The Mount Washington Auto Road offers one of the most thrilling rides in the Northeast. The auto road begins just off Route 16 in Green’s Grant and it takes riders westward across Pinkham’s Grant, Thomspon Purchase, and Meserve’s Purchase to the summit of Mount Washington. This is no easy drive though considering Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the Northeast as it boasts an elevation of 6,288 feet. In total, cars gain 4,618 feet over the 7.6-mile road – the road begins at an altitude of 1,527 feet.
The beginning of the Mount Washington Auto Road dates back to the 1850s. During this time, the eastern side of the White Mountains was becoming a more popular region due to the Portland-Montreal railroad line that opened in 1851. In 1852, the Glen House hotel was constructed at the base of the mountain, right by the railroad. In the following year, General David O. Macomber of Middletown, Connecticut sought the right to build a road to the top of Mount Washington. Macomber envisioned a road that could allow horse-drawn carriages to take visitors to the summit where a hotel and observatory would be built. After being granted the right to build in 1853, Macomber began construction in the summer of 1854.
Building the original carriage road was a grueling process. Supplies were about 10 miles from the start of the road and everything was transported by horse, oxen, and men. Black powder was used as the explosive since dynamite was not known. Blasting holes for the powder were all created by hand. The construction teams worked 10-12 hours straight and they were living in tents and small little shelters. For over two years, the builders worked tirelessly on the road but were only able to reach halfway point. Due to the lengthy building process, it was clear that Macomber and his team were over their heads and out of funds. The Mount Washington Summit Road Company was created in 1859 to take over the building of the road to the summit. In order to generate funds for the project, the new company collected tolls from visitors looking to ride up to the Halfway House.
After another two years of work, the full-length Mount Washington Carriage Road was opened on August 8, 1861. A huge party was thrown to celebrate the opening of the road and dozens of notable people attended. Following the launch of the road, it became a great success! The revenues generated from the road doubled every year for the first 8 years. Also, 8 years after launching, the Cog Railway was opened on the opposite side of the mountain. Visitors now had two non-hiking options to reach the summit of Mount Washington.
A major milestone occurred in 1899 when Freelan O. Stanley became the first person to drive up the carriage road in a motorized vehicle. Stanley was the co-founder of the Stanley Motor Carriage Company which built some of the first steam-powdered automobiles. As automobiles began to become the standard mean of transportation, the carriage road started to welcome them. In 1912, the owners of the road decided to formally change it from a Carriage Road to an Auto Road. Usage of the auto road grew steadly from 3,100 in 1935 to 12,8000 in 1961. Today, tens of thousands of cars drive the Mount Washington Auto Road each year. As of 2022, the cost of driving the auto road is $39-$45 for the car and driver with additional fees for other passengers. Learn more at: mt-washington.com/rates
- Address: 1 Mt Washington Auto Rd
- Town: Gorham
- State: New Hampshire
- GPS: Lat 44.289002 Lng -71.226762
- Location directions: HERE