In March 2022, a couple of friends and myself spent 3 nights at Zealand Falls Hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This hut is one of eight huts in New Hampshire run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Many weekend warriors and Appalachian Trail through hikers alike stay at these huts throughout the year.
Getting to Zealand Falls Hut
During the winter months, a few roads in New Hampshire close and vehicles are prohibited from traversing them. It just so happens that the road that delivers adventure seekers to the Zealand Hut trailhead is one of those closed roads!
Vehicles can be parked near Zealand Campground off route 302, and hikers must walk a little over 3 miles (5k) up a gradually inclined road to reach the trailhead. It can be grueling depending on the amount of snow and gear you have. I recommend taking your time and enjoy the sights as you walk in parallel to Zealand River.
It was a beautiful day, and around 40 F (4.5 C), which means t-shirt weather on a winter hike! The snow was melting, but there was still a couple of feet of packed down snow on the trail, making it fairly easy to walk with micro-spikes on.
Zealand trail is only a couple of miles long, with some scenic crossings and a continued gradual incline. Frozen ponds and bogs dot the edges of the trail near the hut.
We arrived at the hut and on the first night we were the only visitors there. In the winter—otherwise known as the “self-serve season”—these huts are staffed only by a single AMC caretaker. These brave souls ensure the place isn’t burned down by ruffians like my friends and I.
The AMC huts only have minimal electricity, which is restricted to the main cabin. It’s either solar or propane powered, so it’s very limited.
There is a gas stove and water provided by a well near the hut. During the self-serve season, guests are free to use the kitchen to prepare meals, provided they clean up after themselves. If you make a mess, you’re thrown to the bears in the valley.
In this particular hut, all bunk rooms are connected to the main cabin and shoot up three levels. However, since we were the only guests at the time, we found a small 4 bunk room in the back and hung a tarp as a make-shift door!
Each bunk include just a thin mattress pad, ample clothes hooks, a shelf, and a tiny solar-powered reading light.
Naturally, we got to work building our proud nests. I even brought a string light to set some ambiance.
I love to rave in the mountains.
The only source of heat in the huts during winter months is a small wood stove that’s lit for 3 or 4 hours every night.
I kid you not, the real estate around this stove after a cold wet hike is worth more than rental properties in San Francisco.
There’s also a quirky library of books to choose from to get cozy with—and packing a flask of Whiskey adds to the fun. It’s the one time every year I get drunk and read mycology reference guides written in the 1960s. Stoked.
Things get quiet fairly early here. “Hiker’s Midnight” is used to describe bedtime after a long hike in the mountains. For many, this is 8 or 9pm, after the stove burns through its last glowing ember.
The nights were cold. In the modern world of Nest thermostats, many humans don’t understand what 0 F (-17 C) really feels like. Even with the hut walls blocking the windchill, you’ll find you’re waking up every hour to wiggle your toes because they’re freezing.
A good sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, and several layers of clothes still have difficulty retaining your body heat when your heart rate slows in slumber.
Somehow, rising with the sun is much easier when you’re greeted by trees instead of a phone screen. And after a fridged sleep, coffee also never tasted so good.
Hiking to Zeacliff
The shorter 1.3 mile trail from Zealand Hut to Zeacliff is much more difficult than the hike up the road and Zealand Trail. It’s also much steeper, but absolutely worth every drip of sweat.
I’ll shut up now you can enjoy a few short videos and photos of the cliff.
See you out there, friends. 👋