The AMC Huts: How do They Actually Work?

The Huts. The Huts. Everyone knows and talks about “The Huts.” You read about them during your pre-trail research and you hear about them every time someone talks about the White Mountains in New Hampshire, but it can be hard to understand what they actually entail until you’ve seen them yourself.

The Madison Spring Hut

The Huts—also known as the High Huts of the White Mountains—are a series of eight mountain huts maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). They are located about six to eight miles apart along the Appalachian Trail (AT) and are available for overnight stays or daytime drop ins. All of the Huts are open for full service during the summer season and serve breakfast and dinner to those who have overnight reservations. Three of the Huts are open year round, though they do not serve meals during the fall/winter/spring seasons.

During the summer, the Huts are each staffed by five to nine ‘Croo’ members, depending on the size of the Hut. The Croo members that we met were mostly college kids with culinary and/or mountaineering experience. In addition to cooking and upkeeping the Huts, their jobs entail carrying the food/supplies both in and out of the Huts, but more on that later.

The dining room of the Mizpah Spring Hut

Bunks at the Huts will run you between $90-$140 per night, depending on the Hut, the date, and if you’re a member of the AMC. This price includes your bed (a wooden bunk with a plastic covered foam mattress), dinner and breakfast cooked by the Croo, and access to water and composting toilets. The Huts do not have electricity outside of the kitchen and dining room, so no – you cannot charge your phone.

But how does all of this relate to thru-hikers?

Each of the High Huts typically provides one to two current thru-hikers with a work-for-stay opportunity each night. You get a spot to sleep inside the Hut and two home cooked meals at no cost, in exchange for helping them out with work in or around the Hut.

These spots are highly coveted by thru-hikers and are therefore pretty tricky to get. The typical time that Huts will select their Work-for-Stay hikers is between 5-6pm each night. Arrive too early and they’ll turn you away. Arrive too late and they’ll already have given the position away to someone else.

We did two Work-for-Stays during our thru-hike, and this is what our experience entailed:

Our first work-for-stay was at the Mizpah Hut. We arrived around 8pm, right before a terrible thunderstorm was about to break. The Hut already had two other thru-hikers staying with them for the night, but we really lucked out. Since it was the end of the season for the Croo members, there was extra work that needed to get done (plus, I think they took pity on us as the lightening crashed down behind us). We each did about 45 minutes of work after dinner, which involved scrubbing down the large oven & stove (me) and checking and setting mouse traps throughout the cellar and Hut (Waterboy….obviously). Our fellow thru-hikers helped bleach down other kitchen surfaces and clean up dishes from dinner. We spent the night sleeping on the floor of the Hut’s library room while listening to the torrential downpour that was going on all night outside. In the morning we filled up our waters and headed out early before breakfast, grateful to have slept inside.

The morning after our work-for-stay at the Mizpah Hut. Still nice and rainy, but at least our tent stayed dry!

The second work-for-stay we did was at the Zealand Falls Hut. We knew that it would be another night of thunderstorms, so we spent the day hiking with the intention of sleeping indoors again that night. Evidently, so did about 18 other thru-hikers that were heading past the same Hut that afternoon. We arrived to Zealand Falls earlier than expected (around 3:30pm) and as the minutes slowly passed the crowd of thru-hikers lingering around the Hut began to grow. Realizing that our chances of getting the two work-for-stay positions was getting thinner by the minute, we made the risky decision to head into the Hut and ask the head Croo member if she needed any Work-for-Stays that night. Somehow, we lucked out again as the daily work they had in mind was cleaning and organizing the kitchen shelves – something they wanted done before they started to cook dinner. She offered the two spots to us and we immediately got to work.

While the Croo cooked and served dinner to the hikers that had reservations at the Hut that night, we had to sit outside and wait on the porch. It was windy and cold as the storm started to roll in, but we kept thinking how we would be sleeping inside soon enough. After we ate, we unrolled our sleeping bags under the dining room tables and quickly fell asleep.

Turkey dinner at Zealand Falls Hut

As a Work-for-Stay, you usually get the option to stay for breakfast. We did this at the Zealand Falls Hut, and the work we performed to earn our breakfast was sweeping the floors of both bunk rooms after all the residents had left for the day.

Pros to Work-for-Stays:

  • A warm, dry place to sleep.
  • One to two home cooked meals.
  • Meeting and talking with the Croo and the guests who are staying at the Huts.

Cons to Work-for-Stays:

  • Your whole day and mileage is dictated by your plans – but not a guarantee – to stay the night at a Hut. You stop hiking by 4:30ish or so and if you stay for breakfast it can be almost 10am before you start hiking again.
  • It may create a sense of animosity among the other thru-hikers who lose the Work-for-Stay position to you.
  • It’s a bit of an odd feeling to be sitting outside on the porch during a storm while everyone else is sitting and eating inside.
  • Sleeping under a table kind of makes you feel like a dog, but then you remember at least you’re not sleeping outside in the rain.

Overall, we were glad we did our Work-for-Stays because it kept us dry and well-fed during a tricky section of the Trail. Plus, it’s one of those things that is cool to experience if you get the chance.

Maybe you decide the Work-for-Stays are not for you.

You should still plan to stop in to the Huts as you pass by them, as they are all on or very close to the AT. The Huts make for wonderful snack breaks spots – we loved getting to sit down inside on a bench, buy some of the hot coffee and cinnamon buns they had for sale, and play Bananagrams. There will also be plenty of hikers there that will be eager to strike up a conversation with you about any and everything thru-hiker. And, if you’re lucky, there will be leftovers from dinner or breakfast that the Croo will gladly give to you for free/cheap so they don’t have to carry it out with them at the end of the week.

If you do end up stopping by one of the Huts, can you send one of these down to GA for me please? 🙂

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