A Beginner-Friendly Overnight at Zealand Falls Hut
This hike takes you along a former logging railroad past beaver wetlands to one of the premier locations in the White Mountains for seeing birds and other wildlife, including moose and beavers. You get a clear view of Zealand Notch from AMC’s Zealand Falls Hut, and you can easily spend hours at the falls and nearby river. The hut is also a popular spot for hikers looking to break up a journey to some of the more remote 4,000-footers in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and in winter, is a perfect overnight for those looking to test their skills.
As one of the most family-friendly hikes to an AMC hut, this itinerary takes you on the classic route along Zealand Trail. AMC offers both day and overnight trips to Zealand Falls Hut—you can register at activities.outdoors.org. Not part of an AMC trip? You can follow this itinerary on your own and use AMC’s White Mountain Guide for essential trip information, route descriptions, and detailed maps.
If you’re joining an AMC guided trip, you’ll start your journey at the Highland Center, a year-round, full-service lodge in the heart of Crawford Notch. Opened in 2003, the Highland Center provides comfortable lodging for guests with both private and shared room options. If you arrive early, the Highland Center is the perfect base to explore several excellent day and half-days hikes, or you can attend one of our programs on site to learn more about the natural environment. Ask an AMC staff member for recommendations when you check in.
Zealand Trail to Zealand Falls Hut
AMC guides will shuttle you to the trailhead of Zealand Trail at the end of Zealand Road. If you are traveling on your own, you can take the AMC shuttle to the trailhead, or park there during summer months. In winter Zealand Road is closed, adding 3.5 miles of road walking to reach the hut.
Leaving the parking area, ascend on a slight uphill through a dense forest of red spruce with young trees lining the route. You’ll meander over an old railroad bed to approach Zealand River, with plenty of picturesque spots for snacks and lunch breaks. At 1.5 miles, the trail crosses a bridge over the river. You pass through a very attractive woodland of balsam fir and white birch, with an understory of mountain wood sorrel, blue-bead lily, and hobblebush.
After about 1.8 miles, the trail crosses an open beaver swamp. The U.S. Forest Service has to constantly respond to the latest beaver engineering projects to keep Zealand Trail above water, and the elevated wooden walkway here is its most recent move. Look for stumps of beaver-chiseled trees, as well as the animals’ dams and lodges.
Zealand Trail then reenters the forest and skirts open wetlands and wet meadows. At 2.3 miles, A-Z Trail enters from the left, just beyond a beautiful, grassy, wet meadow with a view across to Mount Tom. Keep an eye out for moose in this area—moose tracks, resembling large deer tracks, are likely to be in muddy areas around any of the wetlands; rounded moose droppings may also be there. The sharpest-eyed member of your group may find moose teeth marks on tree bark, where it looks like someone stripped off the bark with a giant comb.
Beyond its junction with A-Z Trail, Zealand Trail then crosses the inlet to Zealand Pond, following the shore of the pond. Tall meadow rue, a plant with fuzzy white flowers, thrives on the shoreline. AMC trail crews make neat stacks of logs in this area. The wood is used to heat Zealand Falls Hut in winter. Zealand Trail ends at the junction of Ethan Pond Trail and Twinway (2.5 miles). Turn right onto Twinway to reach Zealand Falls Hut in another 0.2 mile. The last 0.1 mile, which is part of the Appalachian Trail and blazed in white, is rough and steep, but stone steps aid your ascent.
Distance: 2.7 miles (6.2 in winter)
Elevation Gain: 650 feet
Zealand Falls Hut
Built in 1932, AMC’s Zealand Falls Hut is the quintessential cabin in the woods. Its inviting front porch, cozy dining area, and comfy bunkrooms evoke the charming, casual demeanor of a traditional New England camp. Despite the hut’s relatively low altitude (2,640 feet), it has magnificent views and is situated just steps away from a lovely waterfall that cascades over open ledges to Zealand Pond, 200 feet below.
Zealand Falls Hut is popular with birders. In June and July, you can hear the songs of winter wrens, hermit thrushes, and white-throated sparrows right from the porch. In the open areas around the beaver ponds, you’ll potentially see black ducks, wood ducks, blue jays, swallows, and perhaps even a goshawk. Explore the rocky bed of Whitewall Brook (except during extremely high water), a few yards beyond the hut. If you stand by the brook on a hot day, you will immediately feel the cool breeze streaming down from the mountain. This natural refrigerator allows alpine plants to grow at a lower elevation than usual.
Zealand Falls Hut is a great stopping point for longer hikes, especially to some of the more remote 4,000-foters in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Guests will stop in for a break or spend a night there before continuing on to other peaks, campsites, or huts. If you’re staying at the hut and looking to take on a side trail, here are a few options.
Mount Hale via Lend-a-Hand Trail (Moderate)
Another 4,000-foot peak, this summit can be reached from the hut either as a half day hike or as a detour on your way to or from the hut. Lend-a-Hand Trail diverges right (northwest) from Twinway 0.1 mile above Zealand Falls Hut and climbs steadily west with several small brook crossings. After the last crossing, at 0.5 mile, the blue-blazed trail swings right (north), and the grade becomes easy in a long section with numerous plank walkways, where small brooks flow in and through the trail. The trail ascends at easy to moderate grades with rocky footing and at 1.5 miles enters a scrubby, ledgy area with limited views of Zealand Ridge and the south spur peak of Mount Hale. After a brief level stretch, Lend-a-Hand Trail ascends a steep, rocky pitch to the south shoulder of Mount Hale. Near the top of this climb, at 1.9 miles, an obscure path leads 30 yards right to an opening with a view of Carrigain Notch. Lend-a-Hand Trail then traverses the long, level shoulder, descending slightly. At 2.4 miles, it climbs another rocky pitch and continues in open conifers, passing through one recent blowdown patch, to the summit clearing, marked by a large cairn, where Hale Brook Trail leaves east (right). You can return the way you came to the hut, or continue along Hale Brook Trail for 2.2 miles back to Zealand Road.
Zeacliff and Zealand Mountain (Moderate)
Follow the white blazed Twinway from Zealand Falls Hut to tag this wooded summit. Starting at the hut, you’ll climb 1,100 feet over 1.3 miles to a spectacular lookout point over Zeacliff, with views of Whitewall Brook and Whitewall Cliff across the way. Continue on Twinway for another 1.6 miles to the 4.250-foot Zealand Mountain. Be sure to turn to the spur trail to reach the summit, and return to the hut the way you came.
Twinway to Galehead Hut (Difficult)
If you’re extending your trip to a second hut, Galehead Hut is 7 miles along Twinway from Zealand Falls Hut. Along this route, you’ll climb 2,950 feet and summit South Twin before a steep descent to Galehead Hut. First opened in 1932, Galehead Hut is the most remote hut in AMC’s system and has undisturbed views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and the Bonds.
Before You Go
Before any trip in to the White Mountains, be sure to plan ahead. Our beginner’s guide to hiking in the White Mountains will help get you started, but a few things to keep in mind:
- Pack all the gear you’ll need, especially the 10 Essentials.
- Check the weather, as it can change quickly at higher elevations.
- Map out your route and share it with a trusted person who is not hiking with you.
- Have a backup plan.
Enjoy your adventure with AMC? Be sure to check out other guided trips here.