Ride the Cog Railway Up Mount Washington

by dustytoes

The Mount Washington Cog Railway, in New Hampshire, is an innovative and fun way to travel up the mountainside to the gorgeous view at the top.

My grown son comes to visit me in New Hampshire, from Florida, each summer. Since he lives without mountains to enjoy, we try to do some traveling up to the northern area of the state while he visits. A few summers ago we decided to take the Cog Railway up to the top of Mount Washington.
We were a bit nervous about this, I will admit, and though it's a slow climb up that trestle, the views are wonderful. In my opinion, it sure beats hiking to the top or driving up in the car. (Going down is worse in a car!)
I took my camera along and captured some moments from our trip and I share them on this page. For those who are considering a trip on the Cog and don't know what to expect, this page may help you decide to hesitate no longer!
After all, there are only a few ways to reach the summit of the mountain with the world's worst weather, and enjoy those gorgeous views.

All Aboard!

Don't forget your sweatshirt, because you may need it at the top.

family photo at the base of the mountain

Because I live a few hours from Mt. Washington and we were making a mini-vacation of this trip, I had booked a hotel in Woodstock.  We could only hope that the day we planned to ride the Cog Railway the weather would cooperate.

Sure enough, it turned sunny and bright by early afternoon, so we drove to Bretton Woods and up to the train depot to buy our tickets. 

While waiting to board, I got a photo of my boys with the train trestle and mountain peaks in the background.  Soon we would be heading up the mountainside on a train car pulled along by cogs.

Tickets can also be purchased ahead of time online, but I would still suggest getting to the station early for boarding.  We couldn't sit together on the trip up because the car was so full.

Summer is a Busy Time to Ride the Cog Railway

inside the passenger carThey suggest you arrive a half hour early to board the train.  Because we arrived after boarding had begun, we didn't get to sit together. 

I don't have little kids, so sitting together wasn't a big deal, but it means having an aisle seat instead of a window view.  I didn't get many photos on our trip up.

The round trip takes about three hours with an hour's worth of that time spent at the top.  By the time our train had dropped us at the top, everyone was putting on their sweatshirts. I don't remember what the temperature was up there, but it was cool and very windy.

If I could say there was a downside about the trip I guess it would be that we were on a time schedule.  I kept watching the clock to be sure and get in line on time for the departure ride back down.  I really wanted to sit with my family and grab a window seat for photos, so we wanted to line up early.

Have you been to the top of Mount Washington?

How did you get there?

The Large Observation Building at the Top

The deck of that building is where to go for the views.
We're Almost There
We're Almost There

A Red Train Engine and Car at the Top

One engine guides one car filled with people. Pushing from behind going up, and braking in the front on the way down.
Many times a day these trains make this trip.
Many times a day these trains make this trip.

What is at the Top of Mt. Washington?

Besides the views there is a museum, food and and the weather station.

I hope your trip takes place on a day with clear skies like we had, because it would be a shame to miss out on the spectacular views from the summit.  I would have liked to have had more time to hang out at the observatory and just sit and take in the views, but we had to follow the schedule of the trains.

If you can squeeze it into your one hour layover at the top of Mt. Washington, visit the museumIt's free if you've arrived via the Cog train.  Grab some food if you want, but you only have an hour, or less, if you want to get an early spot in the boarding line.

Of course most people want to take in the views and get some photos.  Everywhere you turn is a panoramic mountain scene.  The big deck on top of the building in my picture supplies lots of area to get photos.

There are other buildings to see at the top as well, and the weather station is manned year round. No one ventures up the mountain during winter, unless they are in a snow cat.   The top of the mountain is beautiful but it is a tourist attraction, and I was reminded of that by the long line of visitors waiting to get a photo with the sign that says you made it to the summit.  We didn't wait in that line.

We could see for miles.

Off The Train and Taking in the Views!
Off The Train and Taking in the Views!

The mountaintop is always inhabited.

Scientists keep an eye on the weather on New Hampshire's tallest peak.
The Weather Station
The Weather Station

The Big Observation Deck

Oh, that view!
Oh, that view!

The Cog is a Slow-Paced and Very Safe Ride

It runs from May until New Year's Day.

We didn't know what to expect from a Cog Railway ride, but the train engine pushes the boxcar (where we are seated), slowly up the side of the mountain.  On the way down the engine is in the front.  The scenery is beautiful, and the conductor gives us tidbits of information on the ride and points out various landmarks.  The view is distorted at times as we travel on a very slanted rail trestle (see my picture below).  It was quite an experience.

The Cog Railway is busy in summer and fall but it continues to run through January first.   Because the weather gets bad on the mountain early in the winter season, from November on the train only goes half way up the mountain.  For rates and times of departure, visit the official Mount Washington Cog Railway site.

Photos Taken on the Way Down Mt. Washington

Everything appears to be at a slant.
Everything appears to be at a slant.
A little shack along the tracks
A little shack along the tracks

Some People Take the Auto Road and Drive to The Top

Spend more time at the top if you drive yourself up.
Parking Area at The Mountaintop
Parking Area at The Mountaintop

Drive up the Auto Road, or take a Shuttle

If you don't want to pay the high price of taking the train, there are other options.

If you would rather not spend the money on the Cog Railway, then drive your own car up the Mt. Washington Auto Road for a fee.  Take a guided tour up the auto road, also for a fee. 

If you'd like to hike up and ride down there is a shuttle for that too.  All this information can be found on the Auto Road website.

I've never liked driving up and down a mountain.  It's the ride down that is the worst, but I can't say that I know anything first hand about this drive.  Just giving you the info.

Many people hike up and down this mountain too.

Cairns Mark Trails For Hikers

Piles of rock are used to mark the trails across this barren area.
Groups of cairns across the rocky surface at the top.
Groups of cairns across the rocky surface at the top.

The Weather Can Kill

Preparing ahead of time for all types of weather is a must in a place with such extremes in temperature and wind.

The tallest peak in New Hampshire and in the entire northeastern United States is Mount Washington.  It is in the heart of the White Mountains, in the northern part of the state, and is 6,288 feet in elevation.  It is known for it's erratic and wild weather and anyone planning to climb it, or ride to the top by any form of transportation should be prepared for extreme weather changes. It can be sunny and warm at the bottom with 80 mph winds at the top.

This mountain held the WORLD's land wind record until 2010.  The wind was measured at the observatory on top of the mountain at 231 mph!  That equals the wind speed of an F4 tornado.

The mountain has a lot of hiking trails as well, but one must be in good shape to try them.  Being prepared for your outing with proper clothing, maps and info is also a must.  There have been over 135 deaths (at this time) on the mountain due to various reasons.  The Tuckerman Ravine is a steep area of the mountain which forms a huge "bowl" and people have died while hiking and skiing this particular area. 

Death on The Mountain

Know what to expect if you plan to hike this mountain.

One of the leading causes of death on Mount Washington and the surrounding mountains in the Presidental Range, is hikers being unprepared.  Bad weather can cause hypothermia, and lack of visibility can throw travelers off course.  There are also reports of people falling to their death and at least one skier in Tuckerman's Ravine was killed by falling ice. 

The book, Not Without Peril, recounts the ways people met their demise throughout the years as they traversed the rocky and dangerous new land to get to that gorgeous view at the top.  It includes the famous story of a young girl named Lizzie who died just yards away from the house at the top. Her hiking party didn't know how close they were to safety, and instead weathered the freezing temperatures outside overnight.


Misadventure on the Presidential Range of Mountains

Historical account of perils encountered in New Hampshire's mountains.
Not Without Peril, Tenth Anniversary Edition: 150 Years o...

Inside Our Boxcar

Yes, I Got a Window Seat on the Trip Down!
Yes, I Got a Window Seat on the Trip Down!

Heading to the Bottom

The trestle ahead on the way to the bottom.
The trestle ahead on the way to the bottom.
Updated: 12/19/2023, dustytoes
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dustytoes on 10/10/2023

I believe the range of mountains only contains the names of the presidents as a way to name them and not because any of them actually hiked the area.

DerdriuMarriner on 10/10/2023

It's interesting to ponder what George Washington, as General and then as President, thought of having such a challenging ascent and descent named after him.

Might there be some account or some tradition in New Hampshire as to whether or not George Washington as General or as President ever rode or walked up and down such an arduous challenge?

candy47 on 06/22/2015

I wish I had known about the Mt. Washington Cog Railway when I was living in New Jersey, I would have made the trip. Thanks for taking me there with your story and pictures!

paperfacets on 11/20/2013

If I am ever at the opposite side of the U.S. I may try this historic mountain.

dustytoes on 11/16/2013

Thanks very much for the Pin.

ologsinquito on 11/16/2013

I will tell you about it. Meanwhile, I'm pinning this to my "See the World" board.

dustytoes on 11/13/2013

@ologsinquito, if you drive, I'd like to hear about it!

cmoneyspinner on 11/13/2013

I would love to go for a ride! :)

ologsinquito on 11/12/2013

I've never been to the top of Mount Washington, but I hope to get there someday. I think we'll drive to the top. This is a great article with wonderful pictures.

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