QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: 751 acres
- Trail Mileage: ~13.3 miles in network
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: moderate to challenging
- Sights: 360-degree views, open summit (2,214-ft), river access
For a not too terribly strenuous climb, this 2,214-foot mountain has a glorious open top with 360-degree views. This mountain is part of the 751-acre Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Rumford Whitecap Preserve, and contains a large system of trails for hikers and skiers.
Rumford Whitecap has two parking areas with trailheads on the East Andover Road. The first lot you arrive at coming from the east is the bigger of the two, and the one most hikers choose as their base. If you are starting from here, you can take off on the Red/Orange Trail across the road. It’s farthest east in the system and blazed with red. It’ll ascend more or less on a steady incline for 1.6 miles, with some steeper sections, until it arrives at the intersection with the trail to the summit. Take a left, hike up 0.4 miles to the ridge. From this point, it’s 0.6 miles to the summit. There are spectacular views along the ledges. The last stretch to the summit is wonderful.
For the descent, I highly recommend walking down along the Starr Trail (blazed in yellow) on the left/west, which lets you walk into the spectacular views of this route. In total, this trail is about 2.8 miles from summit to parking area. If you do the loop of red trail up and yellow trail down, the total mileage, according to my GPS, is around 5.4 miles.
The connector trail between the two trails at the bottom of the mountain takes you over a small bridge where you can check out a charming stream with small falls.
Note: When you start out at the bottom of the red trail, you’ll see a snowmobile trail heading off to the left, close to the trail sign-in box. Continue on straight here, up the wide path. At about 0.35 miles from the parking lot, you’ll pass the connector trail to the yellow trail, or Starr Trail.
If you’re headed up Starr Trail, make sure you don’t miss the walking path that veers to the left at roughly half a mile from the connector trail. It’s marked by a cairn, but I missed it! If you miss it, you’ll end up walking along a grassy old road, now the ski trail. It’s not as nice, but it does reconnect with the hiking path.
PS — I’m not really sure the point of the Boundary Trail, a roughly 0.8-mile connector between west and east side trails, but it does include a pretty waterfall.
River to Ridge Trail: Another way up to the Whitecap summit is the ~2.3-mile ridge-to-river trail, a moderately steep trail with ribbons and white blazes marking the way. There is a dispiriting moment when, after climbing steadily for 1.3 miles, you start heading steeply down again, before picking back up to reach the Starr Trail. This trail starts from a trailhead close to the Ellis River where there is a a small loop with river access—it can be buggy in the summer. For those who like to cool off with a swim after a sweaty hike, this is the trailhead for you! The short river loop includes a bench overlooking the river, and from here, while the bank is high, you could possibly clamber down and walk across some mud to a beautiful beach. But there is easier river access a bit farther along the loop, down a short side trail close to the picnic table. The beach here isn’t great, but the river has a sandy bottom and is very clear. You could theoretically continue your walk (southeast) along the river, but a sign warning against copious amounts of poison ivy and a dilapidated bridge over a shallow ravine both discourage further exploring.
Black and White Trail: A 6.6-mile trail connects Whitecap and Black Mountain ski area. The Black Mountain side is not as glorious and dramatic as the Whitecap side. If you do this hike starting from Whitecap, you’ll descend down Whitecap along a forested trail until you reach the bottom of the valley between Whitecap and Black Mountain. The trail crosses a grassy helicopter landing and then starts up Black Mountain, reaching an old building close to the cell tower with a bit of a view, before proceeding down the mountain mostly via a footpath. The Black-and-White trail does not seem terribly well used, but it is well marked.
If you start from the Black Mountain base lodge, you’ll want to hike up the mountain underneath the chairlift farthest to the right (if you’re looking up the mountain). Once you get to the top of the chairlift, continue left on the road behind it. Look for a sign for the Whitecap/Black Mountain trail on your right in about 100 yards.
Directions: From Route 5 (also called the Ellis River Road) turn right on Andover Road and onto the short bridge over Ellis River. After 0.4 miles, turn left on East Andover Road, and go another 0.2 miles to the first of tw0 parking lots on the left. The trail begins across the road. Additionally, if you drive another 0.9 miles down East Andover Road, you’ll arrive at the parking lot for the River to Ridge Trail.