Even though one of the blessings of living in Maine is being never too far from scenic landscapes, escaping to more distant in-state destinations is a rewarding activity. With foliage coming on strong, this is certainly true now. If you are planning a trip, keep in mind that Maine’s Scenic Byways are a ticket to witnessing the fall brilliance of our forests.
Scenic Byways provide both short “toe-in-the-wilds” access as well as jumping-off points to more adventurous, backcountry excursions through landscapes now draped in color. For folks looking formainly a driving experience, the byways are ideal routes to soak in the oranges, reds, and yellows marking this time of year.
We have a number of scenic byways all around the state. These roads pass though diverse landscapes composed of private and public land. On the public side, an assortment of conservation lands spreads like gems along the neck-laces that are our scenic byways. Here are just a few of the possible byway routes and outdoor destinations:
Rangeley Lakes Region
The Rangeley Lakes Region is famous for its outdoor opportunities, and leaf peeping is no exception. The Range-ley Lakes Scenic Byway officially runs 36 miles along sections of Route 4 and Route 17. The Route 4 section starts at Small’s Falls, just west of Madrid. The mix of clear and falling white water set against bright leaves can be observed a short walk from the parking area. Once in the Rangeley region, a drive down the Bald Mountain Road, located in Oquossoc, brings you to the Bald Mountain trailhead. The roughly 1-mile, 1,000-foot elevation gain to the summit observation tower provides wonderful 360-degree views. If that’s more climbing than you’re looking for, head down Route 17 from Oquossoc and stop at the Height of Land pullout. Here, the expansive views across Mooselookmegun-tic Lake are inspiring, even without fall color. Catch the color, and it’s even more captivating.
Old Canada Road Scenic Byway
Slightly further east, but still in the western half of Maine, the Old Canada Road Scenic Byway along Route 201 is a stunning fall ride. Its northwesterly course serves as a transect cutting through diverse landscapes, and it is rich in not only foliage color but history as well. The byway begins in the Solon area and runs approximately 78 miles to the Québec border north of Jackman. Heading north out of Bingham, the terrain grows steeper, more conifers in deep shades of green add contrast, and vistas become longer and wilder. Turnoffs along Wyman Lake in Moscow and Caratunk are certainly photoworthy. Moxie Falls, reached via the Moxie Pond Road in the Forks, gives leaf peepers an opportunity to stretch their legs in the fresh air while venturing into the bright fall forest en route to one of Maine’s highest waterfalls.
Further north along the byway, just south of Jackman, there is a tremendous pull-out area with views across the mountains, forests, and wetlands surrounding the Moose River. The panorama from this vantage point sweeps across a wild landscape now almost completely under varying forms of conservation ownership and protection. This includes the famous Moose River Bow Trip, a 34-mile oval canoe trip running through moose haunts and adjacent to nationally significant Number 5 Bog. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ Holeb Public Lands serves as the an-chor of this recreation experience.
Blackwoods Scenic Byway
Eastern Maine isn’t lacking scenic foliage options either. The Schoodic Scenic Byway and the Blackwoods Scenic Byway lead drivers through eastern coastal Hancock County. Whereas the Schoodic Scenic Byway passes through Sullivan and dips into the Schoodic Peninsula, the Blackwoods Scenic Byway passes through the rugged granite hills of the Donnell Pond Public Lands as it links the town of Franklin with Cherryfield. The Blackwoods Byway (Route 182) has tranquil, windshield foliage viewing, and active leaf peepers can put a kayak or canoe in boat launch sites on the byway at either Tunk or Spring River lakes. Visitors also can take a short detour to Schoodic and Black Mountains. These two hikes, linked via a trail system centered on the southern end of Donnell Pond, can be reached by taking Route 183 out of East Sullivan. Public lands hiking trails more directly accessed off the Blackwoods Byway are in the process of being adopted and upgraded and should become destinations in the near future.
Downeast Sunrise Trail
Finally, it should be noted that the newly opened, 85-mile Downeast Sunrise Trail, a multi-use trail for snowmo-bilers, ATVs, pedestrians, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, equestrians, and others runs through the Donnell Pond Public Lands as well as the towns of both Franklin and Cherryfield. More information is available at http://www.sunrisetrail.org.
Northern Maine views
Western and Eastern Maine are not the only regions with scenic byways to explore. Northernmost Maine has tremendous views to experience. The Grindstone Byway, created in 2008, embraces the headwaters of the Penobscot River above Medway. From Medway, one portion travels the West Branch watershed on Route 157 through Milli-nocket to the south entrance of Baxter State Park at Togue Pond. Conversely, one can opt for the ride on Route 11 along the East Branch to Stacyville, Sherman, Patten, Shin Pond, to Baxter State Park at Matagamon Lake. Both routes are embedded in a storied landscape full of outdoor recreation opportunities, ranging from moose hunting to landscape painting and white-water rafting to alpine plant identification.
The St. John Valley Cultural Byway (La Route Culturelle de la Vallee St-Jean) from Allagash to Hamlin travels for most of its length along the spectacularly beautiful St. John River, Maine’s section of the International Boundary with Canada. The Valley offers long views of the rolling agricultural landscape on both sides of the border. The combination of brilliant fall foliage as the backdrop to the fall potato harvest makes for a unique Maine experience. The downstream (northern) end of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Fort Kent State Historic Site, 22,000-acre De-boullie Public Lands, and 23,000-acre Eagle Lake Public Lands are all within striking distance while traveling along this byway.
For foliage information, go to www.mainefoliage.com.
Rex Turner is an outdoor recreation planner for the Bureau of Public Lands.