Mount Washington, New Hampshire

If you visit White Mountain National Park, you MUST see Mount Washington. And if you dare, drive it!

One of the most exciting drives besides the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, the Road to the Sky up Mount Washington is a unique experience. The 7.6 mile drive takes about 30 minutes, depending on weather conditions and how good ones nerves are while driving on steep (average of 12% grade), winding, no guardrails road. Dare devils challenged the mountain throughout the years and most recently Travis Pastrana established a record driving time of 5 minutes and 44.72 seconds from the base to the summit.

Our drive started with a peaceful incline, followed tight serpentines, and culminated at 6,288 feet. The weather, notoriously unhospitable, lived up to its reputation and battered visitors with chilly gusts of wind. The average high-temperature for October is 36.3°F (2.4°C), and the average low-temperature is 24.1°F (-4.4°C). We bundled up and took the mandatory photo quickly, then took refuge indoors. The visitor center had more interesting information about the area and provided a good spot for taking photos of the beautiful scenery, without having to brave the cold.

Mt. Washington, or Agiocochook as named by some Native American tribes, is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. On a clear day, views from the summit extend beyond New Hampshire as far as 130 miles to Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean. The mountain is a scientific playground and home of a private observatory. It is the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River and it is famous for its hurricane-strength wind gusts. The temperatures often dip way below freezing, while the wind chills can really seal the deal (often at 50 below zero in the winter months), making Mount Washington “home of the world’s worst weather.” In the spring of 1934, scientists recorded 231 mph gusts of wind, rivaled only by Typhoon Olivia in Australia at 253 mph.

Given the mountain’s inhospitable nature, what would make the most sense to build atop? A hotel! The carriage drive up the mountain was a desirable pastime for people in the 1800s. The adventurous travelers could rest (and change their underpants?) at the Tip-Top House, a hotel built by early settler and business man Ethan Allen Crawford. Although built of stone, it required re-building each spring and was completely destroyed in 1826 by a violent storm.

The drive up the mountain challenged our CRV’s horse power but the drive down challenged our senses. If you want to visit but don’t feel quite up to the thrill of the drive, you can take the cog railway, guaranteed (I think) to stay ON the mountain.

The views from the summit and the explosion of color on display all around us sweetened the deal.

We ended the day with a quick stop at the local farmers market in Gorham, a sweet little old town at the base of the mountain. We chatted with one of the native writers who was selling her mystery books, which she based on the local lure surrounding the many historic turn-of-the-century hotels, most of which burned down.

Mount Washington is definitely a must-see! Even if the weather is best in July, it was worth braving the cold of October to experience the fall colors in the White Mountains.

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