According to an engraved plaque atop the Northeast’s highest peak, Mount Washington and its neighboring Presidential Range summits in northern New Hampshire are part of one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet. Scientists estimate that they once rivaled the Swiss Alps, before the elements that occasionally rage through Pinkham Notch wore them down over millions of years.
The Rockpile — as the granite-domed Mount Washington is affectionately nicknamed — is legendary. In fact, it’s Native American sobriquet, Agiocochook, meaning “Home of the Great Spirit,” would appear to be a perfect fit.
The mountain has proved to be an irresistible attraction to painters, photographers, writers (starting with Henry David Thoreau), plant experts (the mountain’s famous ravine was named after botanist Edward Tuckerman), weather and climate scientists (who recorded the 231 mile an hour wind gusts at the summit in 1934), and outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe, including hikers and skiers. The Mount Washington Auto Road, originally known as the Carriage Road, has its own special draw, luring cyclists, runners and race car enthusiasts with a number of special events. (I’ve had the rare pleasure of skiing down the auto road on my telemark boards, and pedaling to the top of the 6,288-foot summit on three occasions.)
The one thing I’ve always felt the eastern flank of Mount Washington needed was a place to stay that didn’t include winter camping. Something a bit more contemporary. The Glen House is the missing piece.
This sprawling 68-room hotel, situated at the base of the historic Mount Washington Auto Road, might not have a timeline going back quite that far, but it has roots that date back more than a century and a half, to the mid-1800s. Shortly after the Grand Trunk Railroad was established between Portland, Maine, and Gorham in 1851, an enterprising entrepreneur, John Bellows, converted an old farmhouse at the eastern base of Mount Washington into a hotel. The next year, in 1852, Bellows sold the structure to Col. Joseph M. Thompson, who promptly renamed it The Glen House, and set to work on finishing the hotel’s rooms.
Over the next 15 years, the colonel expanded the hotel, creating one of the north country’s destination hotels. In 1869, however, hotel guest Albert Bierstadt, a painter known for his sweeping landscapes, discovered Thompson’s body downriver from his sawmill following a heavy fall rainstorm. His hotel would face a similar unfortunate fate.
After ownership of The Glen House was transferred to the Milliken brothers, it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1884. It was the start of a disturbing trend.
Rebuilt and expanded over the next few years — eventually acquiring the status of a “grand hotel” — the structure went up in flames again in 1893 and was not rebuilt. The property was eventually acquired by the Libby family of Gorham, and the servant’s quarters were converted into a 40-room hotel. That building also was destroyed by fire in 1924. In 1925 a smaller fourth Glen House was constructed to serve winter sports enthusiasts as well as summer travelers. Almost predictably, in March 1967, this Glen House also caught fire and burned to the ground.
The current Glen House — the fifth iteration — opened in September 2018. This latest rendition, frankly, looks somewhat pedestrian from the exterior. It’s clean and crisp and new, yet lacks any real distinctive features, especially in contrast to the stunning backdrop of the Presidential Range.
Still, as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. The moment visitors walk into the main lobby, they’re treated to the dramatic great room, with a fieldstone fireplace and breathtaking views of Mount Washington and the Presidentials out the back of the property. Along one side of the great room is the hotel’s bar, named “the most beautiful bar in New Hampshire” by Architectural Digest, while the deck outside offers a blazing alfresco fire pit for more hardy après-ski connoisseurs. And they can set up shop within moments of their last run.
After a full day of making turns at Wildcat, it’s awfully nice to be able to take a right-hand turn out of the ski area’s parking lot and have a luxury hotel only two miles away. For years, skiers had to choose between the rustic Joe Dodge Lodge, run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, or a longer drive south to Jackson or north to Gorham. The Glen House makes that “commute” a snap.
During a late spring visit, a good friend and I needed less than 20 minutes to get off the hill at Wildcat, change up our cloths, and belly up to the grand bar for Happy Hour with enough time to enjoy the textured, late-afternoon light streaming through a gleaming bank of windows. Our bartender, Rob Vandegrift, was as talented at mixing conversation as he was cocktails. My friend noted that our drinks were as sophisticated as anything he might order in New York City, but at a fraction of the price. I initially was tempted to try a martini, crafted with the hotel’s own private label vodka made at Tamworth Distilling. But Vandegrift had other ideas. If you happen to be a fan of Manhattans — as I am — be sure to ask Rob about his bacon-infused bourbon. Amazing.
The aforementioned history of the area is respected and cherished at The Glen House. The hallways and rooms and public areas are adorned with a fabulous collection of old sepia-toned and black-and-white photographs, creating an entertaining retrospective of life here while paying homage to the this remarkable slice of the White Mountains. The mural that dominates one lobby wall, depicting a Jaguar roadster getting the checkered flag atop The Rockpile’s “Climb to the Clouds” race, is a classic.
Dinner is served in both the bar and the family-friendly Notch Grille, which specializes in rib-sticking comfort food like a Mount Washington Burger or Black Bean Burger, Vegan Shepherd’s Pie, Beef Short Rib, two different Seared Scallops entrees, and Lobster & Wild Mushroom Mac and Cheese (yes, there’s also a discounted Kids Menu). The Friday Night Prime Rib Special dangles incentive for skiers to make the trip up north at week’s end.
The rooms, decorated in an understated yet elegant Shaker style, are tidy and comfortable, and the luxurious bedding ensures a good night’s rest. Comically, my colleague and I were assigned a room with a single king-size bed, but the hotel staff was quick to rectify that situation (much to my colleague’s relief).
Every morning, The Notch Grille opens promptly at 7, allowing guests ample time to fuel up before a day on the hill or the groomed tracks of Great Glen Trails. No one should head outside hungry, with calorie-rich items like Steak Tips & Eggs, Pinkham Corned Beef Hash, Root Veggie & Apple Hash, and Apple Betty French Toast on the menu.
The hotel also features a heated indoor saltwater pool and fitness center, both of which are a welcome respite if the weather outside is particular harsh, and a welcome distraction if you’ve got youngsters in tow (though children are required to be on good behavior). In addition, a broad selection of television channels can turn your room into an away-from-home theater.
Even more impressive, for winter enthusiasts who are environmentally conscientious, is the hotel’s commitment to protecting and preserving Mother Nature. That “green” mindset is a continuation of an innovative tradition that began on the same site more than 170 years ago.
“Each new hotel took advantage of whatever the latest in building theory and technology had to offer,” said Howie Wemyss, general manager of the Mount Washington Auto Road/Great Glen Outdoor Center, which owns the hotel. “In 1885 when the second Glen House was constructed, it had electric as well as gas lights, a telegraph and an elevator.
“The fourth Glen House, built in 1924, was winterized with insulation and central heat to take advantage of the growing winter sports of skiing, tobogganing and snowshoeing,” said Wemyss.
The current Glen House boasts an array of 21st century sustainability practices. The hotel’s geothermal system utilizes 30 wells — drilled 500-feet deep — providing energy to heat the hotel in winter and cool it in summer. Employing a closed-loop system, a water-and-antifreeze mix is circulated through these wells and into the quiet heat pumps in each room and common areas, providing heating and cooling without burning fossil fuels or running conventional compressors. The hotel’s walk-in refrigerators and freezer also use the geothermal system to exhaust their heat into the ground.
LED lighting is standard throughout the hotel, from the smallest decorative fixtures to the parking lot lighting, further reducing energy consumption. All outdoor lighting is Dark Sky Compliant, which means that all light is pointed toward the ground and not into the sky, preserving the night sky. Stargazers will appreciate that touch.
Highly efficient Otis Gen2 elevators actually regenerate energy when the car is moving down, returning energy to the building. A new hydro-generator produces roughly 80 percent of the electric needs of the neighboring Great Glen Lodge activities center. Irrigating the hotel’s landscape of flowers, shrubs, trees and grass is done using a gravity feed from this same water system. The waterworks also is used for snowmaking and fire safety purposes.
Finally, the hotel recycles all plastic, metal and paper. Bathrooms feature refillable pump bottles for body wash, shampoo and conditioner, and guests are encouraged to take the bar soap home with them, using a wax paper bag provided by the hotel. There are public water fountains designed for filling reusable water bottles. The outdoor fire pit uses propane, not wood, to help maintain the Class I air quality standard found in the Great Gulf Wilderness area. And in the near future, The Glen House is expected to install solar photovoltaic capability to add to its onsite energy production.
Now, this commitment does require some sacrifice. For example, there are no in-room coffee makers, which were deemed energy inefficient and create waste. Instead, coffee and tea service is offered in the lobby. But when you stop and think about it, the concessions are small compared to the savings for the environment.
And the hotel offers other ways to save. “Ski & Stay Packages” begin at about $250, featuring a two-night stay in a standard room, a pair of adult two-day day lift tickets to ether Wildcat Mountain Ski Area or nearby Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett, and a daily $30 credit per room to The Notch Grille for breakfast.
The Glen House is dog-friendly. There is a nightly pet fee of $20, which include use of a doggie bed and water bowl, as well as treats and a message to the puppy.
As a bonus, every guest of the hotel gets access to complimentary cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing and fat biking at the adjacent Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. There are 45 kilometers of classic and skate groomed trails at the base of Mount Washington that offer a great workout, in addition to trails for snowshoers that are both groomed and well-marked backcountry trails. Great Glen Trails also offers the traditional walk up/slide down snow tubing, and fat biking is available any day that snow conditions allow. Equipment rentals are available for an additional charge. For a truly unique adventure, consider taking a tour of the Auto Road on the Mount Washington Snow Coach.
All that’s left for guests to do is figure out how to take advantage of all the amenities offered at The Glen House.