When we realized we would be spending nearly three months house sitting in Norway, and the cats could be alone for three days at a time, we started researching. Once we got beyond the obvious things like grocery stores and coffee shops we started to dig into hiking. And this may not surprise anybody, but Norway is a hiker’s paradise.
We found multiple hikes just outside the back door. Not just any hikes, but epic multi day routes that go from Oslo all the way up to the Arctic circle. Not that we would have time for any of that business. Not with two cute as pie cats to tend.
Luckily our homeowners created a great house sitting welcome guide complete with lists of nearby national parks. Not only that, the house was equipped with a ton of detailed hiking maps of nearly every park, and more hiking gear than we could wish for. Usually I jump and clap my hands with glee when I get access to a library card during a house sit, but camping gear? We are talking about multiple exclamation points and emoji here.
When I dug into these parks a bit more looking for trails, I found a bunch of lodges and cabins, many of them quite remote and accessible by the DNT key. This would keep Jill — who abhors sleeping in a tent—much happier.
Wait just a second though. The DNT key? What is this mysterious DNT key? A little more research uncovered some of the mystery and much of the beauty behind this special key.
What is the DNT Key?
It turns out that when you are a member of the DNT, or the Norwegian Trekking Association, you get a universal key to all the cabins in Norway. And it also turns out that the homeowners we were housesitting for were members. They just weren’t sure where they left their key before heading out on their own year long journey around the world.
The Smeagol in me started to drool. The American in me didn’t understand. (note to self to explore: maybe the Smeagol and the American in me are the same?)
You mean if one possesses this key, it will give you access to every cabin in every park in Norway? The short answer to that question is yes. The long answer is no, not exactly.
What does the DNT key open?
There are several types of cabins available at the national parks in Norway, and the DNT key allows you to unlock the cabins that are tended or partially tended. The cabin types are marked on maps and online so you know which one is which.
The Dangerous Path to the DNT Key
After a little bit, the homeowners remembered where they hid the (precious) key, but getting it had its own risks. Before they left Norway they packed up some essential and likely personal and valuable stuff in their attic. The fact that there was an attic was news to me, but there it was—a drop down ladder in the ceiling at end of the hallway.
The directions to the DNT key came with a warning— both cats will try to get into the attic and won’t want to come down. Apparently the attic is a favorite place to curl up under some insulation for a long nap.
I thought I was prepared for what would happen when I let down the ladder, but soon enough, Leo was up and sniffing around in areas beyond my grasp. I managed to coax him to me and handed him down to Jill.
No sooner did this happen than normally placid and sleepy Lily came charging up the ladder as if possessed by some demon. Now we all know cats are agile, but damn girl, she came up that ladder four rungs at a time and before I knew it, was flying over me as if she had wings! Fortunately I’m pretty quick and was able to grab her by the scruff and hand her back down again.
I was able to find the key with no problem, although it didn’t look like it did in my imagination.
What the DNT Key Looks Like: Two Versions
With great power comes great responsibility. The same could be said for how a little bit of knowledge (without research) makes for a lot of misconceptions. Like that time I didn’t like Edvard Munch because I didn’t like just one of his paintings (you know the one). Then we went to the Munch Museum in Oslo and got that fixed right up. What were some of my misconceptions about the DNT key, you wonder? I mean aside from thinking it looked like it was made in the year 1,000 and weighed just as many kilos? Well, read on dear reader, and I will explain my stupidity and what I learned.
The Norwegian DNT Key Explained
Are the DNT Cabins free?
Nothing is free, but this is pretty close.
How do you pay for a cabin?
The self-service cabins have payment forms inside. You fill it out with your member number or credit card number and drop it into the box when you leave. You’ll get a receipt emailed to you if they can read your handwriting. You can read about best tips for your cabin visit here.
Can you book the DNT Cabins in advance?
This was the hardest thing for my American brain to get over. You can’t book ahead. You just show up. That just blew my mind.
What if the DNT Cabins are full when I arrive?
Like what if I hike all day and am exhausted and just need to get away from the rain and there is a whole family in the remote cabin I had dreamt of sleeping in? Do I just keep walking another 10 km to the next cabin? No, of course not. They make room for you. You sit down, with strangers, and talk and share stories and provisions. And in the case with our one dorm experience in Rondane, you share the wicked cough of the 13 year old girl sleeping two bunks over.
Will I have a private room?
If you are lucky and get to the cabin early, you can pay more and get a private room. This depends on availability, of course.
Does the DNT Key open EVERY CABIN?
Yes, yes it does. If it’s a lodge it will be attended and you can check in like any normal hotel (aside from not being able to make a reservation). The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) has more than 500 cabins around Norway. Roughly 450 of these cabins aren’t staffed and are self-service or no-service cabins. The DNT key opens all these cabins!
How do I get a DNT Key?
You can “borrow” one with a refundable deposit of 100 NOK (or $11 USD), or you can become a member of the DNT. They have a website where you can order the key and maps and other fun things. That’s right. You can stay for free at over 500 places in the Norwegian wilderness.
How much does a DNT key Cost?
The DNT website has prices that are kept up to date, but it isn’t expensive. Especially when you consider what you get in return - access to all of Norway!
What about food?
The staffed lodges have restaurants that serve food and provisions you can buy if you want to cook for yourself. The self-service cabins will have a variety of provisions that you can buy and cook yourself, and the no-service cabins are exactly that. No service. You figure it out all by yourself.
Can you explain the DNT cabin types?
Staffed Lodges: These lodges have cabins and common areas with fireplaces and wonderful views. Here you can mingle with other hikers from around the world. Many are only open (or staffed) in certain seasons, but they generally have cabins that are self-service or no-service as well. Many of the staffed lodges have electricity from a generator and showers.
Self-Service Cabins: These cabins have everything you would need for sleeping and eating, but you have to fetch your own water and cook your own food. You can bring your own food of course, or you can buy and use what the cabin was stocked with.
No-Service Cabins: These cabins have the basic of what you need to sleep for the night, but you’ll likely have to bring your own sleeping bag and definately your own food, but there may be other equipment in the cabin you can use to prepare your food. The DNT website has all the details on what is in each cabin.
The DNT key is magical. If you are coming to Norway for any amount of time and plan on doing some hiking, I highly recommend you get a key and plan to use it. There is something so wonderful about hiking all day through the mountains and finding yourself at a cabin that is also equipped with enough provisions to keep you fed and warm for a few nights.