Thanksgiving at a Backcountry Hut - How to Have Fun, Stay Sane, and Eat Well
Thanksgiving is arguably the best holiday on the calendar. Sure, Christmas and Hanukah are cozy and festive, and the 4th of July can be a lot of fun, but there’s something about Thanksgiving that speaks to a deeper part of our human experience. Celebrating a harvest is a tradition that belongs to everyone, regardless of nationality or religion- it’s a celebration of one of the few things we can all agree on: really, really good food, shared with people we care about, is one of life’s greatest joys.
At Maine Huts & Trails, we celebrate every adventure with a great dinner prepared by the hut staff, almost all year. But in the slower seasons, (late fall and late spring), the off-the-grid huts are in what we call ‘self-service’. Basically, that just means there’s no food served, no gear shuttles offered, and the rates are a lot lower. Since the ‘huts’, (which, as many of you know, are actually spectacular backcountry lodges) sleep around 40 people, it’s becoming pretty popular to rent out an entire hut for a private party during self-service.
Sounds like the perfect place for Thanksgiving, right? Well, it’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not a trip to be taken half-heartedly. For one thing, everyone has to get there. The huts are deep in the wild mountainous woods of Western Maine; no less than 1.8 miles from the nearest trailhead, and can only be accessed by foot, bike, or canoe. Skis or snowshoes may be necessary if there’s an early winter storm. Also, you have to pack-in and pack-out all your supplies… including food. On Thanksgiving.
But the reward is well worth the effort. If you have any sense of adventure, like the idea of making memories, getting back to nature, and cooking in a commercial kitchen, this might be something to consider. But before you stuff a raw turkey into your Camelback and strap Great Aunt Edna to a gear sled, we should probably go over a few things:
Book the hut for two nights.
Since turkeys take forever to roast, you’ll want to have one full day dedicated to cooking, eating, and general merriment. The first day will be for getting to the hut and settling in. Day two is the big day, and while you could hike out after dinner if you had to, it will be much easier (and way more fun) to just stay at the hut. Day three will be for cleaning up, packing out, and posting it all on Facebook as soon as you get home.
Everyone gets a job.
To keep things easy and stress-free, assign a dish or responsibility to everyone between ages seven and ninety-two. The kitchens are big enough for 6-8 people to comfortably work together, so it’s really pretty easy to get a lot of food out at once.
Keep the menu simple.
If there’s anything you can live without, let it go. Try to stick with one protein (probably turkey), one starchy vegetable and/or grain, one green vegetable, and one ‘it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it’ thing. As for dessert- a pumpkin pie, a pan of brownies, a gallon of good ice cream and a bottle of Bailey’s should keep everyone happy.
Relax and have fun.
This is not the year for stress. This is not the year for perfection. This is the year for fun. It will not be like every other Thanksgiving, but that’s kind of the point. Thanksgiving at an off-the-grid backcountry hut isn’t for everyone, and it’s not even for every year. The cool thing about traditions is that they’re not about being with exactly the same people in exactly the same place year after year. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Traditions are special because they travel with us, connecting us to the people and memories that anchor our souls, no matter where life leads. So maybe this is the year to shake things up. Maybe this is the year for a little adventure. Maybe this is the Thanksgiving you and your family never, ever forget.