The trickle of cars and buses loaded with leaf peepers will soon become a steady stream. From our rough, rocky coast to mountains and waterfalls further inland, Maine possesses some of the most stunning foliage spots in the United States.
For savvy hikers, autumn is a great excuse to check out some of Maine’s best hiking trails as well as the changing leaves.
This week, the foliage in the midcoast and Down East should be near its peak.
Home to Acadia National Park and the Bold Coast, eastern Maine has some of the most developed — and most easily accessible — trail networks in the state.
For a foliage photographer, the region also offers supersaturated colors as the first rays of sun in the country hit Maine, making the leaves burn yellow, red and purple.
On Mount Desert Island, the summit of Cadillac Mountain allows for dramatic views of the trees of Bar Harbor, Acadia and the Cranberry Islands. Hikers can reach the peak via the 7.4-mile South Ridge Trail (which climbs from just south of the Blackwoods entrance on Route 3) or the easier, 4.4-mile open climb on the North Ridge.
Drivers and bikers can ascend the 3.5-mile paved road to the Cadillac summit.
Acadia’s 57-mile network of carriage roads won’t lead travelers to mountaintop vistas, but certainly will provide close views of colorful spruce, birch and maple trees. The coping stones, lodges and stone bridges on the carriage roads are framed by the foliage, as are the many lakes that border the trails.
Further east, the 5.5-mile loop of the Bold Coast Trail in Cutler includes 1.5 miles that hug sheer, oceanside cliffs. The colors aren’t as bold as in other parts of the state, as the trees tend more toward evergreen than deciduous. Still, the incredible cliffs make up for the dimmer colors.
Next week, the trees of central Maine and the western mountains should hit peak colors. By following Route 4, you can reach a handful of hikes that showcase the region.
Tumbledown Mountain in Weld — or more accurately, in Township 6 — is one of my favorite hikes in the state any time of the year. During autumn, the hill is ablaze with color.
The steep but satisfying Brook Trail takes hikers up a nearly vertical two miles to Tumbledown’s unique alpine pond. From the pond, trekkers can fairly easily climb to the surrounding North, East and West peaks.
Up the road a piece in Township E, just south of Rangeley, Smalls Falls gives the less athletically inclined among us a much easier hike. Less than half a mile up a boardwalk from the Smalls Falls rest area, visitors can see 3-, 12-, 14- and 25-foot waterfalls.
The foliage isn’t the only colorful attraction, as the stone in the gorge offers a rainbow of colors. Greg Parsons and Kate Watson, authors of “New England Waterfalls,” spotted “beiges, oranges, greens, blacks, browns, gold, and ivory.”
PORTLAND AND SOUTHERN MAINE
In a couple weeks, as the colors begin to fade in the mountains and Down East, the foliage in southern Maine will reach its fiery peak. Covered in small mountains and foothills, the region is a haven for hikers with families, or those looking for quick, easy hikes.
In Sebago, Douglas Mountain offers big views with little effort. The Ledges Trail is the most direct route up, but its steepness is balanced by the fact it’s only a quarter-mile hike. The Woods and Eagle Scout trails are slightly longer, but have a more gradual grade.
From the stone tower atop Douglas, on a clear day you can see foliage clear from Sebago to Mount Washington.
Rattlesnake Mountain, off Route 85 in nearby Raymond, is about the same length and difficulty as Douglas. There’s no tower at the summit, but two overlooks on the route up provide great views of the Sebago-area lakes.
For easy hikes that provide opportunities for bird watchers as well as leaf peepers, the Audubon sanctuaries that dot southern Maine are easily accessible and meticulously maintained.
Mast Landing in Freeport, Gilsland Farm in Falmouth and Scarborough Marsh are minutes from Portland, and their trails cover many wooded miles.
No matter where you choose to travel in the next month, Maine holds some of the nation’s most spectacular foliage. Take this opportunity to hike through it, if you can, rather than viewing it from afar.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at: