Rangeley Lakes, Maine Vacation Guide
If there were ever a place that could be described as Moose Heaven, the Rangeley Lakes Region would be it. A string of 110 lakes and ponds offer a never ending buffet of water plants just a head-dunk away. In the early days the Abenaki Indians shared this wilderness with the moose and all the creatures of the wild, hunting, fishing and taking what they needed from the land. For centuries this remote part of Western Maine was a well kept secret.
In 1825 Squire James Rangeley established an estate in what later would become the town of Rangeley. He used the English system of having tenants live on the estate and work the land, but also gave away much of his property to new settlers. Thanks to an abundance of water, there was soon a gristmill to handle all the grain crops and a sawmill to deal with all those trees. Soon steamboats plied the waterways pulling barges filled with logs.
But Squire Rangeley was not all that fond of the wilderness lifestyle and soon sold his land and moved to the more populated Portland. Those that stayed behind eventually incorporated the town of Rangeley, in 1855. But the real secret of the lakes had yet to be discovered.
There had been stories of enormous trout found in the Rangeley Lakes Region, but up until 1863 they were considered mere fables. In that fateful year George Shepard Page, a visitor from New York, caught and then brought back eight brook trout. They averaged over six-pounds each and three of the fish were nearly eight pounds. After a number of articles and letters to the editor were published in New York papers and magazines, anglers started traveling to the Rangeley Lakes Region to see if it was all one big fish tale.
Soon anglers were pulling brook trout weighing more than 11 pounds out of the lakes. This part of western Maine soon replaced the Catskills and Adirondacks as the preferred fly-fishing destination. So many fish were pulled from the lakes that during the 1870s the area lakes were stocked with landlocked salmon, which are a popular game fish today.
The creation of fishing and hunting camps, some exclusive resorts, and the eventual arrival of the railroad put the Rangeley Lakes Region on the map. It was a place where celebrities could escape the cameras and where politicians could ease away from the demands of high office. The well to do could enjoy their luxurious lifestyle amid the beauty of Mother Nature.
Today the Rangeley Lakes Region welcomes all, whether you arrive on your own two feet, on a rugged mountain bike or in a luxury car. All are welcome to cast a line on a quiet lake, paddle a kayak into the mist, hike the back-country in search of waterfalls, or try to catch a photo-op with that most famous of residents, the moose. The comforts of civilization, along with historic charm, are found in the area’s towns of Rangeley, Oquossoc, Wilsons Mills and the township of Madrid.
The trees bid goodbye to summer in a blaze of red and gold glory. It is the prelude to the blanket of snow that brings skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and other lovers of winter sports. The legendary fish will wait for you through the Rangeley Lakes winter, getting plumper all the while. Sip a cup of hot chocolate in front of your vacation home’s roaring fire and dream about those first exciting nibbles in the spring.
Town of Rangeley – The Basics
The town of Rangeley is the largest population center in the region. It surrounds the expanse of Rangeley Lake. The Rangeley Municipal Airport, a small facility with hangars and tie-down space, is on the north-eastern edge of town, and does provide the quickest way of getting to the region.
Drivers have the scenic options of Route 4 or Route 17, both a little less than three hours from Portland. If you take Route 4 you can see most of Rangeley Lake including Maneskootuck Island, also known as Doctor’s Island. Route 16 leads west to the New Hampshire border or north east to the Bigelow Preserve and the Sugarloaf Mountain area. If you are coming to or from Canada, Route 16 connects to Route 27 just west of the preserve, which leads to the Coburn Gore border crossing.
Once in Rangeley there is little public transportation, but getting around on a bike in summer or a snowmobile trail during the snowy season works quite well. Canoe, kayak and boat rentals are available in town if you want to do your exploring by water. Rangeley also operates a seaplane base that offers flights and tours to remote hunting and fishing lodges.
Rangeley Lodging and Dining
Finding a place to stay in Rangeley is easy. Options include the vintage Rangeley Inn, offering antique filled, high-ceilinged rooms year round. It is close to the Independence Day Celebration at Lakeside Park and a front row seat for the fireworks. The Loon Lodge on the shores of Rangeley Lake has been welcoming guests to its log building for over a century. Originally called Camp Weduba, this is a remnant of the grand hotels that welcomed the rich and the famous during the early part of the 20th century.
The North Country Inn, a B&B, the Farmhouse Inn, housed in a Victorian era farmhouse complete with turrets and gingerbread trim and the pet friendly Town & Lake Motel and Cottages are all within town limits. The latter offers free use of canoes and kayaks and boat docks for customers arriving by water.
Most of the restaurants are clustered around Main St, which mean that many offer dining with a water view. The Red Onion, specializing in pizza, has been in town for over 40 years. Pine Tree Frosty is a local takeout eatery known for their lobster rolls. Moosely Bagels is a coffee shop with a local twist. Shops are also on or near Main St, including the Alpine Shop featuring clothing with locally influenced designs, the Rangeley Region Sport Shop, the Ecopelagicon Nature Store and Books Lines and Thinkers. Rangeley also offers a bowling alley, a movie theater, and in winter, ice skating on Haley Pond.
Part of the Black Fly Loop and ITS trail system goes through the region, as well as a number of trails maintained by the Rangeley Snowmobile Club. Lakeside Marina and Dockside Marina both offer boat slips and rentals.
The Rangeley Friends of the Arts hosts a number of events from dance recitals to musicals at the Lakeside Theater and other area venues. Annual events include an art show in August and a Christmas Concert and Bethlehem Walk. Other town events include the Blueberry Festival, a Pond Hockey Tournament and Snodeo. Held in January and presented by the Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club, this is the place to find out just exactly what a snowmobile can do. The word “snodeo” is taken from the word “rodeo” for a very good reason.
Also in Rangeley is the Wilhelm Reich Museum, dedicated to the scientist that discovered orgone energy. In summer the museum hosts a number of natural science programs covering everything from mushrooming to all about Maine’s iconic moose. Summer concerts are also held onsite.
Other buildings worth a look are the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum, the Rangeley Lakes Historical Society and the Rangeley Public Library. The latter has high speed internet and hosts several events each year. Stop by the Rangeley Region Health & Wellness Center and enjoy a workout in their gym.
Outdoor lovers can venture over to the Rangeley Town Park offering a lifeguarded swimming beach, a boat ramp and a picnic area. Rangeley Lakes Trails Center, offering cross country skiing and snowshoeing in winter and hiking and mountain biking opportunities in summer, is headquartered in Rangeley. It is on Saddleback Mountain Road, leading to the Saddleback Ski Resort.
While you are out and about on your discovery of Rangeley and its lakes you might run into artist Bill Wegman. He maintains a summer home in the area and no doubt will be wandering about with his Weimaraner dogs. You might catch him doing a photo shoot of his puppies, suitably attired
More Fun in the Rangeley Lakes Region
Rangeley is home to the Mingo Springs Golf Course, an 18-hole challenge where a golf hazard just might be a moose dining in one of the ponds. At 1,500 feet above sea level, the air is crisp, the views eye-popping and the greens deserving of at least some of your attention. On the eastern end of town is the Evergreen Golf Club with its challenging 9-hole tree-framed course. Both courses are open to the public but do offer memberships.
Photographers will find plenty of moose watching opportunities. Most of the local roadways offer prime moose-watching spots. Best places to look are between Rangeley and Madrid on Route 4 and going towards the Height of Land on Route 17. It offers a parking area and a panoramic view of Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes. The latter is the 7th largest lake in Maine. Another option is on Route 16, heading towards Stratton or Wilsons Mills.
The Hunter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary, sitting along Route 4 between Rangeley and the town of Oquossoc, offers nearly two miles of looped, flat, hiking trails leading through moose country. The sanctuary, as well as the lakes, is home to deer, foxes, loons and other bird and animal species.
Rangeley Lakes State Park is on the southern edge of Rangeley Lake, across from the Mingo Springs Golf Club. It offers hiking trails, a campground for both tents and RVs and a boat ramp suitable for motor craft, kayaks or canoes. Pets are allowed everywhere except on the small swimming beach.
Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort, one of Maine’s top three ski hills, is a big draw year round. It is east of Route 4 and downtown Rangeley and offers world class skiing in winter and scenic hiking and biking trails in the summer. August brings the Saddleback Mountain Bluegrass Festival. In September it’s time for the Saddleback Fall Festival with live music, local foods and an art and craft show and sale.
The Appalachian Trail travels over Saddleback Mountain and leads to Piazza Rock. The huge bolder, probably left behind by a glacier, is one of those not-to-miss Maine photo opportunities. Other hiking trails are on nearby Bald Mountain, at Angel Falls, Kennebago Mountain and Aziscohos Mountain.
Named after Madrid, Spain this early settlement began as a farming and lumber town. Nearby Sandy River provided water power for the gristmill, sawmills, shingle and clapboard machines. The area was known not only for lumber production, but for the building of quality carriages. In 1884 gold was found, the first discovery in Maine. It led to a small population boom, but that declined within a few decades. In 2000, the town was unincorporated, becoming part of a territory rather than a municipality.
Route 4 runs through Madrid, about 17 miles southeast of Rangeley. The Phillip and Rangeley Railroad, using narrow-gauge tracks, connected these two towns. After the mill from Redington was moved to Madrid, the P&R Railroad created the Madrid Railroad, a feeder line. The Madrid Historical Society & Museum and nearby Phillips Historical Society have information on the railroad and the local area.
Smalls Falls, found on the Sandy River, is a local swimming hole, formed by glaciers in the distant past. It is reached via easy hiking trails from a rest stop on Route 4 between Rangeley and Madrid. The stop has picnic tables and restrooms.
The Star Barn B&B, built on the site of a barn from the 1800s, offers accommodations, frequent yoga and group retreats and an onsite craft store featuring local goods. The neighboring Reeds Mill Church, built in 1831, still offers church services in a decidedly rustic setting. No electricity, kerosene lanterns, a wood stove and an outhouse in the back are all part of the charm.
The village of Oquossoc sits west of Rangeley, on the western end of Rangeley Lake. This is the launch point for the Oquossoc Lady, a 28-foot watercraft built in 1947 that offers one-hour sightseeing cruises around Rangeley Lake. Moose, loons, eagles and other wildlife are frequently sighted. She sails from the Saddleback Marina, only a block from the Oquossoc Log Church, built in 1916 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
River’s Edge Sports, one of Maine’s largest sporting goods outfits, is right behind the Oquossoc Marina. They also offer watercraft, snowmobile and bike rentals and operate a boat ramp right next door. The ramp takes you into the point where the Rangeley River flows into Rangeley Lake. The Gallery at Stoney Batter, selling Northern themed artworks, is nearby.
The western end of the village fronts Mooselookmeguntic Lake, which has another marina and boat ramp right at Haines Landing. This is the closest location to Bald Mountain, where the hike to the top will take you to an old fire tower offering panoramic views of the area. This lake, particularly near the upper dam, is one of the best fly-fishing spots in the area.
Another landmark is the Gingerbread House, a fine dining restaurant with a regional twist. The house was once the area’s post office, which would get the mail by train and then deliver to the area by dog sled. It still has an old fashioned Ice Cream Soda Fountain, circa 1950.
The town has a lovely park, complete with tennis courts and is home to the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen’s Association. Their facility includes a clubhouse, archery range, pistol and rifle range. Each year the association hosts the Strawberry Festival.
The Rangeley’s Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, suitably inside a log-cabin style building gives special attention to the area’s fishing history. A sizeable collection of flies tied by Carrie Steven shares space with mounted salmon and trout by taxidermist and artist Herb Welch.
The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust operates Camp Ecoventure for Kids and the Cupsuptic Campground on Cupsuptic Lake. Sporting camps in the area include Bald Mountain Camps Resort on Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Grant’s Kennebago Camps on Kennebago Lake, both offering lakeside cabins and fly-fishing opportunities and instruction. River’s Edge Sports, based in Rangeley, offers paddling trips on nearby Kennebago River. This same river is one of the hottest fly-fishing and paddling spots in the Rangeley Lakes region.
Wilson Mills is west of Oquossoc between Mooselookmeguntic and Aziscohos Lakes. It is home to the Bennett Bean Covered Bridge, straddling the Magalloway River. Built in 1898, pedestrian traffic is still allowed. The bridge is part of the Aziscohos Valley Campground and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The river itself is a popular fishing area, as is part of the Rapid River known as the Pond-In-The-River, which divides the Rapid River into two sections. The Rapid River is the site of the Louise Dickenson Rich Camp, which allows visitors. Louise was a cousin of author Emily Dickenson.
The Bosebuck Mountain Sporting Camps and the Black Brook Cove Campground are also on Aziscohos Lake. Bosebuck Mountain is accessible in winter by snowmobile. Other area camps include Cupsuptic Campground on Cupsuptic Lake to the north and Lakewood Camps at Middledam Richardson Lake, south of Route 16.
Rangeley Area Tidbits
Once visitors catch a glimpse of the Rangeley Lakes Region, many want to come back. More and more opt to buy a second, or vacation home. There are several realtors in the area and a sound infrastructure. In addition to services already mentioned, there are five vacation home rental agencies, a supermarket and several smaller stores, most in Rangeley and one in Oquossoc. Summer brings street vendors selling fresh produce and seafood in Rangeley. Oquossoc has its own year round seafood market. Early summer is also when the lupine flowers are at their peak. Tour buses flock to town in time for the fall foliage, usually in October.
The Rangeley area has a number of Registered Maine Guides and Master Maine Guides that offer hunting, fishing, camping trips, moose safaris and other outdoor adventures. In winter snowmobile and snowshoe hiking adventures are added to the list. Think of an outdoor activity and you will most likely find a guide to suit your special interest.
As far as those 110 lakes, some of the more popular ones, besides those mentioned are Saddleback, Parmacheenee, Umbagog and Beaver Mountain. If you are thinking that some of these have American Indian names, you are so right. Just think of it as learning a new language. Some are out and out tongue twisters, but all are eminently beautiful and home to Maine’s water-plant munching moose and challenging game fish.
Rangeley Lakes Region Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Rangeley, Maine area.
- Madrid Maine
- Magalloway Maine
- Oquossoc Maine
- Phillips Maine
- Rangeley Maine
- Sandy River Maine
- Wilsons Mills Maine