Snowshoeing to Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut

Mount Tahoma Trails, Washington

By Leslie Carvitto

A soft but unrelenting snore woke me up. I opened my eyes and took in darkness, except for the glow of stars and moonlight shining outside the window across the room. Careful not to step on any of my eight friends sleeping near me, I quietly tiptoed downstairs to make coffee. It was 5am, I had hours to lounge in the warmth of the hut before stepping outside to watch the before the sunrise next to Mt. Rainer.

The rising sun illuminating Mt. Rainer
The rising sun illuminating Mt. Rainer

The previous day, my friends and I hiked the 4 miles to “check in” to Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut. The hut is named for Brunhilde (Bruni) Wislicenus, a passionate mountaineer and wilderness skier whose generous monetary donation helped rebuild the original hut after a fire burnt it down in 2007.  

Bruni’s hut is one of 3 that visitors can hike to and reserve for overnight stays, and there is approximately 50 miles of trails (20 miles that are groomed in the winter) to explore on. The area is the largest no fee Hut-to-Hut Trail System in North America for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and it’s operated and managed by the Mount Tahoma Trails Association.

snowshoeing up to Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut
The last uphill before relaxation time at the hut

After our first overnight trip last year, we were all stoked to pack our bags, strap on our snowshoes and start the climb to the most luxurious ‘hut’ we had visited.  The hut rests atop a ridge at 4,250 feet with magnificent views of Washington’s most beautiful volcanoes; Mount Rainer, Mt. Adams and Mt. St Helens. On a clear day, you can circle around the hut and see all 3.

The hut rests atop a ridge at 4,250 feet with magnificent views of Washington’s most beautiful volcanoes; Mount Rainer, Mt. Adams and Mt. St Helens. On a clear day, you can circle around the hut and see all 3.

Mt Rainer at sunset

Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut with Mt. Rainer in the background. 

The huts are no secret, so reservations during the winter season fill up fast. Here are some practical tips for booking, the hike and hut, what to expect and what to pack on a trip to Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut.

How to Book:

You can reserve your overnight stay on the MTTA (Mount Tahoma Trails Association) website here. Miraculously, a night at the hut will cost you less than a traditional campsite and I promise you’ll wake up to better views. It’s $15 well spent.

The Hike:

  • Distance: 4.0 miles – moderate to steep sustained uphill walk
  • Elevation Gain: 1,900 feet
  • Hike Time: 2-3 hours one way
beginning the 4 mile hike to the snow bowl hut
The trails to the hut are groomed by volunteers in the winter. 

Hut Amenities:

  • Kitchen with cookware, utensils, dish soap, and a propane oven and range.
  • Sleeping pads and a few bunk beds
  • Propane fireplace
  • All the games, card decks and puzzles you would ever need
  • An outhouse is located outside the hut with toilet paper and soap

the outside of Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut

Need to Know:

  • During the winter season (November 1 to April 30), a Washington State Parks Sno-Park Permit is required. You can purchase a $40 annual non-motorized sno-park permit; daily $20 sno-park permits can also be used, however, daily sno-park permits can only be used with a WA State Discover Pass. In all other seasons, a WA State Discover Pass is required. Purchase a parking permit here.
    Or stop at Whittaker Mountain Shop in Ashford.
  • Don’t count on getting reception on the hike OR at the hut. Embrace a day or two of zero technology!
  • Water is obtained by gathering snow in buckets and melting it on the propane fireplace

Hut Etiquette: The hut sees hundreds of guests each winter season and is maintained by volunteers so it’s important to follow a few rules and leave the hut in a clean condition for the next guests.

  • Pack out your trash
  • Fill the snow buckets and large water pots for the next party
  • Conserve fuel but only running the propane heating stoves when necessary.
  • Help keep the walkways and decks shoveled and free of snow.

eating lunch with Mt. Rainer in the distance

Pack List:

Sleep:
Marmot Women’s sleeping bag – The hut stays warm with the propane fireplace so I ended up mostly sleeping on top of my bag rather than inside.

Gear:

  • Patagonia backpack – large enough for an overnight, but small enough that it forced me to pack minimally.
  • Peak Design clip – perfect for photographing while hiking, without having a camera strap around your neck
  • Miir coffee mug – insulated to keep coffee hot longer
  • Headlamp – for late night trips to the outhouse
  • Patagonia puffy – to stay warm with a compressible layer
  • Camera and tripod for night photography – (see image below)

Astrophotography- Mt Rainer at night

Leslie Carvitto is a freelance writer and photographer based in Seattle, WA. She is fueled by creativity, community, coffee and the great outdoors. Find more of her work at Forever Stoked and follow her travels on Instagram.

 

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