Vermont Huts Association: New nonprofit seeks to develop hut system in Green Mountains

The idea to connect existing huts, yurts, cabins and lodges around Vermont to promote multi-day backcountry trips isn’t a novel one. But while other U.S. mountain ranges boast such hut-to-hut systems, discussions in Vermont have remained at the meeting table—until now. On August 22, the Vermont Huts Association (VHA) gained its nonprofit status, marking the official launch of a campaign to coordinate stakeholders in an effort to revamp four-season backcountry recreation opportunities in the Green Mountain State.

Backcountry Magazine talked with with VHA co-executive directors, RJ Thompson and Devin Littlefield, about their goal to organize a hut-to-hut backcountry experience in the state.


Bryant Cabin located in Vermont’s Bolton backcountry zone [Photo] RJ Thompson

Backcountry Magazine: What are your backgrounds, and how have you come to partner together for the VHA?

RJ Thompson: I run Native Endurance, which offers purist outdoor endurance events for runners and backcountry skiers. We create unique events that you wouldn’t typically find on your race calendar. Our mission is to get people outside, whether it is running or backcountry skiing, and away from all the bells and whistles of more contemporary races. I also spent three years living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While I was out there, I did some exploring in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range and did a couple of trips with Sun Valley Trekking using their huts and yurts.

Devin Littlefield: I am a fairly recent graduate of Alaska Pacific University out of Anchorage. During my time there and shortly after, I worked with the Alaska Huts Association on different marketing strategies. I then worked full-time for Maine Huts & Trails as their Digital Marketing Assistant. I’ve been able to see two very different hut experiences come together, and I think that really brings us to a unique spot here with the Vermont Huts Association.


RJ Thompson enjoys classic Vermont backcountry tree skiing. [Photo] Chris Germain

BCM: Where did you guys come up with the idea for a hut-to-hut system in Vermont?

Devin: When I arrived in Vermont a year and a half ago, I saw that there were these different huts that were owned and managed by different people. I started getting involved with The Catamount Trail Association (CTA) and the Green Mountain Club (GMC) and saw a lot of energy behind an effort to unify these huts. There was the potential to create a hut-to-hut system, but nothing had really taken shape. So, over the course of a year, I worked with different organizations to bring them together, and that’s when RJ jumped into the picture.

The stars aligned, and we ended up deciding that a nonprofit really was the route that we needed in order to take this effort seriously and move quickly. It’s really surprising that nothing had started like this, and now that people are seeing it already up and running, there is a lot of excitement building. It’s really cool to be in such a supportive community that wants to see this project come to life.


The Long Trail is North America’s oldest established Thru-Hiking trail [map] Green Mountain Club

BCM: How long have you been a 501(c)(3) non-profit?

Devin: Just under a month.

RJ: It seems like a big snowball now, but it started out as a little thing.

BCM: How will you collaborate with different organizations like the CTA, the VTBC and the GMC?

RJ: All of those organizations have a lot of experience, and for that reason, we do have some key players on our board of directors. The Green Mountain Club manages the largest trail network in Vermont— the Long Trail and all of its spur trails. They bring to the table a lot of experience dealing with the state and federal government. Dave Hardy is on our board of directors, and he is a wealth of knowledge about many things including land management, permitting and how to navigate Act 250. So I think that is just one way: tapping them for their knowledge. Amy Kelsey, over at the Catamount Trail Association is a phenomenal resource for similar reasons. She brings a winter recreational perspective to the conversation. And then, obviously, Tom Stuessy with the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) [will help us figure out] where these huts, yurts and cabins can be strategically located around the state.

Devin: Our big focus as an organization is making sure that we are tied to these different groups, and we want to establish a great relationship with them from the start. That is why we’ve been actively communicating with the different organizations that have been mentioned. We are starting to reach out to new ones and will be working with new hut operators shortly. We have recently started working with the Trust For Public Land as well, so there’s a lot of exciting growth happening, and it’s only going to continue from here.

The Catamount Trail, a ski trail, runs the length of Vermont [Map] CTA

The Catamount Ski Trail runs the length of Vermont [Map] CTA

BCM: Can you give me a basic blueprint of where huts and yurts will be located?

Devin: That’s a really tough question to answer. Our first goal is to unify hut operators within the state, and that is a pretty spread out group. We’ve generated a list of huts, yurts and cabins within the state that we are continuously building at this point and is going to continue to grow. In terms of building and strategically placing [huts], that’s a different animal to tackle. Our goal for the first year or two is to unify the currently existing huts before we start building to connect them. So, it’s a bit of a long-term outlook for strategically placing huts, but we’re hopeful that we can make it work.

RJ: The long-term blueprint is that we want to have the infrastructure set up across the state so that in the winter, you could stay on the Catamount Trail and be no more than a day’s tour away from your next overnight backcountry hut, yurt, lodge or cabin. And similarly, in the summer, that’s something that we also want to be able to tap into. It would be a shame for these beautiful structures to sit vacant for half a year. So that’s why we’re going to have to talk with the CTA, VMBA and some of their local chapters to figure out where to strategically locate these, but that’s a long-term plan.

BCM: Can you describe to me some of your fundraising goals, and where you are looking to source funding from?

Devin: We are going to be strongly looking at the community to start. We know that there is a lot of energy surrounding this project, and now that the word is starting to get out, I think there will be a lot of support from local communities. We are also looking actively at grants now and uniquely position ourselves to receive some rather large grants including the OGE grant. There are a lot of opportunities out there, and I think that some foundations would be excited to see an organization like ours coming to them requesting for funds.

RJ: While we’re connecting huts and yurts in the beginning, we can also potentially work with communities who are expanding their trail networks. It all gets back to what Devin said earlier—partnering with other community organizations to further the trail network across the state of Vermont.

[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#ffffff” width=”600px” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”The more folks we can get out into the backcountry, the more those folks then hopefully have a greater interest in preserving these areas, and that’s a positive for everyone involved.” cite=”RJ Thompson, co-Executive Director of Vermont Huts Association” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]


BW: Are you anticipating any pushback, or have you received any negative feedback to date?

RJ: I have not heard any negative feedback, which has been great. Everyone we’ve met with has been extremely positive, and I think it’s echoed in the larger political arena. I would say to folks who might wonder: What does Vermont need? Why does Vermont need more huts? The huts that are there now are managed beautifully by the Green Mountain Club, but they are in spots that are really only accessible to hikers. The huts are on the Long Trail, and you are not allowed to bike on the Long Trail, for good reason of course. So there is an opportunity for other recreation enthusiasts: mountain bikers, backcountry skiers and even folks who are just hiking on different trails to be able to stay overnight in the backcountry in a different capacity than camping. The more folks we can get out into the backcountry, the more those folks then hopefully have a greater interest in preserving these areas, and that’s a positive for everyone involved.

BCM: How do you think having this kind of backcountry infrastructure will affect the future of outdoor recreation industry in Vermont?

Devin: The impact that we want to have by unifying these hut operators and by creating our own hut operations is going to be pretty substantial. We want to help grow the environmental and economic impacts and make Vermont a truly special place to recreate in the backcountry. And I think connecting these hut operators and building our own [huts] will help do that. It will drive a lot of traffic from out of state as well as people who are currently in state who might now [be more likely to] go on a three-day mountain biking tour. It’ll certainly create a lot of positive views of Vermont as a recreation destination and certainly help create better places for us to play.

To find out more about the Vermont Huts Association, visit

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  1. This interview/ article assumes I know what any of this is about. Who are hut operators. Do they get paid? Are volunteers on trails not helpful? And so on.

  2. Nice to hear about this initiative. If they haven’t already talked with the Joe and Jack at Adirondacks Hamlets to Huts, they can learn alot from them about the process of community engagement in hut system development. Vermont is ripe for hut development, both shelters like those on the Long Trail, and huts with differing levels of amenities such as those in Europeean countries. Good luck in connecting existing infrastructure and building new. One thing is clear: build it and they will come! And please keep the good emphasis on environmental protection and education.
    Sam Demas,

  3. I feel a lot of hesitation towards this project. I can’t help but think of “Wilderness Ethics” by Laura and Guy Waterman.. “with too much management, or the wrong kind, we can destroy the spiritual component of wildness in our zeal to preserve its physical side.”

    what are we trying to achieve with this, and what do we stand to lose?


  1. […] Vermont Huts Association: New NonProfit Seeks to Develop Hut System In Green Mountains – Backcountry Magazine – The world needs more hut systems and it looks like the Vermont Huts Association may help to make that happen. […]

  2. […] Their business and organizational model is under development.  Perhaps it will end up operating like the Colorado Alliance of Huts and Yurts.  I’ll post more detail about their organization, aims, aspirations, and activities later.  Meanwhile, check out their website and an informative article in Backcountry Magazine. […]

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