If you have a stomach for heights — and curvy roads without guardrails — then a drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road needs to be on your agenda. (Otherwise, listen to the sign at the base of the mountain that warns “If you are afraid of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.”) Fortunately, there are only a few spots on the climb that might make your heart leap — like when you have to edge by other cars on narrow sections of the road — but the views are well worth overcoming slight anxieties.
The drive should take you about 20 minutes each way. You’ll pay a $25 fee for the car and driver, plus $8 per additional adult, plus $6 per child, to be able to drive the toll road to its peak. With your entrance fee, you’ll receive an excellent CD audio tour filled with fascinating stories, history and legends about the mountain and its winding road. Kids will be entranced listening to the tales of horse-drawn carriages ascending the mountain more than a century ago. Even more entertaining are the accounts of car races up and down the mountain — during which some fearless drivers would take the hairpin, cliff-side turns at more than 80 mph!
Once you reach the top, admire the views and check out the historic Summit House, which was once a hotel. It still has some dining tables, cookware and bunkbeds to show what the rustic lodging was like in the 19th century.
A small museum at the top details some of the incredible weather conditions at the peak. In 1934, the weather observatory recorded winds at a record-breaking 231 mph. The kids might get a kick out of their video of someone trying to enjoy a meal outside on a deck on a particularly blustery day, his Wheaties, milk and coffee blowing away in the frigid wind before ever landing in his cereal bowl and mug.
It’s important to bring an extra layer of clothing, as well as a windbreaker or rain jacket, if you do plan to get out of your car at the top of Mt. Washington. Even if it’s sunny, warm and humid at the base of the mountain, it’s bound to be at least a few degrees cooler when you’re thousands of feet up in elevation.
If you want to drive the Mt. Washington Auto Road during the fall, put it on your agenda sooner rather than later. The road typically closes the third week of October, due to unpredictable, potentially snowy weather at the top. Another option for winter visitors to Mt. Washington: a nifty Snow Coach that takes passengers up part of the mountain from December through March. Ride up in a comfy, warm vehicle, then opt to snowshoe or cross-country ski on the way down!