Last Updated on February 23, 2023 by Lori
Have you been to the top of Mount Washington? If you’re looking for a fun adventure to the top of Mount Washington, then you will love riding the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the top of the summit!
The Mt. Washington Cog Railway Train Ride
When we were planning our visit to the White Mountain area, the one activity both my husband and I wanted to do was to take the Cog Railway to the top of Mount Washington!
We both wanted to be able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery instead of my husband driving up the Mount Washington Auto Road and having to concentrate on the road and missing all the beautiful views!
The Cog Railway did not disappoint!
How Long Does The Cog Railway Take To Reach The Summit?
The White Mountain Cog Railroad is a 3-Hour Round Trip train ride taking passengers to the summit of Mount Washington.
At the top of the summit, visitors have approximately one (1) Hour to explore the Visitors Center, The Tip Top House, and take in the breathtaking views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains before taking the train back down the mountain.
We loved taking the railway to the summit because not only did we learn about the history of the railway, but we loved hearing the stories about the railroad workers and information about Mount Washington itself.
We can honestly say that it is one of the world’s great rail adventures!
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The first time my husband and I visited the Mount Washington area was some 20 years ago when we took the kids up the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington in a shuttle van.
As a kid, my husband’s father drove the family to the summit of Mount Washington. The family proudly displayed the “I climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker on his car!
Visiting the top of Mount Washington was such a great experience that we wanted to see how taking the Cog Railway to the summit house might give us a different experience.
I’ve put together some important tips that we found helpful on our visit to the State of New Hampshire, so I’m passing them along to you in hopes that you find them helpful in planning your own trip!
Tips For Planning A Trip On The Mount Washington Railway Company
Tip #1 – Make sure you’re on the CORRECT side of the Mountain!
Remember — The Entrance to the Cog Railway is on the OTHER side of Mount Washington and is different from the entrance to where you enter the Mount Washington Auto Road Tour to DRIVE up the mountain!
Luckily, I saw that little blurb on the map I happened to pick up at our campground – Fransted Family Campground.
Directions and Map Of The Cog
Tip #2 – Cell service is spotty – Bring a Map
Good thing we had a trusty ‘ole map too! We pulled over to check the map because cell service does not work in this area of the White Mountain National Forest!
We finally decided to continue straight on Rt. 302 and it’s a good thing we did!
It seemed as if we were driving on Rt. 302 forever before we finally saw the sign!
Best Time To Visit Mt Washington Cog Railway
The brochure strongly suggested making a reservation and to arrive 45 minutes before the scheduled train.
The last train of the day is at 3:30 p.m. Since it was mid-week, and we hadn’t made a reservation, we decided to “wing it”.
That being said —- If you want to go on a weekend during the summer, I highly suggest making a reservation!
For a mid-week in August, the ticket booth was very busy! We arrived around 11:30 a.m. hoping to get on the 12:30 train.
Tip #3 – Pack a Picnic Lunch!
That morning, we left the campground for a scenic ride along the Kancamagus Highway.
Our plan was to leisurely drive the beautiful scenic highway, stopping at all the turnoffs along the way and just taking our time until we made our way to the Cog Railway.
Since we didn’t really have a time schedule, I packed a picnic lunch to eat at one of the stop-offs or any place we saw that might make a nice picnic area.
We were so happy we had that lunch because the restaurants in North Conway were packed!
Even the drive through North Conway was slow and I’m sure trying to find a place to park, then eat, might have been impossible!
Tip #4 – Get a 10% AAA Discount off the ticket price to the Mount Washington Cog Railway!
We walked downstairs to the ticket counter and I saw the sign – We offer AAA & Military Cog Railway Discounts.
I pulled out my AAA card and was so happy to have saved on our Cog Railway tickets.
How Much Do Cog Railway Tickets Cost?
Mt. Washington Cog Railway offers Discounted Tickets for Children, Seniors, and Military Personnel
Visitors have the option of taking the Coal-Fired Steam Locomotive (first and last trips of the day) to the summit, or the Biodiesel Locomotives which run on the hour every hour.
Find out more about schedules and fares on The Cog Railway Website.
Tip #5 – The entire Mount Washington Cog Railway trip takes three (3) hours
Boarding the train, a 40-minute ride up to the top, one hour at the top, boarding the train and ride back down to the station.
We were able to purchase tickets for the 12:30 train (as we had hoped) and then went back out to the truck to have our lunch.
The ticket agent said to begin to line up about 1/2 hour before boarding so after lunch we went back downstairs to the viewing platform. There is a very nice gift shop and a small museum at the train station to pass the time too!
We didn’t know that there were very nice picnic tables by the platform where we could have sat and eaten enjoying the view! (see the red umbrellas below?)
Watching as the Cog trains came down the mountain was fun!
We were both curious – Just how do the Cog Trains get up Mt. Washington?
Soon the biodiesel engine trains began to pull into the station.
Finally, our train stopped at Platform B!
Trivia About The Cog Railway
The Cog Railway was built in 1869 and is considered:
1. A National Historic Engineering Landmark
2. The World’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway
3. The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the only Cog Railway east of the Rockies
There is also an Interactive Cog Railway Museum at the Base.
Things we learned during our Cog Railway Experience:
(Of course, I took notes during our train ride! These are some of the things I wrote down to share with you!)
If you’re wondering just how the train gets up the mountain – we did too!
How Does The Cog Railway Work?
- There are 2.8 miles of track built entirely on a wooden trestle.
- On top of the trestle, are two light steel rails, and in the center of the rails is a rack.
- The locomotive engine and vintage passenger cars are equipped with cog gear that engages the toothed rack strip in the middle of the tracks, providing the necessary force to move the train up the steep ascent of the mountain.
- The engine is geared down to attain the power needed and pushes the car up the track.
Is The Mount Washington Cog Railway Safe?
After boarding the railway, we were assured by the Engineer that The Cog Railway has an excellent safety record and is regularly inspected by The Department of Transportation.
The Brakemen and Engineers are highly trained in safety standards so there was no need to worry if the ride up the steepest railroad trestle to the top is safe.
When we boarded the train, the first thing we noticed was that the seats were pitched forward. We were curious as to why this happened.
- With an average grade of 25% and the steepest grade of 37.41%, the seats are pitched forward to maintain a comfortable position for passengers.
- The people in front will be 14 ft. higher than the passengers in the back.
- When the train reaches the top, the seats are flipped over so the passengers are facing forward and not riding backwards down the mountain!
- The engine is then geared down so that the car carrying the passengers can safely make it down the mountain.
- The train travels up the mountain at 5 mph always keeping a safe distance from the train in front of them.
Why Are The Cog Railway Tracks Numbered?
Another fascinating tidbit of information was about the tracks themselves.
Can you see the numbers on the tracks?
The weather on Mt. Washington can change in an instant!
The numbered tracks help the engineer know where he is at all times as well as how far to keep his distance from the train in front of him in case he can’t see due to the weather.
If he should break down, he can relay his exact location by the numbered tracks.
Other tidbits of information learned from the Cog Railway Conductor:
- There are 100 days on the mountain that have hurricane-force winds. The average rainfall is 90 inches.
- At 5,000 feet – you will no longer see trees. The severity of the weather causes the trees to not survive.
- There are six (6) Cog trains used today that were built right in that location.
Soon, we saw the Mount Washington Welcome Center at the top!
When we reached the Summit of Mount Washington, we had to stop for a selfie!
The views that day from the top of Mount Washington, unfortunately, were cloudy but made for some beautiful photos!
We waited in line to take our photo at the infamous Mt. Washington Summit sign!
Tip #6 – Head to the Mt. Washington Summit sign when you first get off the train or you will wait in line to get this photo!
In this photo, you can see the number of cars driving up Mount Washington Auto Road as well as the train going back down the mountain. You can see the clouds rolling in…
We also visited The Tip Top House, which was built in 1854 and is the oldest surviving building on top of Mt. Washington. It was once a hotel for hikers.
The Tip Top House depicts the bunkroom, dining room, kitchen, and period furnishings.
Soon, it was time to board the Cog Railway to head back down the mountain!
Tip #7 – Sit on the opposite side of the train so you can see a different view!
The views were amazing!!! This time we saw hikers – of all ages hiking down the mountain.
The conductor told us that hikers create towers of rocks to mark the trail to help other hikers in bad weather.
Why We Enjoyed Our Trip On The Cog Railway
One of the reasons we enjoyed our trip on the Cog Railway is that during the trip, the conductor told stories about the railroad workers, how the train was built, and how one time they experienced the worst weather where the wind had whipped up to over 90 mph when the train reached the top and they couldn’t let the passengers out of the train!
When we got back in the truck, we both said that we were happy that we decided to take the Cog Railway to the top of Mt. Washington!
For us, the train ride was relaxing, we enjoyed the stories the conductor told and we didn’t have to worry about driving to the top. If it’s not a clear day and you are nervous about driving up the Northeast’s highest peak, riding the Cog Railroad might be a safer way for you to visit the summit of Mount Washington!
Have you been to the top of Mount Washington?
Let me know if you hiked, drove, took the shuttle vans, or took the Cog Railway!
Thank you for all the information. My husband and I are going to ride the train in September. You gave me some great hints.
Hi Debbie! Thank you! Have a great time!