Rangeley, Maine: On and Off the Water

If your idea of a getaway includes the quiet sounds of kayakers paddling in the morning or loons calling at night, then you need to head to the Rangeley Lakes region in western Maine. Fishing on its pristine lakes in remote camps made it famous but today visitors head to the area to experience almost every outdoor activity whether on the water, the nearby peaks, or trails in between. The drive from central New England is about four hours and the cell service is suspect, but you’ll want to lie in that lakeside hammock for only so long before checking out what Rangeley has to offer. Here are a few starters to get you warmed up and away from camp, but still near the water.

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Credit: Sonja Murphy

Hike Bald Mountain

Bald Mountain is located in nearby Oquossoc and has the best views of Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes. The most popular trailhead is on Bald Mountain Road, about a mile off of Route 4. At 2,443 feet, this 2-mile round-trip hike offers a variety of features. Beginning in a hardwood forest, the path climbs steadily and is soon crisscrossed by a variety of frenetic tree roots. The trail then changes to rock, requiring a careful scramble to the top. At the summit there are picnic tables and an observation tower. The views include the surrounding lakes and mountains, like Saddleback and Mount Washington. This is a perfect hike for kids as it is quick and the location is easily accessible.

Credit: Rene Paquette
Credit: Rene Paquette

Lounge at Smalls Falls

Smalls Falls in Madrid is just 15 minutes south of Rangeley. Don’t let the typical off-the-road rest area and picnicking spot dismay you. Just beyond the parking lot is the Sandy River. From the bridge look right and you’ll see how the river above drops over four waterfalls into just as many pools. Once you cross, you’ll find a series of short trails to explore. The most popular trail hugs the rocks to the top of the falls. There are plenty of places to wade and enjoy the refreshing water. If you follow the trails that lead away from that spot you’ll discover a second artery of water. There the river has cut sharply into the earth and drops twenty feet below the trail to reveal a quieter place to explore.

Credit: Rene Paquette
Credit: Rene Paquette

Explore the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust Trails

The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust is a conservation group that maintains trails throughout the region. The seven trails cover 35 miles and are designed for most skill levels. For example, the one mile Bonney Point trail leads to a quiet cove on Rangeley Lake. Along the way you’ll encounter old stone walls and other reminders of how the land was once used. Further south on Route 4, closer to Rangeley proper, is the Hunter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary. There are several loops to explore on this easy 1.5-mile path. This summer some of the trails are closed for repairs, but check out the cove to watch the loons and other waterfowl who call it home. The real gem in this system is the walk to Cascade Gorge and Falls. Located in Sandy River Plantation, the trail leads you a mile up the river. There are several spots to explore the rocks and water. Information about all of these hikes is available on the organization’s website.

Credit: Rene Paquette
Credit: Rene Paquette

Run the Mingo Springs Trail

A great place to trail run or leisurely stroll, the Mingo Springs Trail, is a 3 mile loop around the Mingo Springs Golf Club. A designated Audubon trail, the designers planned the trail with education and outreach in mind. Parking for the trail is near the driving range. Cross the street to the red blazes that lead you around the back nine of the golf course for 2 miles. The trail dips and turns through a variety of habitats. What begins as a damp forest eventually turns into a dappled meadow. The trail rises slightly through a patch of pine before meeting Mingo Loop. Follow the road back to the parking lot or cross the road to continue on the blue blazed section of the trail. This part of the trail dips into a hardwood forest then encircles a huge lupine meadow that is spectacular when in season. The trail finishes by crossing through the Golf Course parking lot and passing the clubhouse.

Do you have any offerings for what to do in the Rangeley region? If so, leave them in the comments.