How can families safely explore the backcountry in winter when poor weather can transform an adventure into a survival situation? Visiting warm spots like the CA coast is one solution. Another approach is reserving a backcountry National Park or Forest Service Cabin. California offers a number of backcountry cabins from Lake Tahoe to Sequoia National Park. These cabins offer the best of both worlds. They’re located in beautiful, remote locations and offer a warm refuge to recover from a cold winter day. Last weekend, my family and another one visited an excellent backcountry cabin – Loon Lake Chalet near Lake Tahoe.
Loon Lake Chalet stands at the end of the plowed road in the Crystal Basin. The El Dorado National Forest and SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) do an excellent job of managing the area. The Loon Lake Chalet overlooks the peaks of the Desolation Wilderness and frozen Loon Lake. At over 6300 feet, the area holds snow later into the season. Parts of the forest service cabin serve as a warming hut for snowshoers, cross country skiers, and ice fisherman during winter weekend days. Visitors can reserve the main floor with a spacious kitchen, lounging area, and a sleeping loft. Recreation.gov http://www.recreation.gov/ takes reservations for Loon Lake Chalet along with neighboring Robbs Hut & Van Vleck Hut.
We drove up to Loon Lake on Saturday morning. After a few stops to stretch our legs including In N Out Burger, we ascended the ridge above the American River and Hwy 50 to the Crystal Basin. The ground color transformed from brown to white at the top of the ridge,. We stopped at a popular sledding hill and learned not to let go of the sled at the top of the hill. We continued the drive through classic Sierra forests with douglas firs, lodgepole pines, and scattered sequoias. The terrain changed again with classic Desolation Wilderness features (granite & vistas) during the final miles to Loon Lake.
With our four and five year olds, we explored the area around the Loon Lake Chalet. We climbed snow mountains and sledded down steep hills. We hiked across frozen Loon Lake and trekked next to sheltered cross country trail. We built snowmen. We watched the sunset and the stars. We even explored an igloo where an ambitious soul spent the night.
- Most importantly, we could warm ourselves on the futon with hot chocolates when the weather got a bit cold and windy. We had the best of both worlds for a family adventure. We played in the snow. We played board games inside the cabin. We reluctantly left our winter escape on Sunday afternoon (Super Bowl Sunday) but not before discussing returning next year.