10 Easy Access Backcountry Cabins in the U.S.

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10 Easy Access Backcountry Cabins in the U.S.

As a former mountain guide, wilderness therapy instructor, and trail worker, and now an obsessed recreationist, I’ve spent hundreds of nights sleeping outside in tents, under tarps, in yurts, portaledges, and bivy sacks. But nothing is better than landing in the perfect hut for a night or two to get away from it all. I love the fire towers in Washington, where I live, the ski-in mountain huts in British Columbia across the border, and the cozy tree houses scattered around the Pacific Northwest.

While many remote cabins require specific skills to reach, there are numerous huts with easy access right under our noses in the U.S. Virtually no experience is needed for a great experience, making the perfect backcountry weekend a reachable goal for everyone.

Hot chocolate hour in a Vermont Hut Association cabin. (Photo: Travis Thiele)

From Virginia to the Midwest, from Alaska to Hawaii, these backcountry huts provide the opportunity for all ages to experience nature, solitude, and the pleasures of hut life. With approaches ranging from zero to just under four miles, and with some ADA accessible, they are perfect for grandparents, babies, and everyone in between.

Cotten Cabin, Porcupine Mountains, Michigan

Hiking Distance: 1 Mile

cabin in woods
Cotten Cabin, Porcupine Mountains, Michigan (Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

This mostly flat state, shaped like a mitten, may not be the first place you think of for remote mountain settings. The Upper Peninsula, or the UP, as locals call it, is unlike the rest of the region, though. Here, adjacent to Lake Superior, lie the forested Porcupine Mountains, and within them is a cabin located only a mile from the parking area.

While there are 15 other cabins in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, the Cotten Cabin is the newest addition, a rustic and beautiful three-room log cabin. You must carry in your own water, and there is no electricity: perfect for disconnecting and catching up on sleep.

Closer to Minneapolis than Detroit, and just across the Wisconsin border, this 60,000-acre state park is far from any big city. The closest major airport is in Marquette, approximately 140 miles away. Getting to the “Porkies” may feel like traveling to the edge of the country, and in fact it is, as Canada lies less than 150 miles north, with the border starting in the middle of Lake Superior, on which the cabin sits. With plenty of easy hiking trails nearby, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing opportunities in the winter, and even a ski resort within the park, the area offers plenty to do.

mountain hut
Interior of the Cotten Cabin (Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

The Cabin: The Cotten Cabin is a 24- by 30-foot log structure with three rooms, mattresses, and even a living room for gazing out at the magical lake view below. It is perfect for families, relaxing and bonding over board games, star gazing, and staying up by a warm fire.

Booking Tips: midnrreservations.com, $135 per night. Make reservations online; select “Backcountry” under the camping tab. Cabin is for all seasons.

Blue Lakes Hiking Hut, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Hiking Distance: 0 Miles

The Blue Lakes Hiking Hut, in the San Juans, Colorado (Photo: Courtesy San Juan Huts)

The mountains of Colorado are a backcountry-hut paradise. Set in the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state, the San Juan Hut System offers four hiking huts, with off-grid accommodations for visitors of all abilities. The Blue Lakes Hiking Hut, sitting under towering Mount Sneffels, feels far from civilization, but requires no approach when you book the cabin during May, part of October, and November. Other than those times, the cabin is reserved for people hiking the four-night, five-day Sneffels Traverse.

mountain view
A best friend also looks out at Mount Sneffels from the Blue Lakes Hiking Hut (Photo: Courtesy San Juan Huts)

The Hut: There’s no electricity or running water here, though a wood stove and propane lanterns provide ambiance and warmth. Sleeping eight people via padded bunk beds, this cozy haven is a perfect jumping-off point for hiking in summer, skiing in winter if you have the backcountry experience, or kicking back with a book.

boy bike mountain view
Mountain biking out the door, Blue Lakes (Photo: Courtesy San Juan Huts)

Booking Tips: sanjuanhuts.com, $30 per night during the “off season” of May, part of October, and November. Reservations made over the phone at 970-626-3033. Visit during off season.

Heybrook Lookout, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Hiking Distance: 1 Mile

sunset from fire tower
Sunset viewing from Heybrook Tower, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington (Photo: Cavan Images/Getty)

Sixty-seven feet tall, overlooking the impressive Wild Sky Wilderness, an old fire tower welcomes campers who are up for a short but steep one-mile hike, ending with 84 steps up to a private cabin at the top. This site is incredibly popular and hard to reserve, so plan ahead. Availability is released on a six-month rolling basis starting on November 1, so to score this distinctive backcountry spot will take persistence and luck.

While fire lookouts are endlessly fascinating, there are only 93 left in the state of Washington, compared to over 600 in the early to mid-1900s, and the public is only allowed to enter a handful. Heybrook Lookout is unique among them in that you can reserve it solely for your own party, though other visitors will still be allowed to climb most of the tower, at least up to the door, which you can lock. (You get a key from the Skykomish Ranger Station.)

The Lookout: Inside the lookout are a twin-size bed and several extra floor mattresses. It comes complete with a propane stove, cookware, and a coffee pot, but you’ll need to walk back down the stairs to use the toilet. The lookout is available May 1 through October 31 with reservation availability released on a six-month rolling basis.

Booking Tips: recreation.gov, $75 per night. Log on first thing November 1 to get in ahead of the competition. All seasons.

Coyote Yurts, Smoky Mountains, Idaho

Hiking Distance: .3 Miles

yurt campfire
Evening and campfire time, Coyote Yurts, Smoky Mountains, Idaho (Photo: Courtesy Sun Valley Trekking)

Since 1982, Sun Valley Mountain Huts has provided shelter for hikers and skiers to escape the crowded resorts nearby. The system is comprised of six huts located in the Sawtooth Forest, with the Coyote Yurts being the easiest to get to: just one-third of a mile from the car in summer. The Coyote Yurts are two separate dwellings that sleep 19 total, connected by a porch and looking out on the Boulder and Pioneer mountains.

In winter, with road closures, the full trek to the yurts is six miles, but with the option of a snowmobile ride for the first four of those. You can hire a ski guide through Sun Valley Guides in the winter or a hiking or mountain-bike guide in the summer. You can arrange a shuttle or a porter to carry provisions (food, beer, gear, etc.) through Sun Valley Mountain Huts, or be self-sufficient and bring your own food and supplies.

inside mountain yurt
Cheers: interior of the Coyote Yurts. (Photo: Courtesy Sun Valley Trekking)

The Yurts: The beauty of a yurt is in its circular construction and impermanence, made famous by nomadic peoples in Mongolia. Staying in a yurt feels comforting and cozy, and the Coyote Yurts, each with a wood stove for warmth and with a three-burner stove in the cooking space, offer plenty of opportunities for kicking up feet and sipping on hot beverages.

Booking Tips: svtrek.com, $440 per night. Book online or call 208-788-1966. Visit in summer.

Range View Cabin, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Hiking Distance: .9 Miles

Range View Cabin, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia (Photo: Courtesy Potomac Appalachian Trail Club)

Offering a way to go from our nation’s capital to a remote cabin in just a few hours, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club provides access to 42 cabins throughout Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. One of the most accessible is the Range View Cabin in Shenandoah National Park.

Per its mission statement, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club acquires and protects the lands of the Appalachian Trail, other trails, and related facilities in the Mid-Atlantic. Club members and volunteers manage each cabin in the system, with routine maintenance, building and renovation, even stonemasonry work. The primary role of the thousand-plus volunteers is maintaining trails and facilities, meaning there is always an opportunity to stay in a cabin and give back at the same time.

From the Range View Cabin, opportunities abound for exploring Shenandoah National Park, known for beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous hikes, and access to wildlife. Just .1 miles off the Appalachian Trail, the cabin is a great base camp for day hiking, backpacking, or people-watching and greeting thru-hikers as they tackle the rugged trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.

The Cabin: This one-room stone cabin has been in operation since 1933. It is sparse and bare-boned, but the wood floors, intricate stonework, and wooden beams give it appeal. A $40 individual annual membership to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club gives you access to all the cabins in the network, while 18 of them are open to nonmembers from a range of $35 to $145 for a standard weekend night. The Range View Cabin, considered a primitive cabin, costs $50 for a weekend night, and sleeps up to eight.

Booking Tips: patc.net, $35 per night average. Online booking closes 12 days before rental starts. Last-minute bookings can be made by calling 703-242-0315. All seasons.

Holua Cabin, Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

Hiking Distance: 3.7 Miles

Holua Cabin (Photo: NPS Photo by Jill Peters )

The Holua Cabin in Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui is the farthest-away hut on this list. At 3.7 miles, this hike requires some stamina, though hiring pack animals to bring in gear can ease the approach. The Hōlua Cabin sits at the base of the Haleakala volcano crater. You can explore further into the crater itself via a well-maintained trail system.

Some endangered species can only be seen in Haleakala National Park, including exotic birds such as the ʻiʻwi, ʻamakihi, and ʻapapane. Over 400 native plants are found within the park boundaries, due to the vast ecosystems that extend from the highest point, at 10,023 feet, down to sea level. There is a rich history of human influence in the area, beginning with the Polynesians, the first humans to discover the Hawaiian Islands. A stop in at the visitors center to view the rotating museum displays, which range from archeology to botany, gives visitors a chance to learn about the history of the park where the Holua cabin lies.

The Cabin: The Holua Cabin and two other cabins in the national park have bunk beds that sleep up to 12 people and contain a wood stove and firewood. You bring your own sleeping bags. Each cabin is unpretentious and basic, with no cell reception and minimal amenities. Each site has a vault toilet.

Booking Tips: recreation.gov, $75 per night. All seasons.

Ananda Treehouse, Fall City, Washington

Hiking Distance: 0 Miles

Ananda Treehouse, Fall City, Washington: OK, it’s a treehouse, not a hut, but it’s pretty sweet—and ADA compliant. (Photo: Josh Herbert)

Our most accessible hut, really a treehouse, is also ADA compliant, inviting anyone to enjoy the forest in the Pacific Northwest. The Ananda treehouse is one of seven treehouses comprising Treehouse Point, the brainchild of Pete Nelsen, host of the Animal Planet show Treehouse Masters.

Treehouse Point is extremely popular, booked throughout the year by many wedding parties, and it is difficult but not impossible to secure a rental. Starting at $550 for a night, Ananda isn’t a rustic experience, more like an elegant getaway.

tree house
This tree house for adults is ADA compliant. (Photo: Josh Herbert)

The Treehouse: While not exactly in the backcountry, the treehouses offer a remote feel and a unique opportunity to relax while suspended amongst giant western cedar and Douglas fir trees. Each treehouse is designed for privacy and intimacy, creating a luxurious and restorative getaway. The Ananda treehouse has a king-sized bed, a bathroom, and a private deck that overlooks the Raging River below.

Booking Tips: treehousepoint.com, $550-$625 per night. All seasons.

Triple Creek Cabin, Huntington, Vermont

Hiking Distance: 250 Yards

mountain hut
Triple Creek Cabin, Huntington, Vermont (Photo: Courtesy Vermont Huts Association)

In the land of maple syrup and sharp white cheese, it’s easy to cozy up to a fireplace in a cabin in the woods any season. But you don’t have to have a family cabin passed down through the generations or spend a fortune on a five-star Airbnb to have an amazing backcountry experience. The Vermont Hut Association operates 11 backcountry dwellings, from yurts to a log cabin to modern wood-clad huts.

Little ones make the snowy trek into one of the cabins run by the Vermont Hut Association. (Photo: Travis Thiele)

The Triple Creek Cabin, a winter-only hut in the Green Mountains, is a mere 250 yards from the car, but feels much more removed. The place is situated along the 300-mile Catamount Trail, which stretches over the entire state from Canada to Massachusetts, giving nordic skiers, snowshoers, and backcountry skiers access to snow and winter terrain. You can also hop on a groomed cross-country ski trail with an adult day pass (an inexpensive $15) to Camel’s Hump Nordic Ski Area, which offers 35 miles of groomed and wooded trails. Camel’s Hump is one of the few nordic ski areas in Vermont that allow dogs on the ski trails.

interior hut
Interior, Triple Creek (Photo: Courtesy Vermont Huts Association)

The Cabin: The Triple Creek Cabin has the basics: a wood stove, three-burner stove, and an outhouse, but what stands out is the beautiful windows that filter winter light into the hut, creating a comfortable and reflective environment. The hut is quite intimate, allowing only four visitors, but with a sleeping loft to duck away to at night; and with a small table and chairs for eating and playing games, it feels bigger than it first appears. Each of the 11 dwellings within the Vermont Hut Association’s network is different in construction and layout. The Triple Creek Cabin has a classic gable roof, small porch, and large front door. Privately held properties make up the hut system, allowing the public to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding lands without breaking the bank.

Booking Tips: vermonthuts.org, $90-$95 per night. All seasons.

Tilly Jane A-Frame, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Hiking Distance: .25 Mile

Campfire area, Tilly Jane A-Frame (Photo: Eric Thornburg)

On the south side of Mount Hood, Timberline Mountain ski area operates well into summer. While kids’ ski camps are taking place on one side of the mountain, on the other side, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a lovely backcountry cabin on the shadier northern slopes. In summertime, it’s a short quarter-mile hike to reach the cabin through the Tilly Jane Campground. The 2.7 mile winter journey to the cabin should only be undertaken by folks with backcountry avalanche training and extensive snow travel experience.

The cabin itself is large, allowing up to 20 people—often people you’ve never met—to sleep under one roof. Evergreen trees surround the building, creating an enveloping tunnel of greenery. The solid timber structure was built in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is now maintained by the Oregon Nordic Club.

Tilly Jane A-Frame, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon (Photo: Eric Thornburg)

The Cabin: Numerous benches, picnic tables, and chairs line the cabin, perfect for mingling. More of a communal hang than a quaint hut, this place is meant for big gatherings and celebrations. The upstairs loft has plenty of space for catching some Z’s, but with the inevitability of snoring as likely background noise. There are lots of hooks and taut lines of cordage to hang up wet gear, and the outdoor firepit is a great place to get some fresh air.

Booking Tips: recreation.gov, $20 per night. Visit in summer.

Tired crew after a wood-hauling day at the Tilly Jane cabin. Andrea Chin up front. (Photo: Eric Thornburg)

Ollie Mayer Hikers’ Hut, Sam McDonald Park, California

Hiking Distance: 1.7 Miles

Ollie Mayer Hikers’ Hut, Sam McDonald Park, California (Photo: Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter)

This small hut is perfect for San Francisco city dwellers. Only 50 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, the park and the hut are easily reached by urbanites looking for a wilderness escape. The Ollie Mayer Hikers’ Hut is easily accessed via a straightforward 1.7-mile hike on a dirt road. Tucked among redwood trees, the hut is an ideal jumping-off place for exploring the forested and grassy knolls of Sam McDonald Park.

There are many mellow hiking trails to choose from in the park, and horseback riding is a popular activity on five dedicated trails. Operated by the Sierra Club, with fees of only $30 per weekend night per person, this hut is a worthy destination for almost anyone, no matter the age.

interior hut
The dining room, Ollie Mayer Hikers’ Hut (Photo: Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter)

The Hut: There is electricity, a refrigerator, a microwave, and an indoor bathroom. This cabin is less about roughing it, and more about enjoying peace and quiet in a beautiful setting. A large deck out front offers lounging on the many sunny days the region sees throughout the year. The cabin is within the Santa Cruz Mountains, which have a mild climate, with snowfall a few times each year.

Booking Tips: sierraclub.org, $20-$30 per night. Must email olliemayerhikershut@gmail.com for reservations. Reservations are accepted only for three calendar months in advance. All seasons.

Bonus Hut: Sheldon Chalet, Denali National Park, Alaska

Hiking Distance: 0 Miles

mountain hut
Bonus hut: Sheldon Chalet, Denali National Park, Alaska (Photo: Courtesy Reya Communications)

We include this (11th) one for fun and daydreams as well as the zero-distance, fly-in only approach. The Sheldon Chalet, deep within Denali National Park, may be the most alluring hut in the world. It is a luxury experience like no other, an exclusive vacation for those willing to pay the whopping $35,500 price per couple for a three-night minimum stay.

Set within the Don Sheldon Amphitheater of the Ruth Glacier, just 10 miles from the summit of Denali, the Sheldon Chalet occupies a place previously only accessible by mountain climbers. The views of enormous mountains right out the door is breathtaking, as is the required helicopter ride to and from the chalet.

woman chalet deck
The view from the deck, Sheldon Chalet, Denali National Park, Alaska (Photo: Courtesy Reya Communications)

The Chalet: With a sauna, hot showers, and private chef at hand, you will be pampered throughout your stay. Activities include “gourmet glacier picnic,” “star and meteor shower gazing,” and “avalanche viewing.” There are both private rooms and a common area, so you can mingle with other guests or enjoy peace and quiet. This chalet takes backcountry lodging to a whole other level of luxury.

Booking Tips: sheldonchalet.com, $35,500 for three-night minimum stay. Call 907-733-2414 for reservations. All season.

Hut Life Tips & Tricks

The Tilly Jane A-Frame in deep winter: visit only if you have extensive experience. For most, it is a summer gig. (Photo: Eric Thornburg)

Despite the ease of access to these huts, having the right gear (think rain jacket, hiking footwear, trekking poles), knowing the weather forecast (weather.gov), bringing safety equipment (first aid kit, headlamp), and having proper navigation tools is imperative. It’s possible to get lost in the backcountry, even on a short trek. Using Gaia, a navigational app with maps available to reach the huts on this list, is a great way to know where you are at all times, and to have a backup in case you get lost. Check out the 10 Essentials, a list of important items recommended to carry in the backcountry. Above all, have common sense, use good judgment, and stay within your capabilities.

man in mountain hut
The author at the Waddington Hut, British Columbia (Photo: Courtesy David Gladish)

David Gladish is a Seattle-based writer who has hiked, climbed, surfed, skied, and mountain unicycled all over the world. He has visited mountain huts near and far, from the shelter along the Laugavegur trail in Iceland, to those of the Rees-Dart track in New Zealand. His favorite local huts are the fire lookouts in his home state of Washington.

The author mountain unicycling (Photo: Courtesy David Gladish)

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