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What To Expect Riding the Cog Railway of the Mount Washington in NH

What To Expect Riding the Cog Railway of the Mount Washington in NH

Within New England, New Hampshire’s White Mountains attract millions of visitors every year from all over the world. With great skiing, phenomenal hiking, and breathtaking foliage, a visit to the state is hard to beat.

But one thing most people don’t expect when they come to New Hampshire is the wide variety of non-athletic activities to partake in. Perhaps the most famous thing to do in the White Mountain is the Mt. Washington’s Cog Railway.

Providing breathtaking scenery and an adrenaline-filling ride, the Cog Railway is a great activity for visitors of all ages. It’s something every New Englander should do in their lives.

There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make the attraction so wonderful. Here is everything you need to know about a ride on the Cog Railway.

A Short History of The First Mountain-Climbing Railway

If you want to fully appreciate your ride up the famous Cog Railway, it helps to have some knowledge of the history of the train. The first thing to know about the Cog Railway is that it is history-making. The Cog Railway is the first mountain-climbing train in the world, the second steepest, and the first Cog system in the United States!

The first opened in 1869, right after the end of the US Civil War. The first owner and operator, a local named Sylvester Marsh, decided to build the railway as a safer way for everyone to experience the beauty of Mt. Washington.

In order to operate the train, Marsh needed a charter from the New Hampshire state legislature. He applied and was laughed at and considered insane. No such feat had ever been accomplished, and legislators assumed that, even if Marsh could do it, it wouldn’t be a successful enterprise.

However, the state granted him the charter, arguing that, at worst, the state wouldn’t be liable for the failure, and at best, it would attract new tourists and money to the state. In 1869, the train reached the summit and has escorted thousands of tourists to the top of Mt. Washington ever since.

While criticized by some as environmentally damaging (the train is exempt from New Hampshire’s air quality laws), the “Cog”, as it is referred to by locals, has a strong Granite State legacy that lives on.

Getting to Mt. Washington and The Cog Railway

In order to enjoy your ride on the Cog Railway, you first need to get there! The Cog Railway, since it goes up the tallest mountain in the North East, is in a pretty remote area of New Hampshire. Getting there isn’t always the easiest.

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Mt. Washington isn’t heavily settled since it’s located squarely within both the White Mountain National Forest and the Mount Washington State Park. The mountain itself falls within Sargent’s Purchase, an unincorporated township in Coös County (pronounced CO-OS). The closest destination in the area is the town of Bretton Woods.

To get there, most people take I-93 through Franconia Notch to Twin Mountain. Then, follow Route 302E to Bretton Woods, and the station’s road is marked by an old locomotive train.

Drive your car six miles along the road, and you will find the station. If you are coming from the West, take Route 302W to Bretton Woods. GPS often makes mistakes in navigating to the Cog Railway, but you can try inputting “3168 Base Station Rd, Mount Washington, NH 03589, United States”.

Once you are in the area of the Cog Railway and Bretton Woods, however, there is plenty to do! The towns of Lincoln, Bretton Woods, Jackson, North Conway, and Gorham are all within about 45 minutes, offering plenty of lodging, food, shopping, and other activities.

If you don’t want to get lost on your way here, you can always book a guided experience with a hotel pickup from some neighboring towns.

You can also choose to spend a day or two in these lovely offbeat towns and enjoy the mountain air and laid-back atmosphere.

Hotels in Lincoln
South Mountain ResortLaunchpoint LodgeVillage of Loon Mountain – VI

Hotels in Bretton Woods
Omni Mount Washington ResortOmni Bretton Arms Inn at Mount Washington Resort

Hotels in Jackson
Inn at JacksonThe Inn at Thorn HillChristmas Farm Inn and Spa

Hotels in Gorham
Quality Inn & SuitesTown & Country Inn & ResortTop Notch Inn

Hotels in North Conway
Cranmore InnComfort Inn & SuitesStonehurst Manor

Preparing For Your Ride

When you do make it to the Cog Railway and have enjoyed the activities in the area, you’ll want to take some time to prepare to actually ride the train! Most lodging options are between 10 and 45 minutes away from the station, so be sure to leave plenty of time in advance in order to get there.

When planning to arrive, you should also try and arrive at least 45 minutes before your train is set to depart. The train begins loading guests 15 minutes prior to departure, but you’ll also want to spend time at the base exploring the museum, browsing the gift shop, and utilizing the food court and restrooms. There are no restrooms on the train, so be sure to use the facilities prior to riding.

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Additionally, while you can purchase tickets on the same day, you’ll want to purchase tickets in advance online. The railway does take reservations, and trains often sell out before they are set to depart. Seats are also assigned, so if you want to sit with your loved ones, purchase tickets in advance!

Tickets range in price from $72 to $86 for adults depending on the season. There is a discount for both children and seniors. Additionally, if you are buying tickets for a large group (over 20 people), you can get reduced prices.

The Ride Up And Down Mt. Washington

Now that you’ve arrived and have purchased tickets, it’s time for your actual ride up and down the Cog Railway! This is the easiest part of the trip as a visitor, and the most exciting. But, if you’re scared of heights, know that this might not be the best for you!

The ride up the Cog Railway uses one of two different kinds of trains: a steam engine and a biodiesel engine. While this doesn’t seem all that significant, this actually has a big impact on your ride. The diesel engine can push to the top of the mountain in about 45 minutes, while the steam engine takes longer because it needs to stop for more water!

On the ride, you’ll receive a quick history of the region, the train, and what you’ll be seeing along the way. You’ll pass a few structures on the side and will eventually break out above the trees to breathtaking views of the Mt. Washington Valley.

The train operates at all times of the year, but only in the summer are you able to get out and do a tour of the summit and its facilities. A trip any time of year is definitely worth it, but in the summer, it’s so much better!

Depending on the season, you’ll also see different things. In the fall, you’ll see amicable foliage, in the summer, you’ll see friendly hikers making the steep ascent, and in the winter, you’ll see the beauty of the mountain in the snow!

The Summit Experience

Once you’ve enjoyed the exciting ride up the mountain, during the summers, you’ll have an opportunity to get out and explore the highest point in the Northeast. While the area around the base of the summit is fairly remote, you’ll find the summit to be bustling with all kinds of activity.

There are two major buildings on the summit, these are the Tip Top House and the Sherman Adams Building.

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The Tip Top House is a former hotel and newspaper printing office built on the summit of the mountain in 1853. Today, the Tip Top House is on the National Registry of Historic Places and serves as a tourist destination only.

The more recent Sherman Adams Building, alternatively, houses a visitor center with a museum, a cafeteria, restrooms, gift shops, and the Mt. Washington Observatory.

You’ll have the chance to walk outside on the balcony, take photos at the summit marker, and enjoy the beauty and fresh air of the White Mountains.

While you’re up there, you might also see a small parking lot and a number of historical markers. The parking lot is part of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, a small road you can use to drive up the mountains.

The markers depict a number of different things but often serve as a memorial for some who died on the mountain (there have been over 150 deaths on the mountain).

While you’re up there, be prepared for some cold weather. Even in the summer, Mt. Washington can have shockingly cold temperatures, with snowfall happening as late as July! Bring a jacket and a warm neck scarf, and remember you’ll be at the summit for about an hour.

Sharing The Mountain With Others

Now that you’re ready for your trip up the Cog Railway, there is one more important thing you should know. Mt. Washington, as you will soon find, is a beautiful place that should be preserved for all. As a result, locals and tourists alike are trying to do everything in their power to keep the mountain healthy.

There are many people that ride the Cog, drive the Autoroad, or hike the mountain. Thousands of tourists also means lots of trash, traffic, and the potential to damage the delicate environment. There are some plants only ever found on Mt. Washington that can be destroyed with one false step.

While you’re up there, please be respectful of others. Follow directions from staff, pick up trash, and be polite to those you see. Everyone is trying to enjoy a wonderful day, so don’t be the person who takes away from the experiences of others! Share the mountain and help keep the beautiful place that is our home safe for generations to come!


Riding Mt. Washington Cog Railway is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone to enjoy. Before going, learn about the history so you can fully appreciate your time on the mountain. Be sure to get there with plenty of time, and purchase your tickets in advance.

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Be sure to take pictures and enjoy your time both on the train and the summit, and be respectful of others.

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