White Mountains Hut to Hut - Self Guided
Highland Center / Mountain Huts
5 to 9
$1,850 USD per person
Somewhere between “the best things come in small packages” and “the things worth having don’t come easy” you will find the White Mountains of New Hampshire. They are petite in comparison to some other mountain ranges, cracking just 6,000 feet at their highest point. For example, total ascent here is a mere 14,819 feet (4,517 meters), less than half than on the Tour du Mont Blanc or Walker’s Haute Route. But the White Mountains pack a mighty punch, challenging hikers with thigh-shattering ascents and knee-compressing descents over rocky, ankle-twisting terrain. Embrace the challenge, though, and you will be rewarded with incomparable views of the New England landscape, unique and beautiful plant life and a renowned hut system staffed by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s lively “croo.”
Our standard itinerary includes 8 stages that span a tough 41 miles (65 km) up and down (and up and down) this rugged terrain. Hikers familiar with the Appalachian Trail will know that this hike makes up a portion of the Appalachian Trail running through New Hampshire, and is therefore connected spiritually, though no longer physically, to the West Highland Way as part of the larger International Appalachian Trail. Designers of the trail had apparently never heard of switchbacks, preferring instead to climb and descend straight up and down the mountainside. No exception was made for the White Mountains’ steep slopes. The trail in this region spends more time above the treeline than any other part of the Appalachian Trail, so hikers can take in spectacular views of the surrounding countryside when not being abused by sometimes spectacularly bad weather. Above the treeline, the terrain is more like the Arctic tundra, including hardy plant life specially adapted to this environment. Robbins’ cinquefoil, for example, grows here and nowhere else on Earth.
The White Mountains stages can be hiked in almost any combination, thanks to the hiker shuttle system provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club. All huts provide a full-service season in Summer and Fall, complete with pillow, blankets, hot breakfast and dinner, and a friendly, welcoming hut staff. Some huts offer self-service season in Winter and Spring with minimal amenities. Bunkhouses are co-ed and washrooms are separate with toilets and cold, running water. Caution: the bunkhouses have no heating, no lighting, and no electricity. Make sure you plan ahead if you want to keep your devices charged.
The trek starts at the southernmost point of the trail at the Old Bridle Path Trailhead and heads north to the center point at the Highland Center Lodge. After a shuttle ride from the Lodge to the northernmost point, the Valley Way Trailhead, the trail heads back south, returning again to the Lodge. All hikers must depart from the Highland Center Lodge. As with all of our treks, this itinerary is completely customizable, and we will work with you to design a trek that fits your budget and schedule.
Climb and descend some truly challenging hills
View unique and rare plants, like alpine goldenrod, alpine blueberries and cranberries, mountain sandwort, diapensia and mountain avens
Stay in mountain huts, connect with other hikers, learn from the hut naturalists and bond with the AMC hut “croo.”
The White Mountains are a well-loved tourist destination covering about one quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small part of Maine. With 48 peaks over 4,000 feet tall, there’s a hike for everyone here, and especially for hikers who like a challenge. The Pygmy Elephant itinerary is split between the Pemigewasset Wilderness area and the Presidential Range, a series of peaks named for past presidents and other notable figures in US history. The Presidential Range is known for having the “worst weather on Earth,” particularly Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the range at 6,288 feet (1,917 meters). In 1934, staff at the Mount Washington Observatory recorded the then-fastest wind gust ever seen at 231 miles per hour (372 km/h), a record that stood until 1996. Though Mount Washington isn’t the largest or most impressive mountain, it sees weather conditions that rival even those in Patagonia.
LAFAYETTE PARKING LOT TO GREENLEAF HUT (2.9 MI / 4.8 KM)
Park at the Lafayette Parking Lot or shuttle from the Highland Center Lodge to start today’s hike. It’s just under three miles up the Old Bridle Path to Greenleaf Hut, and though the terrain is considered moderate it’s still enough to get your heart pumping. The trail ascends steadily over sometimes rocky and uneven terrain, gaining a total of 2,500 feet (762 meters) along the way. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of Walker Ravine and the Franconia Ridge, which comprises Mount Lafayette, Little Haystack Mountain and Mount Lincoln. Estimates for total hiking time range anywhere from 1.5 to 5 hours, depending on your speed, with an average at just under 3 hours. If you’re tough and have time, consider a quick hike to one of the nearby peaks. Alternatively, take the longer Falling Waters Trail, which runs to Little Haystack, then Mount Lincoln and ends at Mount Lafayette.
GREENLEAF HUT TO GALEHEAD HUT (6.7 MI / 10.8 KM)
If you didn’t make it to Mount Lafayette yesterday, you will today. This stage is under seven miles long and doesn’t look impressive on a map, but looks are deceiving. After summiting Mount Lafayette, you’ll be challenged by the frequent ups and downs and rough trail conditions of the Garfield Ridge Trail. Expect at least 5 hours of hiking time over 2,700 feet (823 meters) of elevation gain. But the view of the surrounding Pemigewasset Wilderness from the top of Mount Lafayette, the highest peak in the Franconia Ridge (5,260 feet / 1,603 meters), is superb and makes the pain worth it. Cap the day off at the Galehead Hut, the most remote of the AMC huts, surrounded by untouched wilderness.
GALEHEAD HUT TO ZEALAND FALLS HUT (6.2 MI / 9.99 KM)
Today starts and ends with a steep, rocky trail, but is a bit shorter and less challenging than the previous day, with a total ascent of 1,656 feet (505 meters). In between Galehead and Zealand Huts, you’ll summit three mountains, all of them over 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). First up is South Twin, which offers a full view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, but only the second best view of the day. After some hiking below the treeline, you will begin your ascent to Mount Guyot, which has better views about 30 feet below the summit than at the summit itself. The third peak of the day is Mount Zealand, and this time the landscape view – the best of the day and possibly the best of the Pemigewasset – comes after the summit at Zealand Cliff, or “Zeacliff.” On your way down to the hut, make sure to stop and check out the waterfall that gives the hut its name.
ZEALAND FALLS HUT TO HIGHLAND CENTER LODGE (5.1 MI / 8.2 KM)
At just over five miles in length, this stage is shorter and easier than the previous days but offers a couple of opportunities for add-on hikes. The base stage via the A-Z trail to the Avalon trail is about 3 hours of 1,325 feet (404 meters) over sometimes steep and rocky terrain, particularly near the first possible detour, the climb to Mount Tom. Both Tom and the second optional climb of the day, Mount Fields, are over 4,000 feet, but Fields has better views of the two. Access Mount Fields by the Wiley path. After leaving the Avalon trail, hiking will finally become easier. The supremely comfortable Highland Center Lodge is today’s reward.
VALLEY WAY TRAILHEAD TO MADISON SPRINGS HUT (3.7 MI / 5.95 KM)
Day five begins the south to the north portion of the White Mountains hike, starting from the Valley Way trailhead. A shuttle run by the AMC takes trekkers from the Lodge to the trailhead so that they can begin their hike back to the Lodge, the departure point for the trail. Like day one, today’s hike is shorter and starts off on relatively level ground, getting steeper as you near the Madison Springs Hut. Total ascent is just over 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). The 3.7 miles of this stretch can take 3 to 5 hours, depending on hiker experience, due to the rocky trail. Hiking poles are recommended. This is also the first day of hiking in the Presidential Range, which comes into full view at the end of the stage. Forest gives way to the alpine tundra above the treeline, where you can spot some of the flora characteristic of the area. Madison Springs Hut sits above the treeline and has a direct view of Mount Madison. Weather permitting, it’s possible to summit Madison from the hut to enjoy the view of the greater Presidential Range.
MADISON SPRINGS HUT TO LAKE OF THE CLOUDS HUT (6.4 MI / 10.3 KM)
Today and tomorrow the hikes are completely above the treeline, and the endless views up here are excellent. However, you’re exposed to the Presidential Range’s sometimes catastrophic weather and are well-advised to familiarize yourself with possible routes to safety below the treeline. The base itinerary is 5 hours of hiking over rocky, undulating terrain totaling 2,343 feet (714 meters) of ascent, but there are multiple possible 4,000-foot summits to expand this itinerary. Of note are Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, Mount Clay, and, of course, Mount Washington. Time your trek right and you’ll be able to enjoy blooming alpine flowers on Mount Washington’s eastern slope if you’re not blown away by gale-force winds.
LAKES OF THE CLOUDS HUT TO MIZPAH SPRING HUT (4.25 MI / 7.27 KM)
Today’s hike above treeline follows the Crawford Path, the oldest continually maintained path in the United States. Conditions are not as strenuous as on stage 6, but still challenging at times. The total ascent is minimal at 728 feet (222 meters), but total descent is almost 2,000 knee-busting feet (610 meters). Most of this stage is on a ridge that allows continuous great views but can be extra dangerous in bad weather conditions. Check the forecast before you leave the Lake of the Clouds Hut. There is one obligatory 4,000-foot peak summit today – Mount Pierce – which is preceded by two optional summits: Mount Monroe and Mount Eisenhower. Between Lakes of the Clouds Hut and Mount Monroe, there is a flat section of land that is home to numerous Presidential Range tundra plants. Remember to stay on the trail to protect these plants. They evolved to withstand harsh weather, not hiking boots.
MIZPAH SPRING HUT TO HIGHLAND CENTER LODGE (2.3 MI / 3.76 KM)
The last stage is the shortest and possibly easiest of any of the White Mountains stages. It can also be the fastest, depending on how much (or little) you want the trek to be over. Your ascent today is negligible, but like yesterday you will steadily descend nearly 2,000 feet. The terrain, however, is solid and minimally rocky. If you’d like a bit more of a challenge, maybe take the Webster Cliff Trail to Mount Jackson, a 4,000-footer, and Mount Webster, at just under 4,000 feet. End the day with a comfortable stay at the Highland Center Lodge.
Pygmy Miles Total
You earn 1 Pygmy Mile for each $1 you spend with us.
You earn 10 Pygmy Miles for every mile that you hike. Get fit and get rewarded.
A 25% bonus is given for supporting the park conservation efforts, that may otherwise be missed if not for making the trek.
Total Pygmy Miles
Greenleaf Mountain Hut
Greenleaf Mountain Hut
As with all of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s huts, the Greenleaf Mountain Hut has co-ed bunk rooms and separate washrooms with toilets and cold, running water. During a full-service season in Summer and Fall, the AMC hut “croo” provides hikers with pillows, blankets, hot breakfasts, and dinners and extensive knowledge about the White Mountain trail system. Greenleaf is also open for self-service season in Winter and Spring.
Greenleaf Mountain Hut is found in the Pemigewasset Wilderness and has an incomparable view of Mount Lafayette from its position at treeline, just over Eagle Lake. Franconia Ridge invites hikers to climb to the top, summit Mount Lafayette and take in the beauty of the surrounding White Mountains.
Galehead Hut is as far away from civilization you’ll get on this hike, 7 miles to the nearest huts, and placed deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The hike here is challenging, but the unspoiled nature of the Wilderness makes it worth your trouble. The croo at Galehead says “[h]ave a seat on our front porch and take it all in.” Galehead Hut is open for full-service and self-service seasons.
Zealand Falls Hut
Zealand Falls Hut
Zealand Falls Hut is one of the most popular huts in the AMC system, and not just because it is a short hike from the trailhead. The hut is near the gorgeous Zealand Falls (as the name implies), where tired hikers can cool off on a hot day. It’s quieter here than in other huts because of Zealand’s comparatively small size. For those who want to add on a day hike, Mount Zealand, Bonds and other peaks aren’t far away. Zealand Falls Hut is open for full-service and self-service seasons.
Highland Center Lodge
Nestled in the White Mountains’ Crawford Notch, the Highland Center Lodge is an expansive hiker’s lodge smack dab in some of the area’s most beautiful landscapes. The lodge offers everything a tired hiker could desire: private rooms with queen-sized beds and ensuite bathrooms, buffet breakfast and hearty dinner, living room with fireplace, guided hikes and instructional talks and yes – oh yes – Wi-Fi. Explore the nearby Frankenstein Cliffs or Ripley Falls, or stay inside and browse the thousands of documents, maps and photographs that make up the AMC Library and Archives. Whatever you were missing on the trail, the Lodge probably has it. The Highland Center Lodge is open year-round.
Madison Springs Hut
Madison Springs Hut
From Madison Springs Hut’s above the treeline, you will be able to enjoy an unspoiled view of the nearest peaks of the Presidential Range. This was the first high mountain hut built by the AMC all the way back in 1888, and recent renovations ensure that it stands up to the standards of the modern backcountry hiker. Additional views of the Presidential, Kilkenny and Pilot mountain ranges are just a few miles away, and the nearby Star Lake is a great place to view the White Mountains’ unique alpine plant life. The Madison Springs Hut is open only for full-service season.
Lake of the Clouds Hut
Lake of the Clouds Hut
The most-visited of any of the AMC huts, Lake of the Clouds is also the highest in elevation at just over 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). You’re well above treeline here, situated on the shoulder of Mount Washington, and the views are great from the shelter of the hut. Take a day hike to conquer Washington or Mount Monroe, discover Tuckerman Ravine or grab a view of the Great Gulf Wilderness and Wildcats Peaks from the top of the Presidential Ridge. Lake of the Clouds is open only for full-service season.
Mizpah Spring Hut
Mizpah Spring Hut
After 2,000 feet of steep downhill hiking (if coming from the North), you will arrive at the Mizpah Spring Hut, set between two cols in the boreal forest at the southern end of the Presidential Range. Despite the trees, views from Mizpah Spring’s south-facing windows are spectacular. The smaller bunkrooms might mean a more peaceful stay here, and you can use that peace to browse through the hut library. The Mizpah Spring Hut is open for full-service and self-service seasons.
Pygmy Elephant will customize your trip to meet your fitness, budget, and accommodation desires. However, as a frame of reference, the pricing of our base itinerary is listed below:
Approximately $1,850 per person based on double occupancy
The trek is only possible in the summer months when temperatures are mild and most of the huts are open. However, some of the huts will not provide full-service (which means that each guest is provided with a pillow and wool blankets) before June. October, the White Mountains show off its color with golden leaves and wildflowers below the treeline, but there is no presence of snow and ice on the peaks. Heavy travel periods are between the middle of July and the end of August.
Included in the base itineary:
- 9 nights accommodation: Six nights at nights in huts, three night at the AMC Highland Center (in private accommodation).
- Personalized Handbook with your customized itinerary. Customers often mention how much they appreciate this handbook as part of their trek.
- Customer service: smoothing out the headaches 24/7
- 9 breakfasts, 9 dinners
- Personalized Travel App with your complete itinerary
- Premium GAIA GPS App and GPX File
Optional Add ons
- Car rental from any of the nearby airports: 1) Manchester Airport (MHT) 2) Portland (PMW)
- Bus or Private shuttle to the Highland Center from Boston Logan and Manchester Airports
- Travel Insurance
- Rest day in the Highland Center
After the initial consultation, we will adjust the itinerary to your experience, preferences, and time constraints. It is possible to skip stages or completely rearrange their order, but this involves more transfers. Still, we can customize your tour in any of the following ways:
- You can hike from and to Crawford Notch (AMC Highland Center)
- If you are on a budget, we can remove the box lunches and you can take your own food
- We can shorten or lengthen the number of hiking days. For example, if you are quite fit and experienced hikers, or if you are pressed for time, we can reduce the number of hike days. Depending on how we set up your itinerary, it's also possible to take some public transport to shorten some of the days.
- We can add in rest days. Some people prefer to have a day at the beginning of their tour so they can loosen the muscles before hiking.
Self-guided does not mean you are alone. We help you coordinate and plan your trip beforehand. Once you are on your way, we provide 24-hour customer service in case there are any issues with your bookings.
Level : Medium
Level : Medium
Level : High
- No ropes, leads or mountaineering equipment is needed to hike the whites. Still, the hiking is more difficult, then say the Alps, for two main reasons. First, there are very few switchbacks; most of the hikes make a bee line up, along, or down the range. Second, the terrain is very rocky, and some sections require you to be careful with your foot and hand placements. On some terrain in the alps, you can hike around 2.5 to 3 mph. It is not uncommon to hike 1.5 to 2 mph in the whites. Furthermore, wind and weather have known to be extreme, especially on the Presidential range. The fastest recorded non-tornado wind was on Mount Washington. It's important to be aware of weather conditions before you set out and be adequately equipped with weather-appropriate gear. You should also not hesitate to go below the treeline when bad weather rolls in. As such, the average stage distance is only around 5 to 7 miles.
- Mental Strength is rated at medium because one must keep good spirits to complete the trip without skipping stages. Furthermore, the communal nature of the mountain huts can be loved... or hated. It depends on the mind frame of the traveler.
- Lastly, physical conditioning is rated at high if taken in less than 8 nights. We can provide a thorough explanation of the transport options on the route.