Normally, getting to the summit of America’s biggest mountains requires you to be one heck of a hiker, but to get to the top of New England’s highest peak, the Mount Washington Summit, you just need to hop in a car and head up the Mt Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire…
Mount Washington has long been famous for its remarkably erratic weather, so no two trips on the Mt. Washington Auto Road are ever the same… Sometimes you’ll experience intense fog while other times you’ll feel like the clouds are just whizzing right through the clouds. Oh, and chances are you’ll experience a whole lot of wind as you take the road to the 6,288 ft. summit. (How windy? The summit of Mt. Washington held the record for the highest wind gust at 231 MPH for nearly 80 years.)
As you can imagine, winters are mighty brutal up on Mount Washington, so the spring thaw and cleanup is a task like no other, but the road typically opens by mid-to-late May, so if you’re planning a summer road trip through New England, Mt Washington Auto Road is a perfect detour.
If you think driving a road with an average grade of 12%, some of which is hard-packed gravel, sounds like a hell of a time, you can drive yourself up the Mt. Washington Auto Road for only $28 which includes a bumper sticker and a CD to pop in that gives you a virtual tour guide for the 7 miles to the summit. ($8 for each additional adult, $16 for motorcycles)
If you want to experience the drive but don’t trust your car’s captain, then you should opt for the guided tour. From Mt. Washington Auto Road:
In summer tours are typically available from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm (4:00 pm after Sept 28), weather permitting. All tours take 2 hours for the round trip, including 1 hour on the summit. Tours leave from the Stage Office at the Auto Road Lodge.
Stages run on a first come, first served basis and we make every effort to provide our guests with a tour as soon as possible. Departures are usually within 30 minutes of purchasing your tickets, however, on very busy days you can expect the wait to be longer. Mornings tend to be less busy. Reservations are not required but are available online for trips leaving at 9:00 am and 9:45 am.
The price of the guided tour also makes it a good option, especially if you’re traveling by yourself since a single adult ticket is only $7 more than driving yourself up the mountain. ($35 for adults, $30 for seniors & military, $15 for children 5-12)
For you hardcore road trippers, a season pass to drive the road is $150, and if you just happen to be in a car club, Mt. Washington Auto Road can make your club's trip extra-special with custom tours and even a barbecue.
Driving the road and taking a couple pictures, however, isn’t the only thing to do on your visit. At the start of the road you’ll find the Glen View Cafe, a perfect place to take in some views and some excellent food:
The views from the Glen View Café are absolutely breathtaking, and a table in the dining room may be the best seat in the White Mountains. As either a break in the day or if you’re just passing through, the Café is the perfect place to hang out and enjoy breakfast or lunch.
Located in the Auto Road Lodge at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, the Glen View Café features homemade soups, sandwiches, fabulous chili, grilled cheese, fruit, yogurt and more. When the homemade cookies are being baked, the aroma has everyone lining up.
What about the winter?
You think they just close the road and tell people to go away? Heck no. Wintertime is when the Mt. Washington SnowCoaches take to the mountain. Operating from December until March, the SnowCoaches take folks up through the treeline for an experience like no other. If you’re into winter activities like snowshoeing, tubing, and cross-country skiing, you can buy a “Trails Total” ticket which will get you on a SnowCoach and give you ski, tube, and snowshoe rentals. (Check mtwashingtonautoroad.com for more information)
Where to stay:
If you’re looking to make the Mt. Washington Auto Road and surrounding Great Glen Trails a weekend getaway, you’re in luck. There’s a slew of incredible lodging options from B&Bs to resorts, all a stone’s throw from your outdoor activities. The best part? Most offer discounts and deals such as:
Winter: December through middle of March
• Free use of Great Glen Trails system for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
• Free unlimited use or our Tubing Hill
• Discounts on cross country skiing lessons.
• $10 discount on the SnowCoach to treeline on the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
Summer: May through October
• Special deals on the use of the Great Glen Trail system for biking, running or walking.
• 50% discount on 4 hour bike rental package.
• Discounted Guided Tour tickets ($30 Adults/Seniors, $10 kids age 5-12) ($5 savings)
• One Adult passenger FREE with paid “Drive Yourself” toll. ($8 savings)