Photograph by Dennis Welsh, Getty Images
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Hikers descend a hill on the Height of the Land, a scenic overlook with vistas of the Rangeley Lakes region and Western Maine Mountains.

Photograph by Dennis Welsh, Getty Images

Summer at the Lake: Rangeley Lake

From the June/July 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler

In the late 1800s, tales of Rangeley Lake’s gigantic native brook trout lured gentlemen anglers from as far as Baltimore, Maryland. Though the classic old hotels have since burned down, many of the historic cabins and sporting camps remain. Now, the area attracts families who stake out lakeside cabins for weeks at a time to canoe, sail, fish, and tap into the slow pace of life in Rangeley, a classic New England hamlet about 120 miles north of Portland. In summer, the population swells tenfold with visitors, but the vibe is still notably low-key. A couple of blocks from the lake is Rangeley’s Main Street, which is lined with homespun stores like Nancy’s Gifts and Threads Galore Quilt Shop. There, Appalachian Trail through-hikers sit at the cafés, tourists slurp ice-cream cones, and station wagons loaded with canoes clog the streets. No one seems to mind if traffic occasionally slows, least of all the locals, many of whom are third-generation descendants of the area’s loggers, steamboat operators, railroad workers, and fishing guides. Though summer life centers around Rangeley Lake and other nearby ponds and lakes, the hills offer solitude in the pine, maple, and birch forests, where dozens of trails lead to waterfalls and gentle summits. The woods and meadows also attract mountain bikers and birders, who come to see the abundant eagles, woodpeckers, and warblers. Come evening, nightlife is pleasantly sleepy, with a few local plays and concerts (the Lakeside Theater hosts musical groups in the summer). Mostly folks sit on their docks with friends, sipping gin and tonics, watching the light fade from the sky and listening as the sound of crickets fades into stillness.