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Just for the record, we’d like to point out that it is still technically summer. But a major harbinger of fall has arrived in Maine, with the first foliage report from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry released on Sept. 15.
Recent news has often been ugly, with the continued Delta variant surge driving a record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Maine and a complicated return to school, failure and chaos in Afghanistan, deadly flooding in the south and mid-Atlantic, to name a few examples. So if anyone is looking to escape that ugliness with help from the beauty of nature, or just breathe a little easier, fall in Maine is a good time to get outdoors and relax.
“Maine experienced moderate drought this spring but received a sufficient amount of rainfall the month of July, which brought many portions of the state back to near normal rainfall levels,” Gale Ross, Maine’s fall foliage spokesperson (how’s that for a colorful role?), said in this year’s first foliage report. “Aaron Bergdahl, Forest Pathologist for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, anticipates an excellent fall foliage season with the favorable changing conditions we have experienced. We are already experiencing shorter warm days and cool nights. This transition sets us up for the seasonal display of colors that we all look forward to.”
The weekly foliage reports divide Maine into seven regional zones. The two northern zones are currently seeing low color change, while the rest of Maine is currently very low.
Generally speaking, color emerges in northern areas first and works its way south. According to the foliage section on the state website, foliage hunters can typically expect northern areas to peak in the last week of September and first week of October, central and western mountain areas to peak around Indigenous People’s Day weekend, and southern and coastal areas to peak around mid to late October. That is a general timeline, not a guaranteed one.
If anyone is wondering where to go to find some unbe-leaf-able foliage, the state has already compiled suggestions on its website for each zone, including the bright yellows of Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and a coastal drive up Route 1 in Zone 1, a drive on the Bold Coast Scenic Byway in Zone 2, a stroll on the Guilford Memorial River Walk in Zone 3, explore the covered bridges of western Maine in Zone 5, and a hike on the trails at Aroostook State Park in Zone 6.
BDN columnist Aislinn Sarnacki put together a handy guide last year of how to plan for your fall foliage outings, along with a list of some hikes that are particularly productive in the leaf peeping department. Those spots include the 2.2-mile hike up Bald Bluff Mountain in Amherst, the winding paths through the Davidson Nature Preserve in Vassalboro, Ferry Beach State Park in Saco, and the roughly 5-mile hike up Rumford Whitecap Mountain in Rumford.
Our own list of recommendations includes Borestone Mountain, a Maine Audubon preserve in Piscataquis County that offers trails of varying difficulty and 360 degrees of breathtaking views at the summit. The moderate hike up Mount Kineo offers a commanding view of Moosehead Lake from atop a firetower, though the ferry from Rockwood out to Kineo stops in mid October, so that adventure has an early expiration date.
If you’re looking for a scenic drive, but are also trying to get off the beaten path, taking the Golden Road from Millinocket could be a fun (but sometimes bumpy) change of pace. And remember, it’s not just the trees that play a role in the fall color game. A trip Down East to catch the striking reds of blueberry barrens in the fall could be, well, fruitful.
As it has been throughout most of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting outside and enjoying the beauty of Maine is a good way to make the best of a not-so-great time. While we’re not exactly ready to say goodbye to summer, or stare down another Maine winter, people might as well enjoy fall while we have it. Keeping tabs on the foliage, and venturing around the state to see it, can be a nice part of that. It’s also a good way to get to know other parts of Maine.