Everyone loves a comeback story, and Rangeley’s Saddleback Mountain is one that has crossed two centuries and more challenges than Benedict Arnold faced on the Kennebec River.
This is one tenacious mountain, and that’s before you even get on the toughest run. To enjoy Saddleback is to understand its storied history and how, just a few years ago, nobody knew if they’d ever get back in the saddle again.
Rising from the snowy peaks 4,100 feet above sea level, it is now what was ranked as the “Best Ski Mountain” two years running by Down East magazine. It’s the middle location between three ski resorts in the Lakes & Mountains region and the only independently owned — New England’s largest of its kind.
Let’s see what the hype is all about!
Saddleback Mountain History
Rising above Maine’s Rangeley Lakes area, Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort dates back to 1959.
In 1960, the resort’s first chairlift opened — a T-Bar — providing access to the Wheeler Slope. By ‘63, the longest chairlift in Maine was operating. Saddleback was on track to become the “Vail of the East.”
Saddleback vs. NPS
Then came the battle of the Appalachian Trail, heading right over Saddleback’s summit. The owners spent millions over two decades facing off with the National Park Service instead of building up the Vail of Maine.
In an interesting twist, Sugarloaf Ski Resort faced the same A.T. conflict, but an agreement to re-route the trail 14 miles was easily passed 25 years before the Saddleback agreement was reached.
Shutdown to Revitalization
With a mix of financial struggles, economic woes at the absolute wrong time (looking at you, 2008 housing crisis), and changes in ownership similar to a game of hot potato at times, the latest owner cried, “Uncle!,” in 2015 and shut down the place.
Then came the Arctaris Impact Fund with a goal to revive the troubled skiing treasure and support the Rangeley community. The future now looks fresh-powder white.
Where Is Saddleback Mountain?
Now that you know how Saddleback Mountain got to where it is, let’s get you there.
Saddleback Mountain is as close to Canada as it is to New Hampshire in the Rangley area, where mountain tops reflect on lakes and life moves slower — even for Maine. Some of the most epic mountain and forest scenery in the state is here.
It’s equidistant from Bangor and Portland, each about 125 miles away. From Rangeley, you’ll drive about 7 miles on roads (not highways) that can be treacherous in the winter. You’ll need a four-wheel drive or AWD vehicle. Bring chains too. And, electric vehicle charging stations are available.
As anyone who has been to Saddleback before will tell you, “The drive is one of the best parts.”
GPS NOTE: Search for Saddleback Ski Area and NOT Saddleback Mountain. Searching for the latter will take you to the A.T. trailhead.
- Base Elevation: 2,460 feet
- Summit: 4,120 feet
- Vertical Drop: 2,000 feet
- Ski Runs: 68
- Lifts: 6
- Acres: More than 600 for skiing with 88 acres of glades
- Trail Difficulty: 23 easy trails, 20 intermediate, 18 difficult, and seven extremely difficult.
Things to Do on Saddleback Mountain in the Winter
Saddleback Mountain is divided into three areas, each offering a unique experience on this mountain where nature carved the trails. With an average of 225 inches of snow, a patch of powder awaits you all winter.
Skiers of all levels can enjoy three sections of Saddleback Mountain. Rentals are available for skis, snowboards, boots, and poles.
- Kennebago Steeps: Skilled skiers loved this high-elevation advanced terrain with some of the most challenging trails in Maine.
- Rangeley Area: Nature paved this path for the intermediate skier, and you can also try your skills at a couple of black diamond runs.
- South Branch: More than a dozen trails and glades make this perfect for beginners or families just getting used to Saddleback Mountain.
Anglers Love Saddleback: If you know enough about fishing, you’ll see a commonality among the trails at Saddleback Mountain. They are all named after Rangeley-created fishing flies. You can learn more about that history at the Outdoor Heritage Museum in Rangeley.
Explore the 30+ miles of trails for Nordic skiing based out of the Rangeley Lakes Trail Center. Those traveling with pets will be thrilled to know that some of the trails are dog-friendly.
Saddleback offers uphill skiing on a specially designated route. Once you reach the top, you can go to the high-altitude haven of Kennebago Steeps or ski down one of the easier routes. Specific rental gear is required for uphill skiing.
The Rangley Lakes Trail Center’s trails also serve as snowshoe routes. More options are available in the region through the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust.
Snowmobiles are the preferred way to get around Rangeley. You’ll find an abundance of trails throughout Rangeley Lakes — 170 miles, to be exact. An epic adventure every April is the King of the Mountain Snowmobile Hill Climb.
This is another activity based out of the Rangeley Lakes Trail Center, with traditional bicycles outfitted with fat tires to trek through the snowy terrain.
Summer Activities on Saddleback Mountain
When the snow melts and the mud dries up, it’s time to saddle up for summer activities on Saddleback Mountain.
One of the newest features at Saddleback Mountain is the bike trails near South Branch. These trails are perfectly carved to help a beginner build up confidence while offering tricks and skill-building sections for more advanced riders.
Several routes take you to the summit of Saddleback Mountain, and you can choose the length and difficulty level. You’ll even cross paths with the A.T. if you want to spend time on that trail.
For those who want to tackle the 4,000-footers, 10 of the 14 (including Saddleback Mountain and Saddleback Horn) are within 40 miles.
Saddleback Mountain is one of the best sites in Rangeley for tracking birds. Remember that many of the trails to see birds also parallel the strenuous trails to the summit. Head to the nearby lakes for the illustrious loons that also provide a soundtrack. It’s such a popular activity around these parts that a Birding Festival is held annually.
Activities on Saddleback Mountain in the Fall
Western Maine usually peaks with fall foliage in mid-October, and the trails of Saddleback Mountain are a great way to see this explosion of color. Take a ride on the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, but don’t miss a sunset at The Pub on Saddleback Mountain.
Saddleback’s Oktoberfest is another great fall tradition, with the highlight being a 5k race up the side of the mountain — rain or shine. With views like this, who’s complaining?
Rangeley at Night
Saddleback Mountain doesn’t offer night skiing, but you are perfectly located to take a hike on the Rangeley Lakes Dark Sky Trail. You are among New England’s darkest skies from Rangeley to Katahdin. There’s a greater chance of seeing the Northern Lights here than in other parts of the country.
As of late 2023, Rangeley is working to become a certified International Dark Sky Community, among the ranks of Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument (Dark Sky Sanctuary) and Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods (Dark Sky Park).
FAQs About Saddleback Mountain
When does Saddleback Mountain open for skiing?
Saddleback Mountain opens for skiing anywhere from late November through early December depending on how much snow has fallen and how temperatures are supporting snow-making operations.
You can check the trail report at any time, and this is also a great way to see a list of all the runs.
How many lakes are in the Rangeley Region around Saddleback?
There are six lakes near Saddleback in the Rangeley area, and just about every spot on the mountain has a view of them all.
To help you out with Maine names, the one with the really long name — Mooselookmeguntic — is pronounced “Moose-look-me-GUN-tick.”
Where are the apres ski locations on Saddleback?
Rangeley doesn’t use words like “resort” or “apres” in common conversation as much because it doesn’t have updated websites or even social media sites for all businesses.
As we can attest by extensive research on this region, ask someone if you want to know where to go on Saddleback Mountain.
Pick up the phone or ask a “lifty” (ski lift operator) where to get the best food. You can also join the Friends of Saddleback Facebook group.
A Saddleback Mountain Getaway to Remember
Saddleback Mountain’s history is intriguing enough, but when you look at the location, you’ll see just how centrally located you are. And once you reach a summit, you have views in all directions. On a clear day, you can scan the skies from Katahdin to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.
Especially under new ownership, you’ll see how Saddleback Mountain is woven into the culture of the community. It’s not just a mountain near a town. It’s an entire ecosystem designed to give you the ultimate outdoor experience in one of nature’s greatest four-season destinations.
One visit to Saddleback, and you’ll have your own comeback story, wanting to return time and time again to a place that was gone but not forgotten.