Take Route 302 North to North Windham, and follow through Raymond, South Casco and Naples, watching for glimpses of beautiful Sebago Lake on your left. At Naples, you'll come to The Causeway, which divides Brandy Pond from Long Lake, home of the Songo River Queen II, a paddle boat that offers cruises from Naples through the ancient Songo Locks. Early in the season, you can take a foliage cruise on the Songo River Queen.
Turn back the way you came, and go approximately one-half mile to Route 35 North. Follow through Harrison, past Crystal Lake on your right then Bear Pond on your left, to Waterford, past Keoka Lake on your right, to Bethel, a charming town that deserves a stop. To get a unique view of the foliage, try a short (six mile) canoe or kayak trip down the Androscoggin River from West Bethel to Bethel. Canoe rentals are available at Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Sun Valley Sports. Another great way to take in the foliage and stretch your legs after spending hours in the car is to take a hike or bike ride. Trail maps are available at the Visitors Center located at the railroad station.
If you're just driving through, at least stop in town to catch the view of the Presidental Range of mountains from Paradise Hill. Follow Broad Street past the town common and the Bethel Inn Resort until you reach Paradise Road, which angles off to the left. Go approximately one and one-half miles, and pull over to take in the view of the mountains. Before heading out of town, you may want to stop to refuel and pick up sandwiches or other provisions.
Leaving Bethel, take Route 5 North (which is also Route 26) until you reach Newry. You can leave Route 35 in North Bethel before reaching Newry and take the Sunday River Road approximately four miles to the "Artist's Bridge," Maine's most painted and photographed covered bridge, built in 1872. Return to Route 35 via Sunday River Road, the way you came, and continue north on Route 35 to Newry, where Routes 2 and 5 split from Route 26.
Follow Routes 2 and 5 East towards Rumford, a paper mill town set in a hilly area that offers great foliage views. In the middle of town, Route 2 turns to the east toward Mexico (Mexico, Maine, that is!). Be sure to follow Route 2, not Route 120. Route 2 turns south soon after the sign for Route 120, but you want to turn to the north onto Route 17 (Roxbury Road). This section of road is confusing, but a good map will help you find your way. I recommend DeLorme's Maine Atlas & Gazetteer (Compare Prices).
Follow Route 17 North, through Frye, Roxbury and Byron, until it ends in Oquossoc on Rangeley Lake. Along the way, from Mexico to Houghton, Route 17 meanders along beside the Swift River, providing many glimpses of a boulder-strewn riverbed framed by trees clothed in their brilliant fall finery. This part of Maine is a hardwood forest with scenic overlooks across the lakes, providing perfect leaf-peeping opportunities.
In Byron, the Swift River carved a 1,500-foot long, 25-foot deep canyon from the bedrock and polished the rock in a unique fashion. Panning for gold is a popular activity here. Continue north through Houghton several miles to the pullout at Beaver Pond, where a two-mile hike through hardwood forest will take you to the cascading, 90-foot Angel Falls.
Several miles north of Beaver Pond, you enter an area known as Township D. The road climbs higher and higher and curls around Spruce Mountain to a spot where the trees fall away to reveal a breathtaking panorama below. This is one of the most dramatic scenic turnouts in the State, known as Height of Land. Many maps don't show this spot, but DeLorme's Maine Atlas does. With or without a map, you'll know when you've reached it.
Pull into the turnout area for a stunning view of mountain ranges surrounding pristine lakes that sparkle against an autumn backdrop of dazzling reds, oranges and yellows. If you're lucky enough to be here at dusk, you can watch the sun set over island-dotted Mooselookmeguntic Lake, which stretches from north to south in the foreground and joins Cupsuptic Lake in the distance. Bald Mountain rises 1,000 feet to the north and Upper Richardson Lake lies to the south.
Continue north to Oquossoc and Mooselookmeguntic Lake, or continue east on Route 4 to explore the town of Rangeley, which sits at an altitude of nearly 2,000 feet, then head south on Route 4 to the turn-off for South Shore Drive at Greenvale Cove. This will take you to Rangeley Lake State Park, where you can stand on the beach and enjoy views of surrounding mountains and Rangeley Lake.
Total driving time from the Portland area to Rangeley (without any of the side trips mentioned) is about three hours.
Next Page: Other Scenic Sights Near Rangeley, Maine