On a perfect late spring evening last June, I was leisurely cruising about Rangeley Lake with camera in one hand and wine glass in the other, comfortably seated aboard the Oquossoc Lady, a beautifully restored 28-foot wooden launch.
At the wheel was Kevin Sinnett, the vessel’s owner and a Maine guide, who regaled our small group with the rich history of this uber-scenic region of big lakes and high mountains, which has been attracting recreating visitors for more than 150 years.
The boat tour with Sinnett was a fine start to a three-day stay in the Rangeley area, a mix of business and pleasure with my colleagues from the New England Outdoor Writers Association for their 75th annual Spring Safari. Based out of the historic Rangeley Inn, a rare treat and luxury “camping” at its best, everyone but me was here for the world-class fishing. I, on the other hand, came to hike, to get some mountaintop views of the six major lakes that comprise the renowned Rangeley Lakes.
My first objective was in the nearby village of Oquossoc, where Bald Mountain rises prominently to an elevation of 2,443 feet. Once the site of the short-lived Bald Mountain Skiway, which operated from 1960 into the early 1970s, the mountain and 1,923 acres surrounding the peak were acquired by Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust in 1993.
From the trailhead on Bald Mountain Road, it’s a 1.5-mile hike to the 30-foot observation tower on the summit, which affords a 360-degree panorama like few others in Maine. From the views of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, Cupsuptic Lake and Rangeley Lake (three of the Rangeley Lakes) to the rugged chain of mountains ranging from Katahdin to Bigelow to Saddleback and all the way to Mt. Washington, it’s easy to understand why Bald Mountain is the region’s signature conservation property and a must-see for every visitor.
The following day I ventured 20 miles west on Route 16 to Lincoln Plantation to tackle Aziscohos Mountain, a remote peak on private commercial timberlands that’s open to the hiking public. It’s not an easy trailhead to locate on the first pass, so I usually drive to the Aziscohos Lake dam and backtrack 1.2 miles to a gravel road on the south side of the highway. The trailhead, unsigned but now obvious, starts 100 feet to the east.
The trail to Aziscohos, well-maintained by local hikers and blazed with red paint, climbs 1,300 feet to the summit ridge, where the abandoned Tower Trail enters from the north. Posted here is a newspaper story – encased in plastic but fast deteriorating – that highlights the history of Aziscohos Mountain, the hardy watchmen of the Maine Forest Service who manned the firetower beginning in 1910 and for many years after, the forest fires that swept the peak, the huge blueberries, and the vista from the craggy 3,190-foot summit.
“The view from the top of Aziscohos Mountain has always been considered one of the finest in the State,” reads the clipping. “Twenty-five bodies of water may be seen from the tower [including Upper and Lower Richardson lakes plus Umbagog Lake, the other three of the six Rangeley Lakes] and you can see into Vermont, New Hampshire, and up into Canada. It is impossible to name all the mountains in sight.”
A hundred yards of rocky scrambling later and my wife and I were on top. The day was sunny and warm and we plunked down for an hour to enjoy lunch and the view that was every bit as magnificent as described. One of Maine’s top five for sure.
For many more hours and days of exploration, check out the entire 35-mile trail network of the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, which has protected 13,800 acres across 28 parcels of land in the region. Combine this with the extensive menu of hikes compiled by the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce and you’ve got a hiking to-do list to last a lifetime. And when you visit this summer or fall, be sure to save time for the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, a stunning collection of artifacts and displays showcasing the region’s long and colorful history.