A backcountry hut trip doesn't have to be an ordeal.
Yampa Valley residents who would like to try a hut trip but are reluctant because they aren't certain they can handle the climb burdened with a heavy pack should think about a yurt.
Specifically, first-timers should explore the possibilities offered by Never Summer Nordic's string of a half-dozen yurts in the Colorado State Forest State Park. None of them is more than 2.8 miles from the trailhead, yet they offer relative seclusion and spectacular views of 12,000-foot peaks. Most of them are 1.5 miles from the trailhead with modest elevation gains. One, "Dancing Moose," is only 0.25 miles from Jackson County Road 41 and there is virtually no elevation gain on the trail. Dancing Moose is just far enough from the road to be out of sight. Anyone who can strap on snowshoes can make it to Dancing Moose. If necessary, it's easy to make a second trip back to the car for more food.
Best of all, the yurts are only 85 miles from Steamboat Springs, near Gould and the foot of Cameron Pass.
Modern yurts are modeled after the traditional round tents used by the herders of the Mongolian Steppes. They aren't as spacious as the huts in the Tenth Mountain Division system, but they offer a warm place to prepare meals and spend the night.
All of the yurts are elevated off the snow and have an attached deck. They are outfitted with wood-burning stoves and propane cook stoves. The propane is provided, and the firewood is stacked under the deck. Most of the huts sleep five to seven people on bunk beds that have mattresses and pillows (bring your own pillowcase). Don't bother to pack cooking equipment from home -- the yurt kitchens already have pots, pans and utensils.
Winter rates on weekdays are $85 a night plus tax. The cost jumps to $105 a night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But that rate ties up the entire yurt, no matter the size of the party.
Other yurts in the system include Grass Creek, Ruby Jewel, North Fork Canadian and both Upper and Lower Montgomery Pass.
Excellent descriptions of the yurts, complete with color photos and summaries of the telemark skiing opportunities, is included in author Brian Litz's "Colorado Hut to Hut" (Westcliffe Publishers 2000).
Dancing Moose offers the advantage of allowing a return to the vehicle to visit other trailheads. The State Forest offers many cross country ski trails and snow-covered four-wheel drive roads. The area also has Colorado's largest population of moose (almost 600 animals), and sightings are common near the aptly named yurt.
The staff at the nearby Moose Visitor Center on Colorado Highway 14 recommends bringing field glasses with which to scan the willow bottoms along the North Michigan River and its tributary creeks.
From Steamboat, the Colorado State Forest is a pleasant drive via U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass, followed by a left turn onto Colo. 14 to the town of Walden. Walden is 57 miles from the Steamboat city limits.
Once in Walden, look for a right turn at Corkles' Mini Mart to stay on Colo. 14. It's another 23 miles to Gould. The left turn onto C.R. 41 is difficult to miss -- it's a shared turnoff with the KOA campground.
First-time visitors should consider driving two miles farther up the highway to check out the Moose Visitor Center. Maps and information are available there, as well as the required State Parks Pass ($5 a day). C.R. 41 is well-plowed in winter until it dead-ends after seven miles.
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