Have you always wanted to tour the Mt. Washington Auto Road in wintertime?

While many can lay claim to the bragging rights of ascending the Auto Road in the summertime (just look for the ubiquitous “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker if you’re in doubt), there is a special status reserved for those who have made the trip in our chilliest season.

No, you can’t bring your car – instead, you can book a guided SnowCoach tour with the Mt. Washington Auto Road! These in-demand excursions are popular for a reason. The SnowCoach cabins are toasty warm, and the drivers for each rig are veritable experts in the terrain and history of Mount Washington and surrounding mountains. The tour typically takes 1.5 hours and ascends to 4,200’ in elevation (or just above treeline).

Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoaches at Base

In addition to being one of the best things to do in the White Mountains in the winter, gearheads in your group will also appreciate the Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoach’s four tank-like treads that have been swapped in place of tires for the winter. Their ultra rugged design is ready to crank through snow and ice and pull each SnowCoach up the snow-caked road to just above treeline.  

At the turnaround point, guests can disembark from the SnowCoach cab to snap pictures and get a sense of what winter feels like on a mountain known for the “world’s worst weather”. Somedays, you might be greeted by skies so blue and peaks so white they hardly feel real. On other days, a swirling mass of clouds, wind, and snow will make you feel like the mayor of your very own weather system.

This time around though, things were a little bit different. The snow conditions, summit forecast, and road operation logistics all conspired to make something unthinkable possible: a trip not just to 4,200’ (which is absolutely marvelous in its own right), but to the full height of Mount Washington. For only the second time in the history of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, SnowCoaches made it all 7.6 miles up to the summit, 6,288’ feet above sea level!

Needless to say, we were beyond eager to catch a ride.  

Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoach (Guests Enjoying the View)

As luck would have it, Kevin Devine, Director of Mountain Operations, was our driver for the day. After a ceremonious welcome speech just for the lucky guests riding up in the fleet of three SnowCoaches, we were on our way.

We crossed Route 16, passed the toll booth, and felt the tracks grip into the deeper snow at the start of the road. Over the next hour or so, we enjoyed narration that covered everything from the history of the Auto Road to natural features and local flora and fauna.

Mile by mile, the lush forests gave way to gnarled, small coniferous trees (also known as krummholz) and the wind whipped in every increasing fury. We snapped pictures from within the cab to stay safe from the weather, and were agog over the precipitous drop-offs at narrow points in the road, as well as the snow blowing across the road in sparkling excess.

Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoach (Cab Interior with Driver)

After learning a trick or two for identifying the mountains on the other side of the Great Gulf Wilderness (we’ll give you a hint: JAM) and spotting rock cairns, we made the last push to the tippy top of the world – by New England standards, at least.

At the summit, it was a balmy 2 degrees. Add in 85mph windspeed gusts and a -30 degree windchill, and it’s easy to see how just a few minutes of exposure, unprepared for the elements, could turn disastrous. Fortunately for us, we had the confidence of a warm SnowCoach cab just a few steps away and our intreprid drivers to shepherd us as need be.

Emerging into a windy, wintry landscape at 6,288’ feet gave us many moments to marvel: rime ice as thick as frozen buttercream frosting, relentless gusts eager to topple us over any second we weren’t standing like a sea captain, and the dazzling golden streak on the horizon that proved to be the sunlit Atlantic Ocean. Below us, the somber palette of grays, browns, and deep green that are the White Mountains in winter looked peaceful in comparison to the frenzied weather of the summit.

Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoach (Summit, Guests, and SnowCoaches)

Our brief sojourn at the top also gave us a little insight into what the Mount Washington Observatory’s hardy staff has to undertake on an hourly basis as they tend their weather instruments affixed to the exterior of the summit buildings. Donning layer upon layer, they make the trek outside with clockwork precision to ensure their weather predictions go unhampered. Their Higher Summits Forecast in particular proves invaluable to hikers year-round (subscribe to their text forecast if you haven’t done so yet!).

Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoach (View of Mount Washington Observatory)

But for us, our time atop the Northeast’s highest peak was wrapping up. We snapped our last few pictures and hopped back in the SnowCoach; after a few celebratory exclamations, the SnowCoach tracks dug into the snow and we began our return trip back down the Auto Road.

Our driver Kevin urged us to let Mother Nature do the talking for a few minutes. The winds whistled outside, the rugged tracks churned through the snow, and we smiled in quiet deference to the beauty of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range.

Mt. Washington Auto Road SnowCoach Tour (2 Coaches on Snowy Road with Mountains in Background)

In time, we would pass through the alpine zone once more. The trees would grow taller and thicker, the winds would subside, and the views would whisper once more of what was now behind us….but for these few, precious minutes, we could feel at one with the most rugged of peaks in the White Mountains.


Ready to book a SnowCoach tour?

The Mt. Washington Auto Road’s guided SnowCoach tours are open daily through March. Advance reservations are recommended. Visit GreatGlenTrails.com or call (603) 466-3988 to book your SnowCoach tour, discover other winter activities, and learn more. Typical excursions run 1.5 hours long and reach an elevation of 4,200’.