Appalachian Trail eco-lodge: AMC’s Highland Center Lodge with kids

Ready to get your family into the great outdoors? The Highland Center Lodge at Crawford Notch, New Hampshire is the perfect place to start—this family-friendly eco-lodge is a big step up from camping, but a welcome step away from hotels packed with amenities that you’ll never use (think day spas and formal dinners). The Appalachian Mountain Club is known for its network of hike or ski-in huts, but these can be too rustic or inaccessible when you’re traveling with very young kids. The Highland Center Lodge is a great base camp for exploring all the hiking and skiing in the White Mountains, while enjoying the amenities that are so crucial to families: a hot shower, comfortable beds, and simple but delicious food served in a family-friendly style.

Highland Center Lodge

Situated on the Appalachian Trail, a primary goal of the AMC is to promote a love and understanding of the outdoors. At the Highland Center, they believe that getting kids outside and educating them about the environment is an important first step to raising a generation of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts. I couldn’t agree more. Crawford Notch was chosen as the site for the Highland Center because it’s at the gateway to the White Mountains and offers plenty of breathtaking scenery (it’s a leaf peepers’ paradise, I’m told!), but the terrain surrounding the lodge is mild enough that most hikes are easy or moderate, making it very accessible to young kids.

Need to be back in time for nap? No problem. Many hikes around the lodge are short enough to be done in a morning or afternoon. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a little adventure, there are plenty of more challenging hikes at your doorstep. There are also many activities organized for kids and adults at the Highland Center. We enjoyed a cross country ski tour at nearby Bretton Woods, a tutorial on snow shelter building (a favorite of our 4 year old!), and a guided tour on a relatively easy hike to nearby Gibbs Falls. Without a doubt, no one is bored at the Highland Center!

Highland Center Lodge

The Highland Center caters primarily to young families and empty nesters looking for moderate hikes, friendly service, and a casual atmosphere. No need to dress for dinner—just ditch your boots and come as you are! The rooms are set up for families too—there are a few configurations to choose from, but most include a double bed and some bunk beds for the kids. Downstairs you’ll find a game room for kids and the L.L. Bean room, which offers free gear for guests. For me, this was one of the most thoughtful aspects of the lodge, and is a testament to the mission statement of the AMC. At the Highland Center, there’s no need to break the bank buying outdoor gear that your family will only use once: clothes, outerwear, boots, packs, sleeping bags, snowshoes and more are all available free of charge for guests to check out during their stay. You know the saying: in New Hampshire there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes!

The Highland Center Lodge is a vacation your family can feel good about. By visiting the Highland Center, you’re not only giving your family a great vacation and an opportunity to learn more about the outdoors. You’re also supporting an organization that promotes conservation, education, and fosters a love of the outdoors in young people all over the northeast. 

Date last visited: 

January 11, 2013

Distance from the interstate:

The Highland Center Lodge is about 20 miles off I-93 at exit 35 between Lincoln and Franconia, NH.

Seasonal information and lodge availability:

The Highland Center is open year round, and offers something for every season. There is hiking, swimming, and kayaking during the summer; leaf peeping in the fall; snowshoeing and skiing (cross country and downhill at nearby Bretton Woods) in the winter; and, umm…probably a lot of mud in the spring.

Room rates: 

Prices start at $82/night, per adult and go up to about $142/night, per adult, depending on whether or not you’re an AMC member, and the setup of your room (private vs. shared bath, for example). However, breakfast and dinner are included in all rates. Also, the Highland Center offers discount tickets for cross country and downhill skiing at Bretton Woods. These can be included in a package with accommodations.


Breakfast and dinner are included with all lodging, and lunch is offered on site for a modest price. Vegetarian and kids’ options are available. The food is hearty, simple, and delicious—just what you’ll want after a day on the trails. 


Directions and driving times from nearby cities are listed on the website, and are also available on YahooMaps and GoogleMaps.

As I disclose whenever applicable, my family and I experienced the Highland Center Lodge as guests of the AMC, for the purpose of review. As always, this offer came with no expectation of a positive review. 


About the author

Kate Lepore AUTHOR: Kate Lepore is Pit Stops for Kids' east coast editor and a mother of two preschool-aged children. Kate makes her home in Western Massachusetts when not traveling. Find Kate at Google.




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