The view from Bald Mountain over Rangeley Lake and toward the long ridge line of Saddleback Mountain. Christine Wolfe photo

We are going with a double dose of peak foliage this fall. A paddling and hiking weekend up in the Rangeley Lakes region makes it possible. Enjoy dazzling colors up there in late September and enjoy another peak color experience down along the coast weeks later.

Depending on what criteria you use, Mooselookmeguntic ranks as the fourth largest lake in Maine. Canoeists will want to be adept at paddling in windy conditions and choppy waves should a calm day suddenly turn into a windy one. We hit it just right, with no wind and a pleasant day as we headed north up the lake at noon after a beautiful morning drive up the South Arm Road to Richardson Lake and then over to the Mooselookmeguntic state boat ramp.

As we settled in and got our paddling rhythm synchronized, we gazed back to our right. Four miles to our east a conspicuous black line bisected a steep hillside far above the lake. It was one of the most spectacular highway viewpoints in Maine: Height of Land on Route 17. Two days later we would be driving home over that road enjoying far-reaching views out over where we were paddling.

The water level was down on our visit, so the shoreline shallows were a winding patchwork of boulders and ledges, some barely submerged, others visible. A bald eagle watched us approach on our right at we rounded a wooded point. Groups of five to six loons continually came into view, often after we first heard their telltale yips. Cormorants winged past us at eye level. Sandpipers flitted along the shore. Mountains were everywhere, peering down over us. We headed up the lake toward the distinctive triangular profile of West Kennebago Mountain, 16 miles to the north.

By mid-afternoon we headed back to the boat launch for the drive up to Oquossoc for the night. We had a rendezvous with a crackling fire in a cozy cabin by the lake. The next morning dawned frosty with a thick fog enveloping the lake, typical for early autumn in big lake country. We waited a couple of hours for the sun to burn the fog off, and once again were fortunate to have calm winds and clear blue skies. The fall colors seemed even crisper.

A group of kayakers land on the east side of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, a few miles south of the Haines Landing boat launch. Christine Wolfe photo

We had two good options for the afternoon – paddle from the Haines Landing boat launch for a mile over to the western shoreline of Mooselookmeguntic and explore down along Stony Batter Point to the group of small islands west of the point; or hike up to the fire tower on Bald Mountain for outstanding views in all directions. The vote was unanimous for the hike.

It is a moderate 1.2-mile hike up to the 2,443-foot summit, rising 1,000 feet above the lake. The views were astounding. From the White Mountains in New Hampshire to the dramatic outline of the Bigelow Range near Stratton, memories of decades of fall hikes on the Appalachian Trail came into focus. We were especially excited to find the eastern horizon filled with the long ridgeline of Saddleback, knowing that after five years of inactivity the ski area will be open once again this winter. Given the mixture of big lake views and Alpine scenery this hike would be included in many top 10 mountain vista lists in the state.

If you decide to paddle Mooselookmeguntic next summer as a multi-day adventure, there are 60 spacious tent sites on the lake, all part of  the 6,000-acre Stephen Phillips Memorial Preserve. These sites are on the western shore of the lake above Upper Dam and on Students Island, Toothaker Island, and three other smaller islands. There is a nightly fee to stay at the sites. See the Preserve website for camping details. The camping season ends this year on Sept. 20. One of the sites we have stayed at before is the Chapel campsite. This secluded spot was once the site of a log cabin chapel built in 1917. We imagined the slow procession of Rangeley boats making their way up the lake for summer Sunday services. The chapel has since been taken apart and stored, awaiting funding to rebuild it in a more accessible location.

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 18) for help in getting to the boat launch site on the gravel South Arm Road.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools.   Contact: [email protected]

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