Fall foliage scenic drives in Maine are varied and include coastal drives around Acadia National Park and the rocky coastline of upper Northern Maine to Baxter State park region, to some of the larger lakes in the state. Many of the scenic drives emphasize the rugged wilderness of thick forests and impressive mountain terrain of the Maine backcountry.
Maine is one of the most heavily forested states in the nation, containing over 17 million acres of natural beauty, hikes, and magnificent summer scenic drives. One of the drives is nicknamed “The Lakes and Leaves” and Iíve chosen it because itís especially stunning in fall foliage season.
The “Lakes and Leaves” route follows a 218-mile loop through central west Maine along the lower western shore of Moosehead Lake, and then runs parallel with the tree-lined banks of the Kennebec River. Itís best experienced over a few days rather than a one-day excursion trip, and lodging reservations are recommended during the popular fall foliage season.
Letís get you started…
In the first part of the tour youíll wind your way towards the town of Greenville on the southern tip of Moosehead Lake. Begin the tour in the town of Skowhegan by taking Route 150 to Route 151 in Athens. Follow Route 151 west to Newport where youíll pick up Route 7 to Dover-Foxcroft. Take Route 6 to Guilford, and then follow Route 6/15 north to Greenville.
At Greenville stop and relax for a bit. Greenville is a center for those seeking the pastimes of hunting, fishing, hiking and boating in the area. Itís also home to a number of attractions in the area. One such attraction is the 110-foot SS Katahdin, a popular steamship that cruises on Moosehead Lake during the summer and through fall foliage. It leaves from the center of Greenville. The views from the ship are dramatic and worth the extra scheduling preparation.
A 20-mile excursion east of Greenville takes you to beautiful Gulf Hagas. This is a stunning 3-mile-long gorge, with waterfalls, water chutes, deep pools, and vertical walls 300 feet tall in places. The hike is especially scenic during fall foliage. For those spreading this scenic drive over multiple days this is a must-do side trip.
The Greenville area also boasts splendid hikes along the close-by Appalachian Trail, and is the preferred stop over town in the area if youíre intending to do any of the excursions over multiple days. Like most lodging in New England during the fall season… book early.
The scenic drive continues along Route 6/15 passing Big Squaw Mountain and Ski Area on the left, and winding along the Moosehead Lake shore to the village of Rockwood. Once at Rockwood youíll see across the water the imposing Mount Kineo with its sheer cliff face rising over 700 feet from the deepest point in Moosehead Lake.
Stay on Route 6/15 and head west to Jackman. This 30-mile portion of the scenic drive is all about Maine wilderness. Youíll find plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the fall foliage views in the hills and on scenic lookouts across the lakes and ponds along the road.
Just south of Jackman Route 6/15 will connect with Route 201, and youíll follow Route 201 south towards The Forks along the National Scenic Byway. Jackman is a canoeing center, famous for the 42-mile Moose River Bow Trip. The canoe trip takes two or more days and is a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts. Itís one of the few remaining wilderness canoe trips in the Northeast, and organized tours are run by local operators.
Continue on Route 201 south to The Forks where the Kennebec and Dead Rivers meet. The Forks is base for popular and awe-inspiring whitewater rafting trips on the two rivers. A few miles west of The Forks is Moxie Falls, at 90-feet one of the tallest waterfalls in New England.
The scenic drive continues south on Route 201 to Bingham. This stretch of the road follows the Kennebec River through Caratunk, offering magnificent views of the river and surrounding hills, and is one of the best fall foliage sections on this tour. Stop on occasions and marvel at the way the river has carved out such wonderful scenery for us to admire. If youíve got a camera – use it!
Follow Route 201 back to Skowhegan to complete the tour.
Unlike other scenic drives in New England this oneís main attraction is the natural rugged beauty of the Maine wilderness, rather than villages and towns or other historic monuments. This is a drive to build an outdoor vacation around, but it also makes an ideal fall foliage weekend jaunt.