Standing atop the summit of Big Slide Mountain in New York’s Adirondacks, my 3-year-old daughter, Oaklee, gazes out over the peaks that crowd the horizon and the forest-carpeted Johns Brook Valley that falls away below, wild and seemingly unspoiled.
This is her first glimpse of true wilderness, and she’s beaming because she’s made it here on her own power—climbing 2,000 vertical feet over 2.8 miles of rock-and-root-covered trail beside a tumbling mountain brook—coaxed onward by lollipops, chocolate, and other treats my wife and I brought for that purpose.
I’m proud of Oaklee, too, of course, but I’m even more excited because I’m showing her this place, this terrain I’ve traversed on so many backpacking sufferfests since long before she was born.
Down there I see the campsite where my clothes froze stiff when temperatures plummeted overnight; the exposed ridge so steep that cables are permanently installed so you can haul yourself up; and, on top of Mount Marcy, New York’s highest peak, the spot where I once watched the sun rise over Vermont until all of Lake Champlain shone like mercury. I point far below to the foot of Big Slide to show her where we started this morning, at Johns Brook Lodge, a no-frills backcountry lodge (aka “hut”) that huddles, concealed, in the trees.
Run by the Adirondack Mountain Club since 1925, the lodge is a 3.5-mile hike from the nearest road, and, like so many others of its ilk across the country, offers families and “soft” adventurers a chance to explore remote wilderness without having to schlep a tent and sleep on the cold, hard ground.
That prospect is what brought our young family here. We’ve yet to get a good night’s sleep together in a tent, and there’s no way in hell we’d try this hike from the road, where the extra miles would make it an all-day epic.
Hutmaster Caitlin Kelly gave us the 10-cent tour of the relatively spartan property: the great room, with its long wooden tables, massive stone fireplace, and mounted deer trophy; our tiny bunk room with pillows and wool blankets; vault toilets; and the real crown jewel, the porch that wraps around three sides of the building, affording a front-row seat to mountain sunsets and the soothing sound of ice-cold Johns Brook crashing nearby.
It’s not exactly the Ritz, but we got to sleep on real beds, with full stomachs, so it was close enough.
After our hike up Big Slide, we lounge on the lodge’s front porch as if it were our own, sipping boxed red wine while Oaklee plays nearby. Here in this backcountry lodge, we’ve found the best of both worlds—a home in the wilderness that unlocks a whole new world of adventure.
What follows are four more backcountry lodges buried in the wilderness where you can potentially have an experience similar to mine.