The Appalachian Mountain Club has maintained a system of nine backcountry huts in the White Mountains since 1888, making the wilderness accessible for hikers without the gear and experience to rough it on their own. Spending a night at one of the AMC huts is a great deal like alpine summer camp, with bunk beds, communal meals, and a convivial atmosphere among the tired hikers. While rates can seem high (especially given the rustic experience), you’re paying for meals hiked in by hardy college students in a wild, scenic place, and staying in the backcountry is an unforgettable experience.
The most famous—and perhaps most spectacular—among the AMC huts is Lakes of the Clouds, set by a cluster of alpine ponds just a ridgeline away from the top of Mount Washington. The trail to pretty Zealand Falls Hut is far less challenging, a relatively gradual 2.8-mile hike that ends at a perfect river swimming spot. Less popular (and crowded) than those two all-stars, Carter Notch Hut is the easternmost hut in the AMC system, a 1914 stone structure set between Wildcat Dome and Carter Mountain.
One of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s most easily accessible huts from the Franconia Range side is Lonesome Lake Hut, which is a 1.6-mile hike from the trailhead in Lafayette Campground with fabulous views of the mountains, naturalist programs, and rustic co-ed bunkrooms. Another favorite in the Franconia area is Greenleaf Hut, which is at the end of a moderate, 2.7-mile walk and offers equally spectacular perspective on the rugged terrain.
Rates include dinner the night of arrival and breakfast the morning after, and reservations (603/466-2727, $105-131) can be made online or by phone. Visitors must bring their own sleeping bags, though additional wool blankets are provided, and guests share simple, often solar-powered bathrooms with cold running water. The most popular huts, and especially Lakes of the Clouds, are often booked months in advance, but there’s almost always last-minute space if you’re flexible about where you stay.