Hut Trip Experience

Huts make for a great winter “camping” option. Follow along with the Johnsons on their latest experience.

By Courtney Johnson
Camp Ambassador

Huts across the country, and around the world, provide a unique experience for visitors. In the U.S., huts and hut systems can be found from Maine to Colorado, some originally serving as training spots for troops in World War II. These huts are typically more basic, with visitors needing to boil snow to sterilize for cooking and drinking water throughout the winter and a filter for gathering water in the summer. Privately owned huts often offer more features, including private ones within hut systems and divisions, from saunas to running water and showers. 

One of our favorite huts to visit is the High Lonesome Hut, a private hut near Fraser, Colo. Deep into the Arapaho National Forest, it is a 2.5-mile trek on the Strawberry Trail to the hut. It is located in a meadow with 160 acres of spruce trees. In the summer months, hikers and bikers make the trip for the overnight stay, while in the winter, skis or snowshoes get you safely to the hut. 

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Hut amenities differ from place to place. The High Lonesome Hut is no exception, although it has more creature comforts than most. When we pack for a hut trip, we create a checklist based on what is provided at the hut and go from there. With COVID-19 restrictions, some basics typically in a hut may be missing, including pillows and sheets. As we packed for our overnight trip, we referred to the detailed hut packet and a premade list we have for camping to determine what to bring. 

A check of the forecast let us know that we picked a great weekend for our trip despite making the reservation over six months ago. Sunny skies, no wind and mild winter temps meant perfect conditions for the 2.5-mile snowshoe trek to the hut.

Backpacks filled with food, sleeping bags, books and other essentials, my family left the trailhead for the Strawberry and Spruce Meadows Trail around 12:30 to start the trek in. This year, I was battling a head cold and liquid in my ears that affected my balance. We also had our 2.5-year-old Aussiedoodle Roxy with us, so we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get there. Part of the fun of this trip is also playing a bit in the snow along the way, whether it is throwing snowballs at each other or being on the lookout for animal tracks and yetis.

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Blue skies and other trail users greeted us along the way. The snow was nice and packed down, making for quicker conditions. With a slight uphill climb for the majority of the route and steady sunshine, we were removing layers pretty quickly. At times, I had to stop to try to pop my ears. Going from our home at 5,130 feet in elevation to 9,130-plus feet put some added pressure in my ears.  

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

The trail allows for dogs to be off leash. My pup had a blast running up ahead and back to us. She broke through the snow on the sides of the trail — the snow almost covering her head as she sunk in. We remembered there was a crest at the top of a climb and that past the USDA/Private Property sign is where the trail begins the downhill portion past the bike park and to the hut.

One of these summers, we will have to book a stay at the hut. The many signed journals at the hut tell of a trail lined with beautiful strawberries ready to be plucked for a summer trail snack. The creek bed area is filled with wildflowers. The Huck Forest Bike Park, which you pass the turnoff for on the way to the hut, is a private terrain mountain bike park featuring a pump track, a mountain cross course, a berm training track and 25 gap jumps. While winter campfires aren’t allowed, summer nights under the stars with some tunes and s’mores sounds perfect indeed. There also tend to be more sightings of mama moose and, every few years, a new baby, too. 

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

We continued downhill, where signage let us know to head right toward the hut. Pretty soon after, in the distance, we could see the familiar yellow of the hut peeking through the forest. 

Snowshoes off and protected under the newly erected storm-overhang roof, we got the lay of the land again by turning on the solar power and water. We picked what beds we wanted between the multiple bunk beds and single beds by placing our sleeping bags down where we chose to sleep. The lower bunk was the perfect place for our pup to sleep or just sit and gaze out the window, with my daughter in the bunk above. 

When we passed the previous group that was staying at the hut as we made our way in, they said to be on the lookout for the various lizards they had hidden around the place. I knew my daughter Emma would have a blast rehiding them for the next group to find. She found all eight lizards, and one frog, almost right away. 

The hut was pretty warm when we arrived. There was no need to start a fire right away, but we knew we would need some smaller pieces of wood to get the fire started. We headed down to the basement to chop some logs in half and quarters for future use. My daughter likes to be in charge of firewood, and the fire is her hut job as long as it isn’t during the night shift. She’s getting pretty confident with an ax, with adult supervision. My husband, AJ, let her chop some larger logs into smaller pieces. 

Then, we spent some downtime reading books and magazines for the first hour or so at the hut. The sun shone brightly into the living room area, making the couches a perfect napping spot. I took a quick 20-minute siesta with my pup while my husband and daughter had a snack and got ready to go sledding.

Remember I mentioned the perks of a private hut? Well, an amazingly fast tubing hill with tubes (and a kayak, if you are daring enough) right out the door is another fantastic perk of this particular hut. Still battling a sinus headache, I stayed back as the rest of the family hit the tubing runs. I was just beginning to get dinner going about a half hour later when my husband and daughter came back in, chatting about how much faster the run was than the year before. As always when we go sledding, our pup had the best time chasing the tubes down the hill. 

Back at the hut, Emma decided it was time to get the fire going. Over hot chocolate, AJ and Emma headed to the basement and began to start the fire. Emma helped tear up newspaper and place some smaller logs into the stove to get a proper fire started. 

Although we had some gorgeous blue sky on the way into the hut, it gave way to clouds about an hour before sunset. For the second year in a row, we missed the chance to see the winter sky of the Milky Way — a beautiful treat. On the bright side, clouds meant a warmer night. We briefly talked about a tubing session by headlamps. But, when the snow started coming down after sunset, we knew we were in for the night.

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Over bowls of mac and cheese, we played games of Curious George Memory and Spot It! Just like the trip before, we had so many laughs playing Memory, between picking up the same cards over and over and getting the various George character cards mixed up in our minds. Each round got more heated and more fun. Another great feature of private huts is that many contain books, magazines, games and more to keep everyone content during a visit. 

My daughter took some time to hide the lizards again, and we spent time finding them via headlamps. With full bellies, we switched the lights out and watched the snow fall down, so peaceful and quiet. Before we knew it, it was time for some bedtime stories and jumping in the sleeping bags.

The hut stayed much warmer than the previous year. It may have been because we visited the hut in March this year versus in February the year before. Warmer day temperatures helped maintain the heat as well. My husband got a good fire roaring that managed to keep the hut warm through the night. Our sleeping bags became more like light blankets, as we had no need to get fully in them to stay warm. 

The cloudy skies delayed the sun’s entrance into the hut. We slept in a little later than we anticipated. The hut was a bit chilly when we got up — the fire completely out by then. While AJ and Emma tended to the fire, I got up and made some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. Our dog was already playing the in and out game, enjoying the still lightly falling snow from the porch. 

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

We didn’t have to be out of the hut until 11, so we decided to do another tubing session post-breakfast. Dressed in layers, we walked a few hundred feet to the tubing hill. The light snow added to the beauty of the woods, a bit of blue sky peeking through the pines that towered into the sky. 

Up and down the tubing run, Roxy chased us, not caring if she smacked right into us as we careened down the hill. When AJ and Emma went down in separate tubes hooked together, they kept ending up basically in a tree well when they came to a stop. When Emma and I went down, we kept stopping in an untracked area with snow deeper than my knees when we climbed out of the tubes. We spent an hour enjoying the tubing run before we decided to head back to the hut to pack up for our hike out. 

While my husband and I focused on sweeping the hut and packing, Emma hid the lizards and frog for the next visitors. We followed the checklist for vacating the hut, including turning off the water and solar system, and did one last look around to be sure we didn’t leave anything behind. The trash was the last thing we packed up in the top of my backpack before we hit the trail. 

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

As we hiked out, we reflected on the time we had at the hut. While carrying our gear, the hike in and out was just enough of a challenge to make it an adventure. The solitude and surroundings made the hut such an enjoyable experience. The lack of cell service and absence of a TV and computer made the trip all about spending time together. My daughter always comments on how much she loves the simplicity of the trip, the lack of an agenda and the undistracted quality time we get together. 

We always talk about wanting to book the hut for more than one night, but I have been late in putting in our yearly booking request. I decided to put a reminder in my phone to email the hut owner at the end of the month about booking two nights, to guarantee we can get the hut for longer during our next trip. Let’s hope that with a two-night stay, we may finally get to see the Milky Way. 

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