Some of the earliest and best leaf-peeping opportunities in Maine are found in Aroostook County. If you follow the weekly foliage reports posted by the Maine Department of Conservation, you will learn that leaves start changing color first in Aroostook County, and the color changing works its way southward from mid-September though the end of October.
Because Maine enjoyed an early spring this year, an early fall may also be in the cards. Generally, by mid-September trees in the County will begin sporting fall finery. Going into the fourth week of the month, those fiery colors will be at 50 to 75 percent. By the second week in October, the show is over, and leaves are dropping rapidly.
“I think each community has its favorite spots for leaf peeping,” said Lori Weston, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. “Route 1 will bring folks past the lakes: Grand Lake, Brackett Lake, and Deering Lake. The Million Dollar View is located in Weston and allows folks to look out over the lakes. Houlton has Riverside Park that is brilliant with color and allows folks to walk along the river and then though downtown historical Houlton.”
Weston also recommended following Route 212, which she said is “an absolutely beautiful ride.”
Any drive in Aroostook is bound to be scenic. Agriculture is alive and well in the region, and plentiful farm fields open to vistas of rolling hillsides and distant mountains.
“When you talk foliage rides in Aroostook County, it’s ‘pick a road, any road,’” said Theresa Fowler, ex-ecutive director of the Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce. “Probably the most scenic drive in the Presque Isle area is from Presque Isle to Mars Hill. It’s breathtaking for weeks as it changes.”
“And don’t forget our solar system,” she said. “No matter how many times you drive that road, it’s always fun to see how many you can find.”
The Maine Solar System Model, a series of planet models erected along Route 1 from Houlton to Presque Isle, is the largest complete three-dimensional scale model of the solar system in the world. Visit http://www.umpi.maine.edu/info/nmms/solar/ for more information.
Fowler also recommended the drive from Presque Isle through Mapleton, out to Ashland, and up Route 11 to Portage. For a loop tour, drive from Presque Isle to Ashland on Route 163 and then return to Presque Isle via Route 227.
“There is one popular route that goes through Smyrna Mills then up along Route 212 to Route 11,” said Wendy Landes, executive director of the Caribou Chamber of Commerce. Route 11 leads to Ashland where motorists can continue with any of the tours mentioned above.
From Caribou, a drive up Route 161 through New Sweden to Fort Kent and then down Route 11 to Portage and Ashland is also scenic. From Ashland, take Route 163 to Presque Isle and Route 1 back to Caribou.
“A ton of folks from our area go up along Route 11 and through Ashland and Portage, which is quite pretty, then come out in Eagle Lake and go back down through Route 161 or Route 1 through Fort Kent or Van Buren. It’s really pretty. If you’re from here and driving is your thing, that’s one that everybody does at least once – and if you haven’t you’ve got to try it,” Landes said.
For more information, contact the:
• Fort Fairfield Chamber of Commerce at 472-3802 or visit http://www.fortcc.org/;
• Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce at 764-6561 or www.pichamber.com;
• Caribou Chamber of Commerce at 493-4233 or www.cariboumaine.net;
• Houlton Chamber of Commerce at 532-4216 or www.greaterhoulton.com;
• Van Buren Chamber of Commerce, 868-5059 or online at www.vanburenmaine.com.
For up-to-date information on this year’s foliage, visit www.maine.gov/dec/foliage.