The interior of Maine is a wonderland for fall foliage seekers, and even in places along the coast, the fall color change can be observed and appreciated. Driving yourself through the small towns and back roads is the ideal way to take your time and savor the beauty of the fall foliage.
To time your drives to coincide with peak fall colors in September and October, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry offers weekly reports on foliage conditions throughout the state. The Maine Office of Tourism also provides a toll-free foliage hotline from mid-September through Columbus Day: 888-MAINE45 (624-6345).
Maine High Peaks Arts & Heritage Loop
The Maine High Peaks Arts & Heritage Loop provides a way to enjoy fall foliage in the mountains and find unique arts and crafts in the villages as you go. This is an 82-mile loop around 10 of Maine’s highest mountains. The website provides an interactive map listing attractions.
There are informational kiosks located in five towns along the driving loop: Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley, Eustis, Rangeley, and Phillips. Map guides are available at each kiosk, as well as information about individual galleries, trails, museums, scenic overlooks, landmarks, and historic attractions.
Portland to Rangeley Lake
Set out from Portland for a day of leaf peeping following these directions. The last leg of this journey is one of Maine's most cherished fall drives.
Route 17 winds along the Swift River and leads to the shimmering scene of leaves reflected in Rangeley Lake. Along the way, don't miss the stunning panorama of mountains and lakes known as Height of Land. This viewpoint is one of the most dramatic scenic turnouts in the State and one of the best foliage views in all of New England.
Georgetown Island makes for a great day trip while in southern or Midcoast Maine. Detour off Coastal Route 1 in Bath for a chance to see quiet fishing villages, ocean views, and foliage, too.
An ideal place to stop is the Marina at beautiful Robinhood Cove, home to the Anchor Bar & Grill at the Osprey Nest. Enjoy the great views of sailboats and powerboats cruising in and out of the cove, and dine on fresh seafood.
Enjoy the island in its autumn finery, set against the blue waters of the ocean and rivers. It's one of the best places to see fall foliage in Midcoast Maine.
Portland to Freeport
Freeport is a quick, 20-minute drive up Interstate-95 from Portland, but to get the best look at the foliage, try the back roads instead. Leaving Portland via Interstate 295 North, take the exit for Route 1. Near Falmouth Foreside, veer right onto Route 88.
Admire the stately homes, the elegant old maples, and oaks in their autumn finery and the glimpses of Casco Bay through the trees in Maine's wealthiest community.
After passing under the Interstate 95 overpass, take the first left to Yarmouth. Bear left at the next intersection onto Main Street, where you'll pass several historic white churches with steeples framed by the flaming colors of graceful old maple trees.
Old Canada Road
Old Canada Road (Route 201), is a National Scenic Byway in northwestern Maine. You'll be tracing the path along the Kennebec River, historically an Indian trading route, once followed by Benedict Arnold on his way to lay siege to Quebec.
You'll pass little towns like Bingham with classic clapboard homes. In the Forks area, people go rafting on the Kennebec.
Wiscasset to Thomaston
Wiscasset is known as the prettiest village in Maine, so be sure and spend a little time exploring. Drive down Route 1, and stop by the five-year-old Maine Heritage Village, a collection of shops, food, and exhibits, and then tour the historic buildings of Wiscasset before you set out on your search for fall foliage.
Leaving Wiscasset, take U.S. Route 1 North (East) over the bridge. If you have time for a short detour, turn right onto Eddy Road immediately after the bridge and follow for one-half mile, then take the next right onto Fort Road to Fort Edgecomb. The site has a large picnic area with beautiful views of the Sheepscot River, harbor seals, and nesting osprey.
Continuing on Route 1, Sheepscot River Pottery, on the left just after the bridge leaving Wiscasset, is well worth a visit, especially if you're looking for Maine gifts to take home. Don't miss the opportunity to go out the back door and relax in a lawn chair while enjoying yet more views of the serene Sheepscot River.
Back out on Route 1, head to Newcastle and take Route 130 South, a country road that will take you through Bristol, New Harbor, and all the way to Pemaquid Point, where you'll want to stop at Pemaquid Point State Park for a look at the Pemaquid Lighthouse and a dramatic, quintessential view of the rockbound coast of Maine. Kids and adults alike will want to scramble over the massive, furrowed granite ledges that protect the lighthouse from the crashing surf of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a great place for a picnic lunch.
Backtrack up Route 130 North into New Harbor and take Route 32 North, following it almost all the way to Route 1, into the town of Waldoboro, where you'll turn right on Main Street and then take Route 220 South to Friendship, a quaint fishing village on Muscongus Bay. Enjoy watching the Maine windjammers you'll see sailing in Friendship Harbor and the lobstermen pulling their lobster traps.
Leave Friendship via Route 97 North (and East) through Cushing and into Thomaston. If you're a Wyeth fan, you'll want to stop in Cushing to visit the Olson House, made famous by Andrew Wyeth in his painting "Christina's World."
When you reach Thomaston, turn right onto Route 1 North. You'll come to the Maine State Prison Showroom, where you can purchase a wide variety of handcrafted items, from furniture to ship models, created by inmates. Route 1 through the town of Thomaston is lined with stately old colonial homes and sea captains' houses from a bygone era.
If you're staying overnight somewhere in the MidCoast region, you can continue your sightseeing by staying on Route 1 North to Rockland and Camden, worthwhile destinations in their own right. When you're ready to return, Route 1 South will take you all the way back to Wiscasset, Bath, and beyond.
Warren Fall Foliage Loop
This fall driving tour that begins and ends in Warren, Maine, on the St. Georges River, takes in lakes, mountains, and more as it travels across the Appleton Ridge and into Camden via back roads.
From Route 1 in Warren heading north, turn left on North Pond Road. This narrow, winding road hugs the shores of North Pond and offers several long views of sparkling blue water against the backdrop of the mountains of Union.
Follow North Pond Road until you come to a stop sign. Turn left onto Western Road. Look for Beth's Farm Market, definitely worth a stop. Beth's is one of the finest farmers markets in the state, with quality produce picked fresh daily, including Maine blueberries, strawberries, and apples in season. The aged cheddar cheese is out of this world.
Just past Beth's, the road forks. Keep to the right to continue on Western Road, which soon becomes Route 235, part of the Georges River Scenic Byway. As you approach Union, you'll drive along a high ridge overlooking a large blueberry field sloping down to Seven Tree Pond on your right. Depending on the time of year, it may appear to be a blanket of blue, laden with Maine's favorite fruit, or, in the fall, a carpet of blazing red, known as blueberry barrens. There's a small dirt roadway on the right that you can pull into to enjoy the view.
Follow Route 235 to the stop sign at the intersection with Route 17 in Union. Turn left and drive through the center of this small farming community, settled in 1774 along the St. George River. The quaint town, surrounded by hills, lakes, rivers and rolling farms and blueberry fields, is set around one of the oldest public commons in the state of Maine. Many of the homes were built before the 1840s.
Turn right onto Route 131 North, which follows the western shore of Sennebec Pond. After several miles, you'll come to the intersection of Route 105. Turn left, headed northwest, and go approximately one mile, watching for Appleton Ridge Road on your right (note: the sign may simply say Ridge Road). Turn right onto Appleton Ridge Road and follow all the way to Searsmont (about five miles). Take your time: The road may be a bit rough, and you don't want to miss any of the spectacular scenery along this hilly ridge with beautiful views of fall foliage and more blueberry barrens.
In Searsmont, continue on Route 131 to Moody Mountain Road. Turn right and continue south for roughly seven miles until the road ends at Route 235. Turn left onto Route 235 and continue until it ends in Lincolnville Center. Turn right onto Route 173 and head southeast for a mile or less until the road forks.
Keep to the right to leave Route 173 and follow Route 52, which will soon take you along the edge of Camden's beautiful Megunticook Lake under the towering sheer rock face of Maiden's Cliff. Legend has it that a young maiden, picking berries at the top of the cliff in 1862, reached out to catch her bonnet, which had been taken by the wind, and fell to her death. The white cross at the top was erected in her memory.
Megunticook Lake ends at Barret's Cove, which has a public beach and boat launch area with views down the length of the eastern part of the lake. To reach the beach parking lot to savor the view, turn right down the sloping road at the end of the lake.
Retrace your steps back out to Route 52 and follow it into the town of Camden to the intersection of Route 1. It would be a shame to have come this far without driving to the top of Mt. Battie to see the astounding panoramic views of Camden Harbor and the islands of Penobscot Bay, so if time allows, before heading south on Route 1 to return to Warren, turn left and follow Route 52 north a few miles to Camden Hills State Park on your left. The drive to the summit takes only minutes--time you will not begrudge when you see the colorful view, beautiful any time of year. This is where famous American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay stood as she penned the famous poem that begins: "All I could see from where I stood was three long mountains and a wood. I turned and looked another way and saw three islands in a bay."
Whether or not you visit Camden Hills State Park, turn right on Route 1 and follow it all the way through Rockport, Rockland and Thomaston, all towns well worth exploring. You'll arrive back in Warren, where this drive began.