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06 July 2013

Exploring Rangeley, Maine area (including Saddleback Mountain)

My wife (Cheri) and I spent a portion of the Fourth of July weekend exploring the area around Rangeley, Maine.  We took advantage of one of those off-season promotional deals for renting a condo at the Saddleback Maine ski resort.

This worked out so well for both of us.  Cheri is an avid reader and loves to have a picturesque location to lounge while enjoying her novels.   The view from the deck of our rented condo certainly provided such a setting.  Being an avid hiker, this location was also ideal for me.  A maintained trail to two ponds was just a brief walk from our condo.  And nearly at our doorstep were the resort's ski trails with well-established pathways that lead to the Appalachian Trail atop the ridgeline on Saddleback Mountain.

In addition to the excellent hiking venues at our rented condo, there are many other attractions within a short drive of the Rangeley area.  We only scratched the surface during our brief stay.  We did manage to visit the awesome waterfall complex known as Smalls Falls, and we drove to the top of Ira Mountain via a scenic overlook road.  These driving tours around the area often led us by several roadside vistas which added to the pleasure.  On our way back home to New Hampshire, we stopped at a lovely roadside rest area near the shoreline of Aziscohos Lake.  Cheri took up residence here reading a book while I scampered off to the summit of nearby Aziscohos Mountain.

So, the above is sort of an overview of our mini-holiday.  Presented below are photos along with some of the details regarding this trip.

I don't know the exact mileage, but would guesstimate that it was about a 3 mile round-trip hike from our condo to visit both Rock Pond and Midway Pond.  Shown below are snapshots from that trek.
Rock Pond
Midway Pond as viewed from an overlook
Midway Pond as viewed from its shoreline
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Saddleback Mountain (4,120 ft) and The Horn (4,041 ft) are two mountains included on Maine's official list of 4K peaks.  Hiking to both of those locations from our rented condo was about 7.5 miles round-trip, and it took about 5 hours from start to finish.  This trek involved hiking the pathways along the Gray Ghost and Tri Color ski trails, and the Appalachian Trail was used to hike between Saddleback Mountain and The Horn.

The fields of lupines at the lower end of the ski trails were pretty spectacular.
Fields of lupines at lower end of Saddleback ski trails
As I climbed higher along the ski trails, I stopped to snap a photo of our rented condo located near the ski lodge at the base of the mountain.
Our rented condo as viewed from ski trails en route to Saddleback Mountain
Once I reached the ridgeline, there were 360 degree views for large portions of the trek between Saddleback Mountain and The Horn.

Shown below are just a few examples of the many terrific views along this ridge walk.
The Horn as viewed from the northeast side of Saddleback Mountain
The Horn as viewed from a tarn in the col between Saddleback and The Horn
Saddleback Mountain as viewed from the col between The Horn and Saddleback
Summit signs on Saddleback Mountain and The Horn
The summit area of Saddleback Mountain had a sizeable crowd of hikers who had hiked up from the ski trails.  However, on my trek to/from The Horn, I only met one couple who were peakbagging The Horn and Saddleback.  And I met one Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.

On the summit of The Horn, I spotted a Luna Moth that had possibly been caught in an updraft.  It seemed very much out of place at the top of a 4K peak.  And besides, I thought they only flew at night?  In the photo collage shown below, this Luna Moth appears to be dead.  However, it was windy on the summit, and the poor creature was merely trying to hang on to something.  Eventually, it flapped its wings and took off for who knows where!
Luna Moth seen at the top of The Horn
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About a half-hour drive from Rangeley there is a scenic roadside view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from a pull off on the west side of Rt. 17.  Shown below is that view on a hazy overcast day.  On a sunny day, this view would be an even more spectacular vista.
Roadside view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from a pull off on the west side of Route 17
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These falls were named for the Small family who once owned the land.  The falls are located 12 miles south of Rangeley on the west side of Rt. 4 at a State maintained rest area.
Sign at Smalls Falls rest area
The  trail to the falls begins at the far end of the parking lot.  After descending a set of stairs, the lower falls will come into view.  Cross the footbridge over the Sandy River and climb up the left side of the gorge along a metal fence if you wish to continue exploring upstream.  Within a 0.1 mile, you will see several distinct sets of falls.  Smalls Falls is a gem in an amazingly beautiful area of Maine.  It feels like the area is hidden away from much of humanity, and it probably is!  And yet it's an incredibly easy place to visit.

Shown below is a sampling of a few of the cascades at the Smalls Falls complex. (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)
Sampling of cascades at the Smalls Falls (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
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In 2011, a local businessman opened a 1.5 mile scenic overlook road on Ira Mountain.  The entrance is just off Rt. 27 about 5 miles north of Kingfield, ME.  You'll see a sign along the highway that reads “Scenic Views and Overlook”.  From approximately June 1 to December 1, the road is open one hour before sunrise and closes one hour after sunset. No trailers or large motor homes are allowed since there is no place wide enough for them to turn around at the top.

Amazingly, there is no fee to travel this road to the top of the mountain.  Perhaps it's designed as a marketing strategy since there are nearby signs which indicate that adjoining home lots are for sale.

Once you reach the top of the scenic road, the 180 degree view is impressive as you look at the surrounding mountains that include Mt. Abraham, Sugarloaf, the Bigelow Range, and others.

The two snapshots shown below are a sampling of the views from this location.
Zoomed view of Sugarloaf Mountain (center of photo; peak covered by clouds)
Looking northward up Carrabassett Valley toward Bigelow Mountains on horizon
It should be mentioned that on the way up the mountain road, there is a large clearing and an adjacent parking area.  At this location, there is a temple-like configuration of rocks that includes walls, stairs, towers, and picnic tables.  Signs encourage visitors to clap their hands to hear echoes.  We were unsure what to make of this, and so we drove on.  Later in the day, I realized that I'd neglected to take photos of this rather odd place.

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On our way back home to New Hampshire, we stopped at a lovely roadside rest area near the shoreline of Aziscohos Lake.  Cheri took up residence here and read a book while I scampered off to nearby Aziscohos Mountain (3,215 ft).  The round-trip trek is about 4.2 miles.  The trail is steep at the upper end, and the lower end of the trail is very muddy.  Despite the steep sections, and the mud, the round-trip hike took just slightly over 2.5 hours.

This mountaintop has had a variety of fire towers over the years.  In 1910 there was basically what amounted to a wooden shack built atop a ledge.  This was replaced by a wooden tower in 1917.  A new wood tower, but in a slightly different location, went up in 1919.  Then in 1929, a 27-foot steel tower replaced the wood structures.  The tower was decommissioned around 1968 and removed in 2004.  All that remains today are the concrete footings.

From this location, you can see 15 lakes of the Rangeley Lakes region.  And on a clear day, you can see high peaks in the nearby area such as Saddleback, the Bigelows, etc., as well as high peaks in the White Mountains of NH.

Presented below are two photos.  One snapshot shows the concrete footings atop Aziscohos Mountain, and the second photo shows a typical view from this location.
Concrete footings from fire tower which once stood atop Aziscohos Mountain
Typical view from Aziscohos Mountain
There is an informational document attached to a tree near the summit of Aziscohos Mountain.  Shown below are two snapshots taken of this document. (Apparently, the name of this mountain was once spelled as "Aziscoos".) 
Towers which once stood atop Aziscohos Mountain
History of Aziscohos Mountain (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
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Our condo was located at an elevation of about 2,400 ft.  From that lofty vantage point, we were able to see Fourth of July fireworks from  3 different towns in the valley below us.  Unfortunately, my "point & shoot" camera was unable to capture that scene.  However, I was able to capture a few of the sunsets that we enjoyed from the deck of our condo which overlooked Saddleback Lake.
Sunset view from deck of our rented condo
Another sunset view from deck of our rented condo
Yet another sunset view from deck of our rented condo
To sum it up, Cheri and I had a terrific mini-holiday in the Rangeley area of Maine.  It's quite likely that we'll make a return visit at some point in the future.  Perhaps the next time, we'll do this as an Autumn trip.


Anonymous said...

Smalls Falls is so beautiful and accessible. Thanks for sharing your photos.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for taking time to post your comments!

Smalls Falls is indeed quite a place! I was awestruck by the number of magnificent cascades that are concentrated in a 0.1 mile section of the Sandy River. And I was equally impressed at how accessible they are. I’ve hiked many miles to visit cascades that are far less impressive than those at Smalls Falls.


Steve Smith said...

Wow, you sure packed a lot of scenery and exploration into a short vacation! Terrific photos, especially up on that beautiful Saddleback ridge. Looks like the condo was in an ideal location - ponds and summits at your doorstep. All good stuff!


Unknown said...

John, I'm so glad you made it to Saddleback and the nearby mountains. I've wanted to explore more of the Rangeley Lakes region for a while. Looks like you got a pretty thorough taste of the area.

As for all the scenery... all I can say is WOOOOOOOW! :)

One Day in America said...

Wow, John. You sure know how to make the best of a mini vacation! Everything about this trip sounds wonderful, from the fun hikes and scenic overlooks to the awesome views from the deck of your condo. Looks like Cheri had a great venue in which to read and relax!

Rock Pond looks so very "Maine". I expected to see a moose on the photo. And speaking of moose, what's with the name "Mooselookmeguntic"? That has to be one of the strangest lake names I've ever heard.

Thanks for the photo of the Luna Moth. I'm glad the little critter was okay!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Steve! This was one of those things that just happened to work out favorably. Not only did we take a chance with the weather (which was very “iffy”), but we also took a chance with the Saddleback condo since neither we, nor anyone else in our circle of friends, had ever stayed there.

And yes, the Saddleback ridge is indeed beautiful. Ryan Linn (author of the blog had highly recommended this hike to me a couple of weeks ago. He was ‘spot on’ with his recommendation, just as you have been with the numerous terrific hikes that you’ve suggested to me over the years.


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Ryan,

Well, as I indicated in my reply to Steve Smith, you were ‘spot on’ with your recommendation about hiking the beautiful Saddleback ridge. Although I only hiked about half of it, the experience was extremely pleasurable and very memorable.

And yes, as you indicate in your comments, I did get a ‘taste of the area’. But now that I’ve had a ‘taste’, I’m eager to experience other items on the ‘menu’. :-)

Thanks for posting your comments, Ryan. Very much appreciated!


1HappyHiker said...

Rita, at the risk of sounding like a braggart, I’ll say that your assessment of this trip is correct, i.e. everything about it was indeed wonderful.

I was impressed with your comment indicating that Rock Pond looks so very “Maine”. That was my exact same thought when I saw it! And although no moose was spotted at Rock Pond, Cheri and I did have roadside sightings of 5 moose, 3 deer, 2 loons, and a mother grouse with chicks. But, were we able to get photos of any of those? Well of course not! :-)

And yes, I also hope the Luna Moth ended up somewhere that was more hospitable to live out its short life span on this planet. But on a positive note, this particular Luna Moth achieved ‘rock stardom’ by being immortalized in a photo! :-)

Oh! And regarding the name "Mooselookmeguntic", all I know is what I read online which indicates that this name is believed to be derived from an Abanaki Indian word meaning something akin to ‘moose feeding place’, or ‘moose feeding among the trees’. For sure, it’s a tongue twister, and would be challenging to pronounce once, much less several times in quick succession!

Thanks for your comments, Rita!


Anonymous said...

Wow! What a great vacation. Loved the pictures.

1HappyHiker said...

Thank you!

It was indeed a very nice mini-vacation. The State of Maine, as well as New England in general, is so beautiful all year round. There’s an endless supply of fascinating and attractive places to explore!


Summerset said...

A little late here, but I agree with the thought that "this is what Maine looks like". That's what I thought when I saw the photos. We've yet to explore Maine (summer 2014, watch out, Maine!), but we're considering base camping somewhere and doing day hikes. The falls are incredibly beautiful!

1HappyHiker said...

Summerset, I know that you’ll love Maine!

As you’ve discovered in your travels along the Long Trail this summer, VT is different from NH. Likewise, you’ll discover that ME is different from either VT or NH. We are so fortunate to live in New England where there is such a wide-ranging variety of landscape which is packed into a relatively small corner of the U.S.

Thank you for taking time to post your comments.


Anonymous said...


Terrific TR, fantastic photos and informative travelog of the Rangeley area. My wife and I are headed to the same region for my opportunity to complete the NE 115 with the 10, 4000'ers in the Rangeley/Stratton region.

Since we have already booked our lodging, I wonder if there are any local restaurants you would recommend (breakfast, lunch or dinner). Also are there any particular local attractions in Rangeley that might interest a non-hiker?

Thanks for your thoughts.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your kind words about my blog report!

Regarding your questions, unfortunately I don’t have much to offer in the way of answers. Regarding local restaurants, my wife and I didn’t visit any during our entire stay! Since we had rented a fully equipped condo, we prepared all of our meals at the condo from stuff we bought at the local IGA grocery. However, I don’t know if you happened to read a recent posting in the VFTT hiking forum. Below is the link which you can cut/paste into your browser.

In that posting referenced above, the following restaurants are recommended:
_ White Wolf Inn
_ Orange Cat Cafe

Regarding your question about attractions in the Rangeley area for non-hikers, sorry, but once again I’m at a loss to recommend anything. Everything we did is presented in my Blog report. Perhaps a non-hiker might enjoy browsing the few shops there are in downtown Rangeley. Also, I’d think that Smalls Falls could be of interest to hikers and non-hikers alike. It’s a beautiful spot and can easily be reached by a short walk from the parking lot at the roadside rest area described in my Blog.


Anonymous said...

I was looking for directions to hike Aziscohos Mountain and came across your blog. My son is camping on the lake and we're heading over to do a hike. What fabulous photos you took! We live about an hour east , just below Ira Mountain. I'm thinking you should approach Saddleback for a promotional job. Kingfield is a good day trip for people, there's the Stanley Museum ( Stanley Steamers ) a few galleries, I'm an artist in one - High Peaks Artisans Guild and a couple restaurants and shops. Check out the Wire bridge down the road in New Portland , on the National registry of Historic bridges . You've done a great job including history etc. Thank you, Nora

1HappyHiker said...

Nora, thank you so much for the positive feedback on my Blog report.

My wife and I intend to make other visits to this part of Maine, and when doing so, we’ll certainly check out the venues you suggested.

Regarding the High Peaks Artisans Guild, I just did some Internet research and saw a few examples of truly remarkable paintings by an artist named Nora West whom I assume might be you!

Thanks again for your comments.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind words John, I'm just checking in again. You might want to stay at the Maine Huts and Trails they have great trails nearby and you're wife would enjoy the stay. I would suggest the Flagstaff "Hut" and Grand Falls "Hut".
We hiked Azischohos that day , it's a great hike not too long.

1HappyHiker said...

Thank you for the suggestion about overnight stays at the Maine Huts & Trails facilities. We will check that out!

Glad you enjoyed your Aziscohos hike!