If you want to embrace the wildest mountains without carrying your tent then you need to find a mountain hut (AKA a mountain cabin or lodge or Refuge!). A proper mountain hut to me is a very basic shelter that has no electricity, no proper beds, no running water and maybe a hole in the ground for a toilet. Put simply they are a refuge from the wind and rain and they vary from wooden sheds to giant plastic tubes or even traditional log cabins. They might sound basic and unpleasant to some of you but spending a night in a warm but remote mountain hut is something you’ll never forget, for maximum cosyness outside will be either a clear starry sky or a loud storm lashing the hut. However the real secret is finding where the good ones are!
Wherever in the world you are there’s a few essentials that a really good mountain hut needs:
1. A working fire and saw/axe with a local supply of fire wood.
2. Rain and wind tight
3. Well-kept and swept of rubbish
4. Cosy wooden panelling on the walls to keep the draughts at bay and a raised sleeping platform.
5. A good solid door to keep wild animals out
What they really don’t need:
1. Rodents of any kind scampering over your bed at night.
2. A gap for the midges or snow to fly in
3. A loud man whose snoring resonates throughout
4. A quiet silent man who sits in the corner and doesn’t speak all night
Feel free to add any others that I’ve missed!
Canada is possibly the home to the cosiest mountain huts. No stay is complete without staying in a cabin up in the mountains hiding from the snow or bears. The best and more traditional huts are hard to find out about and require politely asking locals. The provincial parks and national parks do have some huts you can book. We stayed in one at the beautiful but remote Mt Assiniboine Provincial park and also in Lake Louise national Park. In many mountain communities there’s often a local club hut nearby, e.g. there’s Tunnel creek and Thunder meadows huts near Fernie, BC.
This hut called Moose Creek had a rough log fired sauna in an adjacent shed. Howeve I made the mistake of leaving a dirty cooking pan outside and a Grizzly bear smashed it about in the night, while safer than being in a tent it wasn’t the best nights sleep.
In winter Canadian huts can be hard to find, under the snow is Egypt Lake hut near lake louise:
In Argentina the mountain huts or Refugio’s are sporadic but can be found in the more accessible mountains. They are variable from giant plastic tubes tied down on Volcano Lanin to Refugio Frey a charming host refuge near Bariloche. A popular hiking option takes you to Refugio Frey, Refugio Jakob, Refugio Laguna Negra, and Refugio López. All can be booked from the info centre in Bariloche, as these are popular it’s worth checking there’s sapce before you leave.
In Nepal there are tea houses for the many hikers, maybe a bit too numerous and less remote to be true mountain huts, but they are an iconic and comfortable way to access the mountains cheaply and without a tent:
While the huts/teahouses vary in Nepal your guaranteed one of the best mountain views in the world: Annapurna
On the Gosaikunda trek with a nice sunset:
In Central Asia the refuge of choice in the remote places is a traditional yurt, ideally being heated by a sweet smelling Yak Dung fire. This one below is in Alichur, Tajikistan:
Song Kul a picturesque high altitude lake is one of the best spots to stay in a yurt in Kyrgzstan.
In France and across the Alps in general it’s normally a civilised mountain refuge clinging to the side of a mountain with great food carried in by a crazy French man for miles uphill (or by helicopter…), they are far more comfortable than most of these huts with electicity and hosts making local cuisine not uncommon. This picture is sunset on the Grand Mulets hut on Mont Blanc. It involves a long and sometimes sketchy glacial ski touring approach.
Maybe the best network of huts exists for hiking in New Zealand where you will have to stay in a D.O.C. Hut. It’s a rite of passage in NZ watching the Weka or Kea’s destroy your kit outside a DOC hut while sheltering from Sandflies. The DOC huts vary in size, remoteness and quality but there’s normally always a good view! There are too many to describe and the best one is the one where you want to go hiking!
Finally I get to my current home; Scotland where it’s a bothy. A romantic vision of a warm glowing shelter in the dark bleak highlands of Scotland. In reality most are little more than a basic shell to protect you from the incessant rain and cold that’s battering the outside. Like all mountain huts, bothies vary hugely in shape size and condition, however unlike many of the options above they are totally free, if you can find them that is. Although with the internet it’s easier than ever to locate them via google, the best ones are still most oftern the hardest to reach.
I could make a list of the best Bothies I know and where they are, but that kind of goes against the charm of stumbling across one and exploring them, besides the Mountain Bothy Association website has a good index of them giving a rough idea of locations.
So that’s my pick of memorable mountain refuges we have stayed in, I’m sure there’s plenty more I’ve missed and we’re certainly interested in any we’ve not heard about around the globe that we need to go visit!