Route: High Hut Snowshoe
Mileage: 8.0 miles roundtrip from lower sno park
Elevation gain: 2400 feet elevation gain from lower sno park
Parking pass: Annual Washington State Sno Park Permit, or daily Washington State Sno Park Pass + Discover Pass combo
Dogs: Allowed on South District trails (including the trail to High Hut); they are not allowed on the North District trails. Dogs are not allowed inside the huts.
High Hut is a bucket list snowshoe offering piercing views of Mount Rainier and a one-of-a-kind backcountry experience. Part of a system of huts and trails managed by the Mount Tahoma Trails Association (MTTA), it's located 13 miles southwest of the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier, about a 2 hour drive southeast from Seattle.
The cabin-style hut was built by the volunteer-run MTTA, a non-profit organization founded in 1990 to develop a trail and hut system near Mount Rainier. Huts provide shelter, sleeping quarters, a communal warming space for backcountry travelers, and a winter getaway for skiers, bikers, and snowshoers. The MTTA's 25-mile trail system and four huts were inspired by hut-to-hut trails and mountain chalets in the Alps.
And boy are they cozy! My first thought when I arrived at High Hut was that I could spend hours relaxing and enjoying the view of Mount Rainier from inside the hut.
High Hut was the first hut MTTA volunteers built, in 1990, and is also the highest elevation hut, perched at 4760 feet. Parking-wise, there are two potential options to reach the trail: the upper sno park at 3000 feet and the lower sno park at 2360 feet. The upper sno park is located about a mile closer to High Hut, so it cuts your trek to 6.0 miles roundtrip, versus 8.0 miles roundtrip from the lower sno park. It also shaves off 640 feet of elevation gain.
However, being able to reach the upper sno park depends on the road conditions, your vehicle, and your comfort, experience, and preparedness for driving on snowy, icy roads. Even all wheel drive vehicles may need chains on their tires to reach the upper sno park. You can learn more about current road and trail conditions via MTTA's Twitter feed and the MTTA Facebook group page.
Trails and Huts
The 25-mile groomed trail system is mainly on forest roads. Trails are wide, with lots of room for winter travel. Snowshoers stick to the right, while skiers follow tracks in the middle of the groomed trails.
Trails and junctions are marked with blue and white signs. High Hut and Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut are approximately the same roundtrip distance and elevation gain and share the same trail for the first 1.5 miles.
After a steady, breath-stealing climb through the forest, High Hut emerges on an exposed ledge with a stunning view of Mount Rainier to the northeast, Mount Adams to the southeast, Mount St. Helens to the south, and the Olympics to the northwest.
MTTA manages and operates four huts in total: High Hut, Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut, The Yurt, and the Copper Creek Hut. The first three are part of the South District—located on the south side of SR 706 near Ashford, Washington. The Copper Creek Hut is on the northern side of SR 706 in the North District.
All the huts are open to the general public from 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m., so it's likely you'll meet other backcountry travelers in the winter season (November 1 - April 30). If you're prefer to visit in more balmy weather, you can: High Hut, Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut, and the The Yurt are open year-round. Copper Creek Hut is only open to the public in the winter season.
The roundtrip mileage and elevation gain for each hut depends on what sno park you can get to! If there is snow and ice leading to an upper sno park, you might have to backtrack to the lower sno park for safer parking.
High Hut and Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut:
- 6 miles roundtrip, 1800 feet elevation gain from upper sno park
- 8 miles roundtrip, 2400 feet elevation gain from lower sno park
- 10 miles roundtrip, 2000 feet elevation gain from upper sno park
- 12 miles roundtrip, 2640 feet elevation gain from lower sno park
Copper Creek Hut:
- 8.6 miles roundtrip, 1,040 feet elevation gain from upper sno park
- 9.2 miles roundtrip, 1,240 feet elevation gain from middle sno park
- 10.8 miles roundtrip, 1,640 feet elevation gain from lower sno park
It costs $15 per person per night to stay in a hut, and reservations are made online via www.skimtta.org. Your Hut Reservation Permit is then emailed to you, and you're expected to print it out and bring it with you when you stay overnight in the hut.
The MTTA hosts a fundraising gala and lottery the first weekend of November for winter weekend stays at the huts. In 2017, the gala was held on November 4th at the Seattle REI. You can check out the 2017 flyer here for more information.
Sleeping accommodations at the huts are generally communal. At High Hut, there are bunk beds and a futon in the main area (where the kitchen is), and a separate sleeping area upstairs in the loft (accessible via a ladder). Thick sleeping pads are provided; you bring your sleeping bag, clothing, food, and 10 essentials. Maybe some earplugs, too :) Melted snow is your water source at the hut.
High Hut can accommodate eight people, and has a separate sleeping area for ski patrollers. A deck with a view of Mount Rainier leads outside from the sleeping area.
High Hut's smart design helps keep cold air, melting snow, and rodents from getting into the hut. There are two small entrance rooms with doors that you go through before you hit the main area—a "cold room" and a "mud room"—with rubber slippers and wellies you can use. Outhouses are located outside, just next door to the huts, and have hand sanitizer and water to wash up.
High Hut is stocked with dishes, utensils, pots, and pans, and there's a cooking stove, heat stove, and solar-powered lights. A user manual, located next to the kitchen table, provides more detailed information about staying in and operating the hut.
To help maintain the hut for MTTA and the next visitors, guests are asked to pack out all their trash (including cooking grease, leftover food, and food scraps), shovel snow from the decks if needed, refill the water pots for the next guests, sweep and dry the floor before leaving, and keep the common areas clean. Not a bad deal for an affordable stay in a backcountry hut!