One of the neatest features of hiking in the White Mountains is the high mountain hut system. Maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club, these “huts” are hardly the ramshackle structures conjured up by the word hut. Instead, each of these huts is a hiker’s respite, a place to sleep and recover on a long journey.
Hut to hut hiking is a popular pastime, and while plenty of people stay at all of them, hut to hut hiking can be as simple as staying in just one or two of the huts on your trip. Today, we’re going to go over the different huts in the system and tell you everything you need to know about staying in them.
What Is The Hut System?
The hut system is a unique series of buildings stretched across a fifty mile span of the White Mountains. This makes multi-day hikes doable without carrying a tent. You can also reduce the amount of food you carry, since the huts serve communal breakfasts and dinners.
History Of The AMC Huts
The history of the AMC hut system is extremely interesting. Founded in 1876, the AMC played a crucial role in promoting outdoor activities and conservation efforts. The first hut was established in 1888. This was Madison Spring Hut, and it was the first time the club provided accommodations for hikers and climbers exploring Mount Madison. It was immediately popular, and the AMC began to build more huts along popular hiking routes in the White Mountains.
Then came the Appalachian Trail. The AT intersected with several AMC huts, becoming an integral part of the long-distance hiker experience. In recent decades, the AMC has focused on modernizing the huts while emphasizing sustainability and environmental conservation. Educational programs and initiatives have been incorporated, making the huts not only shelters but also hubs of information on the region’s ecology and natural history. Facing challenges such as overcrowding during peak seasons, the AMC has implemented reservation systems and capacity limits to balance the demand for hut stays with environmental preservation. The AMC huts stand as iconic elements in the history of outdoor adventure, connecting generations to the rich legacy and natural splendor of the White Mountains.
There are eight huts in the hut system. Here they are from West to East:
Lonesome Lake Hut
- Location: Situated at the edge of Lonesome Lake, below Cannon Mountain.
- Features: Offers a more accessible location for families and day hikers. The hut provides a great view of Franconia Ridge.
- Elevation: 2,775 feet
- Hut Information: Lonesome Lake Hut
- Location: Located on the western shoulder of Mount Lafayette, part of the Franconia Range.
- Features: Offers spectacular views of the Franconia Ridge and is a common stop for hikers traversing the Franconia Ridge Loop.
- Elevation: 4,200 feet
- Hut Information: Greenleaf Hut
- Location: Situated on the southern slopes of Galehead Mountain.
- Features: Offers panoramic views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and is a stop for hikers exploring the Franconia Range and Pemigewasset Loop.
- Elevation: 3,777 feet
- Hut Information: Galehead Hut
Zealand Falls Hut
- Location: Located in the Zealand Valley, near Zealand Falls.
- Features: Surrounded by scenic waterfalls and provides access to Zealand Falls and the southern part of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
- Elevation: 2,635 feet
- Hut Information: Zealand Falls Hut
Mizpah Spring Hut
- Location: Positioned on the southern flanks of Mount Clinton.
- Features: Provides access to the Southern Presidential Range and is often used by hikers doing the Presidential Traverse. Mizpah Spring Hut also has a library!
- Elevation: 3,793 feet
- Hut Information: Mizpah Spring Hut
Lakes of the Clouds Hut
- Location: Situated in the Southern Presidential Range, near the summit of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast.
- Features: Offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. It’s a popular stop for hikers attempting the Presidential Traverse. It’s the most popular hut in the system, so book in advance.
- Elevation: 5,014 feet
- Hut Information: Lakes of the Clouds Hut
Madison Spring Hut
- Location: Located on the northern flanks of Mount Madison.
- Features: Offers beautiful views of the Northern Presidential Range. It’s a common stop for hikers approaching from the north.
- Elevation: 4,795 feet
- Hut Information: Madison Spring Hut
Carter Notch Hut
- Location: Nestled between Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome.
- Features: Set in a scenic notch, it’s surrounded by beautiful alpine terrain and is a popular choice for hikers exploring the Carter-Moriah Range.
- Elevation: 3,290 feet
- Hut Information: Carter Notch Hut
Each of the huts is only accessible by foot. In addition to the huts, there are two other lodging options maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. These are the Highland Center and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center/Joe Dodge Lodge. Staying at either of these lodges gives you access to parking, private rooms, and hiker shuttles, as well as more diverse food options. They operate more like a standard hotel than the huts do. Both of the lodges offer full service year-round.
Full-Service and Self-Service Seasons
The huts, on the other hand, have seasonal operations. During peak season, usually from the end of May to the end of October, the huts are staffed by “croos” who provide programming and cook a hot breakfast and dinner for overnight guests. You can also buy bread, soup, and hot drinks during the day for your lunch. It’s also important to note that seasonal access is different for each hut.
For example, Lakes of the Clouds Hut is closed during the fall, winter and spring. A refuge room in the hut’s cellar is left open in the winter for emergency use only– there is no real self-service season for this high-elevation hut. Mizpah Spring Hut is another hut without a self-service season, and does not have an emergency winter shelter. So if you’re planning a trip that isn’t in the peak season, make sure that the hut you want to stay at is open!
During the self-service season, your group will have access to the hut’s kitchen at assigned times, so you can cook your own meals.
Full-Service versus Self-Service
|Breakfast and dinner for overnight guests
|You have to cook your own food
|Blankets and pillows provided, but you should still bring a sleeping bag
|You must bring your own sleeping bag and pillows
|Yes, hut croo provides educational programs and assistance to guests
|A caretaker is present at certain times, but there won’t be full-time staff present
|Usually around $340 for non-AMC members
|The price is reduced because there are fewer amenities (~$75 a night for non-AMC members)
*AMC memberships costs $50 per year ($75 family plans) and provide 20% discount on lodging and merchandise.
Besides bunkrooms, the huts offer kitchens, communal spaces to relax, and real bathrooms. Well, they have composting toilets and no showers, but the bathrooms are much nicer than a hole in the woods! They also have cold running water and are a great place to freshen up and refill your hydration system.
The eight huts of the AMC hut system are laid out so that there’s roughly a day’s hike between them. The White Mountains are full of elevation changes, steep trails, and side trails, so going slow and not trying to make book time from hut to hut will let you see more. Hut to hut hiking is also great for peak baggers, since the trails that lead to the huts offer relatively easy access to many of the NH 48.
However, you don’t have to hike all eight of them; you can get a shuttle to trailheads that lead to each hut from lots of places. This includes both of the AMC lodges. If you do want to hike the whole 50ish mile trail, you can catch a shuttle from either end to take you back to your car.
AMC Huts and Thru-Hikers
The AMC huts are along the Appalachian Trail, making them very popular destinations for thru-hikers. However, because thru-hikers may have trouble making reservations in advance, a work-for-stay program is in place. At each hut, two thru-hikers per night can work for two hours in exchange for a dry place to sleep and a hot meal. (At Lakes of the Clouds, up to 4 thru-hikers can do this per night, since there are far fewer campsites near the Lakes of the Clouds than other spots around the huts.) This program is primarily available during the full-service season. In the self-service season, thru-hikers can discuss work for stay with the huts’ caretakers, but the option isn’t guaranteed.
Hut to Hut Hiking Etiquette
Wondering what to expect when staying in the AMC huts? Here are the dos and don’ts for making the most of your hut-to-hut hiking experience in the White Mountains.
Plan and Prepare: Plan your route in advance, considering trail conditions, distances, and elevation changes. Do check weather forecasts and be prepared for changing conditions. This means checking peak forecasts, not area forecasts– the weather can be unpredictable in the mountains.
Make Reservations: You must make reservations for overnight stays at the huts, especially during peak seasons. Trying to stay at one of the huts without a reservation will lead to a very unpleasant surprise.
Follow Leave No Trace Principles: Adhere to Leave No Trace principles, staying on designated trails and properly disposing of waste. You also have to carry out all trash, including food wrappers and waste.
Hike Responsibly: Stay on marked trails to minimize environmental impact. This is especially important the higher up you get, because the alpine landscape is fragile. Delicate mountain plants can survive harsh winters, but not being trampled or picked. Yield to other hikers, and be courteous and respectful on the trail. This isn’t hut to hut specific etiquette; it’s just good manners.
Pack Appropriately: The huts are not hotels, and they don’t have a lot of extra gear just hanging around. Pick essentials, including appropriate clothing, water, map, compass, and first aid supplies. Make sure that you pack a headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries for emergencies; the huts don’t have outlets for personal use and those bunkrooms get pretty dark at night.
Stay Informed: In the full-service season, hut croos will help you out with information and can even offer guided experiences sometimes. But you still need to check trail conditions and updates before starting your hike and inform someone about your hiking plans, including your expected return time.
Respect Wildlife: Make sure that you put your food away at night to keep the huts clean and uninteresting to wildlife. The White Mountains are home to animals like moose and bears, so keep your distance. Also, hut to hut hiking is not appropriate for dogs, since they’re not allowed to stay in the huts overnight. (Service animals are an exception, of course.)
Be Considerate at Huts: Respect quiet hours and the privacy of other hut guests. The bunkrooms are shared, so keep that in mind. Also, follow all hut guidelines for waste disposal and hygiene.
Emergency Preparedness: Carry a basic first aid kit and know how to use it. Bring emergency communication devices such as a cellphone or personal locator beacon. The croo can provide some assistance in an emergency, but they aren’t medics.
Enjoy the Experience: The hut to hut hiking experience is unique, so take time to appreciate it! Participate in the educational programs and talks– they’re fun and really interesting, and you can learn a lot about the natural history of the area.
Don’t Skip Reservations: Don’t attempt to stay overnight at huts without a reservation, especially during busy seasons. And if you have to cancel, make sure that you actually cancel and don’t just… not show up. In the peak season, it’s very likely that somebody else will take that spot!
Don’t Stray Off Trails: Don’t venture off marked trails to protect the fragile alpine environment– especially around the Lakes of the Clouds hut. Don’t create new trails or take shortcuts.
Don’t Leave Food Unattended: Don’t leave your food at the huts– there’s not room for your leftovers. Things left behind have to be carried out by hut staff, which is extra work and extra weight they didn’t account for.
Don’t Ignore Weather Warnings: Don’t ignore weather forecasts, especially in mountainous areas where conditions can change rapidly. Don’t underestimate the importance of proper gear for varying weather. Each hut provides a packing list for both the full-service and self-service seasons, so make sure you have everything you need.
Don’t Litter: Don’t litter on the trail or at huts. Don’t burn or bury trash; carry it out with you. The huts have been sheltering people since 1888– don’t be the person who wrecks it for other hikers.
Don’t Be Disruptive at Huts: Don’t disrupt the peaceful environment at huts with loud noises or disturbances. Also, be considerate of other peoples’ needs. Don’t use hut facilities for washing dishes or personal items.
The AMC huts are on many of the best hikes in the White Mountains. They represent an important piece of hiking history, and they make the White Mountains easier and more accessible to hike. If you want to push your hiking abilities, hut to hut hiking is a great way to do so, since you don’t have to haul your tent along with you. The next time you plan a hiking trip, consider the huts of the White Mountains. You’ll have an amazing time!
Planning A Hut To Hut Hike
There are nearly infinite options to plan a hut to hut hike in the Whites, but here are the steps you should take:
Determine your trips number of days, season, and relative dates.
Determine if what huts have availability for those dates. See AMC hut availability here.
With the available huts, plan the hike based off of the distance per day within your group’s capabilities, and the amount of time you have for your overall trip. Leave plenty of room for error on your estimations.
Book your hut.
Book your transportation. If you don’t have two cars to spot, or a ride to the trailhead, you need to book a shuttle to either bring you to your hike start, or to bring you back to where you parked the car at the hike start. Walk ons are accepted at availability, but bookings are recommended during peak season.
Full Hut To Hut Traverse
A full hut to hut traverse is an incredible way to see a large portion of the White Mountains in less than a week. You can choose to stay at every hut for a long trip, or skip some huts for a few great days of incredible backpacking.
Length: 45.6 Miles (73.4 km)
Elevation Gain: 16,000 feet (4877 meters)
Duration: 3-7 Days
Season: Summer and early Fall
Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Permits: Not Required
Dogs: Not recommend (only service dogs can stay at huts)
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about
Review The Hut To Hut Traverse
This is an incredible hike
- Incredible views
- Great comfort in the huts
- Awesome people on trail and at huts
- Need to shuttle or schedule a ride with friends / family