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Cabin Feverish: 5 Remote Cabins to Visit in Winter

December 23, 2016
Cabin Feverish: Visiting Backcountry Cabins in Winter
Jennifer WehuntIn low snow, hikers can reach High Cabin—one of the five remote cabins featured below—with lightweight crampons.

We broke trail into the fading light of dusk. Just as we thought to grab our headlamps, our destination’s soft outline materialized in the falling snow. We had made it. The cabin door was partially sealed by rime ice and snow—nothing a good shove couldn’t handle—and after passing through it and dropping our packs, we kindled a fire in the wood stove and set a pot of snow on top to melt. We peeled the climbing skins off our skis, took off our boots, and, after eight hours of backcountry skiing, settled into the cabin’s cozy confines.

You could certainly call our lodging remote. Home to the northernmost reaches of the great Appalachian Mountains, Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is as far north as you can get this side of the Saint Lawrence River—an isolated spot some 200 miles beyond Caribou, Maine. But you don’t have to trek into the hinterlands to experience the thrill of a remote locale. Countless backcountry cabins dot the wooded landscapes of New England, offering skiers and snowshoers warmth, shelter, and a chance to relax in a hidden backwoods retreat. The benefits are many: an exhilarating workout in the heart of winter followed by a well-earned rest, wood stoves for heat and for preparing hot meals, and total seclusion from the hustle and fray. Add a few good friends or a lively bunch of kids to the mix, and you’re guaranteed to make lasting memories.

Plus, if you’re really lucky, you’ll wake up to a foot of fresh snow.

The following are some of our favorite Northeastern remote cabins—which, for this story, we’re defining as single, standalone structures not reachable by road—that are relatively easy to access on skis, snowshoes, or with lightweight boot-traction attachments (think MICROspikes). In other words, you’ve got no excuse. Get out there!

DOUBLEHEAD CABIN
White Mountain National Forest, N.H.

Doublehead sits atop the north summit (3,053 feet) of New Hampshire’s twin-peaked Doublehead Mountain. Owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the log cabin was built in the 1930s by the Saco River branch of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s accessible today by climbing the west-facing Doublehead Ski Trail (1.8 miles; 1,600-foot vertical gain), which leaves from a parking area on Dundee Road, just east of Jackson. The cabin is sparsely equipped but features a wood stove, bunks for eight (no mattresses), benches, two tables, and a composting toilet. There are no reliable springs nearby, so any melted snow should be thoroughly boiled or otherwise treated.

In addition to the spectacular views of Mount Washington (6,288 feet) to the north, this spot offers a thrilling backcountry ski descent of Doublehead Trail. The trail ranges from 15 to 30 feet in width, has a double fall line for most of its length, and is suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers. Doublehead Trail is reminiscent of other narrow and winding backcountry routes, such as Sherburne Trail below Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine and Wright Peak Ski Trail in New York’s High Peaks region.

More Info: Reservations are available for $20 per person per night for up to eight people). Dundee Road is maintained during winter, and no permit is required to park. Whether on skis, snowshoes, or boots with traction, allow two to three hours of travel time from the trailhead. For detailed trail information, refer to the White Mountain Guide (amcstore.outdoors.org or White Mountain Guide Online). If Doublehead is booked, the nearby Black Mountain Cabin, off Black Mountain Ski Trail, offers a very similar experience, albeit with less impressive views at the top.

HIGH CABIN
Cardigan Mountain State Forest, N.H.

AMC’s High Cabin perches just below treeline in the scenic saddle between the true summit of Mount Cardigan (3,155 feet) and South Peak (2,864 feet), about 10 miles northwest of Bristol, N.H. The cabin was built in 1931 and renovated in 2004 with updated bunks (12 total, with mattresses), a new roof, a wood stove for heat, a two-burner propane stove for cooking, and a composting toilet. There’s a spring nearby, but all water should be treated. Most visitors access the cabin from AMC’s Cardigan Lodge, at the foot of the mountain, via Holt and Clark trails (2 miles; 1,200-foot vertical gain).

High Cabin is a great choice for a multiday adventure, as there are numerous options for beginner- to advanced-level skiing both on- and off-trail, including Manning and Duke’s ski trails on Cardigan’s north peak, known as Firescrew (3,064 feet), and Clark and Alexandria trails on Cardigan proper. When there is a particularly deep snowpack, the relatively low-angle snowfields off both Cardigan and Firescrew’s summits make for fun and scenic short descents on backcountry skis. In leaner conditions, the snowfields can be riddled with patches of bare rock and ice, so be prepared. Snowshoers and hikers, as well as newer skiiers, will appreciate the opportunities for milder-angle backcountry trail skiing at lower elevations, just above Cardigan Lodge. And hikers shouldn’t miss the sunset from Cardigan’s summit, a 15-minute ascent above the cabin.

More Info: Visit outdoors.org/cardigan or call 603-466-2727 for availability. Reservations are required and give your group of up to 12 exclusive use of the cabin; the fee ranges from $149 to $179 per group per night. Cardigan Lodge offers snowshoe rental for a fee; limited other equipment is available to demo for free. Parking is available at the lodge, and roads are plowed all winter. Allow approximately two hours to reach High Cabin from the lodge in winter. For more on the area’s trails, see Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast and Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide.

BRYANT CAMP
Bolton Valley Backcountry, Vt.
Located at 2,700 feet in elevation on Vermont’s 300-mile Catamount Trail, the longest backcountry ski trail in the United States, the 1930s-era Bryant Camp has lots to recommend it, including a recent overhaul. Following extensive renovations last fall, the cabin now features a new roof and wood stove, an improved cooking space, and a composting outhouse. A loft with bunks (no mattresses) sleeps six; water must be carried in or melted; and visitors are encouraged to bring their own cookstoves and cookware. The upgrades come courtesy of the Green Mountain Club, Catamount Trail Association, and Bolton Friends, the latter of which was also instrumental, with Vermont Land Trust, in conserving nearly 1,400 acres in 2012 before deeding the land to the state of Vermont.

Proximity to that extensive backcountry is part of the cabin’s appeal, as well as its location within Mount Mansfield State Forest, less than 2 miles north of Bolton Valley Ski Area. Tucked among birches and conifers, Bryant Camp also makes a great base for exploring the network of Nordic and backcountry trails managed by the Bolton Valley Nordic Center (trail passes $6 to $17 per day; free for kids 6 and under). Several different combinations of trails connect the cabin to the center, but the most straightforward approaches are Bryant Trail and Gardiner’s Lane, each a 1.5-mile trip with approximately 600 feet of vertical gain. Strong backcountry skiers will enjoy exploring off-trail in Cotton Brook valley, just east of the camp, while snowshoers will appreciate the hike from the cabin along Heavenly Highway to the vista at Stowe View.

More info: Accommodations are available on a first come, first served basis. Visitors are ask to make a minimum donation of $5 per person per night. Free overnight parking is available at Bolton Valley Nordic Center, 4302 Bolton Valley Access Road, Bolton Valley, Vt. Allow approximately one hour to approach Bryant Camp on skis or snowshoes. For more information, visit greenmountainclub.org, boltonvalley.com, or boltonfriends.org.

AMC NORTHWEST CAMP
Mount Riga Plateau, Connecticut
Built in 1951 from locally felled chestnut logs, Northwest Cabin sits on the northwest slope of Connecticut’s Bear Mountain (2,316 feet), a stone’s throw from the New York and Massachusetts borders. Half a mile from the Appalachian Trail (AT), the cabin is nestled on 125 acres of AMC land, part of the 25-square-mile open space known as the Mount Riga plateau that includes Connecticut’s highest mountain, Everett (2,602 feet), and Massachusetts’ highest waterfall, Bash Bish Falls. The cabin features a covered deck, bunks for up to six (no mattresses), a wood stove, cast-iron cookware, a white-gas lantern, a composting toilet, and a nearby stream that can be treated for drinking water. This area is rife with a variety of animals and plants, so be on the lookout for barred owls.

Northwest Camp is relatively easy to reach on skis via a 3.3-mile trail network (Undermountain Trail, AT, Bear Mountain Road, Bog Trail), starting at the Undermountain Trail parking lot on Route 41, east of Bear Mountain. You can make a shorter approach from the AMC parking lot on Mount Washington Road, just south of the Massachusetts border, but this lot isn’t always maintained in winter, so call ahead. Depending on conditions, backcountry skiers can explore several trails that criss-cross Bear Mountain, such as Paradise Lane. When the snowpack is especially deep, a short descent awaits more advanced skiers on B Line, just above the cabin. Neither hikers nor skiers should miss a trip to Bear’s summit for expansive views across the Riga Plateau and beyond.

More Info: Visit ct-amc.org/nwcamp for details on the cabin and a map of the area. Rental rates vary from $30 to $50 per group per night. To request a reservation, leave a message for the camp’s registrar, Craig Kennedy, at 866-576-6994, ext. 6, or e-mail nwregistrar@ct-amc.org. Allow two and a half hours to reach Northwest Camp from the Route 41 trailhead in winter.

LA CHOUETTE HUT
Gaspésie National Park, Quebec

One of more than a dozen backcountry huts sprinkled across the spectacular Gaspésie National Park, La Chouette provides front-row access to the remote and beautiful Mount Logan area within the Chic-Choc Mountains.
This is paradise for backcountry skiers of all abilities, although the direct approach to La Chouette itself is substantial, requiring a 15-mile ski on a snow-covered road from the village of St. Octave de l’Avenir. Fortunately, you can make arrangements to have your gear shuttled to the hut by snowmobile ($25 per bag, one way), making it possible to travel light and even explore a few short descents en route. Depending on the availability of other huts in the area, it’s also possible to approach La Chouette in two stages, with a stop at either Le Huard or Le Carouge huts on the way. Like most huts in the park, La Chouette has bunks for eight with mattresses, a table and chairs, a wood stove, and an outhouse. You’ll need to melt snow for water, and while the hut has a dedicated snow-melting pot, you should bring your own cookware.

Gaspésie is home to the northern terminus of our own Appalachian Mountains, with the peaks surrounding La Chouette characterized by steep alpine ravines; wild and windswept plateaus; and forests of spruce, fir, and birch offering shelter from the wind and sun. The moderately pitched tree-skiing from the hut to a nearby lake, Lac des Iles, can be truly amazing when snow conditions are forgiving. While it’s worth spending an entire day exploring the terrain surrounding the lake, you’ll want to leave time for a trek to the summit of Mount Logan.

One word of caution: Avalanches on steep, open slopes are a real hazard here, so stay well within your limits of safety and be sure to have at least a basic understanding of snowpack stability. Guiding services are available through Ski Chic-Chocs, as well as a number of New England-based outfits.

More Info: Visit sepaq.com and follow links to Gaspésie National Park for details, hut itineraries, and to make reservations. You can also call 800-665-6527 or e-mail info.reservation@sepaq.com. Hut rental is approximately $16 to $22 per person per night, plus a daily park access fee of about $6 for those 18 and older. Parking is available at the Village Grande Nature Chic-Chocs, near the town of Cap-Chat. Allow five to seven hours on skis and six to eight hours on snowshoes or microspikes to reach La Chouette. For current weather and the latest avalanche bulletin in English, visit Avalanche Quebec.


LEARN MORE: SKIING LODGE-TO-LODGE IN THE MAINE WOODS

If the rustic nature of cooking on a wood stove doesn’t excite you, you might choose to ski lodge-to-lodge in the Maine Woods. AMC’s two lodges in the Moosehead Lake area, Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins and Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins, connect to one another via groomed but untracked backcountry trails and to the privately owned West Branch Pond Camps, enabling a three-lodge adventure. (AMC’s Medawisla Lodge & Cabins is set to re-open in summer 2017, with reservations available for the winter 2017–18 season.) AMC lodges offer dinner, breakfast, trail lunches, hot showers, and private cabins or shared bunkhouses, as well as an optional gear shuttle. To plan your own adventure or to register for a guided trip, visit outdoors.org/ski.

LEARN MORE: THE GOODS ON GEAR

Skis. You’ll need a solid backcountry setup for most cabin adventures, with boots and skis supportive enough that you can comfortably carry (or tow) the gear required for an overnight journey. If making turns is a big priority, consider higher performance alpine touring (AT) or telemark boots, bindings, and skis. If you’ll stick to lower-angle trail skiing, consider a lighter backcountry touring setup that uses NNN BC or basic 3-pin (75 mm) telemark binding, boots, and skis. Look for adjustable poles that you can lengthen for cross-country sections and shorten for descents. Climbing skins are essential if your route demands significant uphill travel. Kick wax and a little fancy footwork will do the trick for lower-angle approaches.

Snowshoes. Sturdy, versatile, all-mountain snowshoes, with crampons, are essential for safely navigating the variety of snow conditions and terrain found around these cabins. Be sure to pack extra cord or straps, at least 16 inches in length. It’s worth having a way to strap your snowshoes to your back when you want to walk without them. We recommend hiking with trekking poles to aid balance and traction in steeper terrain.

LEARN MORE: ADDITIONAL CABIN RESOURCES


 

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Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto

Brian Mohr lives in Vermont’s Mad River Valley with his wife and two daughters. Together, they have logged more than 1,000 nights in tents and backcountry cabins. View his photography at emberphoto.com.