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Fall Foliage Road Trips

When leaf season rolls around, Mainers and visitors ask only two questions: When are the leaves changing, and where are the best views?

To answer that first question, go to Maine Foliage, the State of Maine website devoted to all things leaf related. Not only does the foliage report update you on how the season is progressing (generally from late September through mid-October), but the fall foliage tracker provides a Maine foliage map that zeros in on specific zones throughout the state, from the farthest north to the deepest south, from ocean to mountain.

As for where to go for leaf peepin...well, we’ve got some suggestions. Specifically, check out the many State and National Scenic Byways, which are wonderful drives during most of the year and especially nice when the leaves turn.

Want foliage with an ocean view?

Consider the DownEast coast and the state’s national park — Acadia National Park. Start by driving the 40-mile Acadia All-American Road. The route is so scenic it was designated an All-American Road — the gold standard of National Scenic Byways. The journey goes on to Mt. Desert Island, through the town of Bar Harbor, and into the primary section of the park. The mountains and hills glow with turning leaves, inviting you onto the park trails and Acadia National Park Carriage Roads for walking and cycling.

Add to your Acadia leaf-peeping experience by branching out on the 29-mile Schoodic National Scenic Byway. This route meanders through the less-visited — but no less spectacular — Schoodic Peninsula section of the park. It’s known for coastal towns, sea views and great bicycling.

For more oceanside, head farther DownEast to the Blackwoods Scenic Byway and the National Scenic Byway — the Bold Coast. The Blackwoods Scenic Byway, at 12.5 miles, ducks between swatches of forest and wild blueberry barrens that blaze with autumn color. The Bold Coast National Scenic Byway, at 125 miles, takes in the most dramatic seacoast in Maine, complete with rocky headlands and quiet fishing communities.

Turn inland, and Maine offers areas packed with forests, teeming with lakes and hills, and bordered by stunning mountains.

The St. John Valley/Fish River National Scenic Byway is a working Byway, but more importantly, it is a cultural journey which traverses along the northern border of Maine through the beautiful St. John Valley and wanders down Route 11 in far-northern Aroostook County. The route rolls over hills by lakes and rivers in the heart of Acadian Maine, settled by early French families. Keep an eye out for moose and deer, who might want to share the road with you. This Cultural Valley is a unique place in America, where communities still celebrate their ancestry, from the Maine Acadians to the Scotch-Irish settlements; from the Native American tribes of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq to the French-Canadian or Quebecois.

Farther south, rub elbows with Maine’s largest state park, Baxter, as well as its federal national monument, Katahdin Woods and Waters, when touring on the 89-mile Katahdin Woods & Waters National Scenic Byway. Looping through vast tracts of the North Maine Woods, you’ll pass the headwaters of the Penobscot River and enjoy views of Katahdin — Maine’s largest mountain — which is especially glorious in the fall.

The Million Dollar View Scenic Byway may be only eight miles long, but the vistas are priceless. On this short segment of Route 1, enjoy unparalleled views of the Chiputneticook lakes, including East Grand, Brackett and Deering. Look beyond for glimpses of Katahdin, Maine’s biggest mountain, in the distance, as well as views of New Brunswick across the nearby border.

For foliage by Maine’s largest lake, check out the Moosehead Lake Scenic Byway. This 59-mile route follows state Route 15 around Moosehead and its adjacent hills. Nearby, the 78-mile Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway follows the highway along parts of the Kennebec River and up old trading routes from western Maine to the Canadian border. The route heads through long-time timber country, with waves of bright autumn leaves lighting up the hills.

To enjoy Maine mountain foliage, steer onto the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway. This 52-mile route roams through an area sparkling with lakes and girded with peaks. Viewpoints like the popular Height of Land let you gaze out across the surrounding mountain ranges and the lakes beneath — and all those changing leaves.

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