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New Hampshire: Mount Washington

One of the reasons for visiting this part of New Hampshire was to go up Mount Washington. This is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and is 6622 ft at the summit. It also has a reputation for wild weather and has an observatory at the top that records all these extremes it holds the record for the highest speed wind gust on land at 231 mph. The weather can be a pleasant summer day at the base but be more like winter at the summit. We arrived at the base station of the COG railway at 3 pm and it was a very pleasant 80F without a breath of wind.

This was my second trip to take the COG railway to the summit of the mountain. For our first visit, we had taken one of the diesel trains. This time I wanted to take the steam train, which only runs a couple of times a day.
About five or six trains are running on the mountain on a normal day – the track is primarily a single track up the mountain with cunning passing points on the way up. The COG railway at Mount Washington was the first mountain-climbing railway and was opened fully in 1869 after three years of construction. The project was the brainchild of an ageing entrepreneur and inventor, Sylvestor Marsh, who had got lost on Mount Washington in 1859, and decided to build a railway to the summit as a result. Next time I get stuck up a mountain I have made a mental note to choose to build a giant elevator through the core of the peak rather than taking up another hobby like golf or bird-watching which might have been a more normal course of action.

The two most noticeable aspects of the train ride outside of the stunning views are its steepness and how uncomfortable it is. The average incline of the railway is 25o but there is one section called Jacobs Ladder (this is a section of the railway which is on a trestle 30 feet above the ground and banked – according to the Guinness Book of records this is the most treacherous stretch of trestle rail track in the world – and who are we to argue) which is at 37.4 degrees. For those who don’t like heights, this is not the journey for them!! The other feature is the discomfort – this is a COG railway – it runs on tracks but has a large cog on the engine which passes through a rack centred between the two rails. As a consequence there is a lot of vibration – and the seats are not too comfortable – I would recommend this to anyone looking to lose cellulite from their buttocks.

The base stationj of the Mount Washington cog railway
Getting up steam
Getting ready to leave the base station
Looking back on the engine pushing us up the mountain
Looking out the front of the carriage at the track ahead
Inside the carriage of the Mount Washington Cog Railway

It takes about 1½ hours to the summit. It is a long, slow journey but on this clear day, the views were stunning. You get about 20 minutes at the top before the next train goes down. On the summit, there is a cafeteria (which is a deserving rest stop for those who walked up – but not for us who came up the easy way) and a weather station observatory (which you can tour around). True to form it was colder and windier on the summit – the temperature was in the low 60s and the wind was gusting at 45mph – making it feel even colder. As with all good explorers we had to climb to the summit – about 20ft above where the train dropped us off. 

The barren landscape of the summit of Mount Washington
The train takes on more water for the return journey
The historic Tip-Top House on the summit of Mount Washington
The exhibition at the visitor centre on the summit of Mount Washington
A sign signifying the highest wind recording

The journey down is a rapid, joggling hour-long trek and reaching the balmy, calm base station was most welcome. All in all though a worthwhile experience.

In Summary …

  • If you want to take the steam train to the top you need to book well ahead to make sure you get a seat.
  • You’ll need 4 to 5 hours planned for this trip
  • The weather on Mount Washington is hard to predict so come prepared for a bit of everything! The weather at the summit can be very different from the base.

Planning your visit to Mount Washington Cog Railway

Address:3168 Base Station Rd, Mount Washington
Website:https://www.thecog.com/
Telephone:T:(603) 278-5404
Hours:

The trains operate year-round, weather permitting. In the winter the trains do not go to the summit.

Admission Fees

Adults – $41.00 in the winter up to $99.00 for the steam train in the summer

Best time to visit New Hampshire’s White Mountains

White Mountains region are both a winter and summer destination for mountaineers and skiers. But if you are just looking for sceneries, fresh air and the beauties of the region it’s best to choose summer, late-spring and early-fall periods.

Fall’s foliage – as in other sites of New England – causes many thousands of weekenders to visit the region, so you may want to avoid Autumn’s weekends to avoid the crowds.

Other places to visit around the White Mountains

1. FLUME GORGE

The White Mountains of northern New Hampshire is incredibly beautiful. One of the highlights of the area is Flume Gorge, State Park. There is a 2-mile self-guided nature walk through the Flume Gorge, a spectacular natural chasm. Along the way, there are covered bridges, amazing waterfalls, a scenic natural pool, and gorgeous mountain views.

2. CONWAY SCENIC RAILWAY

Hop aboard this old-fashioned train and embark on a scenic journey through northern New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Valley. Departing from a beautiful 1874 Victorian Station in North Conway Village, enjoy rides to Conway or Bartlett or the legendary Crawford Notch excursion.

Experience the fun of rail travel in the comforts of open or enclosed restored vintage cars (from the 1920s), and travel in Coach, First Class, or in the elegant Dining Car. Ride past sheer bluffs, cliffs, steep ravines, cascading brooks and streams, panoramic mountain vistas, and bridges on the Conway Railroad.

3. CANNON MOUNTAIN AERIAL TRAMWAY

The first passenger aerial tramway in North America began operation on this site in 1938. Almost seven million passengers were carried to the top by the first tram. Take a scenic eight-minute ride in one of two enclosed cable cars to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain and enjoy panoramic views of the distant valleys and mountains. Each tram car has a maximum capacity of 80 persons and ascends 2,180 feet vertically. Walking trails to a summit observation tower leave from the tram station.

In the winter, Cannon Mountain is a favourite among skiers, with 97 trails and slopes for all abilities. Cannon is the home of the New England Ski Museum which is located near the base of the tramway.

Where to stay near Mount Washington

1. RED ELEPHANT BED & BREAKFAST

We stayed at the Red Elephant Bed & Breakfast in North Conway during our visit to Mount Washington. It is also a great base for accessing the Conway Scenic Railway and other local attractions.
 
The Red Elephant is quirky and fun. Our room was small, but perfectly comfortable. There are 8-rooms in total. The decorations were extravagant and bold. It is located outside the main town but there were a number of restaurants within walking distance (which was just as well as we got caught in a rainstorm!). There is also a swimming pool if you get the chance to use it.
 

The owner, a fellow Brit, makes the 3-course breakfast – which was delicious, and like the rest of the property – extravagant.

2. FRANCONIA INN

Featuring views of the White Mountains, this inn is 10 miles from skiing on Cannon Mountain and 19 minutes’ drive from Flume Gorge, guest can enjoy 25 miles of Cross Country Ski Trails. The property offers onsite horseback riding/sleigh rides, and onsite bike shop. Breakfast is served each morning and there is on-site dining.

Guests staying at the Franconia Inn can enjoy facilities like an outdoor pool, hot tub, tennis courts and more. The property also has a games room with table tennis, pinball and more.

The rooms at Inn Franconia have unique furniture and include views of the mountains. Each room also has an private bathroom.

3. SUGAR HILL INN

Sugar Hill Inn features a restaurant, seasonal outdoor swimming pool, a bar and garden in Sugar Hill. The air-conditioned rooms provide a garden view and come with a closet and free WiFi.

Lincoln is 19 miles from Sugar Hill Inn, while Franconia is 0.8 miles away.

 

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