When your hiking or mountain biking destination is a hut, the adventure is definitely not just about the journey. Summer is a great time to experience the more remote areas of the mountains, and the Summit Huts Association — a nonprofit organization based in Breckenridge — can make your backcountry accommodations a little more rustic.
“We would really like to introduce more people to the experience of the huts in the summertime,” said Mike Zobbe, executive director of the Summit Huts Association. “Many of the summer hut guests don’t think of the summer hut experience as a backpacking experience. But it is similar, and you can travel quite a bit lighter.”
Huts are equipped with general amenities, so you don’t have to pack everything in yourself. In the huts you’ll find a wood-burning stove for heat, solar-powered lights, indoor composting toilets, twin beds and pillows and a fully equipped kitchen with propane cook tops. These huts do not have double beds, ovens or refrigerators. Individuals or groups can reserve spaces; the huts are booked to capacity and may be occupied by more than one group.
The Summit Huts Association manages four huts in Summit County, all under special use permits with the Forest Service. However, only two of huts are available for use during the summer. Janet and Francie’s cabins are open from July though September, and each retreat offers its own alpine experience.
The original Summit Hut was built in 1990. It sits at an elevation of 11,610 feet, in the area between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass. Access the trailhead at Copper Mountain, where it will eventually enter the roadless area of Guller Gulch and gradually climb 5.5 miles to Janet’s Cabin.
“To reach Janet’s Cabin, you have to hike in on the Colorado Trail, which makes it very unique,” Zobbe said. “Janet’s certainly has a very remote feeling, and it’s more of a backpacking experience — it really feels like you are a lot further back there than if you had driven.”
Guests pack in food, clothing layers and a sleeping bag. In the summer, water is available from a nearby source (snow is boiled for water in the winter). The cabin has a wood-burning sauna — a backcountry luxury after a hike in to the hut. Bring friends or hit it solo; Janet’s Cabin sleeps as many as 14 people in the summer with upstairs bunk-style rooms.
Francie’s was the second hut built by the Summit Huts Association and is located approximately four miles south of Breckenridge, in the Crystal Lakes drainage, at an elevation of 11,264 feet. There are a number of ways to access Francie’s Cabin in the summer — the three different routes range from 1.8 miles to 4.5 miles in length.
“Francie’s is in an amazingly beautiful alpine environment, and it has access to nearby fishing at Crystal Lake, as well as big, beautiful meadows,” Zobbe said. “A lot of people go up and go hiking or ‘peak bagging’ in the area. It’s also more accessible than most because it’s a shorter walk in.”
The Summit Huts Association encourages visitors to access the hut under their own power and to carry their own gear, although some motorized vehicles can make most of the trek — if all the routes are open. Zobbe said a four-wheel-drive road will get hearty vehicles to a gate 200 yards from the house, but vehicles are required to be left a quarter-mile below the hut in designated parking. He said vehicles can also drive on a not-as-rocky way on Spruce Creek road and can arrive within a mile of the hut.
Francie’s sleeps 20 people in the summer, divided among six bedrooms. The cabin also offers a wood-burning sauna for post-peaking, and water is available from a nearby creek (drinkable once boiled or treated).
Summer in Summit
Zobbe said summer hut trips are completely different from winter trips and are generally much more accessible.
“Summer is more friendly as far as temperatures, and you don’t have to think about winter gear,” Zobbe said. “Most people have basic hiking gear, so really anyone can take advantage of the simplified experience.”
Visitors should take note of summer weather conditions, however, and plan for early afternoon arrivals to minimize your chances with encountering lighting, dropping temperatures, rain, hail and snow. Hikers and mountain bikers should always bring extra clothing layers and adequate amounts of food and water.
He said the wildlife and wildflower viewing opportunities are plentiful this time of year and that the Summit Huts Association encourages everyone to make their backcountry experience as “off-the-grid” as possible.
“In the summer, people do like to use vehicle support, so they will bring more stuff and more food with them,” Zobbe said. “So even though we try to encourage people to treat it as more of a backpacking experience, a lot of people do use vehicles.”
Note that there is no motorized access to Janet’s Cabin (hiking or biking only), and vehicles approaching Francie’s Cabin must park a substantial distance away from the building in designated parking areas. Roads can become inaccessible from rain erosion; so do not count on a vehicle to execute your chosen itinerary.