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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

7 Reasons to Stay at the AMC Highland Center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

AMC Highland Center

It's a Sunday morning and I'm watching the snow fall and the sunrise outside of the two story windows in the sitting area of the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center in Crawford Notch, nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I'm on a girls trip, joined by six other female hikers all staying at the lodge, organized by a friend and fellow hiker. It's my first time here and to be quite frank, for someone who has spent so much time in the woods and a fair amount of time up here in the Whites, it's a place I've never even heard of.

I knew the AMC had their famous inter-mountain hut system, these beautiful lodges tucked into mountain peaks with lodging and meals available. What I didn't realize was there there were these larger beautiful drive up lodges at the base of the mountain where for a very reasonable price, you could spend the night; bedding, towels, and meals included. For just over $100 a night in the winter with a group, we had a quad bunk room in the lodge and a home base where we could really enjoy the peace the quiet and the access to some of New England's most iconic trails. If I didn't know about it, there's a fair chance you dear reader were left in the dark as well so let's go through six reasons why you should pack your bags and head north for a stay at this beautiful lodge in the whites. 

AMC Highland Center sitting room
AMC Highland Center sitting room

1. Quaint and quiet

The AMC Highland Center is a beautiful modern building set on the snowy landscape of the White Mountains in the Crawford Notch section of New Hampshire. This large, beautiful building has guest rooms, common areas, a kitchen and a gift shop. Volunteers welcome you at a table in front and can recommend hiking routes based on the conditions or take anyone staying at the lodge down to the gear room (more on that next). There's something special about sharing a communal space with other families or hikers, unwinding after a long day in the woods. The fire is roaring, the puzzles are out, and if you want solitude, there are reading rooms on each floor of the lodge. Various posters all throughout the building educate you about the White Mountains, the flora and the fauna who inhabit it, and truly touches the conservation spark I hope all the outdoor enthusiasts have. It's quaint it's quiet, it's communal and it's truly a wonderful place for any outdoor enthusiast to rest their head and recreate in the whites. 

LLBean Gear Room at AMC Highland Center
LLBean Gear Room at AMC Highland Center

2. The LL Bean Gear Room

The LL Bean gear room is a thing of outdoor enthusiast dreams. You walk downstairs, the door opens, and it's row after row of organized backpacks, trekking poles, snowshoes, down coats and rain gear, and just about anything you may need to head out on a hike in any season. Use of the gear room is available to anyone staying at the lodge and best of all it's free. A volunteer takes you down helps you with sizing and you can check out whatever items you may have rented. It is truly amazing for anyone wanting to try something new, anyone packing light, anyone who simply forgot something, or someone who may not want to invest in gear at that time. The lodge also hosts a cute little gift shop in store which has some awesome essentials from base layers to guide books. The one thing the gear room didn't have for rentals was microspikes but these were available in the gift shop. You could also find base layers, gloves, socks, a variety of guide books, souvenirs, sunglasses, snacks, cards and small essentials. 

3. Guided Hikes

The lodge also offers guided hikes for anyone new to hiking or anyone who just wanted a bit of guidance on the trails. While we didn't do any guided hikes, we did check in with the staff and volunteers to hear their hiking suggestions, especially with the winter hiking conditions. This kind of knowledge is valuable, especially when you are trying to figure out which gear to bring. Snow shoes? Gaiters? Microspikes? Which trails are packed down, which has had reportedly clear views lately, etc. I highly recommend checking in with the staff and letting them know what your skill level and wish list of hikes are, they can point you in the right direction. 

AMC lodge dining

4. Wine and Dine

The food at the lodge makes figuring out what to eat a mindless activity which makes a big difference for me when traveling, especially in a group. No need to find a restaurant that can take reservation for seven, have to get in the car and drive, or a split expensive restaurant bills. A stay at the lodge includes breakfast and dinner which are buffet style and I was certainly surprised by the quality of food. Dinner was served between 6 and 8 and the offerings changed each night. The first night we had a wonderful chickpea curry, pea soup, salad, chicken, rice, and tortellini with a sweet little key lime pie for dessert. Breakfast was your standard assortment of eggs, meat, cereals, yogurts, bagels, and french toast. Dinner the second night was pulled pork, corn on the cob, mac and cheese, black bean soup, and baked beans. Side salads were available and dessert this night was a pineapple coconut cupcake. Coffee and tea are available throughout the day and beer and wine are for are available for purchase in the evenings. At least every meal had vegetarian and vegan offerings, and something that I wanted the recipe for. The staff eats the leftovers and anything else gets donated to a hog farm for feed. Keep in mind it's not five star dining but I thought the food was pretty good, especially for a mountain hiking lodge.

5. Private, family friendly, and group bunk rooms

The rooms ranged from small four-person bunk rooms with shared communal bathrooms to private rooms with ensuite bathrooms. I shared the bunk room with three other girls and why a little cramped it was quaint and clean. Another hiker in our group had her own private room with a queen bed, twin bed, and ensuite bathroom and there are other family friendly variations like a queen and a bunk set. There are so many different room combinations that are budget friendly and perfect for friends getting together or families enjoying the mountains.

AMC Highland Center Surrounding Area Map
AMC Highland Center Surrounding Area Map

6. Access

The AMC Highland Center is located in a quiet little area which is also right smack in the middle of so many amazing hikes. No need to drive far or no need to drive at all in some cases. Mount Willard leaves right from the train station next door to the Highland Center. Mount Pierce has an access path right across the street. So many other famous New Hampshire hikes can be found right within this area as well at the Cog Railway, Bretton Woods Ski Area, and more. 

AMC Highland Center Rates

7. Affordability 

I was truly surprised just how affordable lodging (and included meals, and use of the gear room) was. For $150 a night, you can stay in the four person bunk room which includes the bunk room, shared bath with showers, dinner and breakfast, use of the lodge common areas, the AMC White Mountain Hiker Shuttle. Beer and wine are available for purchase in the evenings and some other features of the property include an ev charging station, and a kids big mountain playscape. With the current cost of hotels and AirBnbs, this price felt like a steal. While I'm sure the rate increases for the summer, this was the rate for our stay and through a few spring dates I checked. 

There you have it, seven reasons to stay at the AMC Highland Center. I truly hope this sparks an idea for your next adventure while truly offering an easy quaint experience at what I think is an affordable price. 

Learn more about the Highland Center HERE

Highland Center, Bretton Woods NH 03575

phone (603) 466-2727

Also in the area

Winter Hike up Mount Pierce (NH 48er/4,000 ft)
Winter Hike up Mount Willard (52 With a View Hike)
Ripley Falls Hike
Bretton Woods Ski Area
Omni Mount Washington Hotel
Mount Washington Hike (New England's Highest Peak)

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