Sure, you can hike to the summit of the 6,288-foot Mount Washington or weave your own way up on the Auto Road, but for many visitors to New Hampshire's White Mountains, riding the rails is the only path to the peak of this highest mountain in the Northeast.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway was a dream devised in 1852 by a New Hampshire native who knew there had to be an easier way to the top than trekking and thought a train might do the trick. At the time, members of the state's legislature told developer Sylvester Marsh he “might as well build a railway to the Moon” but 17 years later on July 3, 1869, the first cog-driven train topped Mount Washington and Marsh's mission was realized.
Well over a century later, you can still chug up into the clouds on the coal-powered cog. The three hour or so round-trip ride begins at the Cog Base Station located in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire (32 miles from the Top Notch Inn in Gorham) and it's a steep six mile round-trip that includes a stop at the summit for exploration. Along the ascension, passengers of the Mount Washington Cog Railway have time to savor the sights surrounding the train, from the alpine flora and fauna to the Atlantic Ocean across the horizon.
But the thrills aren't only found outside the train car. As the incline increases to a sharp 37.4 percent grade at one point (known as Jacob's Ladder), inside the car, riders in the rear will be looking nearly straight up at their fellow passengers in the front (at this grade- the heads of riders in the front are 13 feet higher than those in the back). And while the trestle mostly hugs the mountain, at times it soars more than 30 feet off the ground, giving a harrowing edge to this unforgettable historic journey that is an essential stop in your Mount Washington Valley vacation.
Tickets are $62 for adults, $57 for seniors, $39 for children ages 4-12 and free for children age 3 and under. For more information on the Mount Washington Cog Railway, call 1-800-922-8825 or visit www.thecog.com.