The AMC Thru-Hiker Pass: Your Ticket to Free Brownies (and More!) in the Whites

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to foster the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the outdoors. It becomes relevant to the Appalachian Trail thru-hiker’s journey on the northeastern portion of the trail.

The AMC operates many shelters, campsites, and facilities, including eight backcountry huts scattered along the AT throughout the White Mountains. It also offers unique perks to thru-hikers in the form of the AMC Thru-Hiker Pass Program.

Understanding how to navigate the organization’s amenities and offerings will help you maximize your experience in the Whites, one of the most challenging and rewarding sections of the AT. We’ll cover the specifics of the AMC Thru-Hiker Pass in this article, but first: the huts.

The AMC Huts

Each of the huts offers a work-for-stay opportunity for two thru-hikers each day; Lakes of the Clouds Hut is the exception, accepting up to four hikers at a time. Lakes of the Clouds also has an emergency shelter known as “The Dungeon,” which can hold up to six hikers for $10 per bunk. Work-for-stays are expected to perform up to two hours of work, and in exchange, hikers receive the opportunity to sleep indoors and enjoy delicious dinner leftovers.

Because of the high volume of thru-hikers passing through, hikers are asked to limit their work-for-stays to one or two nights to allow others the chance to participate.

Cartner Notch Hut with my backpack and rain jacket parked inside

A Rocky Relationship

When I entered the Whites during my 2016 thru-hike, I was excited to visit the huts. Having worked at the AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center in New Jersey the previous summer, I was eager to see the organization’s beautiful New Hampshire facilities outside of photos. It wasn’t long after entering the Whites that I found myself in pleasant conversation with another thru-hiker one evening, and the subject of the huts came up. I was quick to share my anticipation.

“I worked for the AMC last summer,” I explained brightly.

My companion’s smile faded, and he eyed me with sudden disappointment.

“Well,” he said. “I’ll try to forgive you for that.”

I was quick to learn that for many years, thru-hikers have viewed these huts—and the AMC itself—with a certain amount of resentment. Compared to previous experiences on the trail, the huts seem too restrictive, too expensive, and too lacking in the abundant generosity hikers tend to receive early on in their journeys.

Why Are the Huts So Expensive?

When it comes to AMC facilities, costliness is the primary factor that rubs thru-hikers the wrong way. Accommodation is very expensive—usually well outside a thru-hiker’s budget. On top of that, the two-thru-hiker limit for work-for-stay is another source of frustration. Being turned away after a long day of hopeful hiking certainly isn’t the best feeling in the world, especially after encountering so much generosity from strangers along the rest of the trail.

But while many thru-hikers unhappily refer to the AMC as the “Appalachian Money Club,” the high prices—and the work-for-stay limit—exist for a reason. Backcountry huts such as the ones in the Whites are extremely costly to supply and maintain. In his 2015 article for The Trek, Jesse Metzger, a former hut “croo” member, noted, “(Everything) had to be flown in by helicopter, which costs over $1,600 per hour of use, or packed in by foot.”

READ NEXT – A Thru-Hiker’s Guide to the AMC Huts in The Whites

Empty propane tanks are flown out from Lakes of the Clouds. Photo: Jesse Metzger

Not only that, but the AMC also puts a great deal of its resources toward conservation by funding research, trail maintenance, and outdoor programs to support its goal of protecting natural resources and outdoor experiences.

Breathtaking and remote, the Whites are a challenging and expensive area to maintain. With that in mind, it makes sense to charge fees for shelter and campsite use, especially considering the high volume of hikers traveling through the Whites every year.

For those who prefer not to pay a campsite fee, dispersed camping is still allowed in the Whites as long as regulations are followed.

Limited Work-for-Stay

The work-for-stay limit isn’t arbitrary, either. As stated on the AMC’s website, “Except for emergencies, lodging hikers beyond the two Work for Stays may exceed the occupancy limits of the huts as per our Special Use Permit and often violates fire codes.”

It’s important to note that the hut crews do make exceptions for emergencies. During my thru-hike, the employees at Madison Spring Hut readily accepted me and three other thru-hikers as work-for-stays quite early in the afternoon after we battled our way there through a terrifying storm.

The AMC Thru-Hiker Pass Program

Since 2017 the AMC has supplied an option unique to thru-hikers: the Thru-Hiker Pass Program, which provides thru-hikers with numerous benefits. Pass holders receive significant discounts on shelter and campsite stays, several low-cost meals, and other perks:

  • $5 off your first tentsite stay (you pay $10)
  • $10 off all following tentsite stays (you pay $5)
  • Member rates at AMC’s White Mountain Huts and Lodges
  • Two free baked goods and one free soup (total) at AMC Huts
  • 10% off merchandise at AMC Huts, Highland Center, and Pinkham Trading Post
  • Highland Center: $6.00 bread, soup, and beer combo
  • Pinkham Notch Visitor Center: $2.00 bread and soup combo
  • Mohican Outdoors Center: discounts on lodging and camping, $6.00 half-sandwich, half-soup combo.

Good to know: Thru-hikers don’t have to get a pass, nor must they camp at the official AMC tentsites (as stated above). Dispersed camping is still allowed in the Whites with certain restrictions. We still recommend getting the pass, though, as it expands your camping options and comes with the prospect of free and discounted food.

Purchase and Use Locations

  • Kinsman Pond Shelter
  • Liberty Springs Tentsite
  • Garfield Ridge Shelter
  • Thirteen Falls Tentsite
  • Guyot Shelter
  • Ethan Pond Shelter
  • Nauman Tentsite
  • Imp Shelter
  • Speck Pond Campsite

How To Get a Pass

 As a thru-hiker, you will receive a pass during your first stay at an AMC campsite, and it will remain valid for the next 14 days. The AMC also notes: “The Thru-Hiker Pass does not impact eligibility for the Work for Shelter program, in which up to two thru-hikers perform 1 hour of work in exchange for free camping. Work for Shelter operates on a first-come, first-served basis.”

flyer detailing amenities of the AMC Thru-Hiker Pass program

The AMC thru-hiker pass was created in 2017 to make it easier for thru-hikers to tap into the campsite and hut system in the Whites.

To learn more about the AMC and its mission, visit their conservation page. For more information about their huts and campsites in the Whites, visit their New Hampshire destinations page.

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Comments 6

  • Andrew : Jul 5th

    This is an obvious puff piece for the AMC.

    Thru hikers are right to be wary of the AMC. The dispersed camping regulations all but force you to stay at a hut or campsite. The work for stays amount to two hours of work ($30 at minimum wage) so you can sleep on the floor and eat scraps . . how generous! I would prefer they scrap the work for stay program entirely.

    Some might say the AMC huts bring the outdoors and nature to people. But, it only brings it to certain people. Look around at the diversity of those staying in the huts. The guests are mostly white and certainly all belong to the same socio economic status.

    If the huts are so expensive to maintain, go ahead and tear them down, I’ll happily pitch my tent next to the rubble. A place you cannot pitch one now.

  • Joe Saverino : Jul 6th

    Appalachian Money Club still at it!

  • Chadworth Chapstick Bourgeois IV : Jul 7th

    The peasants only gripe because they cannot indulge in our racketous pleasantries of wildlife enjoyment.
    I remember seeing an AMC employee at a hut yelling and soon making a 20-something, female, thru-hiker cry for she committed the serious sin of not asking how his day was going during an August 2019 excursion to those wonderfully manicured mountains. That memory warms my soul, seeing the young, ivy league student working his fingers bare, and then establishing himself as the social superior to that lazy dirtbag passing through. I say, the AMC, should return the mountains to their natural state, only allowing the “proper” public on these public lands. You know, the men and women with numerals following their last names, and networths exceeding the 7th figure prior to their 18th birthday. Otherwise, our wilds shall be ruined by the rabble of hiker trash!

    • Michael Q. Rootbeer XXL esq. : Jul 7th

      Here here! Now that’s an idea that I, and the AMC can get on board with!

  • ProfessorHatt : Jul 28th

    Very informative post about thru-hiker options while traversing the Whites.

    Thanks Diane!


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