From the front porch of Zealand Falls Hut, perched on a mountainside at the edge of the Pemigewassett Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest, you can witness one of the finest views in the region in this hiker’s opinion.

Looking south down the valley framed by the steep walls of Whitewall Mountain and Zeacliff, you can see all the way to the rugged outline of 4,700-foot Mount Carrigain — the geographical center of the White Mountains — as well as Carrigain Notch and a jumble of other peaks.

In my many visits to Zealand I’ve never grown tired of the view, and admit to spending hours at a time there, lazily plunked down on the steps or maybe on a sunny rock at the falls nearby, book or journal in hand, and doing nothing more strenuous than looking up every now and again to drink in the beauty of the surrounding mountain environment, thankful for such a place.

Zealand Falls is the most easily accessible hut in the Appalachian Mountain Club system of eight huts that extend along a 56-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail from Lonesome Lake to Carter Notch.

If you haven’t yet visited an AMC hut for a day hike or an overnight stay, then try Zealand for a good introduction.

The Zealand Trail leaves from the end of the paved Zealand Road, 3.5 miles from Route 302 at a point a couple miles east of the hamlet of Twin Mountain.

The path follows an old railroad grade along the Zealand River for much of the 2.3 miles to Zealand Pond. It’s easy and enjoyable hiking through an amazing forested landscape.

“You’re walking through an area that had seen heavy logging and two vast forest fires a century ago,” said Rob Burbank, AMC public affairs director. “It has since regenerated into one of the most beautiful places in the national forest.”

From the pond, it’s a half-mile to the hut on the Twinway, with just one short, steep pitch to climb, which deposits you happily at the doorstep of the hut.

Built in 1932, the hut has undergone renovations to the porch steps and bunkrooms, and a new composting toilet facility now adjoins the main building.

Just steps away, Whitewall Brook tumbles down the mountainside in a series of picturesque cascades.

“It’s a special location,” notes Burbank, “a great spot to sit, relax, have lunch, dip your toes in the stream.”

The hut is central to several interesting hikes, so plan to make a day of it.

Take the Ethan Pond Trail through the Zealand Valley to visit Thoreau Falls. Or climb Twinway or Zeacliff Trail to bag Zealand Mountain, an easy 4,000-footer.

Hikers coming to spend the night are treated to a special backcountry experience that includes a hearty all-you-can-eat dinner and breakfast, and a comfy bunk complete with mattress, pillow and blankets.

“Staying in a hut means you can travel light. No need to carry a tent, stove and cookware or even a sleeping bag,” Burbank said. “All you need in your day pack is extra clothing, snacks and water, and a sheet and pillowcase.”

Huts are staffed by an eclectic, energetic and entertaining crew of college-aged men and women who not only cook and clean but are experienced outdoors people, and serve as excellent resources for information should you have questions.

If you’re looking for camaraderie, the huts are a great place to find it.

“You’ll share meals family-style with other guests, and relax outside afterward to swap stories and hear about others’ experiences,” said Burbank. “It’s a great social experience.”

Each hut has a naturalist who leads evening programs on such topics as flora and fauna, weather, leave no trace practices, and human and natural history, and guides nature walks around the hut area.

It’s all part of the AMC mission to continually try to educate visitors about the natural environment and promote good stewardship.

One thing about visiting an AMC hut and a pretty spot like Zealand Falls is that you’ll find it hard to leave. I know I always do.

But that’s a good thing, because you’ll know then that you’ve enjoyed a good time, and will no doubt be back to explore more of the hut system. 

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and AMC member. Send comments to:

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