20 Oct
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Three Things I Learned at AMC Highlands

Last weekend, I spent a few days hiking in the Crawford Notch region of New Hampshire, while staying at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC’s) Highland Center. Here’s what I learned.

Crawford Notch Depot (left) and Highland Center, viewed from Amonoosuc Pond.

Crawford Notch Depot (left) and Highland Center, viewed from Amonoosuc Pond.


Rooms at Highland are small, but cozy.

1. The Highland Center is a cross between a hiking hut and a hotel. In a really, really good way. Let me be honest here: I don’t vacation often, but when I do, I want a hot shower, clean sheets, and someone else doing the cooking. I love the idea of AMC’s huts, nestled in various locations in the Presidential Range, but I don’t really want to work that hard for my fun. Highland offers a compromise: it has most of the amenities of a hotel, while being filled with hikers. This is a clean, comfortable place filled with people who love the outdoors. The staff is ridiculously friendly, and they’re more than willing to direct guests to the toughest climbs or the prettiest flatland strolls.
Meals are served family style, and there is no shortage of food.   Highlands offers breakfast and dinner, with an option for a brown bag “trail lunch” prepped for your excursions when you wake up. It feels a little odd to sit down for a meal with strangers for the first time, I’ll admit. Still, within ten minutes, the guests are chattering away about which hike they’ve taken, what animals they’ve seen, or where they’re heading tomorrow. Trust me, you’ll get used to it.

2. AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains is an excellent guide. If you’re going to the Whites to hike, even once a year, this should be in your pack. AMC puts out a ton of good guides, and hardcore hikers will want to pick up their copy of AMC White Mountain Guide, which is more comprehensive. However, Best Day Hikes is an excellent choice for the beginning to upper-midrange hiker, for a lot of reasons.

At the front of the book is a chart, which provides readers with quick answers to questions they may have in choosing a hike. How long and strenuous is the trail? Is it okay to bring my dog? How would my child like it? Since it proposes to be a four-season guide, there is also information on cross-country ski trails. This is the best place to start if you don’t have a particular hike in mind.
Since the book lists a limited number of trails (60, to be exact), each listing has more space for detailed description. In addition to a map and description of the trail, each segment also contains information on the history and/or natural history of the hike, such as this segment of the Zealand Falls hike:
“Moose like to feed on tender water plants, so beaver ponds are good places to look for this largest member of the deer family. Moose tracks, resembling large deer tracks, are likely to be found anywhere around the wetlands; their rounded droppings may also be there. The sharpest-eyed member of your group may also find some moose teeth marks on bark, where it looks like someone stripped the bark off the tree with a giant comb.”

The author at Arethusa Falls, one of the locations described in the guide.

The author at Arethusa Falls, one of the locations described in the guide.

3. It’s good to be away from everything for a while. Highland Center isn’t really near anything, other than trails and mountains. Sure, you can hit touristy locations if you really want to, but why would you? And yes, they do have wi-fi, for those who can’t bear to be away from Facebook for any length of time. But being just a little further away from things than, say, Lincoln or North Conway makes it more likely that you’ll stay right in Crawford Notch. That means watching a sunrise in the mountains over a cup of morning coffee. That means going on a night hike after supper with an informal group led by an AMC guide. That means, just for a while, it’s you, your people, and the outdoors, and that’s it.

What could be better than that?

Hugh Markey is a freelance writer, naturalist, and teacher.

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