A view of fall foliage in front of Katahdin along Route 11, south of the town of Patten. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

Maine’s autumn color peaks first in Aroostook County, which is projected to be at its best around the first full week of October, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said in its Sept. 29 Fall Foliage Report.  

Why do the leaves change color anyway? Chlorophyll, or its absence, is the answer. Summer production of chlorophyll, aided by sunlight and longer days, keeps green dominant. As days shorten and there is less sunlight, less chlorophyll is produced, bringing out orange, gold and red, MaineFoliage.com explains.

From the St. John Valley to southern Aroostook, here are 10 great spots to view fall foliage:

Four Seasons Trail Association — 425 Spring St., Madawaska

Colorful foliage arcs over the ski and snowshoe trails at Four Seasons Trail Association in Madawaska. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

Tucked in the Madawaska hills, the Four Seasons Trail Association offers miles of well-kept paths through dense forest and open fields with spectacular views of both Maine and Canada. Nature lovers can enjoy late season wildflowers, birch groves and red-tail hawks.

These trails are free to the public year-round, but paid for and maintained by local volunteers including public school teachers and passionate cross country skiers. You can thank them for their hard work by leaving a donation online.

Route 161 — Fort Kent to Allagash

The “Million Dollar Scenic Turnout” in Weston of spectacular views of Grand Lake during the fall foliage season. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

The St. John Valley is surrounded by hills covered in trees, so colorful leaves can be spotted in any direction during autumn’s peak. The 40-mile ride along Route 161 from Fort Kent to Allagash provides beautiful international views, with Maine to the left and New Brunswick to the right.

Allagash has an abundance of resident deer, so visitors may view wildlife along with a spectrum of colors.

Backroads Ride — Fort Kent to Frenchville

Leaves are changing colors along Basil Lake Road in Fort Kent and Frenchville. Credit: Jessica Potilla / St. John Valley Times

Plenty of colorful fall foliage can also be enjoyed by taking “the backroads” from Fort Kent to Frenchville.

Head east on North Perley Brook Road in Fort Kent. As the road rises, steep hills flush with trees provide images reminiscent of paintings or jigsaw puzzles. Travel to the Basil Lake Road intersection and turn left, where fields lining the road provide unobstructed views of colorful trees. The road ultimately leads to Route 1 in Frenchville.

U.S. Route 1 — Van Buren to Fort Kent

Mont-Carmel Cemetery in Lille nestles into the side of a hill draped in fall foliage. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

There’s no simpler way to enjoy the St. John Valley landscape than by taking a drive along Route 1 as it arcs across the crown of Maine. The nearly 50-mile journey traverses a green and gold patchwork of farmland and hillsides along the St. John River.

The route contains a number of cultural landmarks, including the painstakingly restored Museé culturel du Mont-Carmel in Lille and the Acadian Landing in Madawaska.  

Route 161 – Caribou to Fort Kent

Sweden Street melds right into Route 161 as you leave Caribou and head toward New Sweden. This well-traveled road is especially beautiful in the fall, winding through woods, lake areas and hills that dazzle in bright autumn colors.

You’ll pass Madawaska and Cross lakes to your left, and roughly 10 miles from Stockholm you can either continue to Fort Kent, or take a right and head to St. Agatha and Long Lake. Either way you can revel in the sights of colorful forest foliage surrounding the water.

Hanson Lake Recreation Area – Presque Isle Industrial Park

On the road leading to the Hanson Lake Recreational Area and boat landing in Presque Isle, fall colors brighten the cloudy afternoon on Sept. 29. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

Venture to the Presque Isle Industrial Park and skirt around the hangars at the north end of the Presque Isle International Airport runway, and you’ll find the Hanson Lake boat landing. The gravel drive opens up to a large parking area.

You can explore the grounds and water’s edge on foot in any season, but in the fall especially, the breathtaking view is a must-see. On a clear autumn morning, the hill across the water displays brilliant colors among the evergreens. If the wind is still, there’s a double treat with the view reflected spectacularly on the water.

Haystack Mountain Trail – Route 163, Castle Hill

Haystack with its rocky top can be enjoyed from the road or by hiking its popular woodland trail to the top. Located about 12 miles from Presque Isle and 4 miles outside Mapleton, the Haystack Mountain Trail is dedicated to Cpl. Dustin J. Libby, who loved to climb the mountain as a child and died in 2006 while serving in Iraq.

The hike up this little mountain is under a half-mile and mainetrailfinder.com rates it as moderate. At the summit you’ll have a 360-degree view of forest and farmland that is picturesque anytime, but especially so when the trees are resplendent in fall colors.

Riverfront Park — 49 North St., Houlton

Located near the heart of Houlton’s historic downtown, Riverfront Park offers picturesque views of the fall foliage from a number of vantage points. Strollers can glimpse towering trees from either the Gateway Crossing footbridge, which spans the Meduxnekeag River, or from the nearby Highland Avenue Bridge.

The more adventurous can get a closer look at the fall leaves by hiking the 3-mile round trip trail that follows the river. The wide, non-motorized gravel path features a few steeper inclines, but for the most part is relatively flat, making it an easy jaunt.

Million Dollar View — U.S. Route 1, Weston

The aptly named Million Dollar View in Weston provides a breathtaking panoramic easterly view of Grand Lake and all the fall foliage that comes with it. Located about 29 miles south of Houlton, the lookout features ample parking and comes complete with a pair of tower viewers (coins not needed to operate), to get a closer look at nature’s beauty.

Continue a few short miles south on U.S. Route 1 to a second scenic turnout, near First Settler’s Lodge, which offers a westerly view for miles. On clear days, you can see Mount Katahdin.

Scenic Turnout — U.S. Route 11, Patten

Located just south of Patten, this view overlooks Katahdin and a sea of fall foliage in front of it. Drivers can pull over for scenic fall views on both sides of the road, and can travel the dirt path near Happy Corner Road for an even closer view.

Patten is also located nearby Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Baxter State Park and Shin Pond Village, all of which offer great hiking if one doesn’t mind braving cooler weather to get an expansive view of autumn.

BDN writers Hannah Catlin, Joseph Cyr, Alexander MacDougall and Jessica Potila contributed to this report.