One of New England's four thousand footers, Saddleback mountain is the crown jewel of the historic Rangeley Region. Its various peaks, including the nearby 4023 ft Horn, are located on the Appalachian Trail and are thus frequently climbed. The open summits offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and pristine lakes. Saddleback Mountain Ski Area, located on the northwest face of the mountain, does not significantly detract from the climbing experience. The summit is only 5.1 miles from the trailhead with a vertical gain of about 2800 ft. However, the trail is steep in spots and will provide a worthwhile challenge. Piazza Rock and the nearby Caves located along the trail are interesting formations and are worth the short side trips to see.
The trailhead is located on the southwest side of Route 4, 32 miles north of the US2/US4 junction in the town of Farmington, Maine. The parking area is well marked and maintained by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. Be aware that there have been some reports of vehicle breakin and vandalization in recent years in this lot. Increased police patrols seem to be helping but we recommend against leaving valuables in your vehicle. The trail leaves on the opposite side of the road. As this trail is part of the AT it is well marked with white blazes. An alternative trailhead is located at the Saddleback Mountain Ski Area. To access this trailhead, continue north on Route 4 past the AT trailhead for approximately 6 miles. Make a right on Dallas Hill Road just before you get to the village of Rangeley. Continue on Dallas hill Road for 3 miles and then make a right onto the Saddleback Road following it to its end at the ski area. The trail leaves from the main lodge lawn.
There is no red tape to speak of when using this trail. The campsite at Piazza Rock charges a minimal fee for use of the tent platforms during the peak summer months.
Most people climb Saddleback in the summer months. Appalachian Trail thru hikers are frequently encountered during this period. Be aware that snow fields may persist on the trail into late May. The numerous snow bridges become extremely unstable late in the year (although they are more of an inconvenience that a true denger). We usually carry snow shoes for portions of this trail until June. This is also a good winter hike although it is seldom done. Some locals elect to snowshoe to the top and then ski down the ski area trails in winter.
There is camping on the mountain at the Piazza Rock shelter (and tent platforms) approximately 1.4 miles from the trailhead. This site is managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club and a caretaker is present during the summer. Use of the site is on a first come first serve basis. A modest fee is charged for use during peak months. There is a reliable water source near the site. Another similar AMC sit is located about two miles beyond the Horn at Poplar Ridge. Camping is also permitted in the back country at least 200 feet from the trail and any water source. Campers are encouraged to follow the leave no trace ethic. There are numerous local campgrounds in or near the village of Rangeley including Rangeley State Park. However, during the summer months these sites are usually full and often reserved several months in advance. Supplies and groceries are available in the village as well but tend to be expensive.
Rangeley area weather is often very unpredictable. Due to the remote nature of this area there is not a good source for forecasts either. The upper portion of the mountain is unusually exposed and should not be attempted in fog or high winds (which are frequent). The path above tree line is not well worn and the carins are small. It is very easy to ose this trail in restricted visibility conditions. Numerous ponds along the way provide excellent sources of water with the last being Eddy Pond at 3.2 miles from the trailhead. There are reports of an unreliable spring near the summit but to date I have been unable to locate it. All water must be treated, filtered or boiled due as the intestinal parasite Giardia is endemic in this area.