Foliage Season in the Rangeley Lakes Region
Foliage season is an amazing time in the Western Mountains of Maine. The Autumn colors that fill the regions mountains and encircle the many lakes and ponds provide a vibrant scene to capture, if you're into taking photos. Sometimes, as pictured above, you can be in for a special treat too if you happen to catch the weather at the right time. Foliage season, at its peak in the Rangeley Region, typically occurs between the last week of September to the start of the second week of October. The mountains in the region usually experience their first snow flakes of the year in those first few days of October and can provide and incredible contrast with the surrounding foliage. I just noticed the forecast is calling for the first chance of flakes this coming weekend at the time of this post, so we might be in for another unique photo opportunity this year as well. For these images, I often look for ridge lines (like above) or other breaks between the foliage and snow to enhance the contrast even more.
Another must see is the foliage along local lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. If you catch the water at a time of calmness, the clear water the region is known for can provide a mirror like effect that provides some creative reflections with the autumn colors. Check out the Dead River along Route 16 (as shown above), the Kennebago River, Rangeley Lake, Mooselookmeguntic Lake, and even Smalls Falls on Route 4 on the way into Rangeley can provide some really cool effects with the foliage as well. I personally like to take a tripod to Smalls Falls and get the mist look of the falls with the foliage (pictured below). I use a Neutral Density Filter, depending on the lighting between a 0.9 and 1.2 to drop my shutter speed to a point where the fast moving water is blurred but creates a unique mist look to your photos. It's good to visit here in the middle of the day as the lighting is at its best near the falls. There is parking near the falls and you can walk down to the bridge to get this shot.
The Rangeley Region is also home to the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway which is a 35 mile road trip through some of the regions best scenery, so if driving is more your thing, this trip yields some great photo opportunities, especially along Route 17 where you can pull off at both the Noyes Overlook and The Height of Land. The Noyes Overlook is close to the Oquossoc Village and offers a great view of Rangeley Lake, Saddleback Mountain, Spotted Mountain, and the Kennebago Range.
Along the Scenic Byway, traveling through Main Street Rangeley is also a great scenic opportunity. Downtown Rangeley is home too many older hardwood trees that pop with vibrant colors during this time of year. Get that authentic small town Maine shot with the autumn colors. There are many great local shops, restaurant's, and lodging opportunities as you pass through town as well. Check out the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce as well. They have a wealth of information for your visit to Rangeley. If you want to add some hikes to your trip, there are also many hiking trails locally. The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust has many great hiking trails that also offer many great scenic views of the region.
The foliage at The Height of Land, paired with the dramatic mountain views surrounding Mooselookmeguntic Lake are great captures to be had as well. I often try to frame the plaque on the rock in the middle of the scenic overlook at a wide angle to show the vibrant foliage in the background contrasting with Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the distant mountains (pictured below). If you are trying to get the foliage to pop, arrive late morning to noon as the sun illuminates the foliage and mountains without flaring out your camera lens. Sometimes I will even use a 0.6 stop Graduated Neutral Density Filter to darken the sky a bit more if it is really bright out.
Being in the mountains, I love to use compression to draw those peaks in close. Saddleback Mountain is a great one during foliage season to compress. Compression is using the camera's optics to make the prominence of the mountains really pop out in an image. Below is an image I captured back in 2016 with a telephoto lens during moonrise. I was roughly 7 miles away from the mountain and drew the mountain in as the moon was rising up over the ridge line, timing was very important on this one as the sun was just setting behind me, still illuminating the foliage on the side of the mountain in front.
Lastly, you won't want to miss a Rangeley sunset. If you're visiting for the autumn colors, you will want to stay for the grand finale to a day of leaf peeping as the clean mountain air provides a great show of color over Rangeley Lake at night. You can get this shot from the Whip Willow Farm Overlook. During autumn, the sunset moves over to Bald Mountain to give that authentic Western Mountains shot over the lake. For these shots, I usually use a wide angle lens to get the majority of Rangeley Lake into the frame but I still love compressing the mountain shots so below, I wanted to make something different that not many visitors do for their sunset shots. I used a tripod and a telephoto lens and took several photos incrementally across the span of the mountains. I then stitched them together in post-processing to make one large compressed image that contains both Bald Mountain and a good chunk of Rangeley Lake.