A Guide to Backpacking Hut to Hut in the White Mountains

Presidential peaks of the white mountains

If you're looking for a unique hiking experience, look no further than backpacking hut to hut in the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire. While hiking here you will encounter steep and rugged mountains. You will almost think you're out west somewhere in the Rockies. But at the same time you will be able to get the comfort of a cabin-like hut to stay at. The White Mountains are not only known for their world-class views, but also for their dangerous weather. They recorded the highest wind gusts ever in the world on top of the famous Mount Washington at 231 mph. However, don't let that scare you. If you prepare well and watch the forecast ahead of time to pick a time period of good weather, then you will be able to experience a magical place with epic landscapes. Of all the hikes to do, backpacking hut to hut in the White Mountains from the Franconia Range all the way through the Presidential Range offers the most breathtaking scenery.

TRAIL FACTS

  • Length: 45.6 Miles

  • Duration: 3-7 Days

  • Best Time: Summer and Fall (less bugs, like the black fly)

  • Difficulty Level: Challenging (significant elevation change and rugged terrain)

  • Bear Canisters: Not Required

  • Permits: Not Required

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Stay at the Iconic Lake of the Clouds Hut

  • Climb Mount Washington-the Highest Peak of the White Mountains at 6,288'

  • Long Ridge-Lines Above Treeline

  • Incredible Photo Opps

  • Starry-Night Skies

  • Unique Rugged Terrain

Backpacking the white mountains

MAPS

For finding your way I recommend the always dependable National Geographic waterproof maps. The White Mountains National Park is split up between two maps. Depending on what area you will be hiking you may or may not need both maps. See the link below.

 
 

MOUNTAIN HUTS

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is a non-profit organization that runs and maintains the mountain huts. At these huts you can expect to meet a lot of different people from all over the world. Which is quite a nice experience in itself. Sleeping arrangements are hostel-like bunk rooms. If you're a light sleeper make sure to bring ear plugs. The food is probably what I enjoy the most. They feed you large portions of good tasting food to satisfy that hiking hunger. Below you can see what the mountain huts look like.

  • Price: $139 pp (includes dinner and breakfast)

PARKING / SHUTTLES / ACCOMMODATIONS

Parking at most trailheads is free for backpackers in the White Mountains National Forest.  

Since this trail is linear, not a loop, you will most likely need a shuttle service. There are several companies to choose from, but the most convenient and affordable one would be the AMC shuttle service.

  • Price: $23

As seen in the map below, there are shuttle stops positioned throughout the White Mountains for your convenience.  

hiker shuttle map

Check out the shuttle schedule for pick-up/drop-off times and additional information.

Now you have two choices to make:

  • Option 1:

You can park at the trailhead and hike. Then when you're finished have the shuttle pick you up and return you to your car.

  • Option 2:

Park your car at the trailhead where you will finish and take the shuttle to your starting point. Then you're basically hiking back to your car.

If you're traveling far and need a place to stay before or after your hike there are a number of options. The AMC has two lodges available. The Highland Center Lodge and the Joe Dodge Lodge. Photos below.

Highland Center

Highland Center

Joe Dodge Lodge

Joe Dodge Lodge

Highland center room

Highland center room

Joe dodge lodge room

Joe dodge lodge room

  • Prices: $98-$168 (large dinner and breakfast included)

  • Queen beds or bunks available

  • Choice between private or shared rooms

TERRAIN

Hiking in the White Mountains can be difficult. Instead of having switchbacks like many other trails, these trails just seem to go straight up the mountain side. On top of that, rocks and boulders are found all over the trail. Sometimes you're hopping from one boulder to another for the next mile or two. Trekking poles are a must to keep your balance and keep you safe. I recommend the Leki Corklite Antishock trekking poles. Because of this type of terrain don't expect to be putting in 15 miles or more, but closer to 10 miles. Make sure before you attempt a hike like this that you are in good shape and health.

 
 
climbing rocks on old bridle path trail

DANGERS

As mentioned in the beginning of this guide, this area is known for its dangerous weather. It could be high winds, strong thunderstorms, and/or cold temperatures, even in the middle of summer. It's best to always watch the weather forecasts like a hawk before you go. And I don't mean checking weather.com, but the actual summit forecasts.

There is a high population of bear and some moose in the National Forest, but since you will be mostly on the exposed ridge lines there is really no danger with these animals.

BUGS

This particular area is known for their black flies. They are not really bad every year, but some years they can be a big annoyance. The period of time to be careful of them is in the spring and early summer. That's when they are most active. Usually by mid to late July they start to become less of an issue. Also, with this area's many water sources you will face some mosquitoes. I recommend using DEET or natural insect repellent made from lemon and eucalyptus.         

 
Franconia Ridge

WATER SOURCES

In the lower elevations, water is readily available throughout the many ponds and streams. But when you are higher up water becomes more scarce. All the mountain huts fill this need and provide water for hikers. So on this hike you will never need to carry more than two liters of water at a time. Make sure if you do get your water from the streams or ponds to always filter it so you don't get sick. Good filters to use that are not expensive and always dependable is the Sawyer Mini or Sawyer Squeeze. I personally like the Sawyer Squeeze because of it's higher flow rate.

 
 

BACKPACKING THE WHITE MOUNTAINS

(HUT TO HUT) VIDEO

POSSIBLE ITINERARIES

Note: For this hike you will be following the Appalachian Trail most of the way. Sometimes the trail will be referred to by other names. Make sure to follow your map closely.  

3 Night 24.7 Mile Option (Hiking the Presidential Range Section)

Day 1:

  • Start the Appalachian trail at the Webster Cliff trailhead in the Crawford Notch valley.

  • Hike 11.5 miles of the senic presidentail ridgeline

  • Stay at the iconic Lake of the Clouds Hut.

  • Throughout the day you can choose to summit all or some of the 6 peaks; Webster, Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe. (Eisenhower and Monroe are optional.)

Day 2: 

  • Hike 9 miles of the very rocky, but beautiful, northern section of the Presidential range.

  • Stay at the Madison Spring Hut

  • Throughout the day there will be a total of 5 peaks you can choose to summit; Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. (All are optional peaks.)

 Day 3: 

  • Take the easy down hill Valley Way Trail 4.2 miles from the Madison Spring Hut to the Valley Way/Appalachia Trailhead.

7 Night 50.1 Mile Option (Hiking from Franconia Ridge to the Presidential Range)

Day 1: 

  • Start at Old Bridle Path Trailhead in the Franconia Notch area.

  • Hike uphill for 2.9 miles

  • Stay at the Greenleaf Hut.

Day 2: 

  • Hike 7.7 miles enjoying spectacular views from Mount Lafayette and Mount Garfield.

  • Stay at the Galehead Hut

Day 3: 

  • Hike for 7 miles enjoying views from Twin Mountain and many nice wooded sections

  • Stay at the Zealand Falls Hut

Day 4: 

  • Hike for 14.2 miles in some challenging terrain and begin to enter into the Presidential Range.

  • Stay at the Mizpah Spring Hut

  • You will have summited 2 mountains this day. (Webster & Jackson)

Day 5: 

  • Hike 5.1 miles on the scenic Presidential Ridgeline

  • Stay at the iconic Lake of the Clouds Hut.

  • You will have the choice to summit 4 peaks in this section of the trail. (Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe)

Day 6: 

  • Hike 9 miles into the very rugged, but spectacular, northern section of the Presidential Range.

  • Stay at the Madison Spring Hut.

  • Throughout the day you can choose to summit 5 peaks. (Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison)

Day 7: 

  • Take the easy downhill Valley Way Trail 4.2 miles from Madison Spring Hut to the Valley Way/Appalachia trailhead.

Do you have a question about backpacking the White Mountains? Leave a comment down below

Disclaimer

Some of the links above are affiliate links. If you click on them and purchase an item, I'll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me to continually make content and keep this site going. Thanks for the support!