Each city had enjoyed mostly clear skies all day long amid temperatures flirting with the low 80s.
But in New Hampshire, on the 6,288-foot-tall summit of Mount Washington, things were a tad different. Around 5 p.m., Mount Washington Observatory’s social media feeds bore a photo of two small snowmen. The figures were constructed from nearly two inches of fresh snow, which was still falling and had come accompanied by hurricane force winds.
“It is June not January … right?” the observatory playfully posted to Twitter.
While this kind of weather is uncharacteristic for most of the region between the unofficial summer bookends of Memorial Day and Labor Day, the wind and precipitation that grace (or, more accurately, hammer) the Northeast’s tallest peak aren’t beholden to such trends. It’s the extreme and severe, in fact, that has earned the mountain its reputation for the world’s worst weather, and subsequently, a spot as one of the Northeast’s bucket list road trip destinations.
The next several weeks are among the best times of year to visit Mt. Washington. About 250,000 people do so each summer, according to the observatory.
If you’re thinking about going, here’s some basic info to help you out.
Where is Mount Washington?
Mount Washington is part of New Hampshire’s awesome White Mountains, a.k.a., the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest.
Mount Washington is part of the Presidential Range, which is so named because it’s home to several mountains honoring U.S. Presidents. Dwight Eisenhower, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams and, of course, George Washington, are among them.
The mountain is about 14 miles from the Maine border, and roughly 54 miles from the Canadian border.
If you’re looking to plug it into your GPS, your best bet is to aim for Mount Washington Auto Road (more on that in a bit), 1 Mount Washington Auto Road, Gorham, N.H.
Another option is Mount Washington State Park at 1598 Mount Washington Auto Road, Sargent’s Purchase, N.H. The park is a 60-plus-acre piece of land on the summit run by the state department of parks and recreation.
Is the weather really that extreme?
Think about it like this: One weather observer was recently featured in a video that depicted the strength of 109 mile per hour winds. It showed him being thrown through the air by powerful gusts as he struggled to inch forward one slow step at a time.
That video was shot on Monday, May 16 and it was the third time that month the observatory recorded wind speeds over 100.
The warmest month of the year on the summit is July, when average temperatures barely top 49 degrees. The normal monthly average is just over 27 degrees. Historic lows, by month, have included -47 (January), -46 (February and December), -38 (March) and -20 (April and November).
On one June day in 1945, the temperature dropped to 8 degrees, and, on a day in May nearly 22 years later, it dipped to -2.
Perhaps Mount Washington’s greatest claim to fame occurred in April 1934 when staff recorded a wind gust of 231 miles. It was the fastest ever recorded on Earth’s surface, and it remains the fastest ever recorded by a person.
How do I get there?
That depends on how active or passive you want your experience to be.
Hiking Mount Washington is certainly possible, but it’s probably not a great bet for novices.
The Appalachian Mountain Club, a non-profit group that promotes environmental protection and appreciation of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, pegs Tuckerman Ravine Trail as a popular and (relatively speaking) easy route. You can pick it up from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, in Pinkham Notch. It’s about four miles to the top.
More seasoned hikers make Mount Washington part of the Presidential Traverse, a 20-plus-mile endeavor that features more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain as you visit each peak named for a president.
The Appalachian Mountain Club owns and maintains several huts in the area if you want to break up the trip. During full service season, which is basically summer, stays include dinner and breakfast.
For visitors looking to experience the views without suffering sore legs, the Mount Washington Auto Road has long been a popular option. Guests can drive themselves to the summit in their own vehicles or enjoy guided tours with fun facts and tidbits about the mountain.
It’s about a half-hour to 45-minute trip.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway is a third, and definitely less conventional, option. The attraction, which departs from a station in Bretton Woods, and is celebrating its 150th anniversary, is advertised as the world’s first mountain climbing train and the only cog railway east of the Rocky Mountains. The three-hour trip includes an hour on the summit.
What do I when I do when I’m up there?
First and foremost, enjoy the view.
On a clear day, you can see as far as 130 miles away into parts of Canada, Vermont, New York and Massachusetts.
You’ll almost certainly want to check out the Sherman Adams Visitor Center, too, which houses a cafeteria, restrooms and a gift shop. The center also houses Extreme Mount Washington, an interactive museum that opened in 2014 to give visitors the experience of being on the mountain in winter through hands-on exhibits such as a simulated ride on a high-powered snow-vehicle.
Be sure to check out the historic Tip Top House as well. The original structure was built in 1853 as a hotel before being destroyed by repair, rebuilt, falling into disrepair and renovated once more for visitors.
Have you experienced Mount Washington? If so, let us know. We’d also love to hear about some of the sky-high attractions you’re planning to visit this summer.