If you’re headed to Rangeley, make sure you pack your outdoor gear. With a mountain for skiing, trails for hiking and a state park for swimming and paddling, it’s definitely an outdoorsy kind of town.
Rangeley and nearby towns like Oquossoc and Eustis are about a 2.5-hour drive from Portland, but you’ll feel like you’re even further from the big city if you see a pair of moose lingering near the edge of Route 16 around dusk like my wife and I did. The ‘oh shoot’ moment came when we weren’t quick enough with the brakes or the camera to document the sighting.
We made the drive to bag the 4,120-foot summit of Saddleback Mountain. The ski area has gone through some challenging times of late but a recent deal for new ownership should get the snow machines rolling again this winter.
Meanwhile, late summer into fall is a great time to hit the hiking trails. There’s a lengthy list of options from very easy – the half-mile Cascade Stream Gorge Trail off Route 4 – to the advanced trek we did, Saddleback Mountain via the Appalachian Trail.
If you want to start out on the shortish side, park at the Appalachian Trail parking lot on Route 4. You’ll cross the road and head into the woods where you’ll see the trail sign for the AT, then head toward Piazza Rock. The trail is about 4.1 miles round-trip and features a few stream crossings mixed in with a bit of elevation. About 2 miles in, you’ll see a side trail that stretches about 200 yards – straight up – and takes you to the rock.
After you take plenty of photos of the gigantic rock formation, you can either head back to the car or, if you have another few hours to kill, head on to the summit of Saddleback Mountain. It’s about 5.7 miles in from the trailhead, but it’s a scenic hike passing a couple ponds and featuring lots of plateau walking when you get near the summit. Be forewarned that you’ll likely think you’ve reached the top at least three times before you really do. It’s a cruel trick, but that’s Mother Nature for you.
The super adventurous and gluttons for punishment can always continue on to reach the summit of Saddleback Horn another 1.7 miles farther up the trail. That would mean a second 4,000-footer in one hike but a really, really long trek back to the car.
A jaunt through downtown Rangeley won’t take up a lot of your time. Besides the lodging geared toward both AT hikers and tourists, there are a handful of shops, the Lakeside Theater and a few restaurants along Main Street.
Be sure to stop in at the Inner Eye Coffee Shop & Bakery (2487 Main St.), a hip and funky coffee shop with wifi, unusual seating, baked goods and fun gifts.
Lakeside Theater hosts a mixed plate of first-run movies, independent films, stage shows and concerts for those inevitable rainy days or nights.
For breakfast, try Moosely Bagels (2588 Main St.), which opens at 6:30 a.m. For lunch or dinner there’s the standby Red Onion (2511 Main St.) with an outdoor patio overlooking Main Street. It’s been a local favorite for decades.
For a bit more of an upscale menu at dinnertime, there’s Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro (2485 Main St.), where you can choose small plates or entrees made mostly from Maine and New England ingredients.
The lake of choice for paddling is, of course, Ranegley Lake. You can paddle for hours, checking out the homes, docks and watercraft around the shoreline. There are also two large islands to explore toward the middle of the lake, Narramantic and Maneskootuk, along with several smaller ones dotting the water. Be aware that many of the islands are private.
There are several options for getting your kayaks, canoes or paddleboards into the water. Head into Rangeley Lake State Park and pay the $4 resident or $6 non-resident day-use fee but also take advantage of the swimming and picnic areas. Head to the town park off Main Street (right by the visitor info office, where you can pick up a local map), where fishing is allowed and picnic tables are available. Or get a little farther off the beaten path at the Route 16 public boat lauch in Oquossoc. From there, it’s an easy paddle to the Bonney Point wildlife area where you can get out to put your feet in the water, walk the easy 1.3-mile loop trail or just relax and watch the ducks swim by.
If you find yourself in Rangeley without kayaks and want to rent some, there are two good options: Dockside Marina on Main Street or Ecopelagicon Nature Store on Pond Street on the shore of Haley Pond. Ecopelagicon also has lots of gifts and outdoor equipment.
There are too many must-see views in Rangeley to list — even off the trails and lakes.
On your way into (or out of) town on Route 4, you’ll see the Smalls Falls Rest Area. There’s a short trail at the back of the parking lot that leads to the 54-foot falls. If it’s warm enough, take advantage of swimming and wading pools below.
Quill Hill is located off Route 16 between Rangeley and Stratton. Drive up the well-maintained dirt road for about 4.5 miles, pay the $10 fee and enjoy 360-degree views of Rangeley Lake, Flagstaff Lake, Saddleback Mountain and the Kibby Wind Power Project.
If you drive all that way, you have to get up to the Height of Land. You’ll find it at the top of Spruce Mountain on Route 17, and you won’t believe the views. Turn into the scenic lookout parking lot where you look out over Mooselookmeguntic Lake with the mountains along the Maine/New Hamsphire border in the background.
And, of course, there are the moose. The best opportunities for viewing are at dusk and some of the best places to spot them are in the bogs, tall grass and fields along routes 4, 16 and 27.
Get your camera ready.