Europe's best wilderness cabins and mountain huts for hikers

Europe's best wilderness cabins and mountain huts for hikers

Smugglers’ den, Finland

Finland has a huge network of open wilderness huts across its 40 national parks, where hikers, skiers and canoers can spend one or two nights for free. Most are log cabins, some dating back to the 1900s; more unusual huts include a former lifeboat rescue station on Koivuluoto Island and an ex-military canteen on Ulko-Tammio Island, both in the Gulf of Finland national park; and a former fire guard’s home in Rokua national park. Facilities are generally basic, but a few have saunas. Vargis, a hut with a jetty on the banks of a small channel in the Kvarken archipelago, is a fantastic place to stay on a canoe trip. It sleeps eight, has a wood stove, and was once a hunting hideout and a base for smugglers during Finland’s prohibition period (1919-1932).
Prices vary, basic huts free

Bivouacs, Italy

Bivouac Pelino Mario on Monte Amaro, Maiella, L’Aquila province, Abruzzo, Italy

Bivouac Pelino Mario. Photograph: Alamy

Mountain huts website lists nearly 3,000 huts and bivouacs across Italy – including Sicily and Sardinia – and other Alpine countries. You can filter searches by accommodation type, from basic bivouac to comfortable hotel, or specify shelters that can be reached by mountain bike. One of the most striking is Bivouac Pelino Mario, a circular red metal structure at the top of Mount Amaro in the Majella national park in Abruzzo. It sleeps 12 in bunk beds but has no heating, water or supplies. What it lacks in comfort, however, it makes up for in incredible views.
Prices vary, basic huts free

Mountain cabins, Sweden

Lunndörren Mountain Cabin, Sweden

Lunndörren Mountain Cabin.

The Swedish Tourist Association owns 40 or so cabins in areas of outstanding natural beauty, spaced 10-20km apart along skiing and hiking trails. They are good places to meet fellow explorers, stock up on supplies and get local tips (each cabin has a manager). Guests chip in with tasks such as chopping wood and fetching water, and cook in the communal kitchen. Many are on lakes, such as Lunndörren Mountain Cabin, where you can fish, swim or forage for cloudberries before warming up in the wood-fired sauna. It’s on Lunndörr pass, a 1,000-year-old trail near stunning Issjö Valley.
From £30pp,

Designer dens, Denmark

Shelters by the Sea on the islands of Skarø, Drejø, Birkholm and Ærø

Photograph: Jesper Balleby

The large island of Funen and the smaller islands of the South Funen archipelago in central Denmark are dotted with 50 minimalist, architect-designed shelters, built in 2015 to attract walkers, cyclists and kayakers to the area. All have a firepit, and the larger ones have a viewing platform on top. It’s free to stay in the smaller shelters, such as two cosy dens in the Vester Stigtehave forest on Langeland island, while larger structures, including three by the beach on the island of Drejø, cost only about £3 a night. Keen hikers can tackle the 220km Archipelago Trail, spending each night at a different shelter.

Shelters, Crete

The view from Shelter Kallergis, Crete

The view from Shelter Kallergis

In Crete, local mountaineering clubs manage about a dozen shelters on the main mountain ranges. The most popular is Shelter Kallergis in the White Mountains (€25pp half-board), which has views over the north and south Crete seas; Shelter Greleska in the same range overlooks the Agia Irini gorge and doubles as an observatory for the endangered Cretan ibex. Others include a circular stone tower in the Ida (Psiloritis) range in central Crete, and a sanctuary next to a windswept chapel on the top of Stavromenos, the highest peak in the Thripti range. It’s best to contact the relevant club before making the trek.
Mostly free,

Sheepfolds, France

Hut in the Blâches forest

The website lists 4,000 places to stay in France’s mountain ranges, aimed at all outdoors enthusiasts, including skiers, cyclists and kayakers. The accommodation ranges from comfortable guesthouses to basic huts that are free to stay in. The wildest are in the Pyrenees, where intrepid hikers sleep in shelters and shacks – often abandoned sheepfolds. France’s National Forestry Office has about 40 cottages and cabins to rent (from €8 a night). The most basic are simple forest huts, sleeping five to eight; some have solar power or woodburning stoves.

Refuges, Corsica

The Cirque de Bonifato on the GR 20 trail

The Cirque de Bonifato on the GR 20 trail. Photograph: Alamy

The gruelling 200km GR20 hiking trail traverses Corsica from Calenzana in the north to Conca in the south, following the line of the mountains. It takes about 16 days to complete, depending on fitness and the weather, and there are 20 refuges to stay in on the way, all managed, from May to October, by a gardien who runs a small shop and cooks hot dinners. The highest is the Refuge de Ciottulu at an altitude of 1,991 metres – its terrace has great views over the Golu valley, and north towards the Col des Maures, where mouflon (wild sheep) roam over the pink granite rocks. Hikers can self-cater or, between June and September, order a three-course meal and a Pietra beer, brewed from chestnut flour.
Refuges from €11pp (or €6 to camp); info at but book at

Hermitage, Spain

Cabaña de Eléctricas in Aragon, northern Spain.

Cabaña de Eléctricas in Aragon, northern Spain. is a useful site that lists thousands of wild places to stay across Europe. In Spain, there are 90 lodgings, including bivouacs, bothies and mountain huts. Some of the wildest include a tiny, half-ruined hermitage in Navarra; a former shepherd’s hut in Aragon (pictured); and a hut on the Sierra Crestillina, a nature reserve in Málaga that is home to griffon vultures. As well as mainland Spain, there are a couple of places in Tenerife and several in the Balearics. They aren’t all small, spartan shacks – many are well-equipped, catered mountain refuges.
Prices vary, basic huts free

Wild camping, Norway

Wild camping in the Lysefjord, northern Norway.

Wild camping in the Lysefjord, northern Norway. Photograph: Sjo/Getty Images

Norway’s ultra-liberal Outdoor Recreation Act of 1957 allows people to roam and wild camp on any stretch of uncultivated land for up to two nights, as long as they are no closer than 150 metres to the nearest house or cabin. So for example, it is possible to kayak along Norway’s 1,190 fjords, setting up camp at whichever remote spot takes your fancy. (Flåm, at the foot of the Aurlandsfjorden, is a good place to start.) If camping doesn’t appeal, the Norwegian Trekking Association operates 550 cabins on foot and ski trails.
Prices vary, basic huts free,

Mountain huts, Slovenia

Bivak pod Muzcem, Slovenia

Bivak pod Muzcem

The Alpine Association of Slovenia owns 180 mountain huts – members get a discount, but they are affordable for non-members. One great example is Bivak pod Muzcem, perched at 1,500 metres in the Julian Alps. The tiny, asymmetric wooden hut was built in 2002 and sleeps four (plus another three in an emergency), and is near well-marked hiking trails leading to the top of Gabrovcem and Muzcem, then on to Stolu (1,673 metres) or Punta di Montemaggiore (1,613 metres), across the border in Italy. There are spectacular views of the Stol ridge, the Kanin mountains, and across Friuli to the sea.
€20 Bivak, dorm beds from €16,

Mountain huts, Austria, Germany & Switzerland

Enzianhuette mountain lodge, Kienecker, Austria,

Enzianhuette mountain lodge. Photograph: Alamy

The Austrian Alpine Club is the country’s largest mountaineering organisation and runs more than 230 huts along thousands of miles of trails in Austria and neighbouring countries – with the help of volunteers. There are details of huts there and in Germany, Switzerland and Italy on the website. In the Gutenstein Alps, Enzianhutte is in a beautiful location and has dorms and private doubles. Open March to mid-November and over New Year.
From €20pp,

Highland huts, Iceland

Mountain refuge hut in the deep snow in Iceland - with its tall red roof it stands out in the surroundings.

Photograph: Ray Wise/Getty Images

Ferðafélag Íslands (the Iceland Touring Association) runs 40 mountain huts around Iceland. Some are on popular hiking routes, such as the Laugavegur trail, while others are more off the beaten track. For example, the tiny Þjófadalir hut at the foot of Mount Rauðkollur was built in 1939 and is on the ancient trail across the Kjölur highlands, between northern and southern Iceland. It sleeps 11, has no running water or toilet (although there is a stream and a latrine close by), and can only be reached on foot. Take your own food and sleeping bag.
From £38pp,

Forest huts, Estonia

Õmma bog forest hut, Estonia

Õmma bog forest hut. Photograph: Külli Tedre

Estonia’s state forests have 13 huge designated “recreation areas” for hiking, with 60 free campsites, 30 free forest huts and 20 forest houses (which charge a reasonable fee). All are well away from roads and other settlements. The Metsapere forest hut on Hiiumaa island is a good spot for foraging for berries and mushrooms, and has a pond for swimming in summer and a hill for sledging in winter. The Sopi hut on Saaremaa, the largest island, is the earliest-known forest-keeper’s house in the country, dating from 1795, while Õmma bog forest hut is in an isolated spot in western Estonia, with no marked paths through the boggy landscape.
Most free,

Lookout tower, Hungary

Galyatető Tower, Galyatető, Hungary

Galyatető Tower. Photograph: Mark Tassy

Many watchtowers were built across Hungary over the centuries, as fire lookouts. A number of them are still standing, and some can be climbed for the views. At one, though, you can spend the night. The top of the tower at the Galyatető Tourist Centre in the Matra mountains, a trekking area, has been turned into an award-winning shelter with coloured porthole windows, a sleeping deck and 360-degree views. You’ll need a head for heights: it is 30 metres above the ground, at an altitude of about 1,000 metres. There are no facilities in the tower, but guests can wash and eat in the main centre.
£27 for up to five,

Green hostels, Poland

Piec Stawow shelter in Five Lakes Valley in Polish Tatra Mountains.

Piec Stawow. Photograph: Alamy

There are three major long-distance hiking trails in Poland, encompassing all three of the country’s main mountain ranges: Główny Szlak Świętokrzyski (100km), Główny Szlak Sudecki (350km) and Główny Szlak Beskidzki (500km). Each trail has a chain of “green hostels”, lodges and bacówkas (traditional shepherd’s cottages) for hikers to stay in, many owned by the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society. The highest and most remote is Piec Stawow in the Valley of Five Polish Lakes in the High Tatras, which can only be reached on foot – or skis. This 67-room hostel has a restaurant and ski-rental shop.
From £9,

Cattle sheds, Andorra

Cabana Sorda hut in the Pyrenees.

Cabana Sorda hut in the Pyrenees. Photograph: Alamy

There are 30 mountain refuges in Andorra. Some are only an hour’s walk from civilisation; others are much harder to reach. Hikers use them when tackling Andorra’s grandes randonnees – six long-distance trails. All the huts are open year-round and a handful of them are staffed, but at most visitors fend for themselves. Some are traditional Andorran bordas: stone buildings that once housed cattle and stored fodder. The Cabana Sorda hut is in a particularly picturesque spot near a fishing lake of the same name in the Incles valley, standing at an altitude of 2,295 metres.
Most huts free,

Lighthouse stay, Ireland

St John’s Point LIghthouse, Donegal, Ireland

Off the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal, St John’s Point is one of the longest peninsulas in Ireland. Miles from anywhere and with sea views towards Sligo, St John’s Point Lighthouse is the perfect place to step away from the rest of the world. Originally built in 1831, it is managed by the Irish Landmark Trust. Accommodation is in the former lightkeeper’s cottage, and there’s no wifi or TV, so spend days diving, fishing or walking in untamed countryside, and watching waves crash on the rocks below.
From €412 for 2 nights, sleeps four,

Mountain hostel, Croatia

Paklenica Mountain Hut.

Paklenica Mountain Hut. Photograph: Kevin Rushby for the Guardian

Croatia’s Paklenica national park, covering almost 100 sq km near the Adriatic coast, is a playground of forest, caves and two impressive canyons under Velebit mountain. Paklenica Mountain Hut, about two hours’ walk from Velika Paklenica canyon, has 50 dorm beds and is open every day from June to September and weekends the rest of the year. Food and drink served, but visitors need sleeping bags.
Dorm beds £11,,, email to book

Eco village, Romania

Green Village Resort

Green Village Resort

The 580,000-hectare wetland where the Danube meets the Black Sea in Ukraine and Romania is the largest in Europe. Its forests, marshes, lagoons, rivers and woodlands are home to huge flocks of waterbirds. Rewilding projects are under way to bring back the tauros (a wild version of the auroch), too. Green Village Resort in Romania’s Sfantu Gheorghe village offers eco-accommodation on the water (there’s also a campsite) and excursions into the area.
Doubles from €50 B&B,

Lodges, the Balkans

Mountain shelter on Mosor mountain, near Split, Croatia

Mountain shelter on Mosor mountain, near Split. Photograph: Alan Čaplar

The Via Dinarica is an epic 2,000km trail across the Dinaric Alps from Slovenia to Albania through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The White Trail takes hikers over the highest peaks in each country, with activities such as mountain biking and rafting along the way. (The Blue and Green Trails are still being developed; the former a coastal route and the latter a forested cycle ride.) There are currently 229 mountain lodges, huts and bivouacs along the Via Dinarica, many free to stay in, and with eyecatching designs. Top picks include a bright orange hexagonal hut near Split in Croatia (pictured) and a little red shelter on the top of Vlašić Mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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