Climbing New Hampshire’s Mount Washington by Train

The hills were alive, but not with the sound of music but more like grey, drizzly clouds and an alpine forest for as far as the eye can see. An in-between season trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire this early November weekend was planned for one reason: to take the train up Mt. Washington. This is the in-between time: after summer and before winter, taking advantage of the quieter roads without dodging the summer tourists, or the winter skiiers. There’s a time for every season, and this was perfect for riding a man-made marvel known as The Cog. The what?

Photo Credit: Mt. Washington Cog Railway

Yes, the Cog, but its official name is the Mount Washington Cog Railway, constructed in the late 1800’s to take advantage of the popularity of rail travel, and in this case, to transport guests to one of two luxurious grand hotels at the Mount’s summit. That was then, this is now. While the train still runs, it brings guests up to amazing panoramic views of the White Mountains and northward to the Canadian border.

Photo by MJ Hanley-Goff

During winter, the train still runs, but tends to terminate at still a healthy 4,000 feet elevation at Waumbek Station. And that’s where we exited the train; the air was crisp and fresh and the slight mist from the clouds felt like an outdoor facial in the works. A woody outdoor fire kept us warm, and staff handed out sticks and marshmallows for roasting in one section, while the covered shack dispensed self-serve hot chocolate and cookies. Sometimes these old-timey traditions still do the trick.  

Come springtime, the train continues higher: the Skyline spot at 5500 feet, or the summit at 6288 feet.  It’s at the summit where guests can get the full Cog experience: having travelled through three climate zones, and a whole hour layover to explore the Visitor Center, observation deck, souvenir store, and The Summit House, a stone hotel (c. 1853), now a state historic site — the famous wooden Mount Washington Summit sign is a popular spot for photos, proving the folks back home you got there.  

Photo Credit: Mt. Washington Cog Railway

So, why this railroad called The Cog, you ask? It’s the manner in which the railroad cars climb up such a steep include. It’s a “sprocket and chain” technique, much like how a bike works, and its official name is “the cog gear and rack.” As the cog turns, the locomotive pulls itself forward. The idea for the railroad itself is as entertaining as the ride: in the late 1850’s goes the tale, Chicago businessman, Sylvester Marsh, decided to hike Mount Washington “for the exercise,” and when a sudden storm appeared at the summit, he hunkered down for the night. Back at ground level, he had the idea to create a way for others to enjoy the summit views just as he had. (For those wanting more of the story, and details on how it was built, there is a short video at the Cog’s ground level visitor’s center.)

Photos courtesy of Bretton Woods Vacations

It’s about a six-hour drive from NYC to The Cog in Carroll, New Hampshire, so an overnight stay was required. We opted for the townhouse rental at Bretton Woods Vacations, less than 10 minutes away from the Cog where after the long and rainy drive, we arrived after dark to a welcoming, roomy, and cozy comfortable oasis with private balcony and patio. A fully equipped modern kitchen with appliances as upscale as one can get – there was even a large cutting board and rolling pin on the counter which only means that while everyone else goes skiing, one of the guests can stay and bake a pie. Gas fireplace with remote control, smart TV, shelves of books to borrow, and three bedrooms and with lots of New England moose-themed items like the stuffed toy moose head on the wall.  

Our location ended up being the perfect spot for having most of what we were looking for so nearby. But for those looking for winter sports, two ski resorts are nearby — Bretton Woods and Cannon — with Littleton, Franconia, Jefferson and Lancaster for supermarket shopping, eateries, and souvenirs. And for a little bit of local history, in the 1770’s King George III granted a large area of the White Mountains to Sir Thomas Wentworth of Bretton Hall, England, hence the popularity of the Bretton name.  

Though grey skies barely left us, we did have some breaks with sun affording my daughter with a few hours of hiking, and me, a few hours of spa-ing. I never had a seaweed wrap so being in such an adventurous environment, scheduled a 3 p.m. service. Afterwards, feeling salty and refreshed, it was time to head for dinner. Before leaving the spa, I had met up with a group of ladies celebrating a 60th birthday, and they suggested the “Rek-lis” Brewery in nearby Bethlehem for dinner.  

Top Photo Credit: Mt. Washington Cog Railway

For more information on The Cog, go to the website. For live webcam views, visit The Cogcam.

For more information on Bretton Woods Vacations visit the Bretton Woods Vacations website.

For winter activities, visit Bretton Woods Winter activities.

About MJ Hanley-Goff (142 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and college essay writing help to students. MJ is thrilled and honored to write for WAT for the amazing adventures it offers, like reviewing concerts, people, authors, events, and tourist attractions in New York, and around the world. “I enjoy drawing attention to the off-the-beaten path kinds of stories,” she says. “It’s great big world out there, with so many talented and creative artists, doers, and thinkers.”