Active Outdoors: How About A Hut Getaway This Summer?

  • Flagstaff Lake View: You can reach Flagstaff Lake "Hut" by hiking or, as the author does here, by paddling. Either way, the views are spectacular and the hospitality everything you could ask for. Loons will serenade you to sleep at night. (Lani Cochrane/Maine Huts and Trails photo)

  • Carter Notch Sunrise. Get up early when you stay at Carter Notch hut and enjoy the spectacle of sunlight creeping across the mountain ramparts above. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Mt. Lincoln From Greenleaf. One of the reasons you hike (or paddle) to a hut in summer is views like this one from the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Greenleaf Perspective. “Getting away from it all” takes on a whole new meaning when you hike to a hut in the summertime. That white scar on the cliff above the hut is where the Old Man of the Mountains fell in 2003. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Hutmeal. Dinner and breakfast are served family style at the huts, like this dinner at Mizpah Hut. The fact that you didn’t have to carry or cook it? Priceless! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

For the Monitor
Sunday, May 14, 2017

If you ask Merriam-Webster for synonyms to the word “hut” you get: “cabin, camp, hooch (or hootch) (slang), hovel, shack, hutch, hutment, shanty.” Clearly no one from the dictionary’s staff has ever stayed at the AMC Huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or at any of the four “huts” operated by Maine Huts and Trails. The seven AMC High Huts (traveling west to east: Lonesome Lake, Greenleaf, Galehead, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds, Madison Spring and Carter Notch and the four Maine Huts: Stratton Brook, Poplar, Flagstaff Lake and Grand Falls) are more like wilderness palaces than “huts.”

You can’t drive to any of these 11 huts. When you want to “get away from it all,” all you have to do is get there. Generally, that means you have to hike. Flagstaff Lake and Grand Falls Huts are just a few hundred yards from the parking area and up a slight incline. Lakes of the Clouds, Galehead and Madison Springs on the other hand, require a couple of miles (at least) of steep uphill. But remember, cardiovascular exercise is good for you on any summer getaway.

Part hotel, part hostel, the huts offer just enough “roughing it” to take you far from your everyday life. It’s the fun of backpacking without the heavy load. The AMC huts are spaced a day’s hike apart across the highest terrain of New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains, while the Maine Huts are arrayed near the Bigelow Preserve north of Carrabassett Valley, Maine.

For the price of a one night stay you get everything you need for comfort. The huts offer weary and hungry hikers  (and, in Maine, bikers and paddlers) shelter you don’t have carry, hearty, hot evening meals and breakfasts you don’t have to carry or cook, plus a comfortable bunk and indoor plumbing. Whether you stay at one shelter for one night or several, or visit a couple of huts on your route, or hike the whole chain end to end, the huts give you access to hiking trails, mountain summits and pristine lakes. They make a perfect summer getaway. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

AMC Huts

The AMC huts have been hosting hikers for more than 125 years and they have it down to a science. Dinner and breakfast are served family style (no napkins – bring your own and pack them out, please). The meals are heavy on energy-rich carbs. Fear not; if the Surgeon General took hut hikers as the cross section of America, there’d be no concern about pervasive obesity.

Private rooms? Fuggedaboudit! The AMC huts sleep 36 to 92 in co-ed bunk rooms (bring earplugs if snoring bothers you). The plywood bunks often climb three tiers high; each has a mattress, a pillow and three scratchy wool blankets that must be folded before you leave in the morning. You bring sheets, a sleep sack, or a sleeping bag.

The “facilities” are indoors, down the hall: cold water sinks, no showers, environmentally-friendly (and odor-free) composting toilets (they do provide toilet paper).

After dinner a resident naturalist usually leads a stroll and talks about the geology, flora and fauna of the mountain ecosystem surrounding that particular hut. Afterward there’s almost always a game of penny-ante poker or cribbage, or you can read by headlamp in your bunk. But the sunset is the real show and it’s lights out at 9:30 p.m. sharp.

You are awakened at 6:30, often to music provided by the hut “Croo.”

Each of the seven huts has its own personality. The two easiest huts to reach are Lonesome Lake (elevation 2,760 feet, 1.5 mile hike, sleeps 48) which has swimming, and Zealand Falls (sleeps 36, the smallest hut), at 2,700 feet which offers your best chance of seeing a moose in the yard. These two huts are family favorites for one or two night stays.

Greenleaf Hut (4,200 feet, sleeps 48), and Mizpah Spring Hut (3,800 feet, sleeps 60) are more difficult hikes, but put you in the middle of great day-hiking loops along Franconia Ridge or into the Dry River Wilderness.

Galehead, at 3,800 feet, sleeps 38, is remote, hard to reach, but with spectacular views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It’s my favorite of the huts

Lakes of the Clouds Hut (sleeps 92) at 5,050 feet on the side of Mount Washington is the highest and largest hut. The views are incomparable.

Madison Spring Hut (4,800 feet, sleeps 52) takes some serious hiking to reach, but is set in a beautiful alpine tundra environment.

Carter Notch (sleeps 40) is set in a valley with views of spectacular rocky ramparts.

In a way, though, all the AMC huts are the same: no phones, electrical outlets, TVs, or computers, no hot water, no private rooms. But your own pleasant exhaustion, the incomparable views, good camaraderie with people from all over the world, and all those hiking trails and summits to explore make them well worth the effort it takes to get there.

For more information, call the Appalachian Mountain Club at 466-2727 or online at outdoors.org.

Maine Huts and Trails

The four Maine Huts are newer, easier to reach (the hikes are shorter and less steep, you can ride a mountainbike to all of them and paddle to Flagstaff Lakeand Grand Falls), and offer some smaller bunkrooms. They also have showers, a sauna, and serve alcohol with your meals. But you still can’t drive a car up to any of them, which means they feel like a true wilderness experience.

In the times I’ve stayed at them, the food has been excellent, the staff friendly and welcoming, and the other guests a joy to be around. The huts are full-service (meals provided) from late June though late October and again in the winter (their busiest season). Spring and fall are self-service (bring your own food and cook it).

I’ve never been to Stratton Brook or Poplar in the summer, but my sweetheart “Em” and I really enjoyed Flagstaff Lake (where we were serenaded by loons throughout the night) and Grand Falls (which has a wonderful river swimming hole a few hundred yards away). Flagstaff Lake gets little motorboat traffic – which makes it a wonderful spot to kayak, canoe or SUP. You can even paddle most of the way between Flagstaff and Grand Falls.

You simply won’t believe how comfortable you can be off the road and off the grid at any of the Maine Huts. For more information call (207) 265-2400 or visit mainehuts.org.

(Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email him at timjones@easternslopes.com.)