Difficulty: Strenuous because of the steep, rocky stretch of trail near the top of the mountain. The 2-mile trail starts out easy, though a bit muddy in the spring and early summer, then becomes increasingly difficult as it climbs the mountain. Water runs over the trail in many areas. Watch out for slippery roots and rocks.
How to get there: From the town of Oquossoc, start at the intersection of Route 17 and Route 16 at the center of town. Drive west on Route 16 for 17.9 miles. The trailhead will be on your left hand side, just before a gravel drive. The trail used to be marked with a sign, but on June 12, the sign was missing and the trail was marked with two red blazes, painted on trees on either side of the trail. If you reach Aziscohos Dam, you’ve driven exactly 1 mile too far.
Information: Rising 3,215 feet above sea level in western Maine, Aziscohos Mountain has attracted hikers since the 1800s because its bald summit offers a panoramic view of the mountains, lakes and ponds of the Rangeley area.
The name “Aziscohos” is believed to be derived from a word in the Algonquian languages spoken by the native people of Maine. However, the meaning of the name is debated. Some sources state that “Aziscohos” is an Abenaki word meaning “small pine trees,” while other sources state “Aziscohos” is likely derived from a similar Penobscot word meaning “covered with mud.” Having hiked the mountain on a rainy day in June, I can confirm that I saw plenty of both — pine trees and mud — on the mountain.
Furthermore, many sources about the mountain offer a different spelling — “Aziscoos.” In fact, this spelling of the mountain’s name is used in an article about the mountain’s history, laminated and posted at the trail intersection near the summit of the mountain.
Today, Aziscohos Mountain is located on privately owned property, but hikers continue to climb to its summit using two trails. Those who do attempt to hike the mountain do so at their own risk. Though located on a well-traveled road, the trail is fairly remote. There is no trail register and no one checking in on the trail on a regular basis. Also, cell phone service is extremely limited on the mountain.
The 2-mile Aziscohos Mountain Trail starts on Route 16, exactly 1 mile east of Aziscohos Dam, and is currently maintained by the Trails for Rangeley Area Coalition, a local group that maintains a handful of hiking trails in the Rangeley Lakes Area. The trail is marked with red blazes and starts out fairly easy, traveling through a hardwood forest and up a gentle slope. As is the case with many mountain trails, the trail becomes increasingly steep and rocky as it nears the summit. Just below the summit, in a sheltered area, the trail intersects with the Tower Man’s Trail. At this intersection, veer left to hike the remaining 0.1 mile to the summit, which is marked with a wooden sign nestled in stunted evergreens.
(There is no sign at the trailhead, but a short distance into the forest, a sign reading “Aziscohos Mountain” is posted on a tree, and beneath it, a smaller sign reading “RT 3.4,” indicating the hike is 3.4 miles, round trip. However, a sign at near the top of the mountain contradicts this, indicating that the trail is 2 miles long, so up and back would be 4 miles. In the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, 10th edition, Carey Kish confirms that the trail is indeed 2 miles.
The other trail, The Tower Man’s Trail, is 2.4-mile long, according to an old sign at the intersection near the top of the mountain. It has not been maintained in recent years, but locals sometimes use it. Its trailhead is also on Route 16, close to the Aziscohos Dam.
Atop Aziscohos Mountain, hikers are rewarded with a view of the surrounding mountains, lakes and ponds of western Maine and nearby New Hampshire. Major landmarks include the long, narrow Aziscohos Lake to the north, and a chain of mountains to the west that include Half Moon Mountain, Diamond Peaks and Mount Dustin.
Because of the open view atop Aziscohos Mountain, a fire lookout tower was erected on its summit in 1910, according to the Forest Fire Lookout Association Maine Chapter, then rebuilt three times, in 1917, 1919 and 1929.
According to information posted near the mountain’s summit, Basil Melvin was the mountain’s last watchman in 1968. Thus abandoned, the tower collapsed by the mid 1980s, and the majority of the ruined tower was removed from the mountain in 2004, according to the Forest Fire Lookout Association. However, the concrete base of the tower still remains.
For information about the mountain and the state of the trail, call the Trails for Rangeley Area Coalition at 864-3951.
Personal note: On a bit of a whim, I booked a cozy 1950s cabin in Rangeley last weekend so I could spend a few days exploring trails in western Maine. Accompanied by my husband, Derek, and our dog, Oreo, we spent three days checking out a variety of trails, from easy bird walks to rugged mountain trails. And though the sun refused to shine all weekend, we had a good time outdoors, enjoying lupine fields and waterfalls in the rain.
Aziscohos Mountain — a hike I read about on Mainetrailfinder.com and in AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide — was the last outing of our trip. I had heard that the mountain offered some of the finest views in the state, but when we hiked it on Sunday, the summit was socked in with clouds. Bracing myself against a cold, wet wind, I photographed the summit sign, then retreated to the sheltered trail intersection before the summit, where I stubbornly stood in the rain for a 40 minutes, waiting for the clouds to clear.
“They’re not going anywhere,” Derek said.
“Do a sun dance,” I suggested, watching the dreary sky overhead.
“Look at Oreo,” he said, pointing to our dog. He was shivering. My resolve crumbled, and with a nod of my head, we headed back down the mountain.
Though we weren’t rewarded by sweeping views at the summit, we still had an enjoyable hike. The forest at the base of the mountain was a sea of bright green leaves, the muddy trail lined with ferns and the white blossoms of bunchberry and foam flowers. Farther up the mountain’s slope, we stopped to look at mushrooms and tiny ice-filled caves, formed in the spaces between large slabs of granite.
The hike was also physical challenge. The steep slope, combined with slippery, wet granite and tree roots, required us to pay attention to our footing and help each other from time to time. The experience led me to dream about even taller mountains, greater challenges, and sunnier days.
More photos from the hike: