Down East 2013 ©
During the month of October, Maine’s peak fall foliage makes a stately procession from north to south and west to east. For the diehard leafpeeper this means it’s possible to follow the color over the course of four weekends. Each Friday, you can set out for parts unknown, with the certain knowledge that your planned destination will be somewhere near the center of Maine’s foliage action. Of course, you needn’t make an entire month of tree gazing; a single weekend escape does wonders to relieve the stresses of workaday life.
We’ve mapped out four possible itineraries for you — the North Woods, western mountains, Acadia, and southern Maine — that will more than fill up your month. Keep in mind that from year to year the peak autumn foliage in a given region can vary by more than a week. For an update on where the best colors currently are, visit the state’s official Web site www.maine.gov/doc/foliage 
THE NORTH WOODS
There’s this assumption that the North Woods are all spruce and fir, evergreens that never shed a leaf or turn a shade other than green. Yet on a brisk morning in early October, with the sun rising over Baker Mountain on the east side of Moosehead Lake, the far shore blazes with color from birches, maples, and poplars. This is where the colors form first, and Greenville is the place to set up headquarters for a long weekend of exploring.
The Blair Hill Inn (207-695-0224, www.blairhill.com ) just outside town on the east side of the lake offers romance and comfort enough that guests may have trouble getting out the door that first morning. Sitting high above Lily Bay Road on its eponymous hill, the inn features a westerly panorama of Moosehead stretching from the town docks in Greenville to Sugar Island.
A late start still gives visitors time to have lunch at the Rod-n-Reel Café (207-695-0388, rodnreelcafe.com ) before catching a water-level view of the foliage from the deck of the restored lake steamer Katahdin (207-695-2716, www.katahdincruises.com ). Three-hour cruises around the lower half of Moosehead leave each day except Sunday and Monday at 12:30 p.m., and on October 4 the Kate will cruise to the rarely visited northern end of Moosehead. (Reservations suggested.)
The Blair Hill Inn now offers a gourmet prix-fix dinner Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights under the direction of executive chef Scott Johnson, a Maine native and White Barn Inn alumnus. The newly refurbished Greenville Inn (888-695-6000, www.greenvilleinn.com ) is also acquiring a reputation for its upscale dining room and wine list with chef Christian Phernetton. A wide variety of more casual fare is available in town, from the always busy Flatlanders Pub (207-695-3373) to the relaxed atmosphere of the Stress-Free Moose (207-695-3100, stressfreemoose.com), where the outdoor grill might be fired up if the weather allows.
Fall foliage weekends demand a day trip. Travelers who prefer paved roads can drive the Greenville-Rockwood-Jackman-Bingham loop along fast-moving rivers and through dense forest. But adventurers who don’t mind a little dust on their cars should head north toward Kokadjo on the east side of the lake. The pavement ends just beyond the Kokadjo General Store. Continue north on the gravel Sias Hill Road. Four miles in, stop at the Sias Hill Checkpoint to pay a day-use fee (six dollars per person, under fifteen and over seventy free).
Some ten miles beyond the checkpoint, at the southern tip of Caribou Lake, turn right onto the Golden Road, the legendary private highway between Québec and Millinocket, where pulp trucks have automatic rights of way, and follow the West Branch of the Penobscot River into Millinocket. Route 11 south to Milo and 6/16 west to Dover-Foxcroft and Abbot take you back to Route 6/15 and Greenville again.It’s a leisurely four or five hours, and that includes lunch at the Appalachian Trail Café (207-723-6720, www.appalachiantraillodge.com/cafe.php ) in Millinocket, where the meals are hearty enough to fuel through-hikers and foliage fans alike. JEFF CLARK
THE WESTERN MOUNTAINS
Columbus Day might just be the most popular holiday in Maine’s western mountains, and for good reason. The Bethel-Rangeley region is Maine’s stinging rebuke to Vermont and New Hampshire’s claims of having the best foliage in the East.
Your mountain adventure needs a base camp, though, and Niboban Camps (207-864-2549, www.niboban.com ), on the south side of Rangeley Lake, is perfectly situated within striking distance to Bethel and Newry and just seven miles from either Oquossoc or Rangeley. These cabins were rebuilt in 2001 with screened-in porches, full kitchens, and updated furnishings, while retaining campy details like natural pine paneling. In summer the cabins are available only by the week, but in October you can rent one for $160 per night. After you check in you can kick back in one of the Adirondack chairs on the camps’ three-thousand feet of lake frontage, or else stretch your legs on the paths of adjacent 869-acre Rangeley Lake State Park; having closed to traffic on October 1, the sights here are even better without having to watch out for automobiles. Once you’ve worked up an appetite you’ll want to head to the Gingerbread House Restaurant (207-864-3602, gingerbreadhouserestaurant.net ), at the intersection of Routes 17 and 4 in Oquossoc, for a meal of beef Wellington beside a cozy fieldstone fireplace.
On Saturday you’re going to need to rise early in order to make it to Newry in time for the ninth annual North American Wife Carrying Championships. Luckily, Moosely Bagels in Rangeley (207-864-5955) dishes out great road food and coffee even before sunup. The morning light makes the pull-off at Height of Land on Route 17 more stunning than usual, and about ten miles farther the dramatic cliffs of Coos Canyon make for another good stretch break. Don’t dilly-dally too long, though, or you’ll miss joining the thousands who watch men carry their wives, upside-down, through a 278-yard obstacle course at Sunday River (207-824-3000, sundayriver.com) in Newry, all in the hopes of winning five time’s their betrothed’s weight in beer, plus cash.
More highbrow events follow this outlandish affair, including the twenty-fifth annual Blue Mountain Arts and Crafts Festival, which features jewelers, potters, and photographers in the South Ridge Base Lodge at Sunday River. You can wet your whistle with some Maine-grown food and drink at the wine tasting that begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Foggy Goggle (207-824-3000) nearby before heading into town to sample the art galleries and antiques shops that line Bethel’s Main Street. Sunset is at 6 p.m. and it’ll take you a couple of hours to get home on Route 26 through Grafton Notch before rejoining Route 16 in New Hampshire back through Oquossoc, so if you don’t like driving at night, head back to Rangeley in time for dinner at Parkside and Main (207-864-3774). If you’re looking to make a later night of it, though, get early reservations at the Sudbury Inn (207-824-2174, www.sudburyinn.com ) and enjoy one of the best meals in Bethel while still returning to camp (the quickest route is the way you came in the morning) in time to enjoy a nightcap under the waxing moon.
After such a big day, Sunday should seem downright relaxing. After checking out of your camp, check into breakfast at the BMC Diner (207-864-5844), prepared by the same folks who own Bald Mountain Camps on Mooselookmeguntic Lake (alas, the camps are closed this time of year). Then head to Mingo Springs Golf Course (207-864-5021, www.mingosprings.com ) for eighteen holes where the par-70 course is rivaled only by the red and gold foliage and blue water of the lake.
Your adventure in Maine’s western mountains is just about over by this point, but before you head back to the real world stop for a slice at the Red Onion (207-864-5022, www.rangeleyredonion.com ) in Rangeley. Here, surrounded by some of the most dazzling autumn colors in the state, you may find yourself taking a deep breath — and planning next year’s visit. JOSHUA F. MOORE
More than two million people visit this national park every year, and increasingly they’re coming for the foliage. Shoulder season has officially spread onto Mount Desert Island, and while the crowds are less, don’t be surprised to find “No Vacancy” signs and packed restaurants even in the third weekend of October.
One of the more stylish places to stay in Bar Harbor is Ullikana Bed & Breakfast (207-288-9552, www.ullikana.com ). Tucked into a peaceful nook, this ten-room Victorian inn built in 1885 has a reputation for its chic decorations, great breakfast, and knowledgeable owners. Just a few yards from the B-and-B you can take a thirty-minute stroll down the Shore Path, which officially begins at the town pier. The afternoon is a great time to call up birding guide Michael J. Good of Down East Nature Tours (207-288-8128, www.downeastnaturetours.com ) to arrange an outing. He’s stationed on Knox Road in Bar Harbor, but he’ll pick you up at your B-and-B in his van, and escort you to the park’s official hawk watch atop Cadillac Mountain or track down any specific birds you might need for your life list. If you feel like relaxing, take a few hours and explore the shops of Bar Harbor or throw back a local Atlantic Brewery Company ale over a game of bocce at the Lompoc Café (207-288-9392, www.lompoccafe.com ). Then kick it up a notch for dinner with a mojito and Cuban delicacies at Havana (207-288-2822, www.havanamaine.com ) on Main Street.
Saturday is your day to explore the island (just make sure to stop in at the Morning Glory Bakery (207-288-3041, www.morningglorybakery.com ) and stock up on some treats before you hit the road). Head to Gorham Mountain at 10 a.m. for an easy to moderate two-hour hike led by a park ranger talking about the natural and cultural history of the area. Of course, you’ll want to take a drive on the Park Loop Road — its twenty-seven miles offers the best of Acadia’s foliage. No visit to the park is complete without a stop at the Jordan Pond House (207-276-3316, www.jordanpond.com ) for tea and popovers; it’s open from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Whatever you do, definitely drive up Cadillac Mountain, the highest mountain on the U.S. eastern seaboard. If you’re up there at 2 p.m. on Saturday you can join a guided tour and experience the views through the eyes of a park geologist.
In your travels, make sure to get over to Southwest Harbor and Tremont. A hike up Flying Mountain Trail might not be highlighted in the guidebooks, but it has beautiful views out to Somes Sound and Northeast Harbor. Down in Somesville, duck into Port in a Storm Bookstore (207-244-4114, www.portinastormbookstore.com ) for a small but well-chosen selection of reading material. Make an evening of it over in Southwest Harbor and dine at one of the island’s finest restaurants, Red Sky (207-244-0476, www.redskyrestaurant.com ). If you’re looking for a less expensive, casual bite, check out Sips (207-244-4550), almost next door for Mediterranean tapas and wine.
On Sunday morning stop in at the Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop (207-288-3886, www.barharborbike.com ) to rent bikes and ride the mile-and-a-half to the three-mile Witch Hole Pond Loop (which is packed in the summer but pleasant in the fall). It’s part of Acadia’s fifty-seven-mile system of paths through the park.
Reward yourself with brunch at Café This Way (207-288-4483, www.cafethisway.com ) back in town. And don’t feel bad leaving with a sense of not accomplishing everything on your list. With 46,000 acres, this national park has much more than you can cover in a long weekend. Just consider it a really good excuse to come back. KATHLEEN FLEURY
By the last weekend of October the foliage is usually just a russet memory of its former glory in most parts of Maine, but you can still find good color south and west of Portland.
Fryeburg makes for an ideal jumping off point for your explorations, and the Oxford House Inn (800-261-7206, www.oxfordhouseinn.com ), in the center of town, and the Peace With-Inn (877-935-7322, www.peacewithinn.com ), farther out in the countryside, offer a range of comfortable lodging choices. If you arrive early enough in the afternoon, you’ll have time to scoot over to Bridgton — renowned for its antiques stores — for some shopping. If you’re interested in contemporary art, Gallery 302 (207-967-4691, www.gallery302.org ) is the headquarters of the Bridgton Art Guild, representing sixty artists and a perfect one-stop shop.
Your evening’s entertainment is already laid out for you. First, a tres casual dinner at Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell (207-925-3200, ebenezerspub.net ), home to seemingly the largest collection of Belgian beers outside of Belgium, and then a show at Brownfield’s Stone Mountain Arts Center (866-227-6523, www.stonemountainartscenter.com ), where Friday night singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey brings an Irish wit and Leonard Cohen vocal approach to the stage.
Assuming breakfast comes with your room, you’ll be energized for a day on the road. If you’re feeling really bold, we recommend the road south; Route 5 is your gateway to southern Oxford and northern York counties — two areas of the state that don’t receive sufficient attention.
The Hiram Nature Study Area (207-625-3581, maine.gov/local/cumberland/baldwin ) consists of sixty acres of woods along the Saco River near the Florida Power & Light dam, with self-guided
nature trails, a picnic area, and good autumn fishing. Cornish is a quaint little stop with a downtown that’s heavy on crafts and antiques shops including the Cornish Trading Company (207-625-8387, www.cornishtrading.com ) in the old Masonic building on Main Street. Continuing south, you pass through the under-explored towns of Limerick and Waterboro. You can make a circuit by following 202 east in Lyman and then taking 117 north in Hollis, or venture farther into the Greater Portland suburbs by continuing on to Buxton and Gorham. If you do, we recommend lunch at the Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham (207-839-2337, www.sebagobrewing.com ), topped off with a seasonally appropriate pint of Midnight Porter.
Route 114 takes you back along the western shore of Sebago, Maine’s deepest lake — a short and well-marked detour to Sebago Lake State Park (207-693-6231, www.state.me.us ) is a possible diversion — and rejoins Route 302 in Naples. From there it’s a quick jaunt back to Fryeburg. We probably shouldn’t say this, but it’s worth venturing 1.5 miles across the border to Center Conway, New Hampshire — we know, we know — for ice cream and a pumpkin hayride at Sherman Farm (603-939-2412, www.shermanfarmnh.com ), a farmstand so good it should by all rights be in Maine.
No matter where you stay, dinner should be back at the Oxford House where chef-owner Jonathan Spak has earned a well-deserved reputation for inventive dishes like the slow cooked bison short rib and the roasted tofu and Shandong noodle stir-fry.
On Sunday, you can continue your automotive explorations. The rolling back roads of the Oxford Hills region (north and east of Fryeburg) offer splendid fall colors. Or if you’re hankering for fresh air you can rent a canoe or kayak at Saco Bound in New Hampshire (603-447-2177, www.sacobound.com ) and venture down the Saco River. The kind people there will also shuttle you back to your vehicle. And we must guiltily admit, the outlets of North Conway do beckon. Just be sure to return as quickly as you can to Maine. PAUL DOIRON