48 Hours In…Rangeley
May 2011 | By Melissa Coleman | Illustration by Josh Brill
48 hours of our favorite places to stay, eat, fish, or tie the knot
May is a quiet month in Rangeley, Maine. The hum of snowmobiles has faded from the backcountry trails and frozen lakes, lift towers stand silent on the bare ski runs of Saddleback, and the buzz of motorboats and mosquitoes has yet to become noticeable. What you can hear instead is the ice breaking up on Rangeley Lake, and locals chattering about it around town: “When’s it gonna go?…We heard it tinkling…It’s heading out.” The Ice Out is a big event here in late April and early May, one that ushers away the dregs of winter and welcomes the myriad joys of summer. It also means, as locals like to say, that the fish are hungry and the fishermen are itchy.
Fishing, especially the dry-fly variety, is celebrated in these parts. In the 1860s, reports of exceptionally large and plentiful brook trout first caught the attention of anglers and vacationers. Then, in the 1920s, a housewife named Carrie Stevens began tying a streamer fly she called the “Grey Ghost.” The fly earned her second place in a Field & Stream magazine fishing competition, and it catapulted her and her flies to fame. Today the slopes on Saddleback are named for the area’s famous fly patterns—Royal Coachman, Parmachenee Belle, and Grey Ghost. But the town retains the quiet pace of years past, without traffic lights or fast-food chains, and the waterfront camps and historical inns offer a classic setting for tying a knot—whether on a fly line or with a life partner.
TIE THE KNOT
Given that my spouse is an avid fly fisherman, we might have considered getting hitched in the birthplace of contemporary fly-fishing. I did, after all, give my husband a four-weight Winston fly rod for his wedding gift, but since we live on the coast, where he’s always chasing stripers, he hardly ever uses it. If we had known about Rangeley at the time, my first choice for a wedding would have been Loon Lodge, a beautifully renovated 1909 family camp on the eastern shore of Rangeley Lake. Once owned by Guy Gannett of Gannett Publishing, it’s now an 8,000-square-foot log lodge featuring fieldstone fireplaces, nine guest rooms, well-appointed event spaces, an in-house wedding consultant, and lovely views of the lake and mountains.
Another popular wedding location is the post-and-beam base lodge at Saddleback Maine. The lovely setting includes rental condos for guests and on-site assistance from JoAnne Taylor, the area’s top wedding planner. I can also imagine saying my vows at one of the old lake camps in the area—most of which offer individual cottages for guests, lakefront views for the ceremony, and a community lodge for the reception. There is the iconic Bald Mountain Camps Resort on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, built in the late 1800s and visited by Teddy Roosevelt, or Niboban Camps and Samoset Four Seasons on the south shore of Rangeley Lake. Rangeley Region Lake Cruises will help you top it off with a twilight evening cruise following a rehearsal dinner at Loon Lodge.
Quaint churches are plentiful in the area, and most of the major denominations are represented, including Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, and Baptist. The Union Church in nearby Oquossoc is a popular rustic-themed option, and the Gingerbread House Restaurant next door can be used for the reception. Or, in a pinch, Rob Welch, the innkeeper at Pleasant Street Inn Bed and Breakfast, can moonlight as a notary public. Locally sourced flowers by Sunrise View Farm and WildCraft Weddings and Celebrations complete the scene, and fine art photographer Madeleine de Sinéty can capture the memories. Of course, every bride and groom would do well to take the edge off with a massage by Donna Allen at Trends…Alternative Healing.
Wedding bells or no, Rangeley has been a family destination since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In those days, trains and steam launches delivered vacationers, including President Herbert Hoover, to grand lakefront inns like the bygone Rangeley Lake House. Today, the Rangeley Inn is one of the few remainders of those extravagant inns of yesteryear—the inn’s Pour House tavern was built in 1877 and still retains the original pressed-tin ceilings and fieldstone fireplace. When I stayed at the inn with my husband and daughters, the well-worn charm of the old rooms and common areas was complemented by the amiable gruffness of the staff. We have also stayed at the Country Club Inn, situated just west of town near the Mingo Springs Golf Course. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to share the former 1920s country club with occasional visitors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast in the dining room overlooking the outdoor pool and lake beyond.
Rental cabins and condos abound in Rangeley, many of which are represented by Morton & Furbish Real Estate, where one of the town’s most visible realtors, Carolyn Smith, is the person to call if you want to rent or buy. Her clients include the renowned Weimaraner photographer William Wegman. Ask about renting the cabins at Saddleback Lake Lodge, which can come with a personal chef. Another popular choice is Rangeley Lake Resort’s time-share cabins, which are situated near the site of the old Rangeley Lake House, and include a clubhouse gym, pool, and sauna. Any of these options would work for a wedding as well.
Many of Rangeley’s bed-and-breakfasts, lodges, and camps have their own restaurants. We appreciated the convenience of being able to hang out at the Pour House for drinks while staying at the Rangeley Inn and eating breakfast or dinner at the Country Club Inn. Loon Lodge also has a fine-dining restaurant, and its Pickford Pub has an excellent beer selection and bar menu. The Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant is a popular eatery with both guests and locals, and it features Mexican and sushi nights, as well as open-mic events on Thursdays in its Lakeview Tavern downstairs.
For freestanding eats, Parkside and Main, located at the center of town next to Lakeside Park, was the perfect place for a night out with our young twins (something I cannot say about all restaurants). The mountain-style salmon and burgers are deeply satisfying, the atmosphere is cozy, and the friendly waitstaff even brought out a candlelit dessert while the whole restaurant joined in singing happy birthday to the twins. In warmer months, the back deck overlooking the lake is a popular spot for unwinding and sharing fishing tales. The Corner Side is a hip, modern bistro that serves truffle fries, elk carpaccio, and grilled-lobster seafood risotto. And the Oquossoc-based Farmer’s Daughter opened a new location next door that sells wine, fresh vegetables, and gourmet groceries for cooking at your rental house or condo.
If you’re staying at one of the few lodgings with no breakfast service, Moosely Bagels is the place to go for bagel sandwiches and a variety of egg dishes. There’s also BMC Diner, an outpost of Bald Mountain Camps, for classic diner fare, and the Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant’s breakfast and Sunday brunch.
Back to the reason everyone’s thinking about fishing in May. The caddis-fly and flying-ant hatches occur after Ice Out, bringing the brook trout and landlocked salmon to the surface to feed. Saddleback Maine even offers an Ice Out Fishing Package, which includes two nights’ lodging and rental of a sixteen-foot Lund fishing boat so you can join the locals trolling streamer flies—including the Grey Ghost—on the lakes. The purist fishermen walk-wade into the fly-only waters or book a trip with Pond in the River Guide Service for the Rapid and Magalloway rivers. Guide Kash Haley, who also owns Parkside and Main restaurant, grew up fishing here and knows the rivers and streams like the back of his hand, but he still manages to bring the enthusiasm of a kid to every trip. Other popular walk-wade casting destinations include Kennebago River and the Upper Dam on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, but if you would rather skip the crowds, Acadian Seaplanes can fly you from Town Cove to the less accessible and more pristine waters of the region. Be sure to grab a fishing license (Maine offers one-day, three-day, fifteen-day, and seasonal options), and stock up on flies and gear at the Rangeley Region Sports Shop.
Grant’s Kennebago Camps has been a renowned anglers’ resort since 1905. Located about twenty miles from town, Grant’s offers eighteen cabins, a main lodge, a dining hall, and guide services. Forest Lodge on the Rapid River, where Louise Dickinson Rich wrote We Took to the Woods, is another longtime favorite—the classic lodge is still without electricity or phones.
Summer brings endless opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing on the lakes, but May is still the season of sensible layering—so make sure to bring your fleece and rain gear (just in case). The cycling options are many in Rangeley, which offers miles of rolling roads, and since the black flies won’t arrive until June, it’s the perfect time for a hike. A section of the Appalachian Trail can be accessed from Route 4 near Piazza Rock and from Route 17 in Oquossoc. You can also check out Smalls Falls and stroll the footpaths at Orgonon. I’ve always been curious about the 175-acre Orgonon estate and the Wilhelm Reich Museum, with its three-story stone observatory on a hill looking out to Saddleback. I was fascinated to learn that Wilhelm Reich—something of a mad scientist, but perhaps a man far ahead of his time—experimented here with a healing energy, but he was shut down by the government for contempt of court and put in jail, where he died. Orgonon remains a monument to this curious legacy of science and censorship.
Back in town, Books, Lines & Thinkers has a great selection of new and used books, and Birds of a Feather Gallery features local art next door. The Rangeley Public Library, located in a historical stone building on Lake Street, is the place to bring the kids on a rainy day, as is the Lakeside Theater, which has been the town’s movie house since it was constructed in 1923. The theater’s old tin roof used to make it hard to hear the movies during rainstorms, so it was updated, along with the movie selection. For further indoor entertainment, rumor has it that Moose Alley will be opening a new bowling alley soon.
Lakeside Park, located in the center of town near the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce, offers tennis courts, a swimming beach, and a boat ramp. You can rent or buy kayaks at Ecopelagicon, a nature, book, and gift shop, or join Mookwa Guided Tours to explore the waterways and ecology of the area. Situated just off of Main Street on the edge of Haley Pond, Ecopelagicon (a combination of ecology, pelagic—that is, living or growing at or near the surface of the water—and conservation) encapsulates everything that’s great about Rangeley: nature, wildlife, and history. So tread lightly, and enjoy.