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.
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.
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.