Cannon Mountain’s Aerial Tramway – A Fun Ride to the Top
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
This summer Cannon Mountain celebrates 80 years of Aerial Tramway service! Cannon is the home to the first aerial tramway in North America when it first opened in 1938.
I missed the party but I did attempt to take the free ride that was offered to New Hampshire residents back on June 29th as part of the birthday celebration. I made it to the tramway in the late afternoon before closing time, but I didn’t beat the thunderstorm. They had to close early due to the storm so I missed my chance that day.
Cannon Mountain rises high up from the floor of Franconia Notch, up over two thousand vertical feet. There are a good number of hiking trails up the mountain but the Cannon Tram is the fastest and fun way to the top.
I stopped by The Mountain Wander Map and Bookstore and Steve Smith was minding his store. Smith is the editor of the new 30th edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide. I am sure he was amused that I only stopped in to ask for directions to the Post Office. I had never been to the Lincoln Post Office before and I discovered inside that it has two wonderful murals of early Lincoln.
My phone went ding and a message from my friend Carey Kish read he was standing in the Mountain Wander and he heard I was nearby. Kish is the editor of the new 11th edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. He was on his way to do his presentation about his new guide later that evening at the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch.
I zoomed back to the Mountain Wanderer and the three of us had a fun visit talking about their new guide books and our recent travels. Carey had a couple of hours to spare so I suggested we go find a place to have a beer and enjoy a good view. I had in mind a few establishments in Franconia and Sugar Hill but as we were driving through the Notch I knew where we needed to go!
Carey was game to ride the Tram and this was his first summer ride.
There are welcoming 80th anniversary banners flying at the entrance of the tram house. We purchased our tickets and got in line to board. The line forms in the big building that used to house the original tramway. The entrance where the tram used to enter the building is covered with glass and through this window there is a fine view up the tramline.
The tramcar holds 80 people like sardines but we enjoyed about 60 people comfortably as the operator closed the doors. Kyle was our friendly operator and he explained that we wouldn’t be headed up until the tram on top was loaded and ready to go because as one car goes up the other travels down.
Kyle made the New Hampshire State Parks proud; he gave us an excellent tour. He pointed out that we could see the one of the original tramcars at the entrance of the New England Ski Museum right next to the tram house and it only held 27 passengers but carried more than 6 million visitors during its time of service. He told us more history and pointed out and named the distant mountain peaks. And he told us some funnies, such as the car we were riding in was called Mustard because it was yellow and the other car is Ketchup because it is red and he was sure we’d relish the view, ha ha. He had the whole car chuckling.
The day was clear and we enjoyed views that reached into Maine and Canada. Many riders have been lucky to see a family of bears that frequently graze under the tram and on the nearby ski trails. I guess the bears must have been playing in the woods because we didn’t get to see them.
The ride was smooth up and many in the car whispered “ooooh” when the car gently rocked into the summit building. The doors opened and the car emptied out quickly.
Carey and I walked over to the edge of the building and looked down the ski trails and out at the mountains. Old Speck Mountain in Maine and Willoughby Notch in Vermont were easily recognizable.
It was a treat to see the whole Franconia Range stretched out in front of us at nearly eye level. Riding the tram is a great way to get a mountain summit experience.
Inside the summit building it looked pretty much the same as it does in winter but no one is dressed in ski clothes. The cafeteria and the pub were open. We took a seat at the bar and we each enjoyed a Cannon Ale—it’s brewed locally by the Woodstock Station.
After our refreshments we walked up the short path from the building to the observation tower. The temperature was much cooler on the summit and I was glad I had brought along a jacket. Hikers and tram riders mingled on the tower. We picked a great day to enjoy a mountain top!
On the ride back down there was no tour talk but the tram operator happily answered passenger’s questions.
In the base station there is an Old Man of the Mountain exhibit that has many interesting historical items and memorabilia that can be viewed before or after your tram ride. It is still hard to believe the Old Man fell 15 years ago.
We’ve been many times to the New England Ski Museum but we still wished we had had time to visit again. The Ski Museum is right next to the tram house, free admission and their exhibits include Bode Miller’s Olympic medals.