October 7, 2012

Worth the Trip: Rangeley's range of outdoor activities makes it a favorite

By JOSH CHRISTIE

In just a few weeks, I'll be getting married at Saddleback in Rangeley. Planning for the event has meant frequent trips into the western mountains, and it's given me a chance to get reacquainted with one of my favorite parts of the state.

Legendary skiing, snowmobile trails and ice fishing have long attracted visitors to Rangeley in the winter. When so much of the marketing of Maine focuses tourists on the coast during the summer and fall, it's easy to forget that the interior of the state is a four-season playground.

The easiest way to reach Rangeley is to follow Route 4 from Farmington. The scenic 40-mile drive takes less than an hour, as long as the weather is good, and many stretches of the road have been rehabbed in recent years.

If you're traveling alone, bring some music to keep you company -- once you pass through Strong, a radio signal is tough to find.

Routes 16 and 17 make for longer trips into the Rangeley Lakes region, but they aren't without their charm. Taking Route 17 from Rumford affords spectacular views of Mooselookmeguntic and New Hampshire from Height of Land, and a drive on Route 16 means traveling through Carrabassett Valley past Sugarloaf and Bigelow.

From downtown Rangeley, you're just a few miles from day hikes, no matter which direction you go.

About nine miles south of Rangeley on Route 4, you'll find access to the summit of 4,120-foot Saddleback, via the Appalachian Trail. At just over 5 miles, the hike to the peak is about twice as long as going up the ski slopes, but offers a much more gradual climb.

The Appalachian Trail route also passes Piazza Rock, a rock formation that appears to be suspended in midair, less than two miles from the Route 4 parking area. It's a flat, easy hike that's a perfect fit for kids and casual hikers.

Easy trails on the north and south shores of Rangeley Lake provide water access for hikers. On the north side, the Hunter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary holds 1.5 miles of trails with access to the cove. To the south, the 869-acre Rangeley Lake State Park is home to campsites, hiking trails and a picnic area.

Angel Falls, a 90-foot tiered waterfall less than 30 miles from downtown Rangeley, is one of Maine's most scenic places. A quick trip south on Route 17 from Rangeley, followed by a few miles on Houghton and Bemis roads, leads to a small parking area.

If you're searching for Angel Falls, a GPS system or a copy of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer is highly recommended. The falls are easy to miss, and Houghton and Bemis are both logging roads without clearly marked mileages.

The hike to the waterfall is short -- less than a mile each way -- but involves a number of river fords that require surefootedness to stay dry.

The Rangeley area also has loads of options for cyclists and kayakers.

The Railroad Bike Loop Trail, which starts on Depot Street in Rangeley, covers a dozen miles of mixed terrain. The trail takes bikers past Haley Pond, Gull Pond and Saddleback Lake on state roads, double-track roads and old railroad beds before following Dallas Hill Road and Route 4 back to town.

The East Kennebago Mountain Trail, 10 miles east of Rangeley on Route 16, is noted by folks at the Sugarloaf and Saddleback resorts as an ideal mountain-biking trail. The 6-mile (round-trip) trail has some stellar views of several of Maine's 4,000-plus-footers -- Reddington, Sugarloaf, Spaulding and Abraham.

For kayaks and canoes, the easiest place to get on the water is the free boat launch area at Lakeside Park on Main Street. Coves and islands dot the 10-square-mile lake, and there's more to explore than you'll see in a single day.

A number of Rangeley's lakeside shops offer canoe and kayak rentals, and some offer guided tours. Some local outfitters for nearby river trips offer shuttle service to put-in points.

For the truly ambitious paddler, the Rangeley Lakes are but a single piece of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a paddling route that runs from Fort Kent to Old Forge, N.Y. The trail was completed in 2006, and the organizers' website (northernforestcanoetrail.org) offers itineraries for doing the trail in part or in full.

I should also mention the fish in the Rangeley region's many lakes and streams. A strong commitment to sustainable fishing and catch-and-release programs has bred a world-famous population of landlocked salmon and brook trout. 

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

 

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