Mount Zircon straddles the town lines of Milton and Peru a couple miles south of the Androscoggin River. At 2,240 feet, the peak is the highest in the Oxford Hills, which sprawl far and wide across the southern reaches of Oxford County. The panorama from the summit ledges is one of the best in western Maine for the moderate hike required to get there.

In a 1924 Rumford Falls Times article, P.L. Berry wrote of Mount Zircon “…on whose solid rock-bound summit rests… a steel tower with large wooden observation room… The beauties and grandeur that can be seen from the top is good compensation for the hard work—and one is well repaid… The view is wide and grand to all points of the compass…”

The 60-foot fire tower, erected in 1922 in the early days of Maine’s forest fire prevention efforts, stood for 53 years atop Mt. Zircon until it was cut down by the Maine Forest Service in 1975. The rusting tower frame, a landmark of sorts, remained there on its side until last August, when it was unceremoniously removed.

A 60-foot fire tower was erected atop Mount Zircon in 1922. It was cut down and left in place by the Maine Forest Service in 1975. The tower was removed by helicopter in August 2022. Carey Kish photo

The tower may be gone, but the amazing vista remains, taking in the White Mountains, the Mahoosucs, the Oxford Hills and the High Peaks Region. Mount Washington, Old Speck, Black Mountain, Bald and Speckled mountains, Mount Blue, Bigelow, Sugarloaf and Crocker – they’re all there in your sights.

The first 2.2 miles of the Mount Zircon Trail follow an old wagon road dating to the mid-1800s, when this now heavily wooded land was one of hay meadows, fertile fields and well-kept farmsteads. According to an Oxford Democrat article, however, it wasn’t until 1882 that “Mr. John H. Richardson [cut] a path from his farm on the west slope of the mountain to… Mt. Zircon.” This is the same 0.7-mile route hikers still use to connect the old road to the mountaintop.

The spring house of the former Mount Zircon Spring Water Company, built in 1890, still stands along the trail 1.5 miles from the start of the hike. Carey Kish photo

A mile and a half from the trailhead is the spring house of the former Mount Zircon Spring Water Company. The hip-roofed structure was built in 1890 over the Mount Zircon Spring, which today runs clear and cold out of a PVC pipe directly across the road. It’s nectar of the gods for thirsty hikers and as good as water in the wilds gets.


In 1849, Dexter D.W. Abbott of Rumford purchased land around Zircon Brook that included the spring, began wheat farming, and built a sawmill and miller’s house. His first cousin just so happened to be married to Hiram Ricker of Poland Spring fame, and that likely gave Abbott some ideas on how to make a business of his gushing spring water.

Abbott first marketed Mount Zircon Spring Water to the public in 1859, claiming it cured such ailments as “Dyspepsia and Liver and Kidney Complaints… Indigestion and all Diseases arising from Impurity of the Blood,” according to a circular widely distributed by Abbott himself. He built a hotel the following year to accommodate a growing number of visitors to the Mount Zircon Spring, aka the Moon Tide Spring, so named for its fluctuating output that was said to ebb and flow based upon the earth’s tides. Like the water’s healing claims, though, this “moon-tide effect” was never verified, but the stories made for effective advertising.

Hikers enjoy some quality time on top of Mount Zircon, marked by a large cairn, on a beautiful spring day. Carey Kish photo

Mount Zircon and its neighboring peak, Little Mount Zircon, were originally named Peaked Mountain and Little Peaked Mountain. But in another stroke of marketing savvy, Abbott renamed them, not because they held anything akin to quality gemstones, but as a more appealing draw to potential guests.

Abbott’s Mount Zircon House was destroyed by fire in 1872, but that didn’t end demand for the celebrated mineral water, which continued to be barreled and shipped to Portland and Boston. In 1897, a bottling house was erected adjacent to the spring and was soon producing not only natural water, but sparkling water, club soda and ginger champagne.

A larger bottling plant was built at the base of the mountain in 1921, and through multiple ownership changes, two world wars and many economic woes, the Mount Zircon Spring Water Company maintained a reputation for quality throughout the U.S. and Europe. Its operations ceased in the early 1990s.

The Mount Zircon Moon Tide Spring by Randall H. Bennett is a fascinating account of the spring’s rich and colorful history. Carey Kish photo

Enjoy the hike, the spring, the view and the history. And ask your local library to find you a copy of “The Mount Zircon Moon Tide Spring” by Randall H. Bennett. It’s a fascinating read.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is an award winning member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His new book, “Beer Hiking New England,” is now available. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram @careykish

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