Maine is home to thousands of lakes. That’s an easy statistic to rattle off, but think of it for a second – thousands.

There are the big lakes, like Moosehead and Sebago, which draw boaters, fishermen and tourists from around the country. Then there are the multitudes of smaller lakes, some with names only known to the locals. Trying to collect them all is enough to give you a headache.

I think it’s thanks to this abundance of lakes that there’s a long Maine tradition of lakeside “camps” – a term that I’ve heard causes some confusion among people from away. When Mainers head up to camp, it’s not with a tent and a backcountry pack, but with a cooler and a stack of books, to a little getaway on the water. These small lakeside cabins are often passed down from generation to generation. The scenery is spectacular, the seclusion is relaxing and good company is welcome – by invitation, of course.

I recently stayed at a camp on Rangeley Lake, a region I’d only ever explored in the winter. I’ve done summer hiking near Carrabassett Valley to the north and in Grafton Notch to the south, but the Rangeley area had always slipped by me. After a few perfect early summer days there, I can say that’s a mistake I won’t be making again. Whether you’re looking for a grueling hike, a pleasant walk in the woods or just a scenic drive, the Rangeley Lake area isn’t to be missed.

Getting to Rangeley from southern or coastal Maine is a hike, but like anywhere in the western mountains, the scenery is its own reward. From the south, I prefer to come up through Auburn, then north on Routes 4 and 108 to Rumford. The 30 miles from Rumford to Rangeley Lake are gorgeous – give yourself time to stop at Coos Canyon gorge in Byron and the breathtaking “Height of Land” just north of the Appalachian Trail crossing. The Height of Land offers one of the best vistas in New England, looking out expansively over Mooselookmeguntic Lake and New Hampshire to the west.

Approaching from this direction, you can reach the southern side of Rangeley Lake by following the signs to Rangeley Lake State Park. With 50 campsites close to the shore, the state park is a great “base camp” for adventures in the area if you’re planning to stay for a few days. There’s also a beach and picnic area that are perfect for a lunchtime visit, and a trailerable boat launch for heading out on the water.

Continuing up Route 17 on the western side of the lake, you’ll come to a stop sign in the small village of Oquossoc, where you can explore the area’s sporting history at the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum – an absolute must if you’re an angler – and grab a bite to eat at Oquossoc Grocery.

One of the most rewarding day hikes in the area is Bald Mountain, just west of the village. To reach the trailhead, follow Route 4 west for about a mile, then go left onto Bald Mountain Road for another half-mile (parking is on the left).

The trail to the summit is a bit more than a mile and can be tackled in about an hour. Resist the urge to charge up the relatively easy grades on the first half of the trail; you’ll need that energy when it gets much steeper and rockier around the halfway mark. Once you reach the ledgy summit, climb the observation tower for magnificent views in all directions – Rangeley Lake to the east, Mooselookmeguntic Lake to the west, and Saddleback, Elephant Mountain and Mt. Washington in the distance.

East of Oquossoc, Route 4 heads toward the town of Rangeley, about 10 minutes away. For an easy stroll along the lake, don’t miss the Hunter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary, well-marked halfway between Oquossoc and Rangeley. Nearly two miles of flat trails loop through the boggy landscape along Hunter Cove, which provides a habitat for song birds, wading birds and deer. About 500 feet of trail are right on the waters of the cove, with picnic tables and benches well situated for snacking and bird watching.

If you’re craving more easy waterside walking, keep an eye out for Manor Drive, just west of Rangeley on the south side of the road. Here you’ll find the small Hatchery Brook Preserve, which features secluded trails, pleasant views toward town and three picnic spots named after birds seen in the preserve: Loon, Heron and Mallard.

On the northeast corner of Rangeley Lake, Route 4 passes through downtown Rangeley, where you’ll find restaurants, inns, and the town park and boat launch. It’s easy to find parking, so stretch your legs from the long drive and explore the local shops, grab a bite to eat and visit the Historical Society. Or if you’re worn out from hiking, get some ice cream and take in a film at the Lakeside Theater.

Route 4 continues south, past the attraction that’s drawn me to Rangeley in the winter in years past – Saddleback Mountain. The Appalachian Trail travels right over Saddleback, so the mountain has a lot to offer in the summer. Park at the AT crossing 10 miles south of Rangeley to explore the mountain from the southern side. Families might enjoy the four-mile round trip to Piazza Rock, with it’s nearby boulder caves. More adventurous hikers can tackle Saddleback and The Horn – a long, strenuous hike that knocks off two of Maine’s 4,000-foot peaks.

Now that you’ve rounded Rangeley Lake, you can head west to South Shore Road, to retrace your way back past Rangeley Lake State Park, over the Height of Land and toward Rumford. But if you don’t mind a slightly longer trip back to I-95, I’d recommend staying on Route 4 and heading southeast, through Farmington and hitting Route 27 to bring you through Belgrade and to Augusta. This route threads through the UMaine-Farmington campus and the Belgrade Lakes region, where there are more opportunities to walk small-town streets, paddle calm waters and take in stunning views.

Whether it’s a day, a weekend or a week to explore Rangeley Lake and the surrounding areas this summer, I promise you won’t run out of things to do.

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

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