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Life List: Yosemite's Secret Hut

Why visit iconic Glacier Point with the rest of the tourists when you can ski there—and have it all to yourself?

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THIS IS THE FIRST TIME ALL WINTER I’ve finished dinner in time to savor the sunset. When the camp dining table sits opposite one of the most imposing edifices in North America, you don’t miss your reservation. My cohorts and I clank double-walled mugs, toasting not just to the evening light on Half Dome, but also to our discovery. We’re at one of the most famous landmarks in one of the most popular national parks in the world, and there’s not another soul in sight.

Every summer, the Glacier Point Ski Hut masquerades as a souvenir shop, but during the winter it transforms into a 20-person chalet atop one of the premier overlooks in Yosemite, complete with plumbing, a full kitchen, and, possibly the best perk, homemade breakfast and dinner. When snow closes the road to Glacier Point (typically from November to April), the only way to access it is via a 10.5-mile cross-country ski from the Badger Pass Ski Area.

I had wanted to try my hand at Nordic skiing, so when I found this gem buried on the second page of a Google search for “great cross-country skiing in California,” I reserved a spot immediately. Ideal for first-timers like me, the trip’s easy logistics were hard to pass up. 

Thanks to the Sierra’s famously benign winters (Yosemite’s average winter low is just barely sub-freezing) and the meals waiting for us at the hut, I hauled a pleasantly light pack as we cruised across the neatly groomed, beginner-friendly Glacier Point Road Ski Trail. I could have knocked out the easy 10.5 miles to the hut in a few hours, but why rush through the tour’s best scenery? We stopped at the Clark Range Overlook (near mile 6) and Washburn Point (mile 10) to admire unobstructed views of the High Sierras and Half Dome.

When we reached the wooden hut, we smelled lasagna baking in the oven, which our hutkeeper Bjørnie served for dinner with a hefty helping of salad, and enough red wine to help me forget the dank mountain hovels that used to serve as my mental reference for ski huts. 

At 11 p.m., after playing cards around the wood-burning stove, Bjørnie ushers us under the stars to listen to the waterfalls from the edge of Glacier Point. This must be how Muir and Teddy felt more than a century ago—having Yosemite to themselves. We return to the shelter’s ring of plush sofas to warm up before retiring to our bunks. 

In the morning, we catch the sunrise over Half Dome’s shoulder before debating the day’s biggest quandary over a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and yogurt: Today, should we dayhike to Taft Point, Panorama Point, or Sentinel Dome? We’ll certainly be the only ones at each, so how do you choose?

We strap on old-school snowshoes provided to hut visitors and head out the door. Maybe we can hit all three spots if we hurry! No matter. Wherever we wander, we know that at the end of the day the Glacier Point Ski Hut—and another fresh-cooked meal—will be awaiting us. 

If there’s a better secret in the entire national park system, I can’t wait to find it.

DO IT Trailhead 37.664833, -119.663472; 53 miles northeast of Mariposa Permit Required (free) along with reservations for the ski hut ($146/person/night self-guided or $350 guided). Pick up the former at Badger Pass Ski Area. At least six people must be staying in the hut, and you can rent out the whole thing. We recommend reserving a few weeks ahead of time (a few months if you’re aiming for a holiday weekend). Season December through March Contact (209) 372-8444;

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