Resources and Library:

Long Distance Trails

Hosted by

Author Sam Demas argues that it’s time to focus some serious planning on the trend toward more backcountry accomodations to ensure it develops in a way that is beneficial to visitors while protecting our natural environment.

arrow From the Winter 2017-18 issue of American Trails Magazine

arrow See more on backcountry hut systems at



Hut-to-hut systems are growing: let’s plan for them

photo of tents with doors

High Sierra Camps in Yosemite National Park


What comes to mind when you think hut-to-hut: probably Europe and New Zealand. With its highly-organized system of 1,000 backcountry huts New Zealand— about the same size (area and population) as Oregon— is the hut capital of the world; Switzerland and Norway each have about 500 huts.

By comparison, the USA has about 110 huts operating within 17 different hut-to-hut systems. But American interest in hut-to-hut is quickening.

America has a very strong tradition of backpacking (4% of Americans are backpackers). This is consonant with our proud history of setting aside huge reserves of wild lands for protection and recreation. Every nation’s approach to outdoor recreation— including how its citizens organize overnight stays in the wild— is based on local causes and conditions such as geography, size of the country, climate, terrain, history, economics, politics, and cultural values.

photo of wood cabin in forest

San Juan Huts in Colorado

We will always be world leaders in backpacking. But American outdoor culture is evolving to explore the options that lie on the continuum between car-camping and backpacking. For example, state parks are building lots of huts and yurts, but they are following the convenience-based model of car camping, but are not connecting the dots for those who wish to walk, ski, or bike for days on end. I think we can be more imaginative than this.

American interest in hut-to-hut hiking, biking, and skiing grows out of our new-found enthusiasm for through hiking and for innovative, environmentally sensitive forms of overnight visitation in front and back-country settings. This increased demand for “authentic” outdoor adventure experiences by an urbanized population presents new challenges for environmentalists, land managers and recreation planners.

photo of elaborate houses

Maine Huts and Trails Flagstaff Hut


Today serious planning is underway for at least 6 new hut systems, and others under discussion. My sense is that this movement is just beginning. Adirondacks Hamlets to Huts and the American Prairie Reserve’s planned hut system in Montana are two innovative examples of this impulse. Bellwether states like Colorado and Vermont now have state-wide organizations for hut and yurt owners.

This grassroots activity is barely on the radar screen of American land managers, trails professionals, and recreation planners. I believe it’s time to focus some serious planning effort on this trend to ensure it develops in a way that is beneficial to our natural environment – as well as to our hikers, bikers and skiers. The science and planning efforts need to keep up with the impulse to infrastructure and economic development.

My hope is that in studying the potential roles and locations of huts in America, we will:

• invest much more in the development of simple, LNT and nature-based overnight options than we do in “glamping” options;  

photo of snow-covered cabin

Betty Bear Hut in the Tenth Mountain Division system, Colorado


While huts are currently considered “accepted anomalies” by land management agencies and do not even exist in the Forest Service’s “Recreational Opportunity Spectrum”, there is lots of good grass-roots experience available in the American hut community and abroad. My goal is to gather what is know about huts to inform an intelligent conversation about the future of huts as environmental education and protection tools in America.


More on backcountry hut systems

Interested in knowing more about the world of huts and other shelter systems for long distance hiking, biking, and skiing? Sam Demas runs to explore how they operate around the world. You’ll find articles, economic studies, and information on operations, regulatory environments, and user demographics. His goal is to build a community and a national conversation around the future of various kinds of hut systems in America.

photo of cabin by bare mountain

Broome Hut in the Tenth Mountain Division system, Colorado

Print Friendly
Print Friendly and PDF




Facebook Twitter

Stay up to date on legislative issues for trails, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


business directory


trail database

Need trail skills and education? Do you provide training? Join the National Trails Training Partnership!

The NTTP Online Calendar connects you with courses, conferences, and trail-related training

arrowEnjoy and share the new online, digital version of the American Trails Magazine!

arrowHelp us provide you more useful resources to keep you on the cutting-edge -- please join today!

arrowWe are advocating for your interests! Visit the Supporting Trails page to view the latest in legislative news, current issues, and opportunities, and to learn how to access funding.

arrow Sign me up for American Trails Action Alerts and e-Newsletters">Sign up for American Trails Action Alerts and Trail Tracks e-Newsletters.


PDF  Some of our documents are in PDF format and require free Adobe Acrobat Reader software.
  Download Acrobat Reader

section 508 logo American Trails and NTTP support accessibility with Section 508: read more.