Checking In: Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut, Mt. Tahoma Trails Association

Staying at Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut is the closest I've come to winter camping. And really, I only compare it to camping because I slept on the floor and I had to hike in to get there. Otherwise, this hut provides all the luxuries that camping doesn't; an outhouse, a kitchen, and four walls to keep the cold out.

It's simple, out of cell reception, and a perfect weekend getaway from the city. 

 Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut and Mt. Rainer in the distance.

Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut and Mt. Rainer in the distance.

Getting to theTrailhead:
2.5 hour drive to the town of Elbe from Seattle.  

From Elbe, drive east on SR 706 towards Ashofrd for about 8 miles.  Turn right just before the Baptist Church at DNR Road 1. 

Road 1 leads straight to the Sno-Parks for the south district of Mount Tahoma Trails Association. Proceed six miles from 706 following the Sno-Park signs to the Upper Sno-Park. 

Note: A Washington State Sno-Parks permit is needed in the winter (November 1 to April 30). You can purchase a $40 annual non-motorized sno-park permit which is good for the year, or a daily $20 sno-park permit. The daily permit can only be used with a WA State Discover Pass. You can buy a pass at Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford or online here.

The Hike to the Hut: 
The trek is approximately 4 miles long with 2,400 feet of elevation gain.  It's a consistent climb almost the entire way and I definitely found myself winded at various points.

It was uncharacteristically warm and sunny so we shred layers within the first mile. I welcomed the sunshine, even though I was blinded because somehow all my sunglasses disappeared after summer? 

We hit a large patch of dirt half way on the trail, so we had to remove our snowshoes and skis. The rest of the way up was smooth although the combination of warmer days and cooler nights made the trail icy at points. 

Be sure to check the road and trail conditions on the Mount Tahoma Trails Association website or their twitter feed for the most recent updates.

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About the Hut:
After 4 miles of hiking and a few hours daydreaming about my sandwich, we arrived at the hut. It's maintained by the Mount Tahoma Trails Association volunteers and open to the public from 7am-7pm. Reservations and a whopping $15 are required to stay the night. Our party rented out the entire space (which sleeps 14), so we enjoyed the hut to ourselves.

There is a spacious kitchen stocked with utensils, cookware, and a four burner range-top so bring something to cook for dinner. The living room includes huge couches that are perfect for afternoon naps, and an absurd amount of games and puzzles in case you need to be pre-occupied (remember, no cell service!) A propane fireplace keeps the space perpetually warm and it's also used to melt snow for water. 

Upstairs are a few bunk beds but our group opted to take the provided sleeping pads and pile them into the open room for a giant slumber party. It reminded me of our summer camp trip to the Salt Flats, except we had the comfort of the cabin and I wasn't worried about desert bugs.  One downside is that the bathrooms are located outside the cabin, but it's a small price to pay and at least it's stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer! 

 Photo by  Nick Lake

Photo by Nick Lake

What to Bring: 

  • Sleeping bag
  • Food
  • Warm Clothing
    • Wool socks & slippers!
  • Headlamp 
  • Bluetooth speaker for tunes
  • Hand & feet warmers
  • Camera & tripod
  • Journal
  • A good book

The Verdict: If you're a fair weather camper like me, Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut is a great way to get outside for an overnighter in the winter.  It's priced really low (regardless if you're sleeping on the floor) and is a doable weekend trip. Reservations go fast but there are still a few weekdays available in January and February. Gather a few adventurous friends and book a stay! 

 Clear skies give way for great astrophotography! 

Clear skies give way for great astrophotography!