The natural beauty and wealth of outdoor treasures of Maine's Rangeley Lakes Region long have lured visitors.
Abnaki Indians set up hunting and fishing camps alongside the area's 111 lakes and ponds. They were followed by well-to-do "flatlanders" (anyone from south of New Hampshire) who, around the time of the Civil War, were drawn to the Region by the same outdoor activities that had attracted the Abnakis.
Today, the Rangeley Lakes Region continues to draw vacationers seeking a year-round playground. Its setting, recreational opportunities, and other attributes also have gained wider recognition. Rand McNally included the area -- along with major cities, popular national parks, and other much larger, better-known destinations -- on its list of "best vacation places in America."
The tiny town of Rangeley, with 1,200 permanent residents, is perched at the center of this enticing vacation region. The little village captures the quaint nostalgia of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Main Street is lined by single-story frame buildings that house shops, a handful of restaurants, and a small movie theater. No stop lights interrupt the sparse flow of traffic, much of it cars with a canoe on top and huge trucks groaning beneath loads of fresh-cut logs. Nearby Oquossoc (Indian for "landing place") is even smaller. Perched between Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes, it is home to two restaurants, a small grocery store, a fishing and sports shop, a marina, post office and folks who really like the quiet.
This picture-postcard scene varies little throughout the year. Yet each season in the Rangeley Lakes Region offers its own choice of activities for which the landscape and lakes provide a perfect setting.
Fishing is what helped bring Rangeley to the attention of the outside world; and anglers who test their skill and luck, especially in the spring and fall, soon learn why. Around the turn of the century, these were the best-known native brook trout waters in the world, yielding giants so huge that visitors had trouble believing they were brookies.
Later, stocked landlocked salmon took hold and joined trout as a choice catch. Today's visitor may pursue the descendants of lunker trout and salmon that have made the Region a fishing mecca, particularly for fly casting.
Hikers follow trails that criss-cross the woods. Others prefer the stretch of the Maine-to-Georgia Appalachian Trail that passes within nine miles of Rangeley. Mountain bikes enable even inexperienced peddlers to traverse country roads that follow the rolling hills, while steeper mountains challenge the most seasoned expert.
The two beautiful golf courses are some of the most scenic in all of New England, with spectacular mountain views and meandering lakes stretching as far as the eye can see.
Those who prefer water to dry land take to the Rangeley chain of lakes in canoes, sail and power boats, and old-fashioned Rangeley boats -- unique wooden crafts that were built specifically for local lake travel. In recent years, windsurf sails have joined in, taking advantage of breezes that blow down onto the lake waters from the surrounding mountains.
Fall gives Mother Nature an opportunity to put on her most dazzling Technicolor display. Splashes of vivid reds, flaming oranges, and a full rainbow of colors are set off by the blue lake waters.
Fall also demonstrates why the Rangeley Lakes Region is popular with hunters. Trophy white-tail deer and bear are abundant. Small game flourishes in fields and forests. Ruffed grouse are among game birds that take flight at the sound of an approaching footstep.
Those interested in close encounters with wildlife also have plenty of opportunities. Early morning canoeists on the Kennebago River look for deer, osprey, beaver, otter, mink, and the gigantic moose. Another good bet for meeting moose is during a dawn or dusk drive out of town on Route 16.
Winter in Rangeley is synonymous with some of the best snowmobiling anywhere. A 150-mile network of clearly marked, well-groomed trails interconnects with other systems that lead throughout Maine and into Canada. A season-long calendar of races, festivals, and other special events attracts snowmobile enthusiasts from near and far.
Skiing is also first rate. Saddleback remains the last uncrowded big mountain ski experience in New England. The 4,120-foot high peak boasts 66 Alpine trails and plenty of lift capacity. Top-to-bottom snowmaking augments over 200 inches of annual snowfall to keep slopes open and active from November into April.
Rangeley Lakes Trail Center, maintained by The Rangeley Lakes Cross Country Ski Club, is a world-class trail system consisting of 55 kilometers of superbly groomed trails set for classic or skate skiing. Located on lower Saddleback Mountain, the system stretches through the heart of the 8,000- acre Saddleback preserve. It offers a variety of skiing opportunities for all ability levels, beginner to expert. More adventurous ski tour participants might venture off along the network of logging roads and other side trails that lace the surrounding woods.
No matter what time of year they choose to enjoy the Rangeley Lakes Region, visitors also may choose from a something-for-everyone variety of inviting accommodations. They include comfortable country inns, intimate bed and breakfasts, convenient motels, private home rentals, sporting complexes, camping areas and rustic housekeeping cottages that, in this part of the world, are called "camps."
Indeed, travelers with any type of accommodation preference, those who prefer any kind of outdoor activity, people seeking a vacation alternative at any time of year -- all are likely to find what they want at the Rangeley Lakes Region of Maine. That includes plenty of nature at its most magnificent in which to pursue favorite sports and recreation, commune with the outdoors, or perhaps just relax with a good book.
In its rating of outstanding destinations, Rand McNally described the Rangeley Lakes Region as "one of America's few remaining vacation spots where one can truly escape most of the disadvantages of civilization." Who's to argue with such a respected source?
by Victor Block