Road Trip 2021: Mount Washington Auto Road

Since we were in New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Auto Road was pretty much a must. Kenn has had a fascination with Mount Washington for many years; he frequently checks the conditions at the observatory at the top of the mountain. (Mount Washington held the record for the “fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth”, 231 mph, for almost 62 years. The record was broken in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia during Typhoon Olivia.) As you might have guessed based on some of my earlier posts, the Appalachian Trail crosses Mount Washington.

Our initial plan was to ride the Cog Railway to the top of the mountain. However, since we didn’t make reservations in advance, there were no seats available. We looked into riding one of the non-cog trains but I wasn’t interested in spending almost $200 for the experience. So, it was time to decide if we could handle the drive. Now, driving up a mountain generally isn’t that big of a deal but the Auto Road isn’t just any road. As much as I love the mountains, windy/twisty roads with steep drop-offs and no guard rails are not my idea of fun – and that is pretty much a description of the Auto Road. I went online and watched a few videos of the drive and was comfortable that it was doable. So, it was time for one of those heart-to-heart discussions that are occasionally necessary in all relationships. I assured Kenn that I could handle the drive with no panic attacks and that if (when) I freaked out, I would grit my teeth and keep it internal so that I didn’t distract him while he was driving. He, on the other hand, had to swear that he would keep his eyes on the road. Now, this may seem like a simple request but it is a common issue for us; the whole time Kenn is driving it’s “look at this” and “did you see that?” with my answer being “No, because one of us needs to watch the road!” Kenn promised to focus on the road and not the scenery and we were set. We planned our drive for our first day in New Hampshire but it was closed due to the rain so, of course, we went the second day.

When you arrive at the entrance to the Auto Road, you pay your fee and get a bumper sticker that says “This vehicle climbed Mount Washington”. (When we stopped at the gift shop after our drive I bought a smaller magnet that says “This truck climbed Mount Washington”.) You also pass a sign stating “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.”😬 The drive starts off pretty much like any mountain road: windy, narrow, two lane, trees on both sides. The higher you climb, the fewer the trees. Once you get above the tree line, the road becomes more “exciting” eventually becoming two-way traffic on what is basically a one lane road. The Auto Road is paved – except for the steepest stretch, which is dirt. (I haven’t been able to find any explanation for the unpaved section. I’ve decided it’s because it is so steep and that vehicle tires may get better traction on the dirt rather than pavement.🤷‍♀️ If you know the answer, please enlighten me!)

Going up!

The closest I came to not keeping my freak out internalized happened not too far from the top of the mountain. There were a couple of vehicles coming toward us so Kenn and Ruby were hugging the right side of the road. The only problems with this were the hillside that was right outside the passenger door and the narrow drainage trench at the side of the road. I was terrified that we were going to get a wheel caught in the trench or break off a mirror on the hillside. When we met up with the truck coming toward us, both Kenn and the driver of the other truck rolled down their windows and folded their mirrors in to prevent a collision. Yes, the road is that narrow. Once we reached the parking lot, I was tempted to be overly dramatic and kiss the ground, but I refrained.😂

The area above the treeline is an alpine region where vegetation is scarce and fragile. The landscape is stark and beautiful.

Panoramic photo from just below the treeline

The rocky areas had a “lunar” feel to me.

I could see for miles and miles and miles…
Our Mount Washington selfie graced our 2021 Christmas cards

We spent an hour or more roaming around the top of the mountain before heading back down. I knew the “down” part of the drive was going to be the worst part for me since the passenger side of the truck would be on the side of the road featuring the drop-off and no guard rail. I told Kenn that I was just going to keep my eyes closed until we got below the treeline, at which point nature would provide a guardrail of sorts. I kept my promise except for when Kenn said “Oh no!” or something of the nature that you don’t want to hear when dealing with a two-way-traffice-on-a-one-lane-road situation. Remember the drainage trench I mentioned and how I was afraid we were going to get a wheel stuck in it? Well, some unfortunate driver headed up the road had done just that. Poor guy was stuck. So now, we had the addition of the traffic behind him having to pull all the way to the left side of the road to continue their trek which made the traffic flow even more thrilling. When we reached the base of the mountain, we passed the tow truck headed up to the rescue. I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness that scenario; my freak outs probably would not have remained internalized at that point.

So, yes, it is possible to survive the Mount Washington Auto Road even when you have a fear of heights and anxiety issues. And, I’m glad we did it. Oh, if you’re curious, the Auto Road is 7.6 miles long and the drive up the takes around 30 minutes; the drive down takes 30-45 depending on how often you stop to cool your breaks. The grade averages around 12%.

During our travels, whenever we ate out we tried things we had never had before. After we finished the Auto Road, we decided to eat a late lunch/early supper (what we call “lupper”) at The Public House Eatery in Gorham, NH. Best. Decision. Ever. Everything we had was delicious. Their signature pizza was seriously the best pizza we’ve ever had. Who knew teriyaki-glazed steak tips and mashed potatoes on a pizza could be so good?

Yummy!

Next week, Vermont and New York state. Until then, take care and happy trails!

10 thoughts on “Road Trip 2021: Mount Washington Auto Road

  1. What an experience! I am a nervous passenger. Your description of driving the road has given me a mental note that if we are ever in that area to make reservations for the cog wheel railroad – or skip it. Your meal probably tasted so good as (I’ve heard) people have a new appreciation for the simple things of life after having gone through a near death experience. It looks to be very, very beautiful at the top of the mountain. Good for you for being adventurous!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Linda! I work at the Auto Road and it’s so great to hear your trip recap! The 5-mile stretch is still gravel because it’s indeed the last stretch to be paved. If you had driven the road in the mid-70s the whole road would have been gravel. As you can imagine it’s $$$ to pave on Mt. Washington and it requires a tremendous amount of heavy machinery. But, all that to say we are planning to pave that stretch before we open this summer! So maybe when you are back in NH you can see the road improvements. Cheers, Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

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