Wooden sign at the Mount Washington Summit, NH, on a clear day

Can you drive up Mount Washington?

Published by Dianne Titos on January 26 2023

Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the highest peak in the White Mountains and a part of the Presidential Range. The drive to the summit is an incredible experience along America's first man-made attraction and the road has been popular with visitors ever since its construction in 1861.

It takes 30 minutes to drive the 7.6-mile journey up Mt Washington Auto Road to the top of Mount Washington. The route is blessed with viewpoints to fully appreciate the stunning location, and the many excellent hiking trails allow you to explore further.

Famous for its sensational views, extreme weather conditions, and in particular its wind speed, Mount Washington holds the record of the highest windspeed recorded by man, an incredible 231 mph. With its jaw-dropping views spanning five states, and stretching to Canada on a clear day, a drive up to the summit is an unforgettable experience.

Can you drive up Mount Washington?

You can drive up Mount Washington on the Mt Washington Auto Road, and the 7.6-mile ascent takes 30 minutes to complete, not accounting for stops to admire the breathtaking views.

The drive is not for the faint-hearted and drivers and passengers alike will be blown away by the breathtaking scenery, but also the narrow mountain roads, without guardrails, and some steep drop-offs.

The Mt Washington Auto Road begins in Glen House, situated on the NH-16 scenic route, and is easily reachable from major destinations in the US and Canada.

Visiting in the summer months gives a great opportunity to take embrace the great outdoors with many nearby peaks and trails to explore and enjoy hiking, climbing, cycling, horse-riding, and many more outdoor activities. Visiting the area in winter is a must for snow lovers, with Attitash Mountain Resort, Black Mountain, and Wildcat Mountain all offering excellent skiing facilities.

View of White Mountains from Mount Washington, New Hampshire.
Reaching the incredible summit of Mount Washington is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

How to drive up Mount Washington from the base

The drive from Glen House to the summit of Mount Washington is an exhilarating drive climbing over 4,500 feet and is a fantastic driving experience. The route heads off through the White Mountain National Forest and passes the Appalachian Trail and Low's Bald Spot as the road twists and turns its way up the mountain.

The route passes The Horn at around 4 miles and just beyond this is the "Top of the Tour" Snowcoach winter destination, which is an ideal place to stop and take in the view.

The route continues above the treeline along Chandler Ridge before a sharp right-hand turn leads on past Cragway as the road heads upwards past the Alpine Garden before arriving at the summit at 6,288 feet.

How to reach the summit of Mount Washington in winter

Taking the Auto Road up Mount Washington is a seasonal drive and the road is only open for private vehicles between May and November, as in the winter months the weather makes the route impossible. However, all is not lost, there are alternative options to venture a significant way up the Mountain.

The Mt Washington Snowcoach offers narrated tours up Mt Washington Auto Road. It's driven by tracks rather than wheels making light work of the snow-covered road.

Departing from the base of Mt Washington Auto Road, the Snowcoach takes visitors to the "Top of the Tour" at just over 4,200 feet where you'll step out into a winter wonderland looking out over the Great Gulf Wilderness, a perfect photo opportunity.

Mount Washington Auto road in the winter snowy covered mountain road
Take it easy if you journey during the winter months, although the snowy landscapes can be mesmerizing.
Owen Casey/Shutterstock.com

The Snowcoach operates from December to March when the road is closed to private vehicles, and the 4-mile journey up the mountain takes 45 minutes.

Winter sports enthusiasts can opt to make their own way back down the mountain as snowshoes and Nordic skiing are allowed. However, the option to alpine ski or snowboard down to the base is not allowed.

Given the extreme weather conditions that can be experienced, it is essential to dress accordingly when making the trip in winter.

The Washington Cog Railway is available year-round as an alternative way of making your way up the mountain, although it will not take you to the summit in winter. Departing from the base station, the train runs 4 trips daily up to Waumbek Station between January and April.

How long does it take to drive up Mount Washington?

Comparison of distances to Mount Washington
Portland, ME100 miles2 hours 30 minutes
Boston165 miles3 hours
Montreal, Canada190 miles3 hours 20 minutes
New York365 miles6 hours 20 minutes

The drive up Mount Washington on the Mt Washington Auto Road takes around 30 minutes from its starting point at Glen House to the summit. With multiple opportunities to stop and immerse yourself in the magnificent panoramic views, then the journey is likely to take significantly longer.

Mount Washington is located in the White Mountain National Forest, Pinkham Notch, a little over 30 miles north of Conway on the NH-16 scenic route. The Canadian border lies 83 miles to the north just beyond Stewartstown, and it is 93 miles to Portland, Maine on the East Coast which is 2 hours and 30 minutes away.

The Mount Washington Auto Road, near Gorham, New Hampshire.
There are plenty of places to stop on Mt Washington Auto Road as you head towards Mount Washington summit.
Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

How much does it cost to drive up Mount Washington?

You don't need to book in advance to drive up Mount Washington, but you will have to pay a fee for the privilege. This is payable at the Toll House at the base of the mountain, and cash or major credit cards are accepted.

For a car and driver, the fee is $45 at peak times, and $39 at other times. For an adult passenger, the fee is $20 at peak times and $14 at all other times. For children between the ages of 5-12, the fee is $9 and children under 5 can travel for free.

*Calculated at the time of writing

Things you need to know about driving up Mount Washington

The drive from the base to the summit of Mount Washington is only a short drive, but it packs a lot into its 30-minute route, and being prepared is essential before attempting the trip. It is a route that will remain long in the memory and our helpful tips and advice will allow the journey to be as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Here are our top tips when it comes to preparing for a drive up Mount Washington:

  • There are stringent weight and size restrictions in place for cars, vans, and pickups that are allowed to travel up the Mt Washington Auto Road. ATVs, UTVs, and motorcycles can also make the journey.
  • New Hampshire Fire Marshall's Office requires that every visitor wishing to reach the summit has the physical ability to make their own way down from the summit if necessary. Given the severity of the weather at times, evacuating the mountain could involve up to 8 miles of hiking on a steep, snow-covered mountain, in sub-zero temperatures, and being unprepared could have very serious consequences.
  • When descending the mountain, do take advantage of the numerous break cool-off areas. The route can be demanding on vehicles and it is sensible to ease the pressure as much as possible.
  • Do ensure you are fully prepared for the summit weather. It can change very quickly and the wind chill makes it dangerously cold in winter. The highest recorded summit temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit and the lowest is a very chilly -47 degrees. Even in the summer months, it can be cold at the summit so be sure to bring extra layers to enjoy your time at the top even more.
  • Make sure you have adequate fuel for the journey when heading to Mount Washington. And if your vehicle suffers a breakdown on the Mountain, be prepared to wait for assistance to arrive and carry supplies of snacks and water.
  • Mountain weather can change in an instant and checking the forecast before commencing your journey is advisable to check out summit conditions in advance. It would be a shame to reach the top and find it covered in clouds!
Mount Washington in summer with antique cog train track. Viewed from cog train on Mount Washington in White Mountain
Head up on the Mount Washington Cog Railway to enjoy unrivalled views.
Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com

Things to see once you reach Mount Washington

The truly unique drive up Mount Washington is well worth the trip to New Hampshire in itself, but there are plenty of other activities to enjoy and we have included a few of them here:

  1. Mount Washington Cog Railway - Take a ride on the first cog railway to go up a mountain, heading up the western side of Mount Washington reaching 6,288 feet.
  2. Story Land - Theme Park located in Glen, New Hampshire, with rides and entertainment for all the family, from the Polar Coaster to Cinderella's Castle. Meet otters and Atlantic Stingrays at the Living Shores Aquarium.
  3. Mount Washington State Park - Covering 60 acres on the summit of Mt. Washington, offering amazing views as far as New York and Quebec, weather permitting. The visitor center is home to the observatory museum and gift shop. Visit Tip Top House, originally constructed as a hotel, is an excellent reminder of the history of the area and was once the highest mountain inn in the world.
  4. Campton Falls - Take a stroll through local pines to this impressive waterfall as it cascades from the Beebe River through a picturesque gorge.
  5. Eagle's Flight Zip - Fly through the Abyss as you fly hundreds of meters high through Mount Washington's woodland with spectacular views of Mount Washington itself
  6. Wildcat Mountain - Get unrivaled views of Mount Washington from Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch. The resort is popular in winter for skiing and has excellent riding and hiking trails. Ride the wildcat express and reach the summit in under 7 minutes!
  7. Mount Washington Weather Station Tour - Experience what it's like to work on top of a mountain with a guided tour of the summit weather station within the Sherman Adams Visitor Center. Tours are offered to Observatory Members for a donation of $60 annually per household.

A trip up Mount Washington is a drive you will never forget. The extreme weather and heart-racing winding mountain road should be respected, and with so much to enjoy along the way, it's time to get planning for a thrilling mountain experience.