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The Mount Washington Cog Railway is equal parts relaxing scenic train ride, mountain top adventures, STEAM education and all around family fun. Located in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, the Cog Railway takes passengers to the top of Mount Washington. White Mountain National Forest is celebrating 100 years as “the people’s forest” attracting millions of visitors to hike, camp, climb, ski and adventure every year. There are tons of activities for families across New Hampshire, but the concentration of family fun and adventure surrounding White Mountains is epic. You cannot visit the White Mountains without paying a visit to Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the North East and part of the Presidential Range. Many people hike the Presidential Range which includes part of the Appalachian Trail, but the extreme wether conditions do not make it accessible for all families. There are two ways for families to easily get to the observatory at the top: Cog Railway and Auto Road. Because we are a STEAM powered family we were very interested in learning more about the history and technology of the Cog Railway. The Mount Washington Cog Railway was the first mountain climbing cog railway in the world and, with the addition of their biodiesel engines, is currently the only remaining Cog Railway in the United States.
The drive to Cog Base Station from the south takes you through some of the White Mountain National Forest. It was hard to resist pulling over and exploring the beautiful surroundings, but the Cog Railway runs on timed tickets and we did not want to be late. (If you want to plan adventures for before or after check out the Recreation page on the White Mountain National Forest website.) Parking at the Marshfield Base Station is free, but getting there can be tricky if you use a GPS since many of them take you to the top of Mount Washington using the Auto Road instead of to the Marshfield Base Station. Use the address or directions from the Cog Railway website to ensure your arrival.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway is a well oiled machine (pun intended). Everything is well organized and family friendly. There are restrooms at the bottom and top, but not during the hour long train ride so plan accordingly. Roundtrip the Cog Railway adventure takes about 3 hours (1 hour up, 1 hour at the top and 1 hour down). The tickets are easy to purchase online or over the phone (603-278-5404) to pick up at the Base Station. Make sure you purchase in advance so they don’t sell out before you get there. There are rarely closures or cancelations due to strong winds, but this is less of a concern during the summer months. Keep in mind there are two types of engines: the original steam engine and the new biodiesel engine which uses less resources to run. While there is no huge difference in the experience as a novice rider, some train enthusiasts prefer one over the other. Plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before your train leaves, but we think 1 1/2 to 2 hours is best. Tickets must be picked up 30 minutes before departure and the seating is first come first serve so line up out on the platform early. The free museum and gift shop are a fun place to spend time before or after your ride.
The free museum on the upper level of the base station is a great introduction to the Cog Railway. I highly suggest planning about an hour there before your ride if possible. The Cog Railway has a very interesting history. It is so hard to imagine the enormity of the project given the technology at the time of it’s creation in 1869. There was essentially a town formed to support the process of constructing the Cog Railway. The conditions of the construction are also hard to fathom. We were blown away by the Devils Shingle the workers rode down the tracks at speeds of up to 60 mph.
The museum offers interactive exhibits, a train simulator, screening of Climbing to the Clouds documentary, historic displays, new biodiesel technology exhibit and more. The celebration of technology at the Cog Railway is well deserved as the first mountain climbing Cog Railway, the use of solar-powered track switches, the advanced on-board computers and the onsite design and building of biodiesel locomotives. The two families who own the Cog Railway are dedicated to preserving the history while upgrading the technology and experience both on the track and off. The future at the Cog Railway is just as exciting as the history!
While you wait to board your train you can watch the other engines coming and going. You’ll notice the brake men and engineers, who are busy working, are all dressed in throwback fashion. All of the employees are very helpful and knowledgeable (not to mention passionate) about the Cog Railway so feel free to unleash your questions. On the ride up try to sit as close to the entrance as possible on the side opposite of the station (first seats on the right as you enter are the best!). As you make your way up the mountain the ravine is visible off the left side of the train offering spectacular views. Your brakeman will narrate the ride offering a wealth of knowledge on the history of the Cog Railway, the local landmarks and a little about the unique ecosystems of Mount Washington. On the ride down the engine is the front and the brake man is breaking making it a more quiet and scenic ride. Both ways our little ones loved looking out the windows, looking for moose, having some snacks, asking millions of questions (most we were able to answer, thanks to the museum visit before the ride) and playing silly games together.
Our only complaint about the experience was the hour at the top. Time flew by and we had very little time in the Extreme Mount Washington museum. This was partly due to the age of our children. When traveling with 3 kids 5 and under we move at a slower pace than other people. Our kids enjoyed being at the top and exploring the historic Tip Top House. The Mount Washington sign is a nice place to take a family picture. The day we rode the Cog Railway the top was in the clouds so there were no view to speak of at the top. We were not disappointed though, because the views on the way up were spectacular! There is food and warm drinks for anyone who needs to refuel before leaving. There is even a post office where you can send a post card with the Mount Washington postal stamp. There is enough to keep kids (& adults) engaged and exploring up top for more than hour which just means we can’t wait to visit again!
The Mount Washington Cog Railway usually runs from May until October with trains leaving every hour. Tickets for Biodiesel are $41 for Children (4-12), $72 for Adults (13-64) and $68 for seniors (65+). Tickets for Steam are $41 for Children (4-12), $78 for Adults (13-64) and $72 for seniors (65+). **Children Age 3 and Younger Ride Free if Seated on Adults Lap**
Mount Washington Cog Railway
3168 Base Station Rd
Mount Washington, NH 03575