The ultimate King of the Mountain game is on the summit of a real mountain, especially a tall one with a commanding view of everything below. But not every family wants to climb one. In New Hampshire’s White Mountains you don’t need to climb — you can ride. And yes, getting there IS half the fun.
Mt. Washington Cog Railway
You’re riding a piece of railroad history when you board the colorful cars of the Mt. Washington Cog Railway to ride to the summit of the Northeast’s highest elevation. Opened in 1869, The Cog was the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. More eco-friendly diesel has replaced the old smoke-spewing steam engines, but the ride is still the same, and kids will want to try standing up at an angle to the seats while the train climbs at an average gradient of 25 percent.
At the top, you can pose for pictures at the summit sign, eat lunch at the cafeteria, learn about the mountain’s extreme weather, send cards from the post office and admire the see-forever views. They are best on a clear day, of course, but it’s also fun to be there on a day when you can look down on the tops of clouds hanging below the summit.
Mount Washington Auto Road
From the opposite side of the mountain, the 6.25-mile-long Mount Washington Auto Road climbs to the summit. You can drive it in your own car (and get the bumper sticker to prove it) or you can ride to the summit and back in a van operated from Great Glen Trails. Beware: The Auto Road is not for anyone with a fear of heights. In the winter you can ride the specially outfitted SnowCoach to the halfway point on Mount Washington Auto Road to look at the frost-coated trees and winter landscapes. As on the summer van trips, the driver describes the natural environment as you climb.
Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
Also holding a place in White Mountain history, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway was the first passenger aerial tramway to operate in North America, airlifting skiers, hikers and sightseers to the 4,080-foot summit since 1938. As the giant gondola rises, the views down into glacier-carved Franconia Notch just get better and better. At the top, it’s a short climb to the observation tower at the summit, for views that stretch across the White Mountains, west to Vermont and north to Canada.
Take a 15-minute walk around the Rim Trail along the brink of Franconia Notch, where flat ledges give heart-stopping straight-down views into the notch. It’s a place to hold the hands of small children, and show older ones the circular scoop where mile-thick ice carved out the notch.
Loon Mountain Gondola
Designed to carry skiers to the top of its ski trails, the Loon Mountain Gondola operates all summer and through fall foliage. While the views are not quite as far-reaching as the other two mountaintop rides, Loon Mountain’s 2,733-foot summit has another attraction the others don’t. A tumble of gigantic glacial boulders just under the summit created a natural fun house of caves and passages easy to access via wooden stairs. It’s another place where kids can learn about the glaciers that once covered these mountains, dropping huge boulders they had scraped from higher peaks as they traveled.
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