Mount Washington tops NH residents’ hiking dreams, survey finds

The summit of Mount Washington can be chilly even on an 80-degree summer day, as many visitors have found. Photo/Rebecca Milliken

Mount Washington is the tourist attraction most New Hampshire residents want to visit the most, according to an analysis of data from the Family Destinations Guide.

The website, which promotes family vacations, analyzed Google search data for more than 100 U.S. tourist attractions, as well as terms associated with visiting each attraction, to determine which was the most searched on Google in each state.

Less than a three-hour drive from Manchester, the 6,288-foot mountain is the crown jewel of the Presidential Range and the highest mountain in the northeastern United States

As impressive as it is, anyone in the Granite State knows that there are plenty of reasons to Google Mount Washington that have nothing to do with wanting to visit (wind speed records, record low temperatures, avalanches, lost hikers and skiers, and etc.).

Mount Washington, topped by a state park in New Hampshire, is also at an existential crossroads, which has also made some news.

Mount Washington NH
A visitor climbs the wooden staircase from the parking lot at the upper end of the drive to the summit of Mount Washington. Photo/Rebecca Milliken

Gov. Chris Sununu in January approved a master plan for the 60-acre state park atop Mount Washington, which will set the course for an environmental assessment, use of the state-controlled parts of the mountain and more. It comes after Wayne Presby, the owner of the Cog Railway, proposed a $14 million hotel on land the railroad owns made up of refurbished Pullman train cars. This is Presby’s latest proposal to accommodate the summit, he rejected one in 206 after opposition from those who feared further development on the mountain would damage the fragile summit footprint.

The Coos County Planning Board began reviewing a concept plan at its Feb. 15 meeting.

All that and a bumper sticker

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Google’s data correctly identifies Mount Washington as the most desired travel destination for Granite Staters.

If you haven’t visited yet, there shouldn’t be much stopping you if you have a car that can handle the 11.6 percent grade on Mount Washington Auto Road, which opens for the season around mid-May and closes in October.

This is a toll road and you can expect to pay $45 during peak hours, $39 during off-peak hours, or choose to pay $25 for a guided tour and drop your car back on Earth. But the legendarily tight-fisted Granite States can take solace in the fact that for the price of admission, they not only get spectacular views of five states and Canada on a clear day, but also one of those ubiquitous “This car climbed Mount Washington” bumper stickers.

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Cars in the parking lot below the summit of Mount Washington have climbed a 7.6-mile driveway with an 11.6 percent grade to get there. Photo/Rebecca Milliken

About 150,000 cars a year travel the 7.6-mile freeway, but whether the state keeps track of how many have New Hampshire plates was not immediately clear. About 400,000 people visit the summit, which is a state park, each year, according to the Mount Washington Commission.

Besides the vast majority who go up by car, about 120,000 to 140,000 take the year-round cog railway (although it doesn’t go all the way to the top in winter because there’s no shelter, hence the hotel offer).

People also climb the mountain, and every June more than 1,000 people run up it as part of the Mount Washington Road Race.

Runners will gleefully joke that the road race “only has one hill,” but the disclaimer on the race website tells you all you need to know about Mount Washington:

“We will delay the start time, postpone, alter or cancel the race if the following road or summit conditions are reported on the morning of race day: ICE, SNOW, VERY STRONG WIND or HEAVY RAIN WHILE DRIVING. We will stop the race if conditions are deemed unsafe for the race participants. We will not cancel the race due to “uncomfortable” conditions. You are participating in a race where the location, Mount Washington, is known for very difficult weather conditions, please come prepared for the weather.’

Even those driving up the motorway will find the dizzying climb a challenge. Not only because of the change in altitude and air pressure, but once they get out of the car, the temperature changes. It can be 80 degrees in Gorham, at the foot of the mountain, and 50 or lower at the top on a summer day.

Natural attractions top the list

The analysis shows that the outdoors and nature are the most popular search destinations, with residents of 20 states searching for a place in nature more than any other tourist attraction.

Two sites—Niagara Falls and Glacier National Park—were the most sought-after destinations in four states.

Beaches, cultural destinations and classic tourist spots that are largely made up to make money are also on the list.

“Tourist attractions are probably the most important factor when it comes to deciding where to visit on holiday,” said a spokesman for the Family Destination Guide. “However, this study also highlights how many of the top tourist destinations for each state are nearby or within the state, showing that there are many vibrant, attractive and interesting tourist destinations across America.”

New Hampshire and Maine (Acadia National Park) are the only two New England states where residents have chosen an attraction in their state. That probably has more to do with the lure of the attraction — two of the most spectacular places in New England — than with state loyalty.

The most popular searches in the New England state were:

  • Connecticut – Museum of Modern Art (location, New York)
  • Maine – Acadia National Park (location, Mount Desert Island, Maine)
  • Massachusetts – Universal Orlando Studios (Florida)
  • New Hampshire – Mount Washington (Coos County, New Hampshire)
  • Rhode Island – (Las Vegas Strip, Nevada)
  • Vermont – Niagara Falls (New York, Canada)

For a complete list of the top sites in all 50 states, see below.

This list above, from the Family Destinations Guide, shows the most sought-after travel destinations by residents of each state. Graphic/Family Guide to Destinations

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