Driving up this iconic peak in the Presidential Range is a unique and exhilarating experience, offering breathtaking views as the road meanders through the various ecological zones it passes while ascending Mount Washington.
The short but spectacular drive up Mount Washington takes around 30 minutes to complete the 7.6-mile journey. Passing through lush forests and alpine landscapes, the route is not for the fainthearted, but the rewards at the summit are unforgettable.
The views from the summit of Mount Washington guarantee it's always popular with visitors, with over 400,000 making the summit trip every year. Continue reading to discover more about what a trip up the mountain involves, how to get there, and some helpful tips to make your adventure as enjoyable as possible.
How long does it take to drive up Mount Washington?
The drive up Mount Washington begins in Glen House and the 7.6-mile ascent of the mountain along the Mount Washington Auto Road can be completed in 30 minutes.
However, you won't want to drive the route without stopping off at the various pullouts to savor the stunning views and venture along the trailheads, exploring the glorious wilderness on foot.
Madison Gulf is a popular stop along the route, where you can also access the Appalachian Trailhead, allowing you to walk part of this iconic route and view Mount Washington from a different perspective.
Come prepared if you are exploring the mountain trails as the extreme weather conditions are renowned. The mountain holds the record for the highest-ever wind speed recorded, reaching an incredible 231 MPH in 1934.
Chandler Ridge Overlook is also a popular place to stop and take in the views over Chandler Ridge and the Alpine Gardens, home to various plant species found predominantly in the White Mountains and arctic regions much further north.
Once at the summit, you can visit the Sherman Adams Visitor Center, home to the Mount Washington Observatory, along with a cafe and gift shop. On a clear day, the views are unparalleled, stretching over 130 miles as far as New York, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean.
With much to see and do along the journey, it is well worth allowing the best part of a day to fully enjoy Mount Washington.
If you'd like to learn more about driving up Mount Washington, here is our comprehensive guide.
Driving on the Mount Washington Auto Road
The Mount Washington Auto Road begins as soon as you leave NH-16 at Glen House, and you'll cross Peabody River before arriving at Mount Washington Toll House.
This is a good opportunity to visit the nearby hideaway gift shop, an ideal place to grab a souvenir, and also visit the restroom before beginning the ascent of Mount Washington.
The road begins at 2,032 feet and gains over 4,250 feet in elevation over the 7.6-mile journey to the summit. This means it is steep in places and as it winds its way up the mountain, the road can narrow so it's a good idea to stop for a break and admire the views.
There are no guardrails and some steep drop-offs, and with only one route to the top, it's important to keep an eye out for drivers descending from the summit who may be looking to pull over and give their brakes a chance to cool off.
As you start the ascent, the route zig-zags and passes the renowned Appalachian Trail before climbing to Chandler Ridge and a sharp hairpin at Cragway, continuing past Wamsutta Trailhead and the Alpine Garden, 1,000 feet below the summit.
The route continues past Mount Washington Helipad before arriving at the summit car park, at a height of 6,288 feet.
Traffic along the route will be busier during peak season and at weekends, and with more drivers on the road, it is important to stay alert at all times. The number of vehicles allowed on the mountain can be limited in order to manage traffic flow and ensure visitor safety.
You may experience tailbacks at the Toll House, and popular overlooks can be crowded and parking spots at a premium.
Driving the route from late June to September offers a better chance of reliable weather, although at high altitudes, this is never guaranteed. If the weather does take a turn for the worse, especially in high winds, the road may be temporarily closed until conditions improve.
Where is Mount Washington located?
Mount Washington is located in the beautiful mountainous region of New Hampshire in the northeast of the US. Although the drive up the mountain itself is only a short, yet thrilling drive, if you have traveled from afar to visit the summit, you may wish to spend the night and explore the area further.
There is accommodation available close to the start of Mount Washington Auto Road, giving the option of staying the night before or after the drive to the top of the highest mountain in the region.
If you are considering a trip to Mount Washington, our table below gives an idea of travel times from around the US.
|Gorham, NH||8 miles||10 minutes|
|Boston, MA||185 miles||3 hours|
|Montreal, QC, Canada||190 miles||3 hours 30 minutes|
|Albany, NY[/td-subtext]||260 miles||4 hours 30 minutes|
|Hartford, CT||270 miles||4 hours 30 minutes|
|Washington, DC||590 miles||10 hours 50 minutes|
|Cincinnati, OH||970 miles||14 hours 40 minutes|
Things to know that can impact your driving time
Weekends and holidays are peak times when traffic will be at its busiest. You can expect delays because of traffic as drivers combat the ascent and descent.
The road hosts several events throughout the year, ranging from the annual Minis on Top where MINI Coopers make the drive, the Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race, and the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. All of these will affect your ability to make the journey.
Weather conditions can change rapidly at altitude. If you're unfortunate and arrive when snow, ice, fog, or wind are making the journey dangerous, you can expect delays or even closures.
The road is closed to private vehicles during the winter months. However, from December to March, a SnowCoach journeys along a section of the road so you can still venture up the mountain.
If the weather is bad, or the road is too busy, there'll be delays at the Toll House before starting your journey up the mountain. There can also be delays at narrow points in the road where only one vehicle can pass.
At popular overlooks, there's often traffic as people attempt to park. Do drive safely and be courteous to other drivers at all times.
Tips to drive up Mount Washington in the shortest possible time
Driving up the Mount Washington Auto Road is a unique experience that is not often experienced by road. It's important to arrive prepared for any weather and with a full tank of fuel. If you do happen to break down on the mountain, assistance could be several hours away.
With this in mind, here are our top tips for driving the route in the most comfortable way:
- Remember, the road is steep, narrow, and without guardrails. Do not attempt the drive if you're afraid of heights.
- If you'd prefer, join a 2-hour guided tour to save you from driving.
- There's also the Mount Washington Cog Railway if you'd rather avoid the road altogether.
- In summer, they run Sunrise and Sunset Drives. Although this is by tour, you can also drive yourself as early as 4am for the Sunrise Drive so you can watch the sunrise from the Northeast's highest peak. This is often a quieter time to make the drive.
- Check the official website for the latest conditions and operating hours.
- Make sure your vehicle is in good condition, especially important to check the brakes.
- On the descent, stop to give your brakes a chance to cool down.
- Also, when driving downhill, if your vehicle has a manual transmission, use a low gear for control and reduce the need for braking.
- The general etiquette on the road is to yield to uphill traffic.
- Avoid weekends and holidays when there's likely to be more traffic.