Two counties make up the western lakes region — Oxford and Franklin — and they extend from Porter, a tiny agricultural town near the New Hampshire state line, up to Gorham Gore, an unorganized township on the Québec border. The lofty peaks and deep lake valleys of the region attract the most tourist dollars in Maine outside of Acadia and the south coast, but most visitors to the western mountains come in the fall to see the area’s dazzling foliage (the best in the state) and in the winter to ski at nationally known resorts like Sunday River and Sugarloaf/USA. Summer camps, lakeside cottages, and the Appalachian Trail are popular spots when the snow melts.
The village of Fryeburg, along the Saco River, serves as the base for excursions down the Saco, one of the most frequently paddled waterways in the state. This historic little town is also the home of the Fryeburg Fair, Maine’s largest agricultural celebration, and Fryeburg Academy, arguably the state’s most cosmopolitan prep school. To the northeast lies Norway, Oxford, and South Paris, three towns that form the commercial hub of Oxford County. South Paris especially has some outstanding old buildings — virtually every home in the village of Paris Hill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of the rolling country surrounding these towns is quiet and rural, filled with lakes and high hills.
Bethel and Rangeley are widely associated with skiing, thanks to their proximity to Sunday River, Saddleback Mountain, and Sugarloaf/USA. Not far from the stunning notches, rivers, and trails of the Maine section of White Mountains National Forest, the small town of Bethel is also home to Gould Academy, a private school. Famous for its fishing and boating, Rangeley, and its upscale neighbor Oquossoc, is surrounded by expansive lakes and ponds and is the site of another of the state’s more popular state parks. Near Sugarloaf, Kingfield has a charming old downtown that sits along the pretty Carrabassett River.
Besides tourism, the main industry in the western mountains remains pulp and paper. There are large paper mills in Rumford and Jay, and much of the land in both counties is still owned by paper companies.
Farmington, the region’s commercial center, is dominated by a lively University of Maine campus, which is consistently listed among the best small public liberal arts colleges in the nation. Nearby is Weld, site of Mount Blue State Park, a popular hiking and camping spot.