In our base White Mountains Hut-to-Hut hike, you’ll spend nine nights in seven of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s accommodations: the Highland Center Lodge, and six of the high mountain huts. The AMC has been hosting hikers and nature enthusiasts since 1888 when it built its first hut, Madison Spring. Over the years, the AMC has constantly expanded and renovated its lodging. The result is a modern and comfortable network of lodges, huts and campsites enjoyed yearly by many guests. And those guests don’t just enjoy some of the finest backcountry accommodation in the US, they also support the vital AMC programs that protect the trails, waters, and forests of the American Northeast.
The accommodations on our itinerary are listed below in the order you first encounter them. But not that you will spend a total of three nights in the Highland Center Lodge at the beginning, middle, and end of the trek.
The Highland Center Lodge is one of the AMC’s newest accommodations, which opened to the public in 2003. In recent years, the AMC has been moving toward green technology and sustainability, and the lodge was built with that specifically in mind. Its three-paned, insulated windows face largely to the south, and sunlight both lights and warms the interior of the building. Much of the building material is recycled, like structural beams and carpeting. Wood used for the tables, chairs, siding, and roofing was all locally and sustainably harvested. Almost nothing is wasted in the lodge, including food scraps, which are composted on site. And keeping true to its conservation goals, the AMC has kept the landscaping as natural as possible with native plant varieties.
Guests at the lodge can choose from private rooms with queen-sized beds and ensuite bathrooms, or private 2 to 6 person rooms with shared bathroom, or bunks in the separate Shapleigh Bunkhouse. Our base itinerary includes private accommodation in the main lodge. But wherever you sleep, there are some creature comforts at the lodge that the mountain huts are lacking, like hot water, Wi-Fi, buffet breakfast, lounge with fireplace, and lunch deli. The lodge also holds all of AMC’s memories in the Library and Archives, which contain thousands of documents, photographs and maps from the club’s nearly 150-year history.
AMC HIGH MOUNTAIN HUTS
The AMC huts are fashioned after the refuges on the high mountain treks in the Alps. If you’ve been on our Tour du Mont Blanc or Haute Route trek, for example, you’ll see the similarities. They’ve been in continuous operation in one form or another since 1888, when Madison Spring Hut was built. The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is the first time in 132 years that the AMC has had to close all eight of its huts.
Though each hut is unique, they share a number of characteristics:
- Huts are all off grid and do not provide electricity to charge your gear.
- Bunkrooms are co-ed, unheated, and unlit. You should bring an appropriate sleeping bag and a headlamp or flashlight.
- Washrooms have toilets – either composting or waterless – and cold running water.
There are two seasons at the huts: full-service and self-service. All huts have a full-service season, which lasts from early June to mid-September or mid-October, depending on the hut. Most huts have a self-service season in May, as well. The exceptions are Lakes of the Clouds and Madison Spring. The difference between the seasons is AMC’s famed “croo.”
The croo (crew) is a lively bunch of young people that staff the huts every summer and tend to their guests. This includes dispensing the requisite pillow and three wool blankets to every guest, providing information about trail and weather conditions and, most importantly, cooking daily breakfast and dinner. During full-service season, there is also a hut naturalist on site who provides information before and after dinner on local flora and fauna.
You can still visit and sleep in the huts in self-service season, but your stay won’t be nearly so comfortable. A hut caretaker will provide you with a pillow, and you will have full access to the hut kitchen facilities, but otherwise, there are no amenities. That means no water, either.
The Greenleaf Hut is situated in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, just above Eagle Lake and very close to Franconia Ridge. Because the hut is at treeline, at an elevation of 4,200 feet, your views of the surrounding countryside are uncompromised. Warm light filters in through the windows of the dining area, which has a direct view into the kitchen, where the croo is hard at work preparing the next meal. The view of Mount Lafayette outside, however, might tempt you to go fully explore Franconia Ridge.
Greenleaf was originally built in 1930 and, like the other huts, has been continuously improved over the years. Its claim to fame is that it was the first with flush toilets in the hut network. These have now been replaced by composting toilets and the hut has been outfitted with rooftop solar panels. It is not the largest of the huts, sleeping a manageable 48 people in two bunkrooms. But this means that things are usually a bit quieter here.
Things are quiet out at Galehead Hut. It is the most remote hut in the AMC network, plunked in the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. And it is the second-smallest of the huts, accepting a mere 38 hikers at a time. As the AMC says, guests in Galehead have unparalleled access to the Pemigewasset’s “soaring peaks, sublime waterfalls, and never-ending views.” That includes the nearby Bond peaks, and Mount Galehead, after which the hut is named. In the summer months you can cool off in one of the many swimming holes at Thirteen Falls, site of the former logging camp 13.
But remote does not mean ramshackle. Galehead is one of the “newer” huts, having been rebuilt in 2000 after the original, 1932 structure was torn down. Guests consistently describe Galehead as comfortable, perhaps because the low number of guests is spread out over four bunkrooms. When you’re not hanging out inside, you can relax on the porch and take in the afternoon sun.
Zealand Falls Hut is the smallest and perhaps quietest of all AMC huts, sleeping only 36 guests in two bunkrooms. That said, it is one of the more popular huts for families and inexperienced backcountry hikers, as it is a mere 2.8 miles from the nearest trailhead and 2,700 feet in elevation. Because access is easy, it is the only hut that has a “caretaker” season, which runs from late October to January 1. It is not uncommon for the hut to be filled with snowshoers and skiers when snow makes the other huts otherwise inaccessible.
The location is known especially for waterfalls, specifically Zealand Falls, which flows into Zealand Pond. During the warmer months, the pond attracts beaver and even the occasional moose. And in Autumn the hut and nearby trails are a great place to visit and enjoy New Hampshire’s fall foliage. Just over a mile away is Zeacliff, which provides wonderful views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the south and the Wiley Range to the east.
Madison Spring Hut is the first and therefore the oldest of all the AMC huts, built in 1888 below Mount Madison. The original structure was a rough stone building that could fit only 12 guests at a time. Regarding this construction, the AMC said it was “the most considerable single undertaking on which the Club has yet ventured.” Little did they know that this undertaking was just the start of more than a century of continuous operation, and a testament to AMC resiliency.
Like the other huts, Madison Spring has been repeatedly updated and expanded over the years. A women’s bunkroom was added in 1905, and a second hut with kitchen facilities in 1911, making Madison Spring the first to offer food. A third hut was added in 1922; in 1929, hut 1 was torn down and the material used to expand hut 3. The huts and surrounding area were burned to the ground in 1940, leaving only the stone walls and chimney standing. In 1941, the AMC built a brand new hut using parts of the old foundation, and the hut as it stands today largely resembles this construction.
But the most impressive renovations happened in 2010 and 2011, after the AMC raised $2 million in a fundraising campaign. The dining room is brand new, and guests enjoy meals under a soaring ceiling above big north- and west-facing windows. The renovated bunkrooms now have capacity for 50, and each bunk has a solar-powered reading light, shelf and numerous hooks for gear storage. And keeping in line with the AMC’s dedication to renewable systems, alternative energy and waste disposal systems were installed.
Madison Spring is the second-highest in the hut network, built at an elevation of 4,800 feet. Weather can get extreme up here, so full-service season is shorter than in other huts. But those who visit are treated to excellent views of the Presidential Range, an overlook of the Madison Gulf’s steep walls and the chance at nearby Star Lake to have an up-close experience with the fragile, native alpine flora.
Lakes of the Clouds Hut is possibly the most interesting in the AMC network. It is the highest hut, built at a breathtaking 5,050 foot elevation on the shoulder of Mount Washington. Mount Washington is famed for stupendously bad weather, and in 1934 set the record for then-fastest surface wind gust at 231 miles per hour (372 km/h). In fact, that weather is exactly the reason the hut is here.
In 1900, two AMC members were caught in a midsummer snowstorm in this area, both of them sadly perishing. To prevent similar deaths, the AMC in 1915 built a crude, six-person emergency shelter near where one of the members fell. Though the hut wasn’t intended for regular use, hikers kept spending the night in it, eventually spurring the AMC to build a bigger, permanent structure.
Today Lakes of the Clouds is the largest hut in the AMC network and the largest hut of its kind in the US. It sleeps a total of 90 guests and is consistently busy, fueled in part by its proximity to the Mount Washington cog railway. And in 2017, it was voted one of America’s best huts by Backpacker Magazine. Guests at Lakes of the Clouds are situated perfectly to tackle Mount Washington or wonder at alpine wildflowers, and are treated regularly to breathtaking sunsets. Though it cannot claim to be the oldest hut, Lakes of the Clouds is built on the venerable Crawford Path, the oldest hiking trail in the US.
Completed in 1965, Mizpah Spring Hut is overall the newest addition to the AMC hut network. It was the first hut for which building materials were primarily flown in by helicopter, saving time and money in construction. And Mizpah Spring is outfitted with some unique features thanks to those airlifts. The frame of the hut is reinforced with seven steel arches that help it withstand heavy loads of snow in the winter. This sturdy construction also withstands the sometime 200 mile per hour winds blowing down from Mount Pierce. It is the first and only multi-story hut in the network, and also the only one with a library.
Mizpah Spring is known as one of the quieter huts in the White Mountains, its 60 guests distributed between eight bunkrooms. It is nestled at 3,777 feet in a col between two 4,000 footers, surrounded by noise-dampening pine forest. However, in June this forest fills with native birds, who serenade hikers with a chorus of birdsong. During the day, the hut is warmed and filled with light from the large, south-facing windows. Mizpah Spring shares a location with Nauman Campsite.
FINDING ACCOMMODATION IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
Finding proper accommodation in the backcountry can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The AMC hut network makes the search for a comfortable spot to rest and have a meal in the woods a breeze. And if you need any help arranging your backcountry experience in the White Mountains, we’d be glad to answer your questions. Email us any time or call us at 1-414-377-3555. We provide free consultations to help you design your perfect White Mountains trip.