Friday, July 9, 2010

Mount Washington Cog Railway - New Hampshire's Most Breathtaking Scenic Vacation Experience

My family and I (me = 39, wife "holding at 29", 18, 17, 15, & 6) were thrilled to have my parents up for a vacation from North Carolina. Whenever they are visiting we always go and experience the best the region has to offer. On the most recent visit we chose to go experience the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

I had reserved our reservations over a month in advance for the cog. The day of our adventure to the summit of
Mt. Washington the weather was in the upper seventies, light wind but rain was in the forecast. We kept waffling on whether we should go or not and as a result we were running late for our reservations. We made it to the base station with less than five minutes to spare. We hustled through the station picked up our tickets and headed out to the historic Mount Washington Cog. My father, boys and I took time to inspect the pristine cog engine and historic train car. This was the perfect distraction for my father who is seriously not impressed with heights or the thought of riding anything to the top of a mountain. As we approached the cog's passenger car, we were greeted by two "brakemen". They happily accepted our tickets and smirked at several of us who wore shorts and flip flops. Their smirks were the equivalent of foreshadowing in a good book. We boarded and quickly realized that we were the only ones riding this late afternoon train to the summit. As the cog started the climb, one of the brakemen came in and introduced himself. He went on to share some interesting facts about the history of the Mount Washington Cog Railway and the construction of the scenic railroad. The ride itself is best described as slow and steady. The kids were encouraged to open windows, enjoy the sights and ask questions. The poor weather conditions helped keep grandpa's nerves in check as you could not see more than a few hundred feet in any direction. The cog railway was literally in the clouds shortly after leaving the base station. The brakeman pointed out that Mt. Washington proudly boasts to be "Home of the World's Worst Weather". He went on to say that Mt. Washington's summit temperatures this afternoon were in the low 40s with wind gusts exceeding 70 mph. Instantly, the brakemen's smirks reappeared. We appeared to be approximately halfway up Mt. Washington and I was pretty sure he was pulling our leg. He went on to say that the cog was going up today only because conditions were forecasted to stay the same or lessen. The cog railway will not climb Mount Washinton when wind conditions are exceeding 75mph. As we officially passed the halfway point of the mountain, I was still pretty sure the brakeman was "exaggerating". The winds remained mild, rain was light and the temperature didn't appear to have changed much. As the cog continued its Mount Washington climb, we left behind us the tree line where almost all plant life ceases to exist. No sooner did the trees disappear than I noticed the kids putting windows back up. The wind began to howl, temperatures plummeted, and rain/sleet beat on the cog. To clarify, having grown up in Miami, I've lived through enough hurricanes that I have lost count...the winds were screaming. Minutes later we came to a stop and the brakemen announced that we had reached the summit. We thanked and tipped the brakemen for their exceptional service. Upon exiting the cog's passenger car we were met with hurricane force winds, sleet and rain...all of which were going sideways and stung our skin. Flip flops and all, we quickly scurried into the Mount Washington observatory building. Inside we found bathrooms (the ride up is 40+ minutes long), two gift shops, a cafeteria offering "acceptable" quality food with fair pricing, and an interesting museum. Admission to the Mount Washington observatory museum is included in the price of riding the cog railway. I would not pay separately for the museum but enjoyed it none the less. The museum's highlight is a massive panoramic view from the summit showing what could be seen if a hurricane was not currently consuming the mountains summit. After a brief bite to eat, I ventured out with my two boys for a short walk to the observation platform. The boys delighted in the weather conditions and braved them long enough to climb the rock formation to the posted summit of Mt. Washington. We went back inside and were able to coax several more members outside and up to the platform. Experiencing weather conditions like that was both thrilling, entertaining and a highlight of the trip. We all gathered back together just in time to board the near capacity cog railway for the return trip to the base station. I sat in the first row of the cog's passenger car. On the way down Mt. Washington the brakeman earns his name. He stands vigilantly watching the cog's engine descend the mountain. Should the cog's multiple brake systems fail, the brakeman would manually be able to stop the car. I was interested to learn that the passenger car is and never was actually attached to the cog's engine. Both during the ascent and decent the passenger car is leaning against the engine. As we reached the halfway point of the mountain, the sky briefly cleared allowing for some beautiful scenic photos. I honestly cannot imagine how amazing the views would be on a perfectly clear day. My six year old loves foxes and was thrilled when we saw a family of them next to the railroad. We arrived safely back at the base station and took time to explore the hands-on museum and gift shop.

FINAL REVIEW: Everyone in our group LOVED the experience and rated the Mount Washington Cog Railway an absolute "do not miss". We all suggest to not let weather conditions determine whether or not you and your family ride the cog. While the observatory was nice...the crazy weather was the memorable factor. Be sure to bring and use a waterproof camera. Anyone that has a fear of heights should sit on the right side of the cog railway while climbing Mount Washington and on the left when coming back down. "Good ol'Grandpa" was fine and said sitting on the suggested side of the cog's passenger car was beneficial. All in all it was a great experience and we highly recommend adding a visit to Mt. Washington's summit to your northern New Hampshire or Vermont Vacation.

Only my
Hampton Inn, Littleton, New Hampshire offers a Mt. Washington Cog Railway vacation package. The cog is approximately 15 or 20 minutes from the hotel. If your vacation plans have you staying at one of my Vermont hotels (Comfort Inn & Suites or Fairbanks Inn, St. Johnsbury), the drive to the cog would be approximately 45 minutes. No matter which hotel you call home while on vacation, be sure to add the cog railway to your family trip.


  1. Thank you for your nice places.I really enjoy to see this type of place.I see your pictures its very nice to see.Its very natural..


  2. That is an unbelievable railway. What I really love about that place is the fog that makes that place more fantastic. I will going to visit that place on my next vacation.

  3. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work.


  4. The first photo is gorgeous, it looks like a magical place, got to be here someday. I just hope my kids would enjoy a vacation like this, seems very wonderful. This could be an ideal substitute for the usual trip to Disney World, a little time to enjoy some real trees and natural beauty=)

  5. Great post, it seems wonderful place to visit. thanks for sharing

  6. Thanks for sharing these Vermont vacation ideas, there's no better place to spend a summer weekend. We definitely suggest that any large group of New Yorkers looking to get away for the weekend consider chartering a coach bus

  7. All snaps are great, the place itself is looking marvelous for a long weekend with family. Especially the last photo invites you to explore this beautiful place with your family or friends.

  8. How much time does it take?

    1. I believe the ride up/down is approximately 30+ minutes each way. You end up with a little more than an hour on the summit. It is enough time to take pictures, get a bite to eat, shop in the gift store and explore the museum. The cog is a family favorite!