Tackling Mount Washington by Car

Rising 6,288 feet (1,916 meters) toward the sky, Mount Washington is the highest mountain in New England. This legendary mountain can be climbed in three distinctly different ways—you can hike to the summit on a challenging and often perilous multi-hour hike; you can travel to the summit with the Cog Railway, which is a major attraction in the region; or you can drive up on the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Cairn near Mount Washington Auto Road
Cairn on the side of the Mount Washington Auto Road

The Mount Washington Auto Road

Mount Washington dominates the Presidential Range and the rest of the landscapes in the White Mountains in central New Hampshire and is a mountain that shouldn’t be underestimated.

View from the Mount Washington Auto Road
Fine view from the Mount Washington Auto Road

It is one of the world’s most dangerous, even lethal, mountains—the last death on Washington happened in June; before that, a woman froze to death in February. It is infamous for its extremely bad and quickly changing weather. It is, for example, the place where the second-highest wind speed ever was recorded. Additionally, in winter, the Mount Washington summit is one of the coldest places on the planet. These two extreme weather conditions are due to the fact that the jet stream drops down from its high and freezing altitudes right above the mountain.

Of course, these unique features make it a hugely popular attraction. People who don’t want to spend an entire day hiking or who can’t afford the Mount Washington Cog Railway (tickets are $68 for adults), can opt to tackle the mountain by car or motorbike on the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Hiking Trail on Mount Washington
Hiking trail on Mount Washington

Opened from mid-May to mid-October, the Mount Washington Auto Road is one of the main tourist attractions in the White Mountains. This 7.6-mile (12.2-kilometer) road climbs to the summit along an average gradient of 11.6%. It’s a pretty steep drive with occasional sheer drops on the roadside. People who are afraid of heights might want to think twice before heading up.

Mount Washington Auto Road
A thrilling section on the Mount Washington Auto Road

Completed and opened to the public in 1861, the Mount Washington Auto Road claims to be the very first man-made tourist attraction in the United States, an attraction that has been visited by tourist for more than 150 years.

Ski Area seen from Mount Washington, New Hampshire
Ski area seen from Mount Washington

The road begins at the toll house—yes, it is a toll road—where you pay a fee of $28 per a car and driver and $8 per additional adult. A ticket for children between 5 and 12 years old costs $6. Included in the price is access to the road, an audio tour on CD, and a large and over-the-top touristy bumper sticker that says “This car climbed Mount Washington.”

It’s a pretty magnificent drive. There are plenty of places to stop, enjoy the views and let your brakes cool down—which, especially on the way down, is necessary.

Tip Top House, Mount Washington
Tip Top House in the clouds

While the views on the way and down are always spectacular, there is no guarantee that there will be any visibility at the summit. The summit of Mount Washington, even though it is not nearly as high as, say, the Alps or the Rocky Mountains, is wrapped in clouds on as much as 300 days per year. In other words, you’re in luck if you can see something from the top.

Misty Summit of Mount Washington
The misty and windy summit of Mount Washington

That being said, the drive itself is absolutely worth it. If there happens to be a view from the summit, that should be considered a pleasant bonus. If not, the gale-force winds, thick mist and visibility of only a few feet (about a meter or two) offer a worthy experience too.

More information is available on the Mt. Washington Auto Road website.

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