Many outdoor-loving Aspenites are familiar with the 10th Mountain Division, an Army unit that trained for World War II in the Rocky Mountains and whose legacy lives on with the system of 34 backcountry huts connected by more than 300 miles of trails.
The huts are popular skiing destinations, as they provide convenient starting points to some incredible backcountry skiing. But savvy Aspen-area adventurers also know that some of the huts are also open in the summer and make ideal weekend getaways.
These accommodations are backcountry at its best. A rigorous hike in is followed by the rewards of cozy, rustic digs: cabins equipped with real beds, kitchens stocked with utensils, porches perfect for cocktails among friends, and, of course, spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains.
Ready to plan a trip to the 10th Mountain Division huts in summer? Check out these insider tips to make your adventure one to remember.
Do your homework on your hut.
Some privately owned huts require guests to book the entire place, while others sleep as many as 20+ people, meaning that you might be bunking up with strangers (which can be part of the fun, too).
Make sure to research your hut beforehand, keeping in mind that the huts come fully stocked with beds, full kitchen, and an outhouse, which can cut down on the amount of gear you’ll need. Also remember that some huts don’t have running water or electricity. But some have such lovely amenities as hammocks.
Don’t expect to set a speed record hiking in.
Hiking at altitude with a pack makes the going very slow—depending on your route and whether you have kids in the group, you’ll likely be moving no more than two miles per hour. Hikes to some of the huts are eight or more miles, some with a 1,500-foot elevation gain (shorter ones, meanwhile, are less than a mile from the parking lot). Plan your route accordingly, starting early enough to arrive at your hut in daylight.
Find trails that take you farther into the wild.
Day hikes into the hills around Aspen are great, but an overnight trip in the backcountry promises bona fide adventure. These backcountry huts provide the perfect base camp for exploration into the high country, with numerous hiking and biking trails weaving through the system. For instance, from Margy’s Hut, a popular cabin for summer getaways, you can hike to the top of Mount Yeckel for stunning views of the Fryingpan River Valley to the north and the Elk Mountains to the south.
Consider a hut-to-hut excursion.
One of the best advantages of the huts division is that they’re connected by an intricate trail system. That opens up a myriad of options for adventurous excursions, like connecting two huts in a loop or an overland trip from Aspen to Vail. Linked by trails through the Sawatch mountains, huts including Margy’s, Betty Bear, Uncle Bud’s, and the Jackal can get you from Aspen to Vail, taking four or five nights to traverse the range while sleeping in a soft bed by a warm fire every night.
Bring a star chart.
One of the best parts about “glamping” at these high country huts is sitting on the porch, savoring the sunset and sounds of nature. But don’t head inside when the sun goes down: Being far from the city light reduces light pollution and allows the starry night sky to take center stage. Throughout summer, the Milky Way rises early in the south and traverses the eastern sky. So bring a chart and a pair of binoculars to catch a glimpse of the galaxy, spot the circumpolar stars, and pick out the constellations in the universe—while remembering that your spot in it at that very moment is a pretty enviable one.