Solitude + starry nights at NorCal's hike-in backcountry huts
One of four backcountry lodges operated by Clair Tappan Lodge at Donner Pass. (Courtesy of @cbaltzley)

Solitude + starry nights at NorCal's hike-in backcountry huts


Communal backcountry huts are a long-held tradition of Old World alpine regions. Stocked with fuel, mattresses and kitchen supplies, they’re more than just a place to stay when the weather gets rough, they’re an overnight destination all their own.

While Northern California’s backcountry huts are fewer and farther between than their European counterparts, they’re no less secluded, rustic, or cozy. From Donner Pass to the Bay Area, these five backcountry stays offer nights of comfort and convenience on the trail.

Sierra Club Ollie Mayer Hiker's Hut

After nearly two years shuttered due to the pandemic, Sam McDonald Park’s beloved hiker’s hut has finally reopened. The modest, lofted shelter near La Honda in San Mateo County sleeps six, with mattress pads, electricity, a fridge and microwave, pots and pans, and a wood-fire stove at the ready.

Outside, from the wide wooden deck, there’s a nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding forest.

The Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut is a family-friendly 1.7 mile hike down a rolling dirt road from the trailhead/parking lot.

// Advance reservations ($20-$30) are required; Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut at Sam McDonald Park (La Honda),

Clair Tappaan Lodge Backcountry Huts

Clair Tappaan Lodge at Donner Pass is the guardian of four rustic backcountry huts, each nestled into different corners of the Truckee and Tahoe wilderness.

At the end of a three-mile trail from Castle Peak you’ll find the oldest of the cabins, the 1939 Peter Grubb Hut, which has an upstairs sleeping loft with space for 15, a wood-burning stove, a kitchen, and a two-story outhouse. The Ludlow Hut offers the same amenities 5.2 miles from the Rubicon-McKinney trailhead, while the Benson Hut, located 5.5 miles past the Pacific Crest Trailhead on Donner Pass Road, has six fold-down bunks downstairs, a 12-person upstairs sleeping loft, a wood-burning stove, a kitchen, and a two-story outhouse.

All three can be visited year-round while a fourth cabin, the 15-person Bradley Hut located two miles north of Squaw Valley, is open from October through April only.

// Rates vary, advance reservations required, arious locations around the Truckee and Tahoe area,

Shasta Alpine Hut (Horse Camp)

This Sierra Club–owned backcountry shelter in the Mount Shasta Wilderness isn’t so much a cabin as a lodge. The stone structure, which was originally built for climbers in 1923, has communal resources like a small library of mountain books and a solar-powered composting toilet, but backpackers bed down for the night in their own tents, which can be pitched on cleared outdoor campsites for $5 a pop.

The Shasta Alpine Hut is open to day visitors too, but don’t underestimate the hike. Although the shelter is just 1.6 miles from the trailhead at Bunny Flat, you’ll climb 1,000 feet through the forest before reaching your destination. The hut is also open for winter skiers and snowshoers minus the composting toilet and fresh water spring, which aren’t maintained after the snow begins to fall.

// Bunny Flat at Shasta-Trinity National Forest (Mount Shasta),

Frog Lake Backcountry Huts

Just past the Donner Summit, a new set of backcountry huts awaits summer adventurers. The four Frog Lake shelters are modeled after European versions, each stocked with bunks and sleeping pads, gas stoves, flush toilets, hot water, and electricity for charging devices.

There’s space for four in the Albert M. Rockwood Hut and two guests are welcome in each unit of the Morgan Family Foundation duplex. For larger parties, book Ted R’s Hut, which accommodates eight. A historic granite house, the Eschenbach Backcountry House, serves as a communal space for the visitors in each shelter, with a fireplace, areas for lounging, and a map room for visualizing the terrain in 2D.

The Frog Lake Backcountry Huts are open year-round for intrepid hikers, bikers, and skiers.

// Advanced reservations required, two to three night minimum stay required, rates start at $200/night; Frog Lake (Donner Pass),

Pear Lake Winter Hut

You’ll have to wait until winter rolls back around to stay at the Pear Lake Winter Hut at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, but it’s not too early to start planning a trip to this historic backcountry shelter.

The communal cabin, a brutal six-mile, 2,300-foot climb from the trailhead at Wolverton, welcomes skiers and snowshoers with a wood pellet heating stove, cook stoves and utensils, and a composting toilet.

// Advance reservations open Oct. 1 and are required to book one or more of the 10 bunks, each with its own mattress but no bedding ($40/bunk); Pear Lake at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Three Rivers),

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