There's only one hiker's hut in the Bay Area. Here's what it's like to stay there.
The Ollie Mayer Hiker's Hut in Sam McDonald Park is the only hiker's hut in the Bay Area (Shoshi Parks)

There's only one hiker's hut in the Bay Area. Here's what it's like to stay there.


It’s just past noon when the trail marker for the Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut comes into view.

The arrow points towards a grove of trees splayed across the hillside, the last upward climb of the short 1.7-mile hike from the main parking lot at Sam McDonald Park.

My partner has literally been talking about this hut for years. We even had a reservation to stay here in 2020 but Covid had other plans. Now, finally, the cabin is ours—for one night at least.

She’s there at the top of the rise, silhouetted against the crisp January sky, an A-frame with a broad, wraparound deck and a wall of windows that faces west towards rippling hills and the ocean beyond.

The Sierra Club, which erected the hut in 1977, originally planned to build a network of cabins through the Santa Cruz Mountains so ambitious hikers could spend several days on the trail without ever having to put up a tent. But by the end of the 1970s, only one, the Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut, had been built. Almost 50 years later, it’s still the only hiker’s hut in the Bay Area—and it can still only be reached on foot or bike.

While some hiker’s huts are free, communal spaces where backpackers roll up unannounced to stay for an afternoon or a night, Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut shelters just one group of up to eight at a time. You have to have a reservation to stay—they open reservations for summer and fall three months in advance, and weekends fill up quickly—but the fee isn’t much more than you’d pay for a campsite, $25 per person per night ($30 per person on weekends and holidays), and Sierra Club members get a discount.

I knew before arriving that the cabin would have the luxury of electricity and flush toilets, but beyond that, I wasn’t quite sure how rustic we were talking. Turns out, not so much.

The well-stocked kitchen at the hiker's hut has two stovetops, a mini fridge, a microwave, a coffee pot, and even a toaster.(Shoshi Parks)

The hut was built out of a Danish prefab kit, and it looks the part. There’s a wood-burning stove, a simply crafted staircase to a loft, and two small rooms, one with a bunk bed and a closet full of board games. A small kitchen is fully stocked with cooking and serveware, a mini fridge, two stovetops, a sink with separate faucets for washing water and drinking water, a coffee pot, and even a toaster.

In the main room, a plastic tablecloth is draped over a long wooden table with eight chairs, and three cushioned benches form a little lounge around a coffee table. Posters with drawings of local plants and a Sierra Club pennant hang on the walls. There’s a bathroom with a toilet and sink indoors, but they request that you only use that one late-night; there are three other flushing bathrooms on the deck outside.

The club recommends that you bring disinfecting wipes to freshen up the space before you settle in but whoever vacated the hut last left it in pristine condition. All we need to do is turn on the water, turn down the temperature on the fridge, and put away our groceries so they don’t attract mice.

With a whole afternoon ahead of us, we head back out into Sam McDonald Park, an underrated open space of redwood forests, rushing creeks, and fern-walled waterfalls. On the Brooke Loop Trail (7.5 miles), we sneak up on a Pacific newt lumbering through leaf litter and make a game of spotting mushrooms of every shape and size. The trail is still wet from rain the day before and I’ve never seen so many banana slugs.

A wood-burning stove provides most of the heat for the hut.(Shoshi Parks)

The sun is on the verge of setting by the time we get back to the hut. We have just enough time to make a couple cups of cocoa and plant ourselves on a wooden bench positioned 100 feet from the cabin for exactly this purpose. As the sky over the Pacific explodes in pinks and oranges, we are completely alone in the gloaming; there’s not another person for miles around.

When darkness falls, we return inside to prepare for the night ahead. By now it’s cold, really cold, and only one of the wall heaters in the main room seems to be working, emitting a dull warmth that’s unlikely to actually cut through the chill. But the woodshed outside is stacked high with firewood and we get to work getting a flame to stay lit. It happens, eventually, and the room begins to thaw.

Upstairs in the loft, stacks of sleeping cushions are neatly folded against the back wall. The Sierra Club requires guests to sleep on the ground floor so we bring down two cushions, push back the coffee table, and make a cozy double bed in front of the stove. After dinner, we curl up there and read books in the glow of the embers until our eyes grow heavy with sleep.

The next morning we wake to sunny skies and the chirping of birds. We bundle up and carry our coffee back to our bench to watch the fog creeping from valley to ridge in the distance. After breakfast, we linger looking through nature books and info binders, and plinking the guitar in the lounge before turning to the departure checklist. We sweep and vacuum where needed, stack our sleeping cushions upstairs, wipe down the kitchen and toilets with disinfectant, and pack up our trash to carry down the hill.

The small front lounge at the Ollie Mayer Hiker's Hut.(Shoshi Parks)

Finally, the only thing left to be done is to zip our packs, lace our boots, and lock the door behind us. We see no one on the trail as we hike back to the car, just a covey of California quail and four rabbits out for a morning nibble. The air is fresh and cool, the perfect weather for a hike.

Despite small comforts like running water and electricity, spending the night at the Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut has the same effect as a backpacking trip. Once the sun begins to set, the wilderness wraps around you silent and beautiful, making you feel as if you were the only person in the world.

This may not be the only place in the Bay Area to find that solitude, but it’s definitely the only one where you don’t have to poop outside.

// The Ollie Mayer Hiker’s Hut is 1.7 miles on the Towne Road Trail from the main parking lot at Sam McDonald Park; 13435 Pescadero Creek Rd. (Loma Mar),

The sunset view from the Ollie Mayer Hiker's Hut.(Shoshi Parks)

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