A Guide to Hiking Black Cap Mountain

At peak of Black Cap Mountain, hikers can soak in views of both New Hampshire's neighboring White Mountains and western Maine. See more pictures of national parks.
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The general run of this highland country is the finest I have ever seen...Nothing that I have ever read has given any idea of the beauty of this country.
Ernest Hemingway

Sure, Papa Hem' may have been referring to the green hills of Africa (made famous in his book of the same name), but he could have easily been talking about an emerald mountain range right here in the U.S. Perched among New Hampshire's Green Hills, Black Cap Mountain, which draws its name from its granite-swept peak, is a popular destination for hikers, bikers and nature enthusiasts of every stripe, offering majestic vistas, a wide variety of animal and plant life and accessible trails [source: Federal Writers Project].

Located within the 4,200-acre (1770-hectare) Green Hill Preserve, Black Cap lies just east of North Conway Village near the New Hampshire-Maine border. The 2,369-foot (730-meter) jaunt to the summit is considered a relatively easy hike and the mountain is accessible to both adventurers on two feet and those on two non-motorized wheels [source: The Nature Conservancy].

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Black Cap's well-traveled, short trails meander through beech forest and red oak tree canopy as well as red and white pine. They also offer a glimpse of at least four rare and endangered plants, not to mention the various wildlife that roam the Green Hills. Carved out of pre-historic rock, Black Cap provides visitors many stunning examples of the igneous rock (solidified from molten material either at or beneath the ground surface) for which the Granite State earned its handle [sources: New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, Harwood].

Once atop the peak, hikers can soak in views of New Hampshire's neighboring White Mountains as well as western Maine.

To paraphrase Hemingway, the "general run" of the place ain't half bad. Before you strap on your boots and head for the hills, read on for a guide to hiking Black Cap Mountain.

Black Cap Mountain Hiking: Green Hills Trending Ridge

J.D. Salinger, David Petraeus, Supreme Court justice David Souter; New Hampshire's quiet, snowy aesthetic and fiercely held independent ideology have welcomed a long line of heady thinkers. Yet while freedom and liberty -- anyone who's been stuck in traffic behind a New Hampshire driver knows that "Live Free or Die" is the state's official motto -- are at the forefront of the state's way of life, there's only one thing that really gets a New Hampshirite's motor running: hard rock.

The Granite State is literally teeming with the state rock, including in the Green Hills trending ridge. Derived from Conway Granite, a volcanic bedrock formed approximately 200 million years ago, the ridge features stunning glimpses of the exposed bedrock [source: The Nature Conservancy].

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The ridge is part of the Green Hills Preserve, pristine land protected from development by the Nature Conservancy. With 4,200 acres of ridgeline, the north-south trending ridge includes three mountain peaks: Black Cap (the highest peak of the three), Middle Mountain and Peaked Mountain. Nearly 12 miles (19 kilometers) of hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, provide routes to the summits of each mountain [source: The Nature Conservancy].

The trek to the top of Middle Mountain, 1,857 feet (566 meters) above sea level, is easily managed via a two-mile (3.2 kilometer) trail that winds through both wetlands and hardwood forests. Meanwhile, a 2.1 mile (3.4 kilometer) trail goes through similar scenery, including smooth, marble-like "glacial polish" to the 1,739-foot (530 meter) summit of Peaked Mountain, which is actually located between Middle Mountain and Black Cap [source: The Nature Conservancy].

The various wonders of them there hills aren't just for adventurers who travel the area on foot. Black Cap Mountain in particular offers bike riders the chance to take in the scenery with the wind in their hair. Read on to find out how to scour the territory on two wheels.

Black Cap Mountain Hiking: NEMBA Biking Trail

The New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) brings together the region's bike enthusiasts, sponsoring rides, conducting training clinics and providing information about trails and cycling opportunities. It's blazed bike trails all across the northeast, including one at Black Cap Mountain. Yet, as serious as they are about cycling, even the good folks at NEMBA know there's a time to ride and a time to drive [source: NEMBA].

The organization notes that this trek starts with a big climb or a two-mile (3.2 kilometer) drive up from Black Cap's base along a narrow, winding road to the mountain's bike trail. Those looking for a hearty workout need not fear: The bike trail starts with a one-mile (1.6 kilometer) uphill climb. The single track then peaks before falling into a smooth sloping descent. All that work getting up the mountain finally pays off two miles later, with a sharp, speedy mile-and-a-half (2.4 kilometer) decline down a dirt track [source: NEMBA].

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Along the way, opportunities abound for riders to take in the majestic mountain scenery, including the granite rockwork and nearby picturesque woodlands. They should also pay attention to the trail's rolling terrain, however, as tree roots pop up here and there [source: NEMBA].

Black Cap's roller coaster-like bike trail lets out on the mountain's western side, near Hurricane Mountain and typically takes one or two hours to complete. Those who biked the entire way can continue the ride to Horsefeathers, a local watering hole where cyclists often show up to work off a heavy post-ride thirst. Those who drove uphill can figure out how to get back to the car [source: NEMBA].

Black Cap Mountain Hiking: Views

The view from the weather station, White Mountains, N.H.
The view from the weather station, White Mountains, N.H.
Tony Sweet/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Hiking and biking are a natural, zesty enterprise, not to mention a good way to get exercise. There's no shortage of opportunities to do both in New England. What brings these athletes to Black Cap and the surrounding area is the view, both on the way up and at the mountain's summit.

First, there's all that glorious rock. Then there's the varied array of interestingly named wildlife residing on it. Black bears and bobcats have long called the mountain home, while many of their neighbors are lesser-known creatures. Wood warblers, for instance, are bright yellow-breasted birds who perched themselves among the mountains woodlands. Less flashy whip-poor-wills, on the other hand, are typically heard, but not seen. The birds' brownish hue serves as camouflage among the surrounding forest. Finally, Black Cap's bald peak allows visitors to get a good look at the mountain's nighthawks when the sun sets [source: New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands].

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Four rare plants also make their residence on the mountain: White Mountain silverling, smooth sandwort, green adder's mouth and Douglas' knotweed. Unlike most plants, these thrive in distressed soil. Green thumbs can also take in Black Cap's abundant beech forests whose nuts are a staple of the local black bear diet. Red oak and maple trees are also visible while hiking the mountain along with the red pine whose thick canopy dots the ridgeline [source: The Nature Conservancy].

Hiking Black Cap is about both the journey and the destination. Once atop the mountain's peak, hikers enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of both New Hampshire and Maine, including the jagged Green Hills ridgeline and nearby White Mountains. Even closer is the local valley and the town of Conway, where somewhere a bunch of cyclists who missed out on the vista are sopping up the local brew.

Explore the links on the next page for more information about hiking and biking adventures.

Author's Note

I've climbed to the top of many a peak in my 30-plus years on the planet, if I do say so myself, but the last time I was at the summit of a mountain, it was Old Rag in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. I came to this awe inspiring pile of dirt not for the views of the Old Dominion countryside, which are stunning, but for the after party. Ben Jones, the guy who played Cooter in"The Dukes of Hazard" (the TV series, not the unfortunate film version of this American classic) used to own a place in nearby Sperryville, where he hosted a semi-regular bluegrass jam session. I never did make it to Cooter's Place -- Sperryville isn't the easiest place to locate on a map -- but I certainly made it to the top of that mountain.

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Sources:

  • Federal Writers Project. "New Hampshire: A Guide to the Granite State." U.S. History Publishers. 1938 (May 22,2012)
  • Harwood, Richard. "Igneous Rock Identification." Black Hawk College (May 22, 2012) http://facweb.bhc.edu/academics/science/harwoodr/geol101/labs/igneous/
  • New England Mountain Biking Association. "NEMBA." (May 18, 2012) http://www.nemba.org
  • New England Mountain Biking Association. "Places to Ride: Black Cap." (May 18, 2012) http://www.nemba.org/ridingzone/p_Black_Cap.html
  • New Hampshire Division of Lands and Forests. "Green Hills Preserve: Rocky Ridge." (May 18, 2012) http://nhdfl.org/events-tours-and-programs/visit-nh-biodiversity/green-hills-preserve.aspx
  • The Nature Conservancy. "Green Hills Preserve." (May 18, 2012) http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newhampshire/placesweprotect/green-hills-preserve.xml
  • The Nature Conservancy. "Green Hills Preserve Trail Map & Guide." (May 18, 2012) http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newhampshire/placesweprotect/green-hills-map-guide-for-web.pdf