The Colorado backcountry is a great place to explore when temperatures go down and snow accumulations go up. But what’s the best way to get first runs in untouched powder? Plan an overnight backcountry trip!
The Rio Grande National Forest and surrounding area features several USFS and privately managed yurts and cabins for winter overnight trips. Visitors looking for a rustic overnight experience have their choice of options – from technical ski/hike-in destinations to easy-access snowmobile-friendly routes. For a full list of Rio Grande National Forest-managed cabins, view their website. Additional Colorado backcountry accommodations can be found on the Outdoor Recreation Information Center website.
Spending a night or two in a backcountry yurt is an unforgettable experience. This round tent-style structure is nestled along the Continental Divide and offers a wilderness experience with some modern conveniences. Access is gained via Wolf Creek Ski Area’s Alberta Lot off Highway 160. Skiers/hikers will follow a 3 mile route with 400 feet of elevation gain and 1000 feet of loss through a variety of open and forested landscape, past a dam/reservoir and along old logging roads. The yurt provides lodgers cozy accommodations including bunk beds, wood stove, propane stove/pots/pans/dishes (and a bathroom/outhouse) and incredible backcountry access “days-worth of north-facing skiing on slopes of various steepness [and] old growth tree skiing along the Divide”. To make reservations, visit the website.
This historical Fitton Guard Station and Off Cow Camp are located within 400 yards of each other at elevations above 10,000. Set in a high country meadow along Burro Creek on the Rio Grande National Forest, these sites are located outside of the town of Del Norte and share the history of the area.
The Fitton Guard Station, originally called the Fitton Ranger Station, was built in “1906-1907 to serve as a timber sale cabin, and later administer the eastern portion of what was then the San Juan National Forest” (https://historicorps.org/events/fitton-guard-station/). The nearby horse barn is believed to have been built in 1908.
The Off Cow Camp was originally constructed around 1905 was constructed circa 1905 by Simon Off – a local cattle rancher whose family still operates ranches in the valley. The cabin and barn were utilized as an annual cow camp from 1915-1979. In 2010, both sites was restored thanks to a partnership with the Rio Grande National Forest, HistoriCorps, San Luis Valley Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and Southwest Conservation Corps.
The Fitton site was added to the National Register of Historic Places as it is “representative of a pre-design era Region 2 USFS Guard Station constructed in the Rocky Mountain Cabin Style” and for “serving as the oldest administrative site on the Rio Grande National Forest” (HistoriCorps). And the Off Cow Camp site “an example of permanent improvements by ranchers on the National Forests to serve the needs of agriculture” as well as being “architecturally significant as reflective of early cow camps in Colorado” (HistoriCorps)
These small, rustic cabins sleep four people and feature wood-burning cook stove, outhouses, fire rings, tables and chairs.
While the Fitton Guard Station cabin offers backcountry campers/lodgers views of Bennet Peak (13,200) to the southeast, both cabins provide access to aspen groves and spruce/fir forests for backcountry travel.
Access to the cabins is via the upper or lower Burro Creek Trailheads (trail #873). Lower: From the west side of the town of Del Norte, travel south on CR14 for 12 miles to the lower Burro Creek Trailhead. The cabins are 6 miles upstream from the trailhead and 1.5 miles from the upper trailhead. Upper: This trailhead is located 28 miles from the town of Del Norte via FR329 and 329.1C. Road conditions and access are dependent on weather and snowfall, so anticipate variability in in ski/snowmobile milage from parking areas.
Whether your visit includes a high country yurt with seemingly endless access to backcountry trails or one rich is history (as well as trail access), an overnight stay in the Colorado backcountry is sure to be rewarding! Contact the site managers for details on reservations, rates, availability and additional questions.