Hiking Hut-to-Hut in New Hampshire's White Mountains
- Enjoy hiking through the Presidential Range
- Stay at the White Mountain Huts
- Summit Mt. Washington, highest peak in the Northeast
Hike on the Appalachian Trail
Homemade breakfasts and dinners prepared at the Huts
Hike above tree line in the alpine zone
This is a moderately strenuous hiking trip for people who want to experience the spectacular high peaks and ridges of the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the middle of summer. We will hike the Presidential Range—the highest and most beautiful mountains in the Northeast. We will spend our first night at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Highland Center and then six nights enjoying the comfort, cuisine, views, and camaraderie of five AMC high mountain huts: Galehead, Zeeland Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds, and Madison Spring. While at Lakes of the Clouds hut, we will hike up to the summit of Mount Washington (the highest peak in the Northeast)
This is a moderately strenuous hiking trip for people who want to experience the spectacular high peaks and ridges of the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the middle of summer. We will hike the Presidential Range—the highest and most beautiful mountains in the Northeast. We will spend our first night at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Highland Center and then six nights enjoying the comfort, cuisine, views, and camaraderie of five AMC high mountain huts: Galehead, Zeeland Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds, and Madison Spring. While at Lakes of the Clouds hut, we will hike up to the summit of Mount Washington (the highest peak in the Northeast).
Some of the most thrilling and spectacular scenery and hiking in the Eastern U.S. is in the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest (better known as “the Whites”), one of America’s most popular public lands, registering more visitors annually than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. The area features many natural wonders, including magnificent rock formations (the most famous being The Old Man in the Mountain, which collapsed in 2003 but it's still New Hampshire’s state symbol), as well as Flume Gorge, waterfalls, swimming holes, vast forests, spectacular open vistas, high peaks and ridges, and fragile alpine vegetation. Among the high peaks are the highest mountains in the Northeast, the Presidential Range, which culminate in the bare, metamorphic schist rock summit of Mount Washington (6,288 feet and “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”). We will summit numerous peaks, potentially including Eisenhower, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison among others. This range forms the longest stretch of the Appalachian Trail above tree line.
For large portions of this New Hampshire hiking trip, we will be above tree line in the alpine zone, where you will see krummholz (gnarled and stunted trees that survive where there is a bit of shelter from the violent winds), and tiny flowers, some extremely rare. The flora is most similar to that of the eastern Canadian Arctic and coastal barrens.
The White Mountain National Forest is a managed and multiple-use forest (including six designated Federal Wilderness Areas), that provides areas for recreation, wildlife habitat, and harvesting of the forest—a renewable resource. Moose, deer, fox, and black bear are present—as are more than 184 species of birds.
We will meet Saturday at the AMC Highland Center to become familiar with both the hiking trip and the White Mountains, and to get to know each other over dinner. On Sunday we hike to the Galehead Hut. On Monday we will hike to the Zeeland Falls Hut where we can enjoy soaking in the waterfall near the hut. On Tuesday we will hike to the Mizpah Spring Hut at we begin our approach to Mount Washington. On Wednesday we cross the first section of the Presidential Range to Lakes of the Clouds Hut—high on the shoulder of Mount Washington. On Thursday we enjoy a layover day to summit Mount Washington, where we will tour the weather station, and then descend via the Alpine Garden Trail back down to Lakes of the Clouds Hut. On Friday we hike the ridgeline to Madison Spring Hut for our last night in the mountains. On Saturday, our final day, we hike down the Valley Way Trail to Appalachia
We will meet Saturday at the AMC Highland Center to become familiar with both the hiking trip and the White Mountains, and to get to know each other over dinner. On Sunday we hike to the Galehead Hut. On Monday we will hike to the Zeeland Falls Hut where we can enjoy soaking in the waterfall near the hut. On Tuesday we will hike to the Mizpah Spring Hut at we begin our approach to Mount Washington. On Wednesday we cross the first section of the Presidential Range to Lakes of the Clouds Hut—high on the shoulder of Mount Washington. On Thursday we enjoy a layover day to summit Mount Washington, where we will tour the weather station, and then descend via the Alpine Garden Trail back down to Lakes of the Clouds Hut. On Friday we hike the ridgeline to Madison Spring Hut for our last night in the mountains. On Saturday, our final day, we hike down the Valley Way Trail to Appalachia Parking Lot and our cars.
Please note that the itinerary may change due to weather, trail conditions, or other considerations.
Day 1: We meet at the Highland Center at 4:00 p.m. where we will check our gear and discuss trip details, including equipment, clothing, Leave No Trace principles, trail etiquette, and our itinerary. Dinner is at 6:00 p.m. (your cooperation and flexibility is needed to accomplish this). At dinner we will continue our “meet and greet” to introduce ourselves to each other.
Day 2: Following our 7:00 a.m. breakfast, we will take our cars to the Appalachia Parking Lot, where we will end our trip on Saturday. We will then shuttle to the Gale River Trail where we will hike four miles, 1,800 feet of elevation gain, on moderate terrain as we enter the mountains. As we near the Hut we will join the Appalachian Trail which we will follow the vast portion of the trip. This evening we will enjoy the first of our home cooked Hut meals.
Day 3: We will enjoy our home cooked breakfast and set out for the Zeeland Falls Hut. The Twinway Trail is strenuous, 7.2 miles, 1,750 feet of elevation gain with many ascents and descents. We will traverse three, 4,000 foot peaks: Zealand, Guyot and South Twin. The ultralight backpack style of this trip with the hut food and accommodations will give us an additional joy on this day. There are many scenic views on this trail. Once we arrive at the Zeeland Falls Hut, we can enjoy the waterfalls just outside the hut to have a refreshing cool off, either in or out of the water.
Day 4: We will hike the A-Z Trail, Avalon Trail, Crawford Path and Mizpah Cutoff Trails to the Mizpah Spring Hut. These trails bring our total distance to eight miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. This is a moderately strenuous hiking day with views and waterfalls.
Day 5: From Mizpah Spring Hut we climb 800 feet above tree line and remain above tree line until we descend Saturday. We traverse our first section of the Presidential Range mostly on the Appalachian Trail (AT)—4.8 miles to Lakes of the Clouds Hut (5,012 feet). Along the way, we summit Mt. Pierce (4,310 feet), Mt. Eisenhower (4,780 feet), Mt. Franklin (5,001 feet), and Mt. Monroe (5,372 feet). At the hut we acknowledge our day's accomplishments, put up our feet, stretch out, and enjoy the views. After dinner keep an eye out for a great sunset in the west.
Day 6: We start our morning ascending one and a half miles (1,300 feet elevation gain) to the summit of Mt. Washington (6,288 feet), the highest peak east of the Mississippi River and north of the Carolinas and the terminus of the cog railway, built in 1869 and still in operation today. On the summit, we will tour the Mount Washington Weather Observatory, enjoy our lunch, and explore the Tip-Top House, a state historic site renovated with exhibits of Mt. Washington’s long and varied history as the site of several hotels, an old coach road from 1861, the cog railway, etc.
Mount Washington is well worth the climb. The mountain is broad and massive with great ravines cut deeply into steep sides, leaving buttress ridges that reach up through the timberline. The timberline occurs at 4,500-5,000 feet, the lowest in the world this close to the Equator, as a result of exposure to the mountain’s fierce wind and weather. The summit cone is covered with fragments of rock and almost devoid of vegetation, rising steeply above the 5,000-foot upper plateau.
The Mount Washington Weather Observatory performs weather and climate research and conducts innovative science education programs. It is one of only a handful of permanently staffed mountaintop stations in the world, and the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Mt. Washington’s location at the convergence of three major storm tracks, combined with its elevation and unique topography, create extraordinary weather extremes unlike anywhere on Earth. Our tour will provide an opportunity to meet and interact with the scientists, learn how they create forecasts and see the instruments they use to capture Mt. Washington's legendary extremes, and more.
The return to our hut will follow a different route along the Alpine Garden Trail. We will look for the unique alpine plants that grow below the summit of Mt. Washington while we enjoy views of the Huntington Ravine and beyond.
Day 7: We leave Lakes of the Clouds Hut on the Crawford Path/AT and join and cross the Presidential Range on the Gulfside Trail/AT, traveling 7.3 miles along open ridges and rock fields to the Madison Spring hut (4,825 feet). This trail, the main route along the Northern Presidential ridgetop, offers extensive views and the option to summit Mt. Clay, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Madison (elevation gains: 1,650 feet without summits, 3,200 feet with summits).
The name "Gulfside" was given by J. Rayner Edmands who, starting in 1892, located and constructed the greater part of the trail; sometimes following existing trails. Most of the trail is part of the Appalachian Trail, except for a very short segment at the south end. The Gulfside Trail forms the northwestern boundary of the Great Gulf Wilderness, though the path itself is not within the Wilderness.
Day 8: On this last day, we hike down from Madison Hut 3.8 miles (3,550 feet of elevation loss) via the Valley Way Trail to the Appalachia Parking Lot. We should be at the Appalachia Parking Lot by 2:00 p.m.
We meet at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Highland Center for our pre-trip meeting and dinner. Detailed driving instructions will be provided to participants. Highland Center is located about two hours and 40 minutes (165 miles) from Boston’s Logan airport; five hours and 45 minutes (360 miles) from New York City’s major airports; and one hour and 50 minutes (120 miles) from Manchester Airport in New Hampshire. The best way to get there is to drive
We meet at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Highland Center for our pre-trip meeting and dinner. Detailed driving instructions will be provided to participants. Highland Center is located about two hours and 40 minutes (165 miles) from Boston’s Logan airport; five hours and 45 minutes (360 miles) from New York City’s major airports; and one hour and 50 minutes (120 miles) from Manchester Airport in New Hampshire. The best way to get there is to drive.
That said, public transportation is an option. For public transportation information and driving directions to Highland Center at Crawford Notch and Shapleigh Bunkhouse, go to: http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/highland/before-you-go.cfm.
Please do not make non-refundable travel arrangements until notified to do so by the trip leader.
Accommodations and Food
The first night (Saturday), we will stay at the Highland Center at Crawford Notch. We will be served a hearty four-course, family-style dinner and a hot and cold breakfast buffet the next morning.
Sunday through Friday nights we will stay in five of the Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC) eight beautiful High Mountain Huts, a highlight of the White Mountains. Each hut offers coed bunkroom accommodations, dinner and breakfast, bathrooms, and one-of-a-kind views! Lights in the common areas run on propane gas or solar power (bring flashlights or headlamps). There are no linens, heat, or showers, but there are three blankets, a mattress, and a pillow for each guest. You should bring a sheet sack, twin top sheet and pillowcase, or a sleeping bag if you wish. Enclosed gender-specific washrooms have cold running water—you may want to bring a camp towel or washcloth.
The food in the huts, prepared by experienced cooks, is exceptional—hearty, plentiful, nutritious, and delicious. Vegetarian options are always available. The leaders will supply the lunches and snacks.
Galehead Hut is the most isolated of the huts and commands a view of the vast expanse of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It was built in 1931. It and Zealand Falls Hut were conceived as the completing links in the chain from Lonesome Lake on the west to Carter Notch on the east.
Zealand Falls Hut was built in 1932. At an elevation of 2,700 feet, is it the lowest of the high huts and it lies in a spruce-fir zone.
Mizpah Spring Hut was built in 1964, and is the youngest hut in the system. It was added to the chain of huts running from Lonesome Lake to Carter Notch in response to the steep increase in demand in the 1960s (partly due to the National Geographic article written about the huts by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas). The location of Mizpah shortened the hike from Zealand Falls to Lakes of the Clouds for hikers seeking the same comfortable accommodations in the woods.
Lakes of the Clouds Hut: The original stone hut was built in 1915 and has been greatly enlarged since then. It is located on a shelf near the foot of Mt. Monroe about 50 yards west of a lake at an elevation of 5,012 feet. It is reached by the Crawford Path or the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, and has accommodations for 96 guests in coed bunkrooms.
Madison Spring Hut was built in 1888 at Madison Spring (4,800 feet), a little north of the Adams-Madison col, and is the second-highest hut in the chain and sits at the oldest hut site in the United States. The present hut, which was rebuilt and improved after a fire in 1940 and then extensively renovated in 2010-2011, sleeps 52 guests in two coed bunkrooms.
Hiking in the White Mountains is always challenging, but well worth the effort. The trails tend to go straight up the mountains, with large rocks, tree roots, rivulets of water (many are stream beds), and mud being part of the experience. If you have hiked only on graded trails, such as in Virginia or in the West, it is important to know that hiking in the Northeast is quite a bit harder. You should be in very good physical condition and prepared to hike at least seven to eight miles and gain 2,500 to 3,000 feet of elevation on very tough terrain in a day.
Safety is paramount and we will be prepared for rain, high winds, and cold weather. These are serious mountains. Hikers head up the mountain on a beautiful day and find themselves above tree line and unprepared for the severe weather, dangerously high winds, and violent storms that can occur. One of the fastest non-tornado winds ever recorded on the surface of the earth was on Mt. Washington in 1931 at 231 MPH. The worst wind chills on the top of Mt. Washington are about as bad as the worst wind chills found in Antarctica!
Needless to say, we will be prepared for a fun, safe trip. We will carefully monitor the daily “summits” weather report as reported from Pinkham Notch and adjust plans accordingly.
Equipment and Clothing
You will need comfortable hiking clothes for a wide range of temperatures (temperatures on Mt. Washington can go below freezing), well broken-in boots, a full rain suit (including jacket and pants for high winds and rain), a sheet sack, twin top sheet, sleeping bag liner and pillowcase (or light sleeping bag), personal toiletries, and a large sturdy day pack and pack cover (we recommend packing gear in plastic bags as well). We will provide a detailed clothing and equipment list to confirmed participants. Please note: only man-made fabrics or wool should be used on this trip; please don't pack cotton.
Log on to www.outdoors.org or www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain for information about the White Mountains. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) White Mountain Guide is considered the authority and offers the most detailed trail descriptions and maps.
The White Mountain National Forest is a managed and multiple-use forest that provides areas for recreation and human enjoyment, as well as wildlife habitat and harvesting of the forest—a renewable resource. Moose, deer, fox, and black bear are abundant, as are more than 180 species of birds.
As on all Sierra Club outings, members are expected to show concern and consideration for the environment and to behave appropriately as members of a conservation organization. We will recycle everything we can and hope to be good examples and teachers of conservation practices: staying on trails, not picking wildflowers, recycling plastic bags, etc. On this trip, in particular, where we will spend a good deal of time above timberline, we will take special care to stay on the trail and/or walk on rocks to protect the fragile alpine vegetation. Above timberline, the extreme weather and a short growing season make the vegetation especially fragile.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and when applicable will operate under permits obtained from U.S. federal land agencies.