Bikepacking to Backcountry Huts in Colorado
Colorado is a beautiful state in which to play outdoors. There are so many activities depending upon the time of year. My husband, Dave, and I moved out here to ski in the winter and mountain bike in the summer. Friends of ours introduced us to ski touring to the backcountry huts maintained by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Experiencing the serene beauty of the mountains in the winter was amazing, and having a luxurious hut for shelter was a major bonus.
A few years ago, we decided to try our hand at a summer hut trip with mountain bikes as our mode of transportation. The logistics were a little different than a winter tour as bikes aren't allowed in the wilderness areas. We had to carefully plan our route, and make sure our fitness level was good enough for the long mileage, high altitude and extra weight of our gear.
Our first trip started on the west end of Turquoise Lake, near Leadville, Colorado, and was a three-hut tour. We rode our bikes on pavement about 4 miles along the lake until we turned onto a dirt forest service road to begin the 3 mile climb to Uncle Bud's hut. A slow grind to the top, and we were rewarded with views to the south of Mount Massive. A benefit to spending a night at a backcountry hut (rather than camping outside) is that a tent is not needed. Cooking utensils and stoves are also provided in the huts. The only things we needed to bring were clothing, sleeping bags, food and water. That last item can be a pain to get, as water sources may be up to two miles from the hut. Having a bike trailer to carry the water jug back to the hut can be a back-saver.
Our second day brought us back to where we started, and then we climbed to the south on a different dirt road (this time it was an old railroad grade) to the Skinner hut. This day's route was 14 miles, and we were feeling it for the last two. Once we got to the hut, we relaxed and enjoyed the views overlooking Turquoise Lake. The backcountry huts maintained by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association sleep 16 people on average. Reservations are required, and the prices are around $30/person/night plus tax. Having a beautiful, safe shelter each night is definitely worth the cost.
On the third day, we kept riding west and up, over Hagerman pass (11,925 ft above sea level), descending and then climbing again to Betty Bear hut. We both agreed that this hut has the best views of all three, overlooking the Fryingpan Wilderness to the south. Our fourth and final day in the saddle took us back the way we came, for a total of 20 miles on the trail. Luckily it's mostly downhill after the pass, and we got back to our car in time for lunch in Leadville.
Make the hut reservations well in advance - these huts will sell out quick on the popular weekends. Weekdays are usually pretty quiet.