Since we’re featuring the resurrection of a classic Maine ski area — Saddleback — in this issue, it seems only fitting that we highlight a classic Maine lodge that has weathered the vagaries of Mother Nature and an unpredictable tourism industry.
The Loon Lodge Inn & Restaurant on Rangeley Lake, one of the few genuine New England sporting camps that remains open through the winter months, has survived several rough patches over the past six decades and continues to thrive due to its commitment to its customers and its embrace of the outdoor ethos that defines this rugged, breathtaking region of western Maine.
The impressive 8,000-square-foot wooden structure is situated on a 5.4-acre parcel and boasts 250 feet of lake frontage and a private beach. A true four-season inn, the Loon Lodge is equally adept at hosting weddings (up to 175 guests) as it does work sessions (thanks to a newly renovated corporate meeting and function room that can accommodate up to 60 guests). Its location provides tremendous access to numerous activities such as alpine and nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cycling (including fat biking), hunting (primarily the fall), fishing, hiking, golfing, swimming and boating. The new dock system can accommodate up to 10 boats, allowing guests to arrive by land or water.
In the winter, when Rangeley Lake freezes solid, the lodge’s snowmobile ramp can connect visitors to the region’s labyrinth of snowmobile trails throughout Maine and into New Hampshire and Canada. For skiers and snowboarders, Saddleback, of course, is just minutes away, while Sugarloaf and Sunday River are within a fairly short drive, in case you want a change of scenery (the lodge does offer “ski and stay” packages in conjunction with Saddleback). The Rangeley Lakes Trails Center is a winter wonderland for nordic and snowshoe enthusiasts and even offers dog-friendly trails for those who want to try their hand at skijoring (however, dogs must be on a leash at all times).
It was this same remarkable variety of outdoor pursuits that drew visitors to the Rangeley Lakes area more than a century ago. The main structure at Loon Lodge originally was built in 1899 as a family camp by the Ludeke family, and named “Camp Weduba.” This was a great era of grand hotels lining the shores of Rangeley Lake and railroads transporting visitors for summer vacations from throughout New England, New York and New Jersey. There was a boardwalk along the lake’s shore that allowed guests to stroll into the town of Rangeley. Over the next half-century, the lodge served as a vacation escape for several large families.
The Davis family purchased the property as a private home in 1952. When Saddleback opened in 1960, the family considered the lodge’s close proximity to the mountain and decided to open it to the public for lodging and dining. In 1966, publishing magnate Guy Gannett bought the renamed “Davis Lodge” as a vacation retreat for his employees and visiting business guests. Seven years later, Chester and Burdys Page purchased the inn and renamed it the Rangeley Lake Lodge, adding a pub in 1976, which quickly became a popular local watering hole.
The ensuing 45 years saw the lodge change hands numerous times — the Prescott family renamed it the Loon Lodge in 1984 — and a series of renovations (and a brief closure from 2001-03). Meticulously restored, the Loon Lodge Inn today is owned by Usha and Gawain Wood and features a warm, rustic woodland décor, with original quilts and artwork and nature photographs from local artists adorning the walls. The Great Room has comfortable overstuffed “Old Hickory” furniture surrounding a large, welcoming fieldstone fireplace that practically begs guests to kick back and relax after a day on the slopes.
The dining room and adjacent Pickford Pub are intimate gathering spots, guaranteed to touch the soul of any old-time skier or boarder (like me) who believes that winter sports are essentially social pursuits. The well-stocked wood bar, and close proximity of the dining tables, invites interaction between guests, and I’ve always maintained that only fishermen tell better tales than skiers.
I also like that the pub is the only place in the lodge where you’ll find a television. In my book, the fewer electronic gadgets, and the fewer distractions, the better, (though guests will find free Wi-Fi service throughout the inn, which of course allows streaming on your personal devices). After all, there’s a reason we call it a ski “getaway,” right?
The dining room, overlooking Rangeley Lake, boasts a casual atmosphere and stunning sunset views, which makes the lodge especially appealing during the spring ski season, when the sun drops a bit later in the day. The menu, featuring a majority of locally produced ingredients, won’t disappoint, either. Appetizers range from traditional selections, like bruschetta with grilled bread topped with goat cheese, tomatoes, aged balsamic drizzle, and basil pesto. There’s also a nice variety of salads, including my wife’s favorite, the winter panzella, featuring roasted beets, carrots and butternut squash with pickled apples, cranberries, feta, house croutons, pistachios and a cranberry vinaigrette.
Still hungry? Don’t fret. The Loon Lodge won’t let you go to bed empty. Entrees range from garlic rosemary rack of lamb with a minted demi-glace, roasted sweet and gold fingerling potatoes and cippolini onions, roasted duck with blood orange and cranberry sauces, roasted fingerling potatoes and vegetables, pork saltimbocca, featuring a sautéed pork tenderloin with mushroom madeira au jus, prosciutto and tomatoes over mashed potatoes, chicken picatta with natural chicken breasts sautéed with lemon, wine, capers and oven-roasted tomatoes over pasta, and an 8-ounce filet mignon with a whiskey peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetables and onion tanglers.
The wine list isn’t extensive but offers a solid selection from around the world, including whites from Germany, Australia, South Africa, Italy and California, reds from Chile, Argentina, Italy and California, and sparkling wines from Italy and France. The same goes for the beer list, with usual suspects like Sam Adams, Budweiser and Heineken, local draft beers from Allagash Brewing, Boothbay Brewery and Marsh Island Brewing, and craft beers from Cushnoc Brewing and Lone Pine Brewing. The full bar can serve up any cocktail or cordial, and the adventurous might consider one of the lodge’s specialty drinks, like the Summer Peach Smash (bourbon, house peach simple syrup, lemon and a hint of mint) Blueberry Lemonade (vodka, house blueberry syrup, real lemonade), or Rebecca’s Red Sangria (red wine, brandy, fruits and “a lot of secrets”).
Finally, dessert lovers won’t be disappointed, with sweet offerings like pumpkin cheesecake over caramel sauce, and carrot cake with walnuts, pineapple, coconut, raisins and a pickled ginger cream cheese frosting.
The dining rooms and pub both serve from 5-9 p.m. during the winter. I find those hours meet the needs of most skiers except for serious night owls. Personally, given my preference for first tracks, I actually like having an earlier “last call” to discourage any late-night shenanigans.
However, the inn doesn’t serve breakfast. That’s admittedly one of the few areas where the Loon Lodge falls short, given the importance of the first meal of the day and getting to the slopes early (though complimentary coffee, tea, cocoa and muffins are available in the Great Room). An easy solution for the breakfast conundrum is to take advantage of the mini-fridges found in each room — keep them stocked with yogurt, fresh fruit, juice and milk (for cereal and/or granola) for a quick pick-me-up.
The lodge offers eight wood-paneled rooms, including a family suite and five queen rooms on the second floor, plus two king rooms on the first floor. Each room, as the owners say with a certain amount of pride, “includes no phone, no TVs, and no interruptions.” But all feature antique furnishing, chill-chasing quilts, private baths, and muscle-soothing mattresses (with luxurious Cuddledown linens), while most also offer ceiling fans and the aforementioned mini-fridges.
The “Saddleback” room, at the top of the grand staircase, has a queen bed with a classic iron headboard and a view of Rangeley Lake. The “Nordic” room, dominated by a king bed with a rustic log headboard, faces west with views of the mountains across the lake. The quaint “Olympic” room is located mid-lodge, with a king bed, a beautiful turn-of-the-century writing desk, and charming corner masonry details.
The “Slalom” room, with two queen beds, overlooks Rangeley Lake to the west, offering views of morning sunlight on the hills and mountains and spectacular sunsets. Not to be outdone, the “Christie” room has views overlooking the woods and mountains to the northeast. Like Slalom, this spacious room includes two queen beds. Located at the south end of the lodge, the “Quad Suite” has a private bath and a queen bed nestled in the eaves, plus two twin beds in a second, separate room (perfect for young families).
Finally, on the lodge’s lower level, “Lakeside 1” and “Lakeside 2” both feature king sleigh beds and large picture windows that provide beautiful views of the lake, sunsets and mountains. Both also are handicap accessible.
Nearby, a separate two-story structure, the Pickford House (formerly known as “The Cottage”) has another four rooms, each with a queen-size bed and private bath, and is within walking distance of the main lodge.
Pet-free and smoke-free, Loon Lodge also is a haven for guests with allergies. In truth, though, this special lodge is a haven for anyone who steps foot through the door.
Loon Lodge Inn & Restaurant
16 Pickford Road
Brion O’Connor can be reached at email@example.com.