Last Updated on September 11, 2020 by Lori
Have you been to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire? If you’ve been to the top of Mt. Washington before, but 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 Mount Washington Cog Railway
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 mountain and having to concentrate on the road.
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 the summit 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 Cog train, but we loved hearing the stories about the railroad workers and information about the mountain itself.
We can honestly say that it was an awesome experience!
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My husband and I had been to Mt. Washington some 20 years ago when we took the kids to the top in the shuttle van.
When my husband was a kid, his father drove the family to the top. His father then proudly displayed the “I climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker on his car!
So, while we had been to the top of Mount Washington before, taking the Cog Railway gave us a different way to experience the summit.
I’ve put together some important tips that we found helpful along the way, so I’m passing them along to you in hopes that you find them helpful in planning your own trip!
Tips For Planning An Awesome Trip To The Mt. Washington Cog Railroad
Tip #1 – Make sure you’re on the RIGHT side of the Mountain!
Remember — The Entrance to the Cog Railway is on the OTHER side of the mountain from the entrance to where you DRIVE up the mountain!
Luckily, I saw that little blurb on the map I happened to pick up at our campground – Franstead Family Campground.
Tip #2 – Cell service
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!
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!
The brochure strongly suggested to make 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 take our time until we made our way to the Cog Railway.
Since we didn’t really have a time schedule, I packed my husband and me a picnic lunch to eat at one of the stop-offs or anyplace 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 Train (first and last trips of the day) to the summit, or the Biodiesel Train which runs on the hour every hour.
Find out more about schedules and fares on The Cog Railway here
Tip #5 – The entire Mount Washington Cog Railway trip takes three (3) hours
Boarding the train, 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 woman said to begin to line up about 1/2 hour before boarding so after lunch we went back downstairs to the viewing platform.
We didn’t know that there were very nice picnic tables by the platform that we could have sat and eaten enjoying the view! (see the red umbrellas below?)
It was fun to watch as the Cog trains came down the mountain.
We were both curious – Just how do the Cog Trains get up Mt. Washington?
Soon the trains began to pull into the station.
Finally, our train stopped at Platform B!
Trivia About The Cog Railway
Built in 1869, the Cog Railway is:
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
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 Railroad 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 locomotives and cars are equipped with cogs (gears) that engage the toothed rack strip in the middle of the tracks, providing the necessary force to move the train up 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 to the top is safe.
When we boarded the train, we immediately noticed that the seats were pitched forward. We were curious as to why this happens.
- With an average grade of 25% and the steepest grade is 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 itself.
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 breakdown, 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 which 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 Mt. Washington, unfortunately, were cloudy but made for some beautiful photos!
We waited in line to take our photo at the infamous sign!
Tip #6 – Head to the 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 the Mt. Washington Auto Road as well as the train going back down the mountain. You can see the clouds rolling in…
We also went into 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 the 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 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.
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!