which you'll experience waterfalls and alpine lakes, all above treeline.

How to get there
The trailhead begins at Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald Lodge; it is 6.7 miles and a 3300-foot gain in elevation  to the Sperry Chalet. From Seattle, one can take Amtrak directly to Glacier National Park and use the in-park shuttle system to reach the Sperry Chalet trailhead, making it an entirely car-free trip.

Also in Glacier National Park is the Granite Park Chalet, which is a more rustic option. You'll bring your own sleeping bag and your own food to prepare in the communal chalet kitchen.

Opus Hut, San Juan Mountains, Colorado 
Dip your toes into hike-inn lodges with a stay at the Opus Hut, which is just a short 1/4 mile hike from the trailhead. Private rooms are available, and the food is world-class: think local, seasonal, and home-made. From your base at the hut, explore the San Juans on day hikes.

San Juan Huts System in the Sneffels Mountain Range, Colorado
If you're ready for what basically amounts to a five day backpacking trip without the tent, opt for the San Juan Huts in Colorado. Four rentable huts (you might share them with other hikers and mountain bikers) stocked with food and water (and even wine!) along the Sneffels Traverse are where you'll overnight.

Maine Huts & Trails
The folks who run the Maine Huts offer a great trip planning tool that helps you design your own adventure. Several of the huts are just short hikes from the trailhead. Our ideal trip? Early to mid October (the best chance to see Fall colors) and a stay at each hut, including two nights at the Flagstaff Hut for some canoeing and kayaking.

White Mountain Huts of New Hampshire
Hot meals, beautiful scenery, and kindred spirits await at these New Hampshire huts. This map highlights the amazing possibilities of this route; guided lodge-to-hut trips are also an option.

Muir Trail Ranch
Hot springs, horse rides, remote lakes: it's all yours at Muir Trail Ranch, a stop on the 211-mile John Muir Trail. If you can gather a group of 16-20 people (family reunion!), the Ranch can be yours for a week. Or, you can join an existing group and make some new friends. The Muir Trail Ranch encompasses 200 acres but only five acres are reserved for facilities to minimize the impact of the ranch on its surrounding wilderness.

Grand Canyon National Park: Phantom Ranch
In the late Fall and winter, many hut-to-hut hiking systems are open to cross-country skiers only. If that's not your thing, head to Grand Canyon National Park. When we hiked from the top of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River last November, we started out in snow and ended up in shorts, t-shirts, and bare feet in warm sand along the riverbank.

Phantom Ranch is the only lodging at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and is reached via foot, mule, or raft. Guests at Phantom Ranch are provided with a hot breakfast and dinner and a packed lunch for the trail.

LeConte Lodge, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
LeConte Lodge is situated near the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains at an elevation of 6,360 feet. When staying at the lodge, you'll only need to pack what you'd take on any day hike plus a towel; everything else from linens to meals is provided. Bonuses: the lodge features pack llamas and guests are treated to a bottomless glass of wine at dinner service.

High Hut at Mount Rainier National Park
Perched on a ridge top at 4,760 feet, you'll enjoy views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens from this hut after you hike the strenuous 4.5 miles from the trailhead. This is a DIY hut experience: be prepared to bring your own gear (everything but the tent), food, and water or water filter.

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.