After our East Coast Pit Stops for Kids family tried out Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC)’s Highland Center Lodge during a winter break, they knew they had to come back for a summer stay, hiking to AMC huts! What are AMC huts? They’re a network of hike-in lodges operated by Appalachian Mountain Club. Hikers can depart for huts from trailheads, or from the Highland Center Lodge. We sent our nine-year-old, Tobias, along for the ride, and they spent three days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire experiencing what AMC has to offer with three generations: grandparents, parents, and kids ages 4-9.
Highland Center Lodge in summer:
While the Highland Center offers winter outdoor activities in the snowy months, it has even more activity in summer. Upon arrival, all the kids gravitated toward their large outdoor play structure, with bridges, ropes, and other challenges. Day hikes from Highland Center are manageable for young kids, and daily nature hikes are offered at 9 am and 1 pm. Our crew really enjoyed these 1.5 hour hikes with guides, learning fun facts about flora and fauna along the way. Tip: kids can participate in the Junior Naturalist program while at the Highland Center and in the huts. Like the Junior Ranger program, the naturalist program involves filling out a workbook and participating in free activities.
Meals: Meals at the lodge are communal, cafeteria-style affairs. Breakfast and dinner are included in your stay. Meals aren’t particularly kid-friendly, but note this unadvertised fact: parents can ask for a PB&J sandwich at any time.
Lodging: Families reserve bunk rooms at the Highland Center. Our group had a six-person bunk room with three bunk beds. They had linens, pads, towels and pillows. There were plugs/lighting, and lots of hooks to put stuff on. Bunk rooms share a bathroom with showers with shampoo and soap dispensers. Some bunk rooms do have their own bathrooms. The lodging was very comfortable, and as a bonus, included free wifi.
Part of the appeal of staying at the Highland Center is the chance to venture further…to an AMC hut. AMC runs a whole network of these huts (and when we say ‘hut’, don’t think small: some sleep as many as 60 or more!). Some can be accessed via trail directly from the Highland Center, and others require a short shuttle ride to the trailhead. Our take: the huts are what make the AMC experience in the White Mountains truly special. While our group had the youngest children we encountered, they were easily up for the challenge: don’t be afraid to try!
Which hut is right for you? The right hut (or huts) to visit will depend on how many miles you want to hike, and what you want to do when you get there. Our group decided to hike to the Mizpah Spring hut, because the trail could be accessed from the lodge, and was a distance we knew would be manageable. (Huts are approximately 1.5-6 miles from trailheads.) While our crew liked the hut, we’ll try Zealand Falls or Lonesome Lake next time, as these destinations may have more for the kids to do once we get there. At Mizpah Spring, fewer outdoor ‘entertainment’ options existed (such as swimming).
The heart of the hut experience lies within the staff. The Mizpah Spring hut ‘Croo’, as they’re called, were fantastic. This enthusiastic bunch of young people clean and cook, play with kids, and generally add to the lively, fun atmosphere of the hut vibe. Apart from a few families, most of the hut guests were young adults hiking in small groups, and the atmosphere was low-key, friendly, and very outdoor oriented. Tales were told in the evening of best hikes, great views, and exciting adventure. Tip: if you have a kid working on a Junior Naturalist workbook, have him or her finish it at a hut. The Mizpah Spring Croo did a whole ceremony for our kids, including a silly skit and a ‘swearing in’. They loved it!
Meals: Like at the lodge, meals are communal, but in our opinion, food is even better! The Croo is focused on eco-friendly dining; there are no paper products and all trash is carried out.
Lodging: Each hut is different, but at Mizpah (with 60 occupancy) there are eight rooms with triple bunk beds. Expect to share rooms with others! Our group shared a room with three strangers (who were probably sorry to see a bunch of kids, though they behaved well!). There are pads, blankets and pillows, but no electricity in the rooms. Expect compost toilets, and sinks with running cold water in the hall.
Keep in mind: the AMC hut experience differs from a traditional backpacking or camping experience, in that you will be with other people much of the time. The shared experience is part of the fun, but come prepared: you’ll be sharing the space with many others.
How to book: Book (early!) through the AMC website. We recommend calling ahead of time to ask questions about routes and sleeping arrangements. The staff is very friendly and helpful.
How to get there: The Highland Center Lodge is about 20 miles off I-93 at exit 35 between Lincoln and Franconia, NH.
What you’ll need:
- Backpacks (day packs will work) with clothing
- Sleeping bag or sleep sack
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Toiletries and insect repellent
- sun hats and beanies for chilly mornings
What we wished we’d known beforehand:
- The trail to the Mizpah Spring hut is steep! Our four-year-old was basically bouldering the whole time!
- Bring a trash bag
- Bring snacks and water bottles
While in the area, stop by any of the following in the White Mountains!
- Diana’s Bath: very fun swimming holes and waterfalls for kids!
- Franconia Notch: Flume Gorge and Echo Lake await!
- Pinkham Notch: try the Mt. Washington Railway!
- North Conway: the Cranmore Adventure and Ariel Park is perfect for older kids!