After visiting The Flume, it was time for some lunch before our scheduled trip up Mount Washington. It turned out nothing much was open on the drive from Franconia Notch to the nearby Crawford Notch, so we ended up getting some cafeteria-style fare at Marshfield Station, the base of the Cog Railway. They’d run out of ketchup for the season, but somehow we made do.
After our gourmet feast of stuff that had surely been frozen for months, we were ready to head up the mountain. You can hike it if you’re feeling adventurous and prepared for all types of weather, but we planned on the easier option, the Mount Washington Cog Railway. 2019 was the 150th anniversary of the railway’s opening, but it’s certainly come a long way since then. Sylvester Marsh, who came up with the idea, was seen as a crazy person at the time, who “might as well build a railway to the moon.” As you can see, he proved the haters wrong. Get it, Sylvester!
Trains are regularly coming and going to and from the summit, so we had to wait for our turn. Not a bad view, even from the base! To be fair, Marshfield Station is already at an elevation of 2,700 feet (823 meters).
Even the trains are picture-perfect.
Most of the trains now run on biodiesel, but you can pay extra to take the steam train up for the first and last trips of the day if you want the old-fashioned experience. When I visited with my parents and brother more than a decade ago, all the trains were still powered by coal, so it’s great they’ve made steps toward being more environmentally friendly.
All seated, we started our ascent. The trip to the 6,288 foot (1,917 meter) summit of Mount Washington takes about an hour, with fantastic views along the way. You’re free to move about the train for most of it, even stepping out on to the front deck, except for the part of the journey where the gradient gets a bit steep.
When we stopped to let another train pass on its way down, it was the perfect time to step out onto the viewing deck for a photo.
You can lower the windows as well, though it started getting progressively chillier as we climbed higher. Didn’t stop me from leaning out briefly!
The fading foliage decked the hills with oranges and browns, far into the distance.
As we neared the summit, rime ice covered everything. While at first it resembles snow, it’s actually frost caused by the rapid freezing of water vapor in clouds or fog. Since Mount Washington is known for wild weather, it’s no surprise that cloud cover leads to this beautiful frosting.
If you’re wondering how wild the weather gets, many hikers have sadly perished on these slopes and an average of 200 rescues are performed each year. The Mount Washington Weather Observatory has recorded 231 mph (372 kph) winds and temperatures down to -47 F (-44 C). Luckily for us, we weren’t there on a day anywhere close to those extremes.
It was still pretty chilly, though! Even the signs were covered in rime ice.
We joined the line to pose with the summit sign.
The frosty terrain and jagged rocks above the tree line contrasted sharply with the rolling golden hills of New Hampshire unfolding beneath us.
From the observation deck, we had a great view of the colorful Cogs heading back down the mountain. With a bright red car on the summit road, a perfect photo op presented itself.
Yes, you can also drive to the summit, so there are plenty of people that take that route. You can even get bumper stickers that say “this car climbed Mount Washington” which are seen everywhere. I’m still not sure why that’s supposed to be an accomplishment, but hey, good on you car.
The frosty observation deck provided incredible views from every angle.
In this next one, you can spot three trains headed down the mountain.
We had about an hour at the summit, but after battling the wind and numb fingers to get photos, we retreated into the summit building to defrost for a bit with some hot chocolate and apple cider.
Before our train was due back, I popped out to explore a little more.
I like this one of Aidan and Tran in the distance, alongside the icy tracks.
This is the spot where the summit road ends, just beneath the train tracks.
Rime ice covered everything in sight.
Even the coin-operated telescope wasn’t immune, but I think it looks rather beautiful. You can tell which direction the wind comes from!
With one last long look at the view, it was time to head back down the mountain.
The chairs in each car are reversible, so when the train drops its passengers off at the top, they’re just flipped to make them ready for the next load of passengers going back down. Very handy!
As we descended, we passed the steam train coming up on the last journey of the day.
When we’d disembarked at the bottom, it was still visible, chugging up, up, up.
We’re so lucky to have had such a clear day, with even the observatory visible from below, and no clouds in sight.
After an action-packed several hours, we were more than ready for a relaxed evening. We headed to the gorgeous Mount Washington Hotel for some cocktails and an incredible dinner.
The hotel dates back to 1902 and always reminds me a bit of The Shining. Lots of weddings and events are held here, and it’s near Bretton Woods, a ski resort that my family and I have been to a couple times. We’ve taken a sleigh ride on the grounds in the winter and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Having found some cozy seats, we settled in to enjoy our delicious drinks before dinner.
The setting sun gilded the White Mountains in the distance, with great views of Mount Washington itself. You can make out the gap in the trees where the Cog Railway runs, on the far left of this next photo.
I wouldn’t mind sitting around that fire!
After a full day and with full stomachs, we headed back to our Airbnb on dark, winding roads, from one notch to another. The next morning, we sadly had to say goodbye to our gorgeous spot by the river. Luckily, we were distracted with the thought of delicious pancakes as we drove to breakfast at the famous Polly’s Pancake Parlor. Yum! As one last stop before we parted ways with Aidan and Tran, we stopped by The Basin.
Near The Flume, the basin also features rocks carved by water and time, but on a smaller scale and without an entry cost!
It’s such a beautiful spot, and well worth a stop along the highway.
This is The Basin that gives the place its name.
We took a short hike through the forest and followed our old friend, the Pemigewasset River.
After saying goodbye to Aidan and Tran, who were headed back to Burlington, we hit the road for the drive back to Massachusetts. Andy and I had a great couple days relaxing, drinking wine and playing games with my parents before it was time to head to the Pacific Northwest on our honeymoon.
Stay tuned as we explore Washington, Oregon and San Francisco. 🙂