In Maine’s western mountains, some hiking trails get outsized attention. There’s the Appalachian Trail, drawing more thru-hikers every year and providing some of the more popular day hikes in Maine.

The ski areas draw hikers and mountain bikers (and skiers, of course) year round. Some of Maine’s most beautiful waterfalls, like Screw Auger and Angel, motivate travelers to drive many hours to visit.

One side effect of the attention these spots receive is that a lot of other trails get ignored, even by avid hikers. While these trails might not have the appeal of the marquee hikes, they have their own charms, comparative privacy among them. One such hike is Mount Zircon, a granite-capped peak outside Rumford that offers great views and some intriguing history. Despite spending half a decade living in nearby Farmington – and even longer hiking in the area – I’d never heard of Zircon until this spring.

The real difficulty with the Mount Zircon trail comes not from the hike itself, but from finding the trail. It’s a trailhead that, if you’re used to the well-signed routes of state parks and land trusts, is a challenge to find. Starting from intown Rumford (you can use the Rumford Information Center as an origin point), take the South Rumford Road and cross the Androscoggin. Bear right at the fork and continue for 2.2 miles. You’ll want to watch for a sign for the Rumford Water District, which marks the head of the trail. The inconspicuous trail begins as a private gravel road nestled between two houses on South Rumford Road; not exactly an easy trailhead to spot.

If you miss the trailhead, rest assured you weren’t the only one. In fact, a likely turnoff nearby has a handwritten sign that proclaims “this is not the Mount Zircon trail.” Once you’ve found the trailhead, there’s room to park near the metal gate at the start of the trail, but do not block the road.

After passing around the gate, follow a dirt-and-gravel road that rises gently as it heads south. It’s a pleasant but unremarkable stretch, a nearly rail-straight shot through deciduous trees that line the old road. After about a mile and a half of hiking, you reach the first bit of the Mount Zircon hike that qualifies as an attraction – the old Moon Tide Spring House.


In the 19th century, Mount Zircon gained acclaim as the location of the Moon Tide Spring, a freshwater spring with a flow that (supposedly) fluctuated with the phases of the moon. Owners of the land from which the water flowed, sensing a chance to make a bit of money, lauded the healing properties of the lunar water. The spring was opened to the public in the 1850s and was so popular (or at least so well marketed) that it spawned a resort hotel.

In 2016, all that remains of this colorful history is the Zircon Water Bottling Company springhouse and spring. While the building is not open to those on the trail (“Authorized People Only” signs abound), an outlet pipe on the far side of the road provides access to the purportedly healing waters. Medicinal or not, the water still flows quick, clean and ice-cold.

A half-mile beyond the old spring house, there’s a poorly signed turn on the trail, marking where you leave the gravel road. The spur to Mount Zircon’s peak is on the left, marked by a sign about 15 yards off the gravel road you’ve been following. Unfortunately, you won’t really know if you miss it, as the road itself continues south. If you don’t have a GPS device to mark how far you’ve hiked, keep your eyes peeled once you pass the spring house. The sign for the trail is a white, circular marker posted high on a tree.

From here, the trail gets markedly tighter and steeper, climbing almost 900 feet (half the vertical of the 2.5 mile trail) in a half-mile. As you ascend, the trees gradually shift to fir and spruce on the approach to the summit. The final chunk isn’t as steep as the killer trails of Evans Notch (you aren’t climbing hand over hand), but it’s a good workout. Rocks and roots on the trail make slowing down to watch your step a necessity.

At 2,240 feet, the peak of Mount Zircon isn’t nearly at the treeline. However, the granite slab of the summit still provides for nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. To the west are the eight peaks of Sunday River, as well as the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire. To the north is the town center of Rumford, with the ski trails of Black Mountain of Maine beyond. A man-made attraction, the farm of wind turbines on Jay’s Spruce Mountain is to the east.

There’s also a curious structure on the peak, another relic of Zircon’s past. A 60-foot steel fire tower, built almost a century ago, lies on its side at the summit. The tower caught fire in 1975 and was cut down the following year. Rather than being removed, the fallen tower was left in place, and a cairn marks where the tower once stood.

Mount Zircon is an out-and-back hike, so all that’s left after summiting is to retrace your path to your car. Without the worry of finding turns or trailheads, the descent is easier and less confusing than the climb up. After refilling your canteen at the Moon Tide Spring you can either head home or, if you’re feeling ambitious, tack on a hike at nearby Black Mountain or Rumford Whitecap.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]

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