As New Englanders, we’ve become accustomed to experiencing the mountains in all seasons and in the many different ways we can travel through them — from the vast networks of hiking trails to classic scenic roadways to nordic and alpine skiing trails, and on and on.
One of the oldest technologies constructed to welcome tourists into the heart of the mountains remains one of the most popular today, especially in the fall. Historic railway systems in New Hampshire in particular offer adventurists distinct experiences aboard both the Conway Scenic Railroad and the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
CONWAY SCENIC RAILROAD
The iconic hub of downtown North Conway, the main train station complex, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and welcomes visitors to embark on distinct and scenic railway adventures. Visitors can climb aboard the Valley Train, which runs south to Conway (55-minute round trip) or west to Bartlett (1¾-hour round trip), or the Notch Train, which cuts through Crawford Notch (a five-hour round trip). In the fall foliage season, the Notch Train is extended to 5½ hours, traveling to Fabyan Station, located near Bretton Woods in the town of Carroll.
The Notch Train dates back to the 1870s when it served as the Maine Central Railroad’s Mountain Division line. Today, visitors from around the world climb aboard for an inspiring ride through rugged Crawford Notch and its sheer bluffs, steep ravines, cascading brooks and streams, and panoramic mountain vistas.
Excursions include a layover at Crawford Station, across from Saco Lake and adjacent to the AMC’s Highland Center. Passengers are encouraged to get off the train, stretch their legs and explore their beautiful surroundings.
In the fall (from Sept. 15-Oct. 13), riders can travel all the way to Fabyan Station, a 60-mile round trip journey. All rides feature live commentary onboard, offering an informed glimpse into the history and folklore of the railroad and all its points of interest.
Winding through the Mount Washington Valley to Bartlett or to Conway without venturing into any serious mountain climbing, the valley line welcomes riders aboard vintage passenger cars dating to the 1920s.
The Bartlett excursion is a relaxing journey through valley fields and woodlands, crossing the East Branch, Saco and Ellis rivers along the way. The Conway excursion is a shorter ride, ideal for families with young children, that travels south past the Moat Mountain Range and parallels Route 16 before passing through farmlands and crossing Moat Brook, the Saco and Swift rivers, on the way to Conway.
The Conway Scenic Railway is offering several new fall adventures in 2018:
Attitash Express: The Attitash Mountain Express leaves from North Conway station at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and arrives in just over an hour at the Whistle Stop platform at Attitash Mountain Village. Tickets and Attitash vouchers can be redeemed at the mountain for admission to a variety of activities. Trains return to North Conway from the Whistle Stop platform at 3:35 and 7:05 p.m.
Children’s benefit: Mark Oct. 14 on your calendar, as this special railway excursion through Crawford Notch serves as a fundraiser to benefit local families and children’s charities supported by the Kiwanis Club of Mount Washington Valley and by the Mount Washington Valley Habitat for Humanity clubs.
The train will depart from North Conway station at 11 a.m. and return at 4 p.m. Included in the excursion is an hour layover at Crawford Station, located across from Saco Lake and adjacent to the AMC’s Highland Center.
Murder Mystery: The Conway Scenic Railway kicks up its train adventure a few notches this fall by hosting “A Talent for Murder” dinner train excursions on Oct. 19-20 and 26-27. This first-class, adult-only, formal murder mystery dinner train welcomes passengers to participate as much or as little as they like in the tongue-in-cheek humor and antics that will keep everyone on their toes as they work the clues to determine the killer on board.
The scenario is the finals of New England’s prestigious “America’s Got The Goods” show, where competitors may stop at nothing, including murder, for the chance to win the \$1 cash prize and their own headline show in Las Vegas.
The train departs promptly at 6 p.m. Cocktails will be served and all meals prepared to order by the partnering culinary team at Attitash Resort.
Pumpkin Patch Express: This event offered on Oct. 19-21 and Oct. 26-28 travels to the “Pumpkin Express” in Conway, where passengers are invited to get off the train and participate in activities. Children can pick out their own pumpkin and participate in games like “Corn Cob Toss” and barrel car rides. There will be two departures daily, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., as well as a 3 p.m. train on both Saturdays.
MOUNT WASHINGTON COG RAILWAY
Anniversaries are the perfect time for reflection, especially when celebrating 150 years. To endure the test of time since 1868 is an impressive accomplishment.
Consider the following for a little perspective on it. In 1868, Charles Darwin published his book “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.” The chemical element helium was discovered and named. Thomas Edison applied for his very first patent — an electronic voting machine.
And in New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Cog Railway opened.
Fondly known as “the Cog,” the world’s first rack-and-pinion mountainclimbing train has been chug chugging its way up and down the Northeast’s highest peak ever since. It remains one of New England’s most beloved mountain adventures, steeped both in nostalgia and in elevation — its average grade above 25 percent makes it the second steepest rack railway in the world today.
“The Cog Railroad was not built for mining, it was not built for logging … it was built for tourism,” declared Peter Crane, curator for the Mount Washington Observatory. Perhaps that explains how the railway has not only survived all these years, but also thrived. New technologies have a way of replacing the old in the interest of expanding production and commerce. With its focus on the tourist and adventurist experience, this unique cog system in this unique place may never lose its appeal or its place in time.
There are two methods, in fact, in which visitors can ascend Mount Washington using the Cog system. They are vastly different when it comes to rider experience, however. The first would be by bicycle via the Auto Road, a 7.6-mile climb that is open to cyclists only a few times a year. The Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb, now in its 46th year, is one of those occasions and has attracted cyclists from around the world for a race to the summit. While the fastest get there in under an hour, many others simply hope to get there at all.
The train offers a far more userfriendly Cog experience by switching up bicycle mechanics. Visualize a much heavier-duty bicycle chain being stretched along the track from the Marshfield Base Station all the way to the summit. Now visualize one of your bicycle cogs being mounted to the train. It is this turning cog that does all the work. The train’s wheels are simply along for the ride as the engine pushes the passenger car up the climb, then, in reverse, holds it back from careening out of control down the descent.
Scenic train rides take about an hour to the summit and an hour back to the base station with an hour in between for guests to explore the views from the top, including the Sherman Adams Visitor Center. Guests will be rewarded with 360-degree views into five states, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean — depending on weather and visibility, of course. Trips depart daily from April through November.
Visitors should also be sure to check out the free Cog Railway Museum that features historic displays and interactive exhibits. Also here, the Emmy Awardwinning documentary “Climbing to the Clouds” is shown.