Home / Appalachian Trail / Do You Need to Stay in the White Mountain Huts When You Hike the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail?

Do You Need to Stay in the White Mountain Huts When You Hike the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail?

AMC Greanleaf Hut below the summit of Mt Lafayette
AMC Greenleaf Hut below the summit of Mt Lafayette

I ran into some section hikers in Maryland who asked me whether you need to stay in the Appalachian Mountain Clubs (AMC) Huts when you hike the Appalachian Trail through New Hampshire.

Absolutely not!

Priced at $131 per person/night, you get three blankets, a big dinner, a big breakfast and a night in a shared bunk room when you stay at an AMC hut. It’s not the most economical way to hike through the White Mountain Section of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, especially for couples.

While the AMC does let Appalachian Trail thru-hikers stay at the huts (maybe section-hikers too) on a first come first serve basis (in exchange for work-for-stay), space is very limited since the huts are usually fully booked. You also might have to sleep on the floor with the dust bunnies.

Beaver Brook Shelter on Mt Moosilauke
Beaver Brook Shelter on Mt Moosilauke – Free

If you want to experience an AMC White Mountain hut but not pay for a visit, you can visit any of them during the day for free. Lots of hikers get potable water at the huts, eat their lunch in the hut dinning room, or buy fresh baked goods and soup which are usually on sale during the day. Just walk in the front door and make yourself at home. You don’t have to be a guest.

While staying at an AMC hut for one night is a fun experience, there are lots of lean-tos and designated campsites along the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail that you can camp at for free, although some heavily used campsites with caretakers cost $8/night in summer. The AT Guide has all the information you need to find them. I also recommend you also bring a map of the New Hampshire AT because the trail consists of a network of pre-existing trails with different names and it’s easy to get lost.

There are also other trail maintenance organizations like the Dartmouth Outing Club and the Randolph Mountain Club that provide hut accommodations along the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail where you can stay. They’re a lot more reasonably priced than the AMC Huts and only a stones throw away.

There are also many New Hampshire State and Forest Service campgrounds near the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, hiker hostels, B&B’s, hotels and motels. There are a lot of choices available, although getting around in the White Mountains without a car can be difficult.

Finally, backcountry camping is allowed throughout the White Mountains, not just along the Appalachian Trail, as long as you adhere to the White Mountains National Forest’s Backcountry Camping Rules. It’s the usual…200 feet off the trail and away from water, use pre-established tent sites rather than creating new ones, hang a bear bag, no camping above treeline, and so on. Read up on these before you arrive.

So no. You don’t have to camp in an Appalachian Mountain Club Hut when you hike the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail from Hanover to Gorham. You have all of the camping and lodging options available everywhere else on the Appalachian Trail.

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18 comments

  1. Not much help for most thru-hikers, but worth remembering that self-service season in the huts is much less expensive. I spent a memorable, stormy night at Carter Notch one October — only guest, use of the stove to make my own meals, friendly caretaker.

  2. I definitely agree Phil that October and even September are probably the best times to backpack and camp up there. I usually plan all my trips and go with my wife and daughter during these months..hardly any bugs such as black flies, mosquitos, and ticks, foliage is beautiful, mild days, nice chilly sleeping weather..I can go on and on!

  3. Excellent post. You nailed it.

  4. Also note that you have to make hut reservations way in advance and lose your money if you decide to postpone your trip because of bad weather, although I think some staff will be happy to take pay-at-the-door guests if someone cancelled a reservation. The huts are controversial with those seeking a more untainted backcountry, but I enjoy having them as rest stops/minor resupply points/exciting waypoints for my kids, even if we’re never going to actually sleep in one.

    I think the AT campsites with caretakers are increasing their rates to $10/person/night this year, still quite reasonable, although some sites are surrounded by perfectly good free backcountry spots probably more comfortable than a tent platform.

    One question I’ve had is what are the acceptable times for visitors to drop-in at the huts for water, soup, etc.? IIRC probably the earliest I’ve visited one was 9 and latest maybe 3, but I’m planning to pass by some this summer outside that range and not sure what’s kosher to not impinge on paying guests.

    • 9 am sounds about right. The hut crew tends to ignore people who show up to check the weather and wind speed gauges earlier at the Madison and Lakes huts while they’re serving breakfast. I reckon, you’re probably safe to about 5pm as well. I think dinner is served at 6ish. When in doubt, show up and beg for forgiveness later.

  5. It is tough to do a transit of the Presidential Range without staying in the huts. No shelters or campsites, and legal camping means dropping a significant elevation to get below the tree line – and climbing back up in the morning. Work for stay in the Presidentials was generous when I went thru in ’12, and the folks at the huts had good info on legal campsites if they were full.

    • There are lots of shelters and campsites. I’m a local and do it all the time.

    • Yeah, first thing that comes to mind is to stay at Nauman campsite (AMC site near Mizpah Springs hut) and then one of the Randolph Mountain Club campsites or huts (west side of Mt. Adams). Or the other way around.

  6. Ok, that’s good to know. In some huts out west I’ve seen much rodent droppings inside. Is this a concern in NH? Has there been hantavirus incidents?

    • Well, there have been documented cases of Hanta contracted in Vermont and Maine (not specific to shelters, but to sheds and woodpiles), so it does circulate here. Use the same preventative measures you would elsewhere–try not to stir up mouse dropping laden debris or mouse nests. It is not as common here as it is, say, in the west, but wherever you hike, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure when it comes to this one.

  7. We stopped at Zealand Falls on our way out to the car to use the bathroom, get water, etc. It was just past 5:30 and the sun had come out minutes before. When they had found out we had just finished our 48 in the rain and fog the previous day (Bonds) they gave us each a slice of bread fresh out of the oven.

  8. Staying at Greenleaf Sunday for $27. Goes up almost 5X next week. LOVE the off season, it actually seems more communal. I also love the shelters. And stealthing is awesome too. I have to give props to any caretaker on New Years Eve. Someone set off the fire alarm at Carter Notch at about 1am. Condensation issue.

  9. I am doing my second Presidental Traverse this mid June, I think I paid. $109 per night at Lakes night one, and Madison. Night two, ( last time I went north to south) With a shuttle back to my truck at Highland Ctr. Crawford trailhead. Another $24 for the ride. I know it’s not cheap, but if you realize you are carrying very little, as shelter and food is provided, some rain gear, water, change of clothes and pack lunch and energy bars, and you get an three day EPIC hike on one of the best sections of the AT, and your going ultra lite the whole way, Best $250 weekend in my opinion. And the company is usually pretty cool, after a spiritual solo walk in the woods. Foods pretty good too. I wish the huts were cheaper, but they do a good job regardless.

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