New England's Best Small Towns: Rangeley, ME
By Amy Sutherland
Traditional New England towns, with their trim black shutters and tidy village greens, can make me a little claustrophobic, what with all that historic perfection closing in. My antidote to the overdose of quaintness is Rangeley, a place that looks like what it is: an afterthought. Just a dozen or so wood-frame buildings strung along a lake, Rangeley was born to cater to 19th-century fishermen. Rusticators of all stripes have followed since, which is no easy task—there’s no rushing the 80 miles on two-lane Route 4.
Seasoned visitors know no one really goes to Rangeley for domestic niceties. They go for the endless lakes, the muscular mountains, the odd moose, and a wilderness so vast you get an itty-bitty feeling you thought only possible out west. Everything here is an outdoors binge, from hiking the Appalachian Trail up Saddleback Mountain’s 4,116 feet to panning gold in Coos Canyon. My preferred pastime, however, is to sit on my duff in a car barreling down Route 17. The scenic byway threads two monster lakes, Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic, and has views grand enough to quiet two chatterboxes like my husband and me.
Eventually, we get hungry or tired or simply need to quit feeling so small, and we return to the town’s, er, finer points. Its restaurants, like the Red Onion, are no-nonsense: a simple deck and a bowl of hearty chili. The rooms at the old clapboard Rangeley Inn are equally spare, though comfortable and cheap. Only a few gift shops dot Main Street, nothing like the bonanza of gewgaws you find in Vermont. I love poking around River’s Edge Sports in Oquossoc, perusing the fishing flies and listening to locals regale clerks with their one-that-got-away stories. For this New Englander, that’s about as un-quaint as it gets.
Charlestown resident Amy Sutherland is the author of What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage.