Berne Broudy is a Vermont-based freelance writer, photographer, and fierce advocate for outdoor recreation. She serves on the boards of Richmond Mountain Trails, Vermont Mountain Bike Association, and the Vermont Huts Association.
If snowshoeing or Nordic skiing out your back door into snowflakes floating among fragrant firs, or mountain biking hut-to-hut in the remote backcountry are on your list of dream vacations, it’s time to book a trip to Vermont. The Green Mountain State has a long history of outdoor recreation, but a new and expanding network of trailside huts that are opening throughout the state are increasing the options, and reservations are open now.
Spearheaded by the Vermont Huts Association, the project consists of multiple huts, some of which are privately owned, that are bookable through Vermont Hut’s reservation system. Others are owned by the non-profit, which is completing construction of its second hut this winter. Soon they’ll ramp up even more, with 30-45 new huts and hostels slated for construction over the next decade, most along a planned 500+ mile single-track mountain bike trail called the Velomont Trail that will run the length of the state. The ultimate goal is to space the refuges every 10-20 miles along the trail so that riders can bike hut-to-hut without interruption.
Vermont Huts: Cost, Experience, and Design
With outdoor recreation as the lodestar guiding the Vermont Huts initiative, trailside access is common to every location existing and planned. While each one is unique, all have immediate access to activities like hiking, biking, snowshoeing, paddling, and skiing, depending on the location.
The team behind the huts has also been intentional in keeping the huts to a particular, experience-oriented size. "I like a hut that allows smaller groups to gather in meaningful ways," said RJ Thompson, Vermont Huts’ executive director. "We strive to keep design and size in-line with a hut’s surroundings." Most Vermont Huts will sleep eight to 15 people and include some ADA-accessible beds.
The organization’s flagship shelter, the 10-person Chittenden Brook Hut, is located within Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest in the central part of the state. The structure was conceived off-site by Yestermorrow Design/Build School, constructed with the help of local sawmills using materials sourced almost entirely from within a 40-mile radius, and transported by flatbed truck to Chittenden Brook Campground for assembly.
An ADA-accessible ramp leads up to the hut's roomy deck. From there, guests enter the spacious mudroom, which has plenty of storage space for gear and is a space to change from shoes to slippers. Take a few steps to the right and you’re in the hut’s main living space. On one side, two built-in benches that double as beds sit next to a propane stove where they're positioned for panoramic views of the forest through the hut's windows. Hooks behind the stove make drying gear easy. To the left is the kitchen, complete with concrete counter and backsplash, and dining room, which has a large table with benches and chairs. Another room houses bunks for eight–two doubles and four twins–with user-friendly ladders providing access to the upper beds. Floor-level bunks are ADA-accessible, as are the two living room beds. Outside, the babbling Chittenden Brook provides a soundtrack for your stay and a shed roof on the back deck keeps the weather off bikes and skis.
The forthcoming Grout Pond Hut, located in southern Vermont along the Catamount Trail, will open on January 1, 2023. On the shores of an 84-acre pond that’s great for paddling, swimming, and ice skating and Nordic skiing in the winter, the hut has backdoor access to 10-miles of multi-use trails. The 1.5-story structure was built on-site by Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC), which teaches young adults building skills while paying them a liveable wage.
Eleven other privately owned huts, yurts and cabins complete Vermont Hut’s accommodations portfolio. For now—more huts are being added regularly. While each of the shelters is unique, all of them allow guests to travel lightly. Meaning: all you have to do is bring your food and your sleeping bag, and the hut has everything else you need.
"We want to lower the barrier to entry to spending time in the outdoors," said Thompson. "Even if you don’t own camping gear, you can come to immerse yourself in nature and have an adventure."
That accessibility extends to cost, too, and Vermont Huts strives to make its hut rentals affordable. Chittenden Brook, which sleeps 10, rents for $75-$175 per night for the whole hut, with prices varying seasonally.
Vermont Hut Amenities
The Vermont Huts share many of the same features: beds with mattresses, everything you need to cook and eat, a mudroom with gear hooks, a clotheslines to hang wet gear, a propane stove, and covered storage for skis and bikes. There are unique characteristics, too. For instance, Grout Pond Hut has a screened-in porch that provides a bug-free hangout space outdoors as well as winter gear storage.
Show up, and the propane-heated hut will be warm and welcoming. Hut kitchens are stocked with coffee makers and teapots, all the spoons, mugs, pots, pans, plates, and other cooking and eating utensils you need, and a propane cookstove. There is no running water, but guests can gather it outside and treat it for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, and the huts have solar systems to power low-voltage LED lights. Chittenden Brook hut guests have access to the campground’s vaulted privies, while Grout Pond hut has a composting toilet.
"We want people to have everything they need to be comfortable, and to be able to relax when they’re at the hut, to enjoy conversations and meals with friends, family, and new acquaintances," said Thompson. "Our goal in designing the huts is to maximize guests’ time together by providing a comfortable, warm and dry setting. When you put a hut in the backcountry, it makes the outdoors more accessible for folks."
Building a New Network of Huts
As Vermont Huts scales up, they’re opting against a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all design ethos, developing instead a portfolio of "Vermonty" cabin-in-the woods hut designs with shiplap or clapboard exteriors and steeply-peaked, snow-shedding roofs. Some huts may ultimately be more primitive than others, and huts will vary in size too.
"We will cater to the site, respect the viewshed, and diversify the structures we build," said Thompson. "Every hut in the network is a different experience, like every town in rural Vermont is different. Each hut is and will be reflective of the pocket of beauty where it’s built."
Partnerships are vital to the project too. The benefits of the collaboration with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, for instance, extend well beyond outdoor recreation. The partnership allows young adults to develop and hone their building skills while supporting the extensive project. VHA and VYCC are partners on the planned Velomont Trail huts, through which VYCC will train 19-24 year olds in carpentry and equip them to work for a general contractors or start their own construction businesses down the road.
"Every hut in the network is a different experience, like every town in rural Vermont is different"
Partnership with private landowners is an important part of this complex equation too. Owned privately and managed by VHA, private land huts range greatly in style and amenities. Take the Green Mountain Club’s rustic Bryant Camp in the backcountry at Bolton Valley Resort, which is an uninsulated, wood-heated hut that’s BYO utensils and sleeping pads as an example from one end of the spectrum. On the other side, there are Crows Nest Yurt and Dark Star Cabin in the Camel’s Hump Nordic Ski Area trails; both are luxuriously appointed backcountry sanctuaries with cozy couches and sheepskin-draped chairs, solar-powered lights, a fridge, hot water, and a wood-fired sauna.
"By partnering with private hut owners, we’re filling in some of the missing links for hut-to-hut connectivity along the Velomont Trail and beyond," said Thompson.
Vermont Huts' roadmap is a long and winding one, but visitors will have more options sooner than they might think. According to Thompson, 2023 will be a year of heavy planning and permitting with the goal of breaking ground on multiple new huts in 2024. After that, VHA hopes to build three to four huts every year.
How to Book a Vermont Hut
To make things easy for guests, all of the huts, both VHA-owned and privately owned, can be booked through Vermont Hut’s reservation system. Prices vary greatly, and Vermont Huts members ($35/year) get early access to reservations and a discount on rentals. Bear in mind that once reservations open for a season, the huts fill very quickly.