The AMC White Mountain Guide | Up Close

For over a century, the AMC White Mountain Guide has been keeping hikers on the right track.

By Joe Bills

Apr 28 2021


The AMC White Mountain Guide

Photo Credit : Bruce Luetters
The AMC White Mountain Guide
Photo Credit : Bruce Luetters

In 1858, following his second guided tour of the White Mountains, Henry David Thoreau wrote of the fabled New Hampshire range, “To travel there with security, a person must know his bearings at every step.”

Nearly 50 years later, the Appalachian Mountain Club began providing that security in book form. Bearing a green cloth cover with the title and the AMC logo embossed in gold, Guide to the Paths and Camps in the White Mountains, Part 1 debuted in 1907 with a 600-copy print run. It was small—approximately 5½ by 3½ inches and 206 pages—but it was mighty, as it codified the wisdom of expert guides into a portable resource. “The need of a comprehensive guidebook of the White Mountains … has long been felt by the tramping public,” it states at the outset. And ever since then, this guide has been helping hikers and campers find their way along a network that has grown to include 1,440 miles of trails through mountains and forests.

The debut installment of the book series that has come to be known as the AMC White Mountain Guide covers 11 distinct geographical areas, with detailed maps and information on trails and viewpoints, as well as historical notes. The expectation from the start was that there would be regular updates, owing to both natural and man-made changes to the terrain. A second, expanded edition appeared in 1916, and a third in 1917. Since then, new editions have kept coming every two to six years. In 1998, the book expanded to its current 5-by-7-inch size. And today’s version fills 600-plus pages and weighs more than a pound.

Reading the AMC White Mountain Guide, you feel seasoned wisdom being handed down, no doubt after hundreds of rescue calls. About the Huntington Ravine Trail, for instance: “This trail is very dangerous when wet or icy, and its use for descent is not recommended at any time.” 

Steven D. Smith, who has been editing the guide since 2003, is now at work on the 31st edition, due out next year. “It’s been a true honor for me,” says Smith. “I had the privilege of working on two editions with the late Gene Daniell, who shepherded the guide for a quarter century, [and] he impressed upon me that we editors are caretakers of a cherished tradition established with that tiny first edition.

“My hope is that even in the digital age, the guide will be an invaluable resource for White Mountain hikers for many years to come.”