So far on our adventure, we have managed to keep our entertainment budget very well in check by doing primarily free activities. We have paid minimal entrance fees at a couple of state parks, and Will has purchased a fishing license in each state we have stayed in, but other than that, we have not done many traditional tourist activities (partly to save money, mostly due to COVID). However, when we read about the Mount Washington Auto Road, we knew we had to splurge.
The entrance fee was $35 per car and driver and an additional $10 for an adult passenger (Little Bird and Daisy were free). The woman at the toll booth was very helpful, and we received our packet with instructions, our certificate of completion, and our “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker. She also informed us that the temperature at the summit was 48°F and the wind was gusting up to 75 mph. We pulled over to the shop at the entrance and downloaded their accompanying app that told us the story of the road and the mountain as we made our way up and down.
The starting elevation is 1,527 feet, and in the 7.6 miles up the mountain, the road gains an elevation of 4,618 feet to reach the summit at 6,145 feet. Incredibly, the road was completed in 1861 and was traveled by horse and carriage for the first 50 years.
It took us a little over 20 minutes to drive up the road. Although the summit was engulfed in clouds, the majority of the mountain was clear on the way up. We knew that the weather could change in an instant, so we wanted to make our way to the top with plans to stop and sight-see on the way down (and make sure the truck and brakes stayed cool).
Once we reached the parking lot at the top, we bundled up in our winter gear (while strategically opening only one door at a time to limit the wind gusts through the truck), strapped Little Bird to my back, tethered Daisy tightly to her leash, and made our way up several flights of stairs to where the gift shop and visitors center (which is currently closed due to COVID) stand. We followed some hikers beyond these buildings to the actual summit of the mountain for our obligatory photo. I felt a little guilty getting our summit photo after walking only about 100 feet when these folks had put in all the hard work.
At the summit, we were truly among the clouds and they were whipping by. While it was not actually raining, poor Daisy was damp all over from the condensation in the air. Little Bird and I made a quick stop in the gift shop for a postcard and a sticker, then we made our way back to the truck. Even after our short stint outside of the truck, it was not surprising to us to learn that companies who make winter coats and other outdoor apparel test their gear at the summit.
During our short visit at the summit, the weather changed a lot. While we had driven up in nearly clear conditions until close to the very top, we now encountered thick fog for a good portion of the way down. Traffic had also picked up immensely, so we were glad to be ahead of the crowds. They allow ATVs on the road, so we thoroughly enjoyed seeing these visitors driving up the road. If not for traveling with a small child and dog, I know that would have been an incredible way to experience the mountain.
Once the fog lifted, we stopped and took a quick walk to get some photos, then we made our way back down. The views from this overlook were truly breathtaking.
On our way down, the audio tour talked about the race that is held on the mountain every year. The current record for someone driving up the mountain is right around 5 minutes, which means they drove at an average speed of 80 mph. I know for a fact I told Will to slow down on several occasions on our way up and down, and I also know he never exceeded 25 mph, so that fun fact was incredibly terrifying.
We had such a fun time on the Auto Road, and it is something we would highly recommend. I know we would definitely return again in the future to do some additional exploring on the trails along the road and up the mountain and just to soak in the amazing views.