Height of Land
There's no official sign or designation but you’ll know when you’re there. Driving along Maine State Route 17, the land abruptly drops off to the west and the view opens up to the far edges of the Maine mountains at the New Hampshire border. Height of Land, on the top of Spruce Mountain in Rangeley, is a real place, but when you're standing on the evergreen boundary looking out over the wide valley, the landscape is impossibly surreal and spectacular.
The centerpiece of this visual feast in Franklin County is Toothaker Island and Mooselookmeguntic Lake. American Indians settled here 11,000 years ago and navigated the lakes and rivers like highways to hunt abundant native fish and game. Meditative and mesmerizing, this view hasn't changed for many millennia. 100 years ago, the road to the lookout was nothing more than a rutted oxcart path that took travelers an entire day to traverse. Eventually, it was widened to accommodate logging trucks and, in 1975, the Appalachian Trail was re-routed right through the heart of it, bringing intrepid hikers and off-roaders into the remote area.
Now, Height of Land is part of the 32-mile Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway and includes 500 acres of protected forest stretching from Bemis Stream and Upper Richardson Lake in the southwest to Rangeley Lake in the north. In 2011, Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust used Federal grant money to plant endemic flora and create seating areas out of resident stone so passing motorists could safely enjoy the spectacle.
If you're feeling energetic, you can park at the lookout and hike to the summit of Spruce Mountain at 2,530 feet to link up with a day hike along the Appalachian Trail. The Trust, in collaboration with Maine Department of Transportation, is also designing a quarter-mile paved conservation footpath with stairs leading down from the overlook.
Most people, however, don't read the placards or hike into the valley. Most stop and stare, watching patterns of cloud-dappled light move slowly over the landscape. At dusk, when the sun sinks and the sky turns rust and gold, you will often find tourists and Mainers side-by-side ingesting all of that singular Maine wilderness. No matter how crowded it gets, the vista remains open and unspoiled.