By Kelly Bilodeau
I should probably confess. I’m not a big fan of biting flies, sleeping bags, or bathroom breaks that don’t involve an actual bathroom. But my husband revels in the great outdoors, hiking and camping year round. So I knew it was just a matter of time before I would find myself on a getaway from all my favorite modern-day amenities.
While I was experiencing some – shall we say – trepidation, I was excited for my two young children to give hiking a try, as we prepared for our trek to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Lonesome Lake Hut. Nestled at an elevation of 2,760 feet up in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park, this AMC hut is about a three-hour drive from Boston.
Our journey began with a one-night stay at the Highland Center Lodge at Crawford Notch, the hub of the AMC’s new “Kid Spoken Here” initiative to get families out into the great outdoors. The four-season lodge has a combination of private rooms with baths, rooms with shared baths, and bunkroom accommodations. It gets you up close to the hiking trails, and also has a ton of family-friendly activities on-site, such as a new “big mountain” outdoor playscape with a real rock climbing wall, crafts, an indoor game room, kids programs, movies and a kids-only breakfast bar.
Here, we were outfitted with L.L. Bean hiking gear for free, packed up our map, got some last-minute tips from staff, and then set out on our trek to the hut. The hike to the Lonesome Lake Hut is 1.6 miles and, unless you take a helicopter, the only way to get there is to hoof it. Because three out of the four of us were novice hikers (myself and our 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son), we gave ourselves about four hours to make the trip. But even with a stop to eat lunch along the way, we still managed it in under two hours, just a little slower than the AMC’s estimate of 1.5 hours.
The trail to the hut is steep and rocky in spots, but our kids navigated the path with little difficulty on the way up. The trek back down the next day proved a little more challenging because it required large steps down, a tall order for little legs. But overall, I agree with the AMC that it is a great introductory hike for beginners and young children.
Hotel for Hikers
Lonesome Lake Hut is actually a collection of small buildings, perched just above a clear, shallow lake which was carved out by glacial sheets of ice that ground through the region thousands of years ago. The buildings include two bunkhouses that sleep 48 in a collection of narrow rooms with bunk beds. It also has a common lodge where food is served and separate men’s and women’s bathrooms with ecologically sound compost toilets and cold-water sinks.
The huts are a great midway point for families who want the outdoor experience, but still long for some comforts of home, like hot meals and a real bed – albeit one with a scratchy wool camp blanket. For this reason, the hut experience costs more than your typical, no-frills hike and camp excursion. But the AMC recently lowered rates as part of the “Kid Spoken Here” program. Nightly, non-member per-person rates (Sunday through Thursday) are $101 for adults, $91 for teens, $54 for children age 3-12. The prices are discounted for AMC members and the tab includes bunkroom accommodations, dinner and breakfast, and hut programs.
Many hikers use the hut as a base for more challenging hikes in the area or for easier treks through the surrounding woods. And the hut is open to hikers year round – although it’s self-service in the off-season (this year’s season runs from June 2 – Oct. 15).
The staff members are one of the best parts of the hut experience. Composed primarily of young, enthusiastic college-age kids, the hut staff – or the “croo,” as they are called – provide a friendly atmosphere and campy entertainment. They take turns cooking large family-style breakfasts and dinners, like the turkey dinner we ate the night we arrived. (Note, there are no napkins here; the staff jokingly suggests that you wipe your mouth on your neighbor’s sleeve to cut down on waste.) Croo members assist and entertain – dressing up for a breakfast-time comedy skit about hut policies.
Filling the Nature Deficit
The AMC’s eight White Mountain Huts may not be the place for you if you’re shy about eating dessert with your fingers, crave a nightly hot shower, or want to flip out a Do Not Disturb sign and sleep in until noon. Here, the morning starts with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call courtesy of a croo member honking away on a harmonica.
But the hut experience is a great way to learn more about the natural world. Lonesome Lake is a bustling habitat for plants and animals. Visitors may catch sight of snowshoe hares or even moose, which sip from the lake early in the morning. Lonesome Lake and other AMC huts have a naturalist on site in the summer to teach children about nature through nightly education programs.
Kids can earn a Junior Naturalist badge by completing pages in a workbook and pledging to treat all wildlife with respect – even the ugly, slimy ones. They get their award in a mini-graduation ceremony at breakfast.
After our family’s breakfast, we packed up for the hike back down. We left Lonesome Lake feeling tired but refreshed. This is one vacation that sends you back home with the feeling that you’ve done something good for your body and your family.
Kelly Bilodeau is a freelance writer and mother of two in Swampscott.
If You Go
• Appalachian Mountain Club, White Mountains, N.H. – www.outdoors.org/lodging – For more information about accommodations, outdoor programs and membership, call AMC Reservations at 603-466-2727, Monday to Saturday. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or request a reservation online at www.outdoors.org/lodging/lodging-reservation-form.cfm.
Before You Lace Up the Hiking Boots ...
• Put safety first. Remember, hiking in the woods can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Always bring proper supplies (AMC has a checklist on its website). If you’re uncertain whether a hike is appropriate for your family, consult an AMC staff member.
• Gear up. Don’t have your own hiking gear? If you stay at the AMC’s Highland Center in Bretton Woods, N.H., take advantage of their gear rental program, which allows adults and children to borrow hiking gear at no cost from the L.L. Bean equipment room. They have everything from backpacks to fleece jackets and hiking boots in adult and kid sizes.
• Keep kids busy. Head off a case of the “my legs hurt, I’m tired” hiking blues by bringing activities for your hike. Long-time AMC volunteer Holly Wentworth suggests creating bingo cards with animals or plants that can be found in the woods, singing silly songs and creating your own trail mix ahead of time.
• Bring a book. If you’re going to be visiting the huts, grab a copy of the AMC’s Passport to AMC’s High Huts in the White Mountains. It provides information about all the different huts and is packed with historical facts and details. Get your copy stamped when you visit the different huts for a record of your trips.