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Getting to the White Mountains – A history of transportation

The way adventurers interact with nature is a byproduct of their ability to access those wild spaces. So we wanted to explore the evolution of transportation from Boston to the White Mountains. Today, it takes Guineafowl Adventure Company vans two and a half hours to shuttle would-be hikers to our day-hikes across the Whites. But two hundred years ago, that journey would have taken much longer.

The White Mountains have called to travelers and adventurers for hundreds of years. A one-way journey for those first intrepid explorers took days to complete by a horse-drawn coach. Researchers at Plymouth State University explain, “The first travelers to the White Mountains tended to come from three groups: those with wealth and time enough for the slow course through the mountains, those who came to do scientific research, and those who came on business.”

Horses and Iron Horses

In the first half of the 1800s, artists flocked to the region to paint the untamed and dramatic landscapes of the White Mountains. Once brought to markets in northeastern cities, their artwork helped draw tourists to the region to see the wild splendor for themselves.

At that time, traveling to the White Mountains, especially for pleasure, not business, was the pastime of the wealthy. The journey took several days from Boston to the edge of the White Mountains by horse-drawn coach. The notion of vacation days was nonexistent to Boston’s day laborers, making the week-long round trip journey out of reach for most.

Historian and professor R. Stuart Wallace insists the rail line into the White Mountains was the most important factor in their popularity in the second half of the 19th century. “The railroad literally put the White Mountains at Boston’s back door,” writes Wallace in an article for Outlook Magazine.

He goes on, “Bostonians in 1887 could leave Boston at 7:30 in the morning and be at the Profile House in time for supper – unless, of course, they chose to take the more direct stage route through Franconia Notch – in which case they could leave Boston after breakfast and be boating on Echo Lake by late afternoon.”

Left: White Mountain Station House, J. R. Hitchcock & Company, c. 1860, Lithograph, Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society; Right: Homeward Bound, Mt. Washington, Benjamin West Kilburn, Date unknown, Stereoview card image, Museum of the White Mountains, Dan Noel Collection.

The images above are borrowed from the 2013 exhibit, "Passing Through: The Allure of the White Mountains," from Plymouth State University.

In the 1840s, the rail line stopped at the edge of the White Mountains, where a coach was still necessary to bring travelers to towns of interest and their accommodations. Ten years later, the rail line extended to well-known towns such as Gorham, Littleton, Plymouth, and Conway. Then, anyone who may afford a train ticket could spend a weekend in the White Mountains.

Driving from Boston to the White Mountains

If the railroad opened the door for the ordinary person to visit the White Mountains from Boston and other northeastern cities, the advent of the automobile gave the ordinary person the independence to experience the Whites in his own fashion.

In the first part of the 20th century, the automobile changed how American families vacationed. “The automobile brought a new generation of Americans into the White Mountains: a generation of Americans who, in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, wished to get back to nature and seek a rugged yet personal experience in America’s vanishing open spaces,” Wallace explains.

At first, automobiles brought exploring the White Mountains to a new generation of Americans who wanted to return to nature and explore America’s vanishing open spaces. But, as cars became more ubiquitous and affordable, people spent less time exploring the mountains. “By the First World War, it became fashionable to “do” the White Mountains and then move on,” according to Wallace. “Accelerated speeds meant accelerated pace.”

GAC vans take hikers from Greater Boston to the White Mountains.

Modern travelers continue the trend of expedience to – and through – the White Mountains. The fastest route from Boston is a two-and-a-half-hour drive up I-93. Several bus companies and rail lines still carry passengers and cargo from east coast cities to the White Mountains, though, by comparison, rail and bus travel is not as efficient as it was in days past.

Travelers seeking a carefree journey to the White Mountains may find Guineafowl Adventure Company’s door-to-door service useful. Our goal has always been to bridge the gap between Boston and the White Mountains. That’s why we offer transportation from Boston to trailheads throughout the White Mountain National Forest.

Traveling within the White Mountains

Once in the Mountains, travel by foot is often still the most efficient – if not the only – way to access several points of interest. Early travelers walked or rode horses across the mountains out of necessity. Today, we walk – hike – for pleasure.

President Woodrow Wilson established the White Mountain National Forest. His proclamation in 1918, after the passage of the Weeks Act, created the 800,000-acre forest, which reaches across part of New Hampshire and extends into western Maine. The White Mountains are the most popular national forest destinations on the east coast, welcoming more than six million visitors annually.

Hikers come from across the United States – and the world – as they pass through the Whites on a longer trek across the Appalachian Trail. However, if hiking is the most common way to explore the Whites, skiing is the second. The White Mountains draw hikers, skiers, and outdoor enthusiasts with 1,200 miles of trail, six ski touring areas, and four alpine ski areas.

As early as 1861, tourists could drive the toll road to the top of Mount Washington, avoiding the physical exertion of climbing to the summit on foot. Yet, despite easy access to the toll road and railway, roughly a quarter of a million travelers every year choose to climb Mount Washington the old-fashioned way, by foot.

A hike through the White Mountains traces the footsteps of the thousands of Americans who trekked here before us. Seen as a right of passage by some recreationalists, hiking in the White Mountain National Forest connects us to a long-standing history of tenacious and adventurous souls who left behind the comforts of Boston for the excitement of the unknown, even if it’s just for an afternoon.


If you’re considering a journey to the White Mountains for hiking, but would rather leave the packing and planning to the professionals, Guineafowl can help. Guineafowl Adventure offers curated, full-service, end-to-end guided group hiking and outdoor experiences, so you can relax and enjoy your time communing with nature in the White Mountains. Visit our website to see a listing of scheduled hikes, or contact us to book a corporate or private hike for your small group.

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