This is not the year to take things for granted.

Most years, Mainers might look at the colorful autumn leaves lining the road on their way to work or the store and say something like, “Huh, early this year.” But during a time of pandemic, we’ve learned the value in slowing down and appreciating what we do have, what is around us.

A pick up truck drives along Murch Road in Dayton in 2016. Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Foliage fits that category. Maine’s trees turn wonderful colors every year and usually attract tons of visitors from less colorful places. So this year, when staycations are in vogue, why not go leaf-peeping in your home state? Maybe learn more about Maine by picking routes in places you haven’t seen much, or just roam close to home.

Either way, do it soon. Gale Ross, Maine’s longtime foliage guru, says reports from around the state indicate the leaves are turning a little earlier this year, as a result of some early frosts. Ross has been fall foliage coordinator for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for two decades, getting reports on color from around the state, so she can issue weekly reports on color change.

Here then are a few ideas and resources to help you decide when and where to go looking for the state’s bright spots.

Late September foliage just over the Maine border, on Route 16 in New Hampshire. Photo by Cheri Bellavance

MOSTLY RED WITH A CHANCE OF YELLOW

Ross’s foliage forecasts come out every Wednesday and can be found on the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Maine Foliage page, where you can also subscribe for weekly emailed reports. The reports come with a color-coded map of the state, indicating the predicted color conditions for various areas in the next week or so. The term “peak” is used for areas where 70 percent or more of the trees will show color. The term “high” describes areas with 50-70 percent of leaves turning, while “moderate” is 30-50 percent.

As of last week, Ross was calling for much of the state, from Fryeburg in the west and north into Aroostook County, to have peak conditions sometime this week, though how long those conditions will last is hard to say. Much of southern and coastal Maine was seeing moderate color and will likely hit their peak in mid-October. But conditions can change, so check the latest state forecast before packing the car.

Foliage around Wyman Lake, north of Bingham along Route 201, in late September. Photo by Ron Lovaglio

ONE GOAL, MANY ROADS

Once you’ve checked the state report to see where the colors are, you can pick a route. You could just take out your Delorme Maine Atlas & Gazetteer and pick a spot. Or you can turn to people who know a lot about trips and driving, like AAA of Northern New England. One of that group’s recommended foliage drives include Evans Notch in the White Mountain National Forest, following Route 113 from Stow to Gilead on a path that crisscrosses into New Hampshire under a forest canopy and along the Cold River, with some places to stop and take a closer look. Another route in the western part of the state recommended by AAA is Route 26 from Grafton Notch State Park, north of Sunday River, to the New Hampshire border. There are a lots of scenic overlooks along the way, including Screw Auger Falls. Another nice drive this time of year is around Fryeburg, usually home of the Fryeburg Fair. Take Route 5 north of Fryeburg to Frog Alley, which leads to beautiful valley views along a dirt road and the picturesque Hemlock Covered Bridge, built in 1857. It’s been re-inforced and is still in use.

A lone motorist drives amidst a pocket of peak foliage, along Route 35 in Dayton in 2017. Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Ross’s foliage reports include events happening that week in areas with nice foliage. A recent suggestion was taking a scenic chairlift ride at the Camden Snow Bowl or a “Chondola” lift ride at Sunday River in Newry. The foliage report also recommends routes each week, based on color predictions. One for early October was the classic Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, following Routes 17 and 4 for mountain vistas and lake views. A great stop along this route is the Height of Land scenic turnout on Route 17, with views of Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson lakes.

Another early October recommendation from the state foliage page was the Old Canada Road Scenic Byway, north of Skowhegan. The drive follows Route 201 north from Solon to the Canadian border. Sites include a picnic stop at Robbins Hill and the Moxie Falls Scenic Area. 

Or you can just take a drive through rural areas close by and see what you find, like the York County town of Dayton featured in photos with this story. If you find a hidden spot or great color, take a photo and submit it to the state’s Maine Foliage page, which will share it with the world.

A scene from Moosehead Lake as colorful foliage began to appear in September. Photo by Ron Lovaglio

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