Events and attractions

You can run up Mt. Washington or drive your car — we'll let you choose

Editor’s note: This roundup of facts is part of the June 2019 feature story on Mt. Washington that was featured in New Hampshire Magazine. Facts are listed in no particular order. We invite you to find more tidbits about the Northeast’s highest summit here.

The Annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb Photo courtesy of the Mount Washington Auto Road

Mt. Washington Road Race

The good news — there’s only one hill during this race. The bad news? That “hill” is Mt. Washington. This historic running event, happening on June 15, draws thousands to the Auto Road. Registration takes place each winter, with “lucky” runners selected at random. For the 2019 Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race, cheer on the brave folks who will make the grueling climb to the summit and earn rights to a bumper sticker that reads “The Driver of This Car Ran Up Mt. Washington.” mtwashingtonautoroad.com


SnowCoach

In winter, the SnowCoach, a van-sized vehicle driven by four tracks, climbs the snow-covered Mount Washington Auto Road as far as the tree line. Here, at the site of the former Halfway House, passengers can step out into a subarctic world, at about 4,200 feet. The coach climbs through a changing landscape of snow-covered forest into one of sweeping views framed in stunted, rime-coated trees. Early birds can ride to the tree line to watch the sunrise. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers


Ride to the Sky

It’s a big mountain so there’s something for everyone, even on the famous Auto Road where each June the road is closed to tourist cars and open only to motorcycle traffic for Ride to the Sky. A pass for a bike and operator is $17 with an extra $9 charge for a passenger (though this is waived if you head up the mountain before 10 a.m.). Photographers from phantombiker.com are on hand to capture your ascent with the Mt. Washington Valley rolling into the distance and will happily sell prints of this once-(or as often as you like, really)-in-a-lifetime experience.


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Metcalf

Fourth Annual Railway to the Moon Steampunk Festival

This free event takes place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on August 17 and 18 at the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. The two days include vendors, activities, food, performers and an invitation to come decked out in your best steampunk outfits. For a fee, rides aboard the Cog will also be offered. railwaytothemoon.com


Sunrise Drive

The Mt. Washington Auto Road opens early on three Sundays every summer, allowing guests to drive themselves to the summit of Mount Washington to view the sunrise from the highest peak in the Northeast. It’s a popular offering and people arrive extra-early to avoid waiting at the Toll House behind traffic.

There’s limited food service at the state park building on the summit on all three of these mornings.

Or, if you’d rather experience sunrise on Mt. Washington from the comfort of a Mt. Washington Stage Coach, you can leave the driving to experienced tour guides or “stage drivers” as they call them, who will drive you up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. They leave promptly from the base lodge — no waiting for stragglers, as they need to keep a tight schedule for all the early risers.

Sunrise Drives take place Sundays June 30, July 28 and August 25, 2019.


MINIs on Top Rally

Photo by Steve Crossman

One of the more popular annual Mt. Washington events is the MINIs on Top rally. Hundreds of MINI owners from all around New England meet for a weekend of fellowship and driving.

The centerpiece is the summit sunset drive. With a “go” signal, the long snakelike line of about 200 MINIs uncoils onto the Auto Road and disappears into the forest. You can hear gear changes, turbos spool up, and exhausts singing sweet songs.

Above tree line, a series of S curves, switchbacks, and steep drops-offs test nerves but also provide a great driving experience. MINIs fill the summit parking lot. Everyone takes in the 360-degree views of majestic mountains and then watches the sun dip below the horizon, setting the sky on fire. A breathtaking, amazing, one-of-a-kind experience you’ll never forget. — Steve Crossman


Tourist Trek

The Mount Washington Auto Road, opened on August 8, 1861, is America’s oldest manmade attraction. Before the Cog Railway opened in 1869 or the advent of the motorcar, tourists headed to the Summit or Tip-Top houses had to travel by open horse-drawn wagons. An all-day journey up a steep, serpentine road through uncertain weather was considered a tourist draw in the 19th century and, for some, it still is today.


Memorial Ride

Like many events on the Auto Road, this one filled up fast. The 20th annual Gerry Pomerleau Memorial Ride on June 29 may be sold out, but for you ATV enthusiasts, think of this as your chance to plan for 2020. The event benefits the New Hampshire ATV Club — last year’s event raised $10,000. mtwashingtonautoroad.com


Seek the Peak

This annual hike-a-thon, happening this year from July 19 to 20, is the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory’s largest fundraiser. Though many hikers choose the challenge of climbing Mt. Washington, there are other, less-grueling ways to participate. You can opt for an alternate mountain trek or a short nature hike. You can even sign on as a “virtual” hiker. No matter how you choose to take part, it’s a wonderful weekend that brings together like-minded outdoor enthusiasts and those who value and support the observatory’s scientific contributions.


Sunrise Ascent

On August 4 before sunrise, teams will gather at the base of the Auto Road to begin this unique benefit for Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country (ASPNC). Each group includes an adaptive athlete and “mules,” those who help the athlete get to the summit by any means necessary, making this a true team event. adaptivesportspartners.org/sunriseascent


The Bumper Sticker

There’s surprisingly little authentic New Hampshire kitsch, probably due to the fact that the kitschiest Granite State offerings — say embroidered Yankee aphorisms, lobster keychains and moose droppings in Lucite — are all equally associated with neighboring states.

Thank goodness for the “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker. Last year alone, 49,000 of these simple blue, white and red stickers were distributed (along with a certificate of authenticity) to brave souls with good brakes and transmissions who made the 7.6-mile drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road.

There’s no official total, but they’ve been awarding them in various forms since the 1950s. Regina Ferreira, operations manager of the Auto Road, says that the sticker is world-renowned and, while you have to take the Auto Road to get one, they do replace stickers on cars that lost bumpers or incurred damage, as long as the owner supplies some evidence of what happened to the original. They get about a dozen requests in a year for such replacements, some from as far away as England, Israel and Germany. Variations have been created for special events on the mountain (such as “This ATV Climbed Mt. Washington” or “The Driver of This Car Ran Up Mt. Washington”) and there are smaller versions and even a magnet. And while, as a cartoon that ran in Yankee Magazine back in 1989 suggests, you’d think there was a huge industrial print shop cranking them somewhere, the sticker has been produced from the start by the tiny Sunflower Graphix screen printing operation in upstate New York.

Owner, manager and printer Carol Hammer says it’s been a long, friendly relationship. The original hand-rendered design came from an artist, Jim Palmer, who worked there in the ’50s and has since passed away.

“Howie [Wemyss, general manager of the road] once asked me for the typeface we use, but it doesn’t exist,” says Hammer. “When they want a new one, I create letters by taking apart the original and them putting it back together again.” — Rick Broussard


The Rise of Alton “Mr. Mount Washington” Weagle

I’m a half-mile from the summit, but today I have no view. I see only words from my copy of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman, which I am reading out loud as I walk up the road.

I’m taking part in the Mount Washington Auto Road’s Alton Weagle Day, an annual event where hikers attempt to set the craziest records they can imagine in the spirit of the most famous individual associated with the mountain that you’ve never heard of.

I am attempting to become the first person to read poetry out loud while walking.

Born in 1911, Weagle set his Mt. Washington records while he was a state-registered mountain guide in the 1930s and 1940s. His most famous records include climbing the mountain backward, walking up barefoot, and hiking the road blindfolded. Most (in)famously, he pushed a wheelbarrow full of sugar up the road without setting it down.

He set these records out of love and reverence for the mountain, like a priest paying homage to a holy place. Now, once a year, the auto road encourages mountain lovers to walk in his shoes.

I do reach the top, setting a record and amusing tourists as I read from my book at the summit sign. A stiff wind blows, and I’m pretty sure Weagle is in the air signaling his approval.

Have an idea for a record-setting hike? Alton Weagle Day takes place every May. Call the Auto Road at (603) 466-3988 to register.  — Dan Szczesny


Annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb

This race is known as the toughest hillclimb in the world. The average grade is 12 percent, with long sections at 18 and the final push — the last 50 yards — is 22 percent. For nonbikers, that’s pretty much just very, very steep the whole way up. Spectator tickets go on sale at 7 a.m. on race day, August 17. mwarbh.org


Climb to the Clouds

Last held in 2017, the Mt. Washington Hillclimb — also known as The Climb to the Clouds — will return in 2020 on July 10-12. This race is one of North America’s oldest motorsports events, first run in July 1904, seven years before the first 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 12 years prior to the inaugural Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado. The 80-car field includes some of the best drivers in the world, all competing to make the fastest drive up the Auto Road. Everyone will be vying to break Travis Pastrana’s record time — an astonishing 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds, which he set the last time the race took place in 2017. That’s quite a bit quicker than the first official time by F.O. Stanley in his Stanley Locomobile, a lengthy 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Climb to the Clouds is one of the ultimate challenges for both driver and car. The 7.6-mile auto road is serpentine, lined with trees on the lower half and dramatic drop-offs that begin about halfway up. Think about that when you imagine Pastrana flying up the road with an average speed of close to 90 mph, with a top speed in excess of 130 mph above the tree line.


Alan Whitney of New Haven, Vermont, demonstrates the making of birch baskets, moccasins and knives.
Poto by Kathie Fife

Muster in the Mountains

On the weekend of September 6-8, Colonial reenactors, representing the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and Mountain Man periods from 1750 through 1840, gather at an encampment at the base of the Auto Road. It’s open to the public Friday and Saturday from 10a.m.-4p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Visitors can check out the cooking competition, 1800s firearm and cannon displays and competition, archery, blacksmithing, tomahawk and knife throwing, and other fun events. mtwashingtonautoroad.com


Summit Salute

Last year’s event was postponed but, thanks to sponsoring businesses, veterans of all branches of the US military will unite again at the base of the mountain for the 2019 Summit Salute this July. It’s an afternoon of fun and storytelling capped with a grilled barbecue dinner and a sunset trip to the summit (at discounted rates). For details, visit mtwashingtonautoroad.com/events/summit-salute.

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