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Mount Washington is one of the northeast’s most incredible natural wonders. As the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, it has tempted adventurers for hundreds of years.
But don’t worry, you won’t need to scale the more-than-one-mile-tall mountain on foot or even in your car. One of the best ways to experience the wonder of Mount Washington is through the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
Read on as we take a closer look at what makes this rail ride exceptional. Let’s get started!
About the Mount Washington Cog Railway
You may think it would be impossible to build a railroad that regularly makes trips to a place with the self-described “world’s worst weather.” However, you’d be wrong! The Mount Washington Cog Railway is a unique feat of engineering dating to 1868, a few decades after tourism in the area began taking off.
Most of the route to the top lies at a 20-30% grade, far too steep for traditional locomotives to climb. The railway’s builders overcame this obstacle by employing the still-new cog technology that works like a bicycle chain.
A cog underneath the rail car turns, pulling the car up using teeth in the elevated track. This method also prevents gravity from pulling the vehicle down steep slopes. Today, it remains one of the favorite ways to see the top of Mount Washington, along with driving or hiking.
How Long Is a Trip on the Mount Washington Cog Railway?
The rail route to the top of Mount Washington is only about three miles, but you might be surprised at the time it takes to climb such a steep path! The length of your trip will vary depending on whether you use a biodiesel engine or a traditional steam-powered one.
The biodiesel trip takes roughly 45 minutes to reach the 6,288-foot summit. The steam engine will need an additional 15 minutes for a water stop, making the trip an hour.
Visitors have one hour to explore the summit before their train heads back down. Trips down take a similar time, putting the overall experience somewhere between two-and-a-half and three hours in most cases.
During the winter, when they don’t take trips to the summit, visitors can ride to the Skyline station (90 minutes round trip) or the Waumbek station (1 hour round trip).
How Much Does It Cost to Ride the Cog Railway on Mount Washington?
Riding the summit on the Mount Washington Cog Railway may not be the cheapest attraction. However, most find this one-of-a-kind experience more than worth the cost. Trips to the summit using biodiesel engines cost $86 for adults, $63 for kids 4-12, and $82 for seniors aged 65 or older.
Steam engine tickets are slightly pricier, at $99 for adults, $63 for kids, and $95 for seniors. In all cases, children under four rides free while sitting in the lap of a ticketed adult.
Early winter trips to Skyline and Waumbek are $58 for adults and $43 for children, while shorter trips in the dead of winter to Waumbek will be $41 for adults and $29 for kids.
The #7 Things to Know When Visiting Mount Washington Cog Railway
There are few places like Mount Washington or experiences like riding the cog railway. Before stepping aboard, here are some crucial things to know.
#1 The Train Is Slow
This is about as far as you can get from high-speed rail. Safely climbing the steep route to the top of Mount Washington requires a slow and steady pace of roughly 6 miles/9.5 kilometers per hour.
Most visitors won’t mind; the deliberate speed means more time to soak in the incredible views. After all, many opt for the railway instead of driving.
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#2 Admission to the Observatory Museum Is Included
Among the facilities at the summit of Mount Washington is the state park’s observatory museum. It’s an excellent way to learn more about Mount Washington’s unique weather and environment.
The best part is they include admission with your ticket, making your ticket price an even better deal!
#3 Sit on the Left Side of the Train
Experienced riders know where to sit to get the most impressive views along the route, and that’s the left side of the train while heading up.
Those on the left side will see epic views of the Presidential Range and nearby portions of the Appalachian Trail. Don’t worry if you end up on the right—there’s plenty of fantastic scenery no matter where you look.
#4 The Mount Washington Cog Railway Makes Seasonal Adjustments
Winter on the top of Mount Washington is few people’s ideas of a good time. Powerful winds and frigid temperatures mean the Mount Washington Cog Railway won’t reach the summit between mid-October and later April.
During this period, Mount Washington State Park closes. However, visitors can still ride the railway to lower altitude stops at Waumbek and Skyline year-round.
#5 Book Tickets in Advance
If you think the Mount Washington Cog Railway is pretty cool, you’re not alone. Thousands of people ride the rails on busy summer days, often selling out most trains.
You don’t want to be without a ticket, so if you’re visiting during the summer or a holiday weekend, buy your tickets in advance. A few minutes of planning can help avoid significant disappointment.
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#6 Dress for the Weather at the Summit
Mount Washington’s weather can be famously unpleasant and unpredictable, making it vital to dress appropriately. No matter what time of year you visit, chances are it’ll be colder and windier at the summit than you’d expect due to conditions at the base.
Rain, snow, and ice can strike throughout the year, even during summer! It’s essential to dress in layers. That way, you can add or remove articles of clothing as your elevation and the weather change. Better safe than sorry! Most folks would rather carry a jacket or sweater they don’t need instead of being in a freak storm!
#7 Severe Weather Can Effect the Mount Washing Cog Railway
The wild weather can also occasionally affect railway operations. Winds sometimes reach 60-70 miles per hour at the summit, forcing temporary closures of state park facilities.
In these cases, trains will terminate at one of the lower stops. In most other cases, the railway tries to keep scheduled trains running whenever possible, subject to extreme weather or equipment problems.
Is Mount Washington Cog Railway Worth Visiting?
The Mount Washington Cog Railway provides an experience that few other places can match. You’ll find incredible views as you ride comfortably to the top of one of the United States’ most famous summits.
You may even experience the famously inclement weather. While ticket prices may be a bit pricey for low-budget travelers, few taking the ride regret this fun, gorgeous experience at the top of New Hampshire and the northeast.
When will you visit the Mount Washington Cog Railway?