Hut-to-hut systems are growing: let’s plan for them

What comes to mind when you think hut-to-hut: probably Europe and New Zealand. With its highly-organized system of 1,000 backcountry huts New Zealand— about the same size (area and population) as Oregon— is the hut capital of the world; Switzerland and Norway each have about 500 huts.

By comparison, the USA has about 110 huts operating within 17 different hut-to-hut systems. But American interest in hut-to-hut is quickening.

America has a very strong tradition of backpacking (4% of Americans are backpackers). This is consonant with our proud history of setting aside huge reserves of wild lands for protection and recreation. Every nation’s approach to outdoor recreation— including how its citizens organize overnight stays in the wild— is based on local causes and conditions such as geography, size of the country, climate, terrain, history, economics, politics, and cultural values.

We will always be world leaders in backpacking. But American outdoor culture is evolving to explore the options that lie on the continuum between car-camping and backpacking. For example, state parks are building lots of huts and yurts, but they are following the convenience-based model of car camping, but are not connecting the dots for those who wish to walk, ski, or bike for days on end.

This increased demand for “authentic” outdoor adventure experiences by an urbanized population presents new challenges for environmentalists, land managers and recreation planners.

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