Taking a motorcycle ride up Mount Washington means keeping your eyes on the road, weather

Added May 3, 2017
Mt. Washington Road

If you spend much time riding in slow-moving traffic, you have the opportunity to read a lot of bumper stickers. One intriguing bumper sticker you may see, especially in the Northeast, reads, “This car climbed Mt. Washington.”

What is Mt. Washington? And why is climbing it in a car worth boasting about?

Mount Washington

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast, with a summit of 6,288 feet. It’s part of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. On top of the mountain is the Mount Washington Observatory, a private weather observation station that has been recording weather data since 1932. The observatory recorded a non-tropical cyclone wind speed of 231 mph on April 12, 1934, a world record that held until 1996.

That record wind speed was par for the course for this area. Mount Washington is well known for its erratic weather. The observatory proudly lays claim to the title "home of the world's worst weather." The few early buildings built on top of the mountain required heavy chains to anchor them in place.

This is not a mountain to trifle with. The official record low temperature was -50 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded on January 22, 1885, by the U.S. Signal Service.

Sounds like an intriguing motorcycle ride, right?

Many ways to the top

There is more than one way to get to the top of Mount Washington. Actually, there are three ways. Several hiking trails tempt the rugged outdoors person. A cog railway dating to 1869 offers you a ride on the world’s first mountain-climbing railway. Then there is the legendary Mt. Washington Auto Road, which gives out those bumper stickers when you pay the toll.

The ride

Up, up, and away you will go as you ascend Mount Washington. Starting at an elevation of 1,527 feet, the road climbs at an average grade of 11.6 percent. You’ll ascend 4,618 feet in only 7.6 miles to reach the road’s summit at 6,145 feet.

The pavement is narrow, with just enough room for oncoming cars to pass. For part of the road, there is no centerline. Expect a few pavement patches along the way. Remember, the weather will wear the road, so call ahead for road conditions.

Your ride will start on a tree-lined ribbon of asphalt as you begin your ascent. A few breaks in the tree line will offer fast glimpses of the mountain. However, keep your eyes on the road. Soon the trees will give way to majestic views, and the road will become more challenging. There are a few pullouts where you can stop, enjoy the view, and take pictures.

By the time you reach the summit, you’ll understand how you earned your bumper sticker.

Mt. Washington Auto Road stat sheet

  • Address: 1 Mount Washington Auto Rd., Gorham, NH 03581
  • GPS coordinates: 44.28850 Lat., -71.22580 Long.
  • Hours of operation: Vary by season and during special events
  • Phone: 603-466-3988

The drive-yourself rates—which includes that bumper sticker—are the following:

  • Car and driver: $29
  • Motorcycle and operator: $17
  • Adult passenger: $9
  • Child passenger (ages 5–12): $7
  • Passengers under 5 years old: Free

Till next time, ride safe!