5 Leaf Peeping Drives in Maine

Maine Fall Foliage | Maine Department of Tourism | I-95 Exit Guide

While the majestic landscape of Maine offers a dramatic unfolding of color during foliage season every year, the best way to experience this display is on a well-planned scenic drive through Maine’s varied regions of lakes, mountains and oceanfront. Fall is also the ideal time to visit county fairs, go mountain biking or river rafting, and hit the galleries and shops now that the summer crowds are gone. Here are five drives to satisfy any foliage lover, with each itinerary offering spectacular scenery, extraordinary activities and ever-changing views.

Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway

Rangeley Lakes is a remarkably beautiful and pristine area of wilderness lakes and mountains, and this drive follows Routes 17 and 4, close to the Appalachian Trail and through a landscape of rolling hills and mountains. The dramatic Height of Land on Route 17 is the centerpiece of this scenic excursion, offering breathtaking views of Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson Lakes. Scenery aside, this is prime time for fly fishing in the region, and the rich sporting heritage of the Rangeley Lakes Region, from artifacts of early rusticators to flies tied by the legendary “Fly Rod” Crosby, is on display at the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in Oquossoc.

Midcoast Ramble

This drive starts in coastal Brunswick and heads Downeast along Route 1. There are countless possibilities for detours down the “fingers” of coastline. One takes visitors to Boothbay Harbor, where the 4th annual Claw Down on September 17 will attract 19 stellar Maine chefs to a friendly lobster bites competition. Or, head down to bucolic Pemaquid Point and its famous lighthouse. Visitors can amble down the back roads past saltwater farms to the scenic harbor at Friendship or to Wyeth country in Cushing. Back on Route 1, it’s time to carry on through to Rockland, where the full range of the artistic genius of the Wyeth family can be seen at the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Museum. Finish the drive in Camden, and ascend to the 800-foot summit of Mount Battie, where spectacular views are enhanced by the foliage that runs right down to the harbor.

Acadia and Schoodic National Scenic Byways

The Acadia Byway travels through Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, where old-growth forests remain much as they were when the island was first viewed by Samuel de Champlain in 1604. With the summer crowds gone, this is an especially good time of year to visit the park and then head for the shops, galleries and waterfront restaurants in Bar Harbor, the commercial hub of the island. For more foliage, drive to the only mainland section of the park, the Schoodic National Scenic Byway. This is the quiet part of Acadia that few visitors ever see and leads out to Schoodic Point, a place of lobster boats, lighthouses and dramatic coastal views from the rugged granite cliffs.

Western Maine Loop

Start in bucolic Fryeburg in Western Maine, and head north past working farms along Route 113, through spectacular Evans Notch and the less-visited Maine portion of the White Mountain National Forest. At Gilead, head east along Route 2 until reaching the resort town of Bethel, well known as the home to Sunday River and a mecca for golfers and mountain bikers, with a host of lodging options. Visitors can drive south along route 5 until reaching the Waterfords, which still have a 19th century feel, and carry on to the antique shop-filled town of Bridgton and back toFryeburg. If it’s early October, they can take in the Fryeburg Fair, one of Maine’s best agricultural fairs, with livestock, food, rides and exhibitions.

Kennebec Drive

There’s plenty of drama on the drive through the Maine woods north from Skowhegan to Greenville, which sits at the foot of 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake. This is the state’s largest lake and a magnet for fisherman, boaters and swimmers, not to mention a fleet of float planes offering flightseeing rides that can enhance any foliage trip. The town also plays host to the International Sea Plane Fly-In, which is held this year from September 10 to 13. Visit the S/S Katahdin, a restored 1914 steamship that now serves as a floating museum and offers scenic lake tours through September. From Greenville, continue north on Rte. 6/15 to Jackman, and from here take Rte. 201 – a designated National Scenic Byway known as the Old Canada Road – south to The Forks. This is where the tree-lined banks of the Kennebec River offer some of the most beautiful fall foliage in the state and local rafting companies offer exciting excursions through October. After floating the river, a final detour well worth making is a hike to 90-foot Moxie Falls, one of Maine’s highest waterfalls.

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