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Virtual Visit | The Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Mount Washington Cog Railway, the first mountain-climbing train in the country, has been delighting visitors with stunning views since 1869. Enjoy this virtual spring visit from 2016.

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Please note that attractions and events throughout New England have been closed and/or canceled in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. Please check with individual businesses and event organizers before making travel plans.


Before my destination is even in sight, I can smell it. The sulfuric smell like the world’s biggest cap gun has gone off, followed by the telltale curls of smoke and steam. I’ve just arrived at the base of the — one of New England’s most historic and scenic mountain experiences. As the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, “the Cog” has been carrying passengers to the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington (the Northeast’s highest peak) since 1869, and shows no signs of slowing down.

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Steam engine #2 getting ready to head up Mount Washington as part of the Mount Washington Cog Railway!

Aimee Seavey

What I’m seeing and smelling is one of the Mount Washington Cog Railway’s coal-fired steam locomotives, and it’s an old-fashioned red, black, and yellow beauty, like something out of a drawing in a children’s book. I am instantly enchanted.

The day was a special one for the Cog, in coordination with New Hampshire Public Television. The two had teamed up to produce a documentary on the history of the railway (““) and I would be participating in a special ride to the top, tour of the Mount Washington Observatory, and later, a screening of the documentary at the nearby historic Omni Mount Washington Resort.

I spent a good amount of time in the White Mountains as a child, but had never ridden the Cog before, so I knew this was going to be a real treat — and it sure was.

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Step up and get your tickets for the ride of a lifetime! The Cog was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Aimee Seavey

The Marshfield Base Station just a few miles from the Omni Mount Washington Resort at Bretton Woods is a lovely destination in its own right, located 2,700-feet above sea level and with an on-site restaurant, gift shop, small museum and (free) views of the trains heading up and coming back down. Also on display is outside is Old Peppersass, the first locomotive to reach the summit of Mount Washington on July 3, 1869. The nickname is because it resembled an old pepper sauce bottle.

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Waiting to board the trains on the platform.

Aimee Seavey

The Mount Washington Cog Railway has several trains in its fleet. Some of them, the oldest, are old-fashioned coal-fired steam locomotives. Since 2008, the Cog has also added five biodiesel locomotives, which offer a smoother, cleaner, and faster trip to the summit. The diesel trains are designed and built on-site just for the Cog. They don’t come cheap, but keeping the Cog running and thriving is worth it.

The steam locomotives use a ton of coal, and 1,000 gallons of water to get to the top, and the journey takes an hour (the diesel only about 45 minutes). They have limited runs, usually first thing in the morning, so if you’ve always wanted to experience the sights and smells (and bumps!) of steam, plan your visit accordingly!

For our adventure, we’d be going about halfway up the mountain in one of the steam trains, then unloading and hopping aboard a diesel train for the remainder of the trip.

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Leaving the station in steam train Ammonoosoc with brake man Tom.

Aimee Seavey

It’s hard not to feel like a kid again at the sight of a colorful steam train blowing its whistle under a plume of steam and smoke as it chugs along a winding track, especially when the surrounding landscape is as green and rolling and beautiful as the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Those who love the Cog are indebted to its founder, Sylvester Marsh. Marsh had grown up in Campton, NH but made his fortune in Chicago’s meat-packing industry. After retiring, he returned 网投平台大全 and came up with the idea for the railway, which was always intended for tourists, while climbing (and nearly perishing on) the mountain in 1852. Everyone thought he was crazy (you “might as well build a railway to the moon” he was told), but Marsh was undaunted. He obtained a charter to build the railway in 1858, but thanks to the Civil War, work didn’t begin until 1866. Three years later, the Cog was complete.

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Here we go!

Aimee Seavey

We pulled away from the station, pushed by the chugging steam locomotive (the locomotive and the coach aren’t technically “connected,” making the experience even more exciting) and the adventure began!

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A quick look back at the station.

Aimee Seavey

Inside the locomotive, an engineer mans the locomotive, while another shovels the coal into the flames to keep things moving. It’s a very difficult job, and the staff are the total package — hardworking, passionate, and clearly in love with their jobs. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

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A look back at the engineer hard at work.

Aimee Seavey

It’s hard to not spend the entire ride hanging out the window snapping photos of the mountain’s western slope (which you are both allowed and encouraged to do — but safely!), but just be sure to pull your head in when passing the the Waumbek water tank!

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Even with the fog, it was a beautiful day on Mount Washington.

Aimee Seavey

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Approaching the Waumbek Tank about halfway up the mountain.

Aimee Seavey

And should another train pass you on the opposite side, be sure to wave!

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Waving hello to a passing train headed back down the mountain.

Aimee Seavey

I don’t believe our stop to switch trains halfway up was typical for the Cog (this being an “event” day, things were running a bit different than usual), but the chance to get out and stand on the mountain mid-ride was a treat.

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Waiting for our diesel engine train to arrive.

Aimee Seavey

Especially when I got to see it “chug” (yes, they really do chug in the “I think I can” rhythm) back into life in a swirl of steam before departing.

Now on the diesel train that would take us to the summit, we trundled ahead towards Jacob’s Ladder.

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Looking up towards Jacob’s Ladder.

Aimee Seavey

The steepest section of the Cog’s trestle, with a 37.41% grade, Jacob’s Ladder is the section of track that thrills folks the most. It makes the Cog the second steepest rack railway in the world after the Pilatus railway in Switzerland, which clocks in at 48%.

To help illustrate, here’s a photo of a steam locomotive on Jacob’s Ladder that the Mount Washington Cog Railway provided:

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A steam locomotive on Jacob’s Ladder.

Mount Washington Cog Railway

From inside the coach, however, the view doesn’t seem so nail-biting — just beautiful as far as the eye can see, even on a cloudy day.

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Breathtaking views!

Aimee Seavey

But soon, the temperature began to drop and the clouds loomed closer.

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As the temperature drops, so does the fog. Heading into the clouds now!

Aimee Seavey

Inside the coach, as the fog swirled around us, Cog co-owner and operator Cathy Bedor kept our group entertained with Cog facts, trivia, and geographic highlights.

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Cog co-owner and operator Cathy Bedor kept the coach lively, letting us know that, while climbing Jacob’s Ladder, the folks in front were an entire 14-feet higher than the folks in back.

Aimee Seavey

And then, we arrived at the almost-top, since the true summit is another 20 or so rocky steps up (meaning even train riders can tell friends they “hiked to the top” of Mount Washington without technically lying). The temperature had dropped a good 30 degrees from the base, and (as you can see), we weren’t just walking among the clouds, but through them.

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Departing the train and heading towards the Sherman Adams Summit Building on top of Mount Washington.

Aimee Seavey

Naturally, I couldn’t resist those kinds of bragging rights, so I made my way to the summit and asked a friendly French-speaking tourist to take my photo. Who would pass up the chance to stand on the very tip-top of New England at 6,288 feet? Not this Yankee!

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But first, a quick “hike” up to the foggy summit!

Aimee Seavey

In contrast, here’s a look at the summit on a clear day:

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The summit at Mount Washington on a clear day.

Mount Washington Cog Railway

Now that’s a view!

Back inside, I took a quick tour of the Mount Washington Observatory. It was fascinating to see how the team monitors and records the mountain’s famous weather, but if you want the full story (complete with winter photos), our blog on The Mount Washington Observatory | New England’s Weather Station is a great place to learn more.

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If you’re lucky, you may get a peek inside the Mount Washington Observatory “offices” where all of the science happens!

Aimee Seavey

On our visit, the fog (and not the wind) was the big story.

网投平台大全The Weather Tower at the Mount Washington Observatory.

The Weather Tower at the Mount Washington Observatory.

Aimee Seavey

Back inside the warm and dry Sherman Adams Summit Building, I strolled past the on-site U.S. Post Office, which also sells one-way Cog tickets for hikers that want an easy trip down, before a quick zip downstairs through the Observatory museum.

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Inside the Sherman Adams Summit Building on top of Mount Washington.

Aimee Seavey

There’s also a gift shop inside, but the largest crowds are gathered in the wood-paneled cafeteria, where tourists and hikers from all over the world mingle and recharge over coffee, hot chocolate, and hot bowls of soup.

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The cozy cafeteria at the Sherman Adams Summit Building is a great place to recharge, relax, and enjoy the view (if there is one!).

Aimee Seavey

Still shivering from the sudden drop in temperature, I ordered a bowl of clam chowder and enjoyed a little people watching.

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Since it was cold and lunchtime, I opted for a bowl of clam chowder.

Aimee Seavey

Back outside, the members of our group (which included then-New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan) chatted before boarding our trains for 网投平台大全.

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Waiting to head back down the mountain, Governor Maggie Hassan chatted with fellow riders.

Aimee Seavey

For the return trip, the chairs had helpfully been flipped around so we rode down “backwards.” This is crucial for the Jacob’s Ladder portion of the trip! It also afforded a lovely view of the ribbon of track winding behind us as we made our way back to the Base.

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Heading down and looking up the mountain.

Aimee Seavey

Before long we had come down out of the clouds and were nearly back to the station, if not entirely upright.

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The reflection in a maintenance shed next to the tracks provides the opportunity for a selfie, and a reminder that objects appearing un-level as not as they seem.

Aimee Seavey

The Mount Washington Cog Railway was named a National Historic Engineering Landmark on June 26, 1976, and it really is a treasure. By climbing aboard, riders are treated to the same breathtaking thrill-ride today as the railway’s first passengers were nearly 150 years ago, and for those that keep the Cog running, that’s exactly how it’s going to stay.

So, whether you’re a fan of travel, adventure, nature, science, weather, transportation, history, trains, photography (must I go on?) — a ride on the Cog is a New England experience that’s not to be missed, since it simply cannot be replicated.

Trips on the Cog run about 3 hours (including an hour at the top) and run from late April to early December, but be sure to call or check online before making your plans. Learn more (much more!) at .

Have you ever experienced the Mount Washington Cog Railway?

This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated. 

SEE MORE:
The Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods, NH | Historic Hotel Tour
The Mount Washington Observatory | New England’s Weather Station
Mount Washington Cog Railway | Yankee Classic

Comments
  • Having grown up in Lancaster I have hiked Mount Washington 7 times through the years , Driven the auto road several times but had never ridden the ” COG ” until a few years ago when my dad 87, mom 83, daughter 17 and myself 58 took the trip , It was a perfect day to all be together and memories I will cherish always .

    Reply
  • Great scenic ride, but almost got in a fight at the summit because they let hikers go down one way. So if you don’t want to wait for another train to go down, don’t leave your seat for 5 minutes. Enough time to pee maybe. Good luck

    Reply
  • The next time you “update” this article maybe you could correct it as a previous commenter mentioned, a train is not steered, it rides on rails.

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    • 网投平台大全

      Hi Jack. Apologies for missing that last comment, and for using the incorrect word in my original web reporting in 2016. You’re correct that it’s the toothed cog gear that does all the work; the wheels just act as skis, guiding the train. There is no “steering” involved. I will edit the post. Thanks, and have a wonderful day.

      Reply
  • Took my first trip nearly 5 years ago for my 60th birthday. Beautiful day, sunny and clear. Looking forward to another trip someday soon. Breathtaking views!!!!

    Reply
  • Lorrie

    My husband and I went up Mount Washington on our honeymoon in August of 1969. Maybe we will repeat the visit as we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year!

    Reply
  • Virginia

    I climbed Mt. Washington one night in the late forties with five other young and yes foolish women. Guess we were bored. Only we climbed it using the cog railway as a ladder to the top. Part way up we discovered we were in danger but the ties became so greasy we had to continue. Halfway up there are stones piled up with a plaque telling that a party had perished here. We took refuge in a shelter but the only way to stay warm was from the exertion of climbing. We made it just before sunrise and had to bang on the door of the hotel like building. War and safe and chastised we I had coffee while the other girls went upstairs to wake the manager who they knew. We rode the train back that morning. Amazes me that I lived to be now 90.

    Reply
  • Christine

    Thanks so much for your article. I am so looking forward to this trip in October this year. I am bringing my mother from the UK to celebrate her 90th birthday just hope it isn’t foggy.

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  • “Waited” until I was 70 years old to make my first tripup the mountain on “the Cog.” Was on vacation with my wife and granddaughters in North Conway and made the early morning trip across the Kanc in order to ride up with the steam engine. The girls were less than enthusiastic with the “get up” hour but admitted that the ride up in front of the steam engine was worth it. Highly recommend the first trip of the day.

    Reply
  • Ticket price to ride the train to the top kid the mountain and back down???

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    • The pricing effective 2018 is $57 adult for a full ride to the summit. A tad pricy for my pocketbook although I’m sure it’s worth it! There are senior discounts and child rates. All available on their web site.

      Reply
  • Joyce

    I loved the article! It brought back so many memories! I spend 3 summers up there , rode the Cog at least once a week, helped them shovel coal a few times, climbed the mountain twice, way back in the late 1950’s. Took a friend up there last fall who had never been and rode it again! So many changes, all for the good. A ride not to be missed!!

    Reply
  • Phyllis

    Though I had climbed Mt. Washington a number of times when visiting relatives in Landaff, and part way up the mountain (too cold – it was November), with the Wellesley Outing Club, my one and only trip on the cog was on our honeymoon in June 1960. Great experiences. Loved seeing the photos in this article.

    Reply
  • Willard

    I have climbed the mountain on foot (long ago) and by auto (the stages). I never rode the Cog, but I have ridden its offspring, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway which is only a few miles from my 网投平台大全 in Colorado Springs.

    Reply
  • Peggy

    I have gone up Mt Washington four times, First time as a child the second time I Took my son up The third time by car I never been so scared going up and coming down. Every body should have the joy of driving up the Mt once. But you get taken up with the views just so unreal and that helps so much. The fourth time took my Grandsons up on the cog they just kept looking out and they were very young. I would like to take them back this year now that there older.

    Reply
  • Melissa

    “Inside the locomotive, an engineer steers the locomotive while another”. Ummm, no.. The engineer doesn’t “steer” anything. It’s on rails so the only direction it can go is where the rails take it. Suggest gaining more familiarity with how a railroad operates. Other’n that, nice article..

    Reply
  • When I was in college in 1963 I made a summer climb to the summit of Mt Washington via the Tuckerman Ravine headwall and meet up with a friend who worked as a fireman on the Cog Railway for the summer. I almost didn’t recognize him since he was covered with coal dust, but it was clear from his smile he loved the job! I rode down the mountain on the train and spend the night with him and the other rail crew in their rather rustic quarters. In the morning I rode back up to the summit, took my leave, and then hiked back down to the base. It is still a fresh memory and a treasured one. I now volunteer from time to time at the Mount Washington Observatory. The mountain gets in your blood and your being. All your readers should make the journey!

    Reply
  • Robert

    Good story on a unique trip – I have hiked to the summit numerous times and come up on “The Cog” a couple of times, too. Now I am looking forward to making the trip with grandchildren, probably on the coal fired steam train! – The Cog is terrific, regardless of the weather!

    Reply
  • Charlotte

    Have climbed Washington 30 years ago, up Tuckerman’s twice and once Lions Head. Took the Cog a few years ago and loved every minute. I’ll be back with grandkids this summer!

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  • Had a great trip there on the Cog in 1998. It was a clear, very cold day and the trip is one I have never forgotten. I wish we had one like it in Scotland!

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  • Sandy

    I have been to the summit of Mt. Washington, three times…twice by foot and once by car. I look forward to my fourth journey by the Cog Railway, hopefully as soon as next year!

    Reply
  • Michael

    I have summited Mt. Washington twice out of 5 attempts with my father. Weather was the reason for not making the summit. That was over forty years ago. Now I would like to revisit the mountain and summit on the Cog Railway. We use to watch the Cog train while hiking and say how the tourists missed the real experience of the mountain. Now I would like to be the tourist.

    Reply
  • Robert

    I thoroughly enjoyed the trip up the cog railway years ago. This article brought back fond memories!

    Reply

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