THE PERFECT

FALL FOLIAGE
ROAD TRIP

IS IN WESTERN MAINE

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AN AUTUMN RAMBLE THROUGH THE BACKWOODS AND BACK ROADS.
Fall Foliage in Western Maine
A farm road in Grafton Notch, with Mount Hittie looking down.
Photographs by Benjamin Williamson

THE PERFECT

FALL

FOLIAGE

ROAD TRIP IS IN WESTERN MAINE

AN AUTUMN RAMBLE THROUGH THE BACKWOODS AND BACK ROADS.
Photographed by
Benjamin Williamson

An autumn road trip through the mountains of Maine’s Oxford and Franklin counties offers New England foliage in the raw: wooded peaks and secluded river valleys, covered bridges and timeworn farmsteads, narrow roads and none too many people, with only 25ish inhabitants per square mile. The real draws of a foliage excursion through western Maine are the places between towns, the roadside vistas, dirt-road dead ends, and pocket groves where the color and scents and birdsong of Maine’s golden woods can overwhelm a traveler’s senses.

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But of course, one must eat, drink, sleep, and shop, and nestled among all those foliage photo-ops are some of the state’s most charming towns and villages. Read on for few of our favorite places to stop in Maine’s best leaf-peeping country (and check out a Google Map of our route).

The view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from the Height of Land overlook, on Route 17, 25 miles north of Rumford.
The view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from the Height of Land overlook, on Route 17, 25 miles north of Rumford.
A tributary of Mill Brook meanders outside Bethel.
A tributary of Mill Brook meanders outside Bethel.

An autumn road trip through the mountains of Maine’s Oxford and Franklin counties offers New England foliage in the raw: wooded peaks and secluded river valleys, covered bridges and timeworn farmsteads, narrow roads and none too many people, with only 25ish inhabitants per square mile. The real draws of a foliage excursion through western Maine are the places between towns, the roadside vistas, dirt-road dead ends, and pocket groves where the color and scents and birdsong of Maine’s golden woods can overwhelm a traveler’s senses.

But of course, one must eat, drink, sleep, and shop, and nestled among all those foliage photo-ops are some of the state’s most charming towns and villages. Read on for few of our favorite places to stop in Maine’s best leaf-peeping country (and check out a Google Map of our route).

The view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from the Height of Land overlook, on Route 17, 25 miles north of Rumford.
The view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from the Height of Land overlook, on Route 17, 25 miles north of Rumford.
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Flagstaff Lake, from Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis
Flagstaff Lake, from Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis.

EUSTIS/STRATTON

The winding two lanes of Route 27, known here as the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway, take in some of New England’s most breathtaking autumn scenery: the vast woods spilling down the sides of Mount Bigelow and crowding the shores of the Chain of Ponds, the birch stands reflected on the smooth surface of Flagstaff Lake. Find some terrific views at the picnic area on Eustis Ridge Road. Then find some terrific grub at Backstrap Bar & Grill (161 Main St.; 207-246-0102), a welcoming pub (with adjacent butcher shop and seafood counter) that serves knockout burgers and specialty pizzas as good as anything in the big city (a well-stocked bar too).

If you’re overnighting it, The Mountain View Motel (4755 Carrabassett Rd.; 207-246-2033) is a laid-back, recently refreshed alpine inn where guests tend to gather in the evenings around a gazebo-enclosed, hooded firepit out back.

Flagstaff Lake, from Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis
Flagstaff Lake, from Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis.

EUSTIS/STRATTON

The winding two lanes of Route 27, known here as the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway, take in some of New England’s most breathtaking autumn scenery: the vast woods spilling down the sides of Mount Bigelow and crowding the shores of the Chain of Ponds, the birch stands reflected on the smooth surface of Flagstaff Lake. Find some terrific views at the picnic area on Eustis Ridge Road. Then find some terrific grub at Backstrap Bar & Grill (161 Main St.; 207-246-0102), a welcoming pub (with adjacent butcher shop and seafood counter) that serves knockout burgers and specialty pizzas as good as anything in the big city (a well-stocked bar too).

If you’re overnighting it, The Mountain View Motel (4755 Carrabassett Rd.; 207-246-2033) is a laid-back, recently refreshed alpine inn where guests tend to gather in the evenings around a gazebo-enclosed, hooded firepit out back.

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KINGFIELD/CARRABASSETT VALLEY

Among the more enjoyable ways to take in Maine mountain foliage is on a scenic chairlift ride at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort ($14; 5092 Sugarloaf Access Rd., Carrabassett Valley; 800-843-5623), where the SuperQuad runs weekends through October 14. Or get up the mountain under your own power during the Sugarloaf Uphill Climb on October 13, an all-in-the-name-of-fun group run/slog up 2,400 feet, from base to summit.

At the foot of the mountain, a couple blocks from Kingfield’s charming downtown strip, the Stanley Museum (40 School St.; 207-265-2729) is a must-stop for industrial-history buffs, a tribute to the Kingfield family that gave the world the “Stanley Steamer” motor buggy in the early 20th century. The Orange Cat Cafe (329 Main St.; 207-265-2860) is the spot for sandwiches and to-die-for turnovers, danishes, cinnamon buns, and other pastries. Check out the century-old Herbert Grand Hotel (246 Main St.; 207-265-2000) for boutique downtown digs.

Lemon Stream in New Portland, just south of Kingfield.

The historic wire bridge over the Carrabassett River, off Route 27 in New Portland.

Lemon Stream in New Portland, just south of Kingfield.

KINGFIELD/CARRABASSETT VALLEY

Among the more enjoyable ways to take in Maine mountain foliage is on a scenic chairlift ride at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort ($14; 5092 Sugarloaf Access Rd., Carrabassett Valley; 800-843-5623), where the SuperQuad runs weekends through October 14. Or get up the mountain under your own power during the Sugarloaf Uphill Climb on October 13, an all-in-the-name-of-fun group run/slog up 2,400 feet, from base to summit.

At the foot of the mountain, a couple blocks from Kingfield’s charming downtown strip, the Stanley Museum (40 School St.; 207-265-2729) is a must-stop for industrial-history buffs, a tribute to the Kingfield family that gave the world the “Stanley Steamer” motor buggy in the early 20th century. The Orange Cat Cafe (329 Main St.; 207-265-2860) is the spot for sandwiches and to-die-for turnovers, danishes, cinnamon buns, and other pastries. Check out the century-old Herbert Grand Hotel (246 Main St.; 207-265-2000) for boutique downtown digs.

the historic wire bridge over the Carrabassett River, off Route 27 in New Portland
The historic wire bridge over the Carrabassett River, off Route 27 in New Portland.
Mill Pond, in New Vineyard, along Route 27
Mill Pond, in New Vineyard, north of Farmington on Route 27.
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FARMINGTON

Western Maine’s two main foliage thoroughfares, Route 27 and Route 2, meet up in Farmington, so the college town with the busy Main Street makes a great stopover. See what kind of deliciousness is on chef Em Reeves’s daily soup board at Soup For You! Café (222 Broadway; 207-779-0799), and don’t skip the locally baked anadama bread.

Around the corner, Tuck’s Ale House (160 Main St.; 207-860-2666) is the spot for Maine beers from all across the state, with 12 rotating taps (and for live music on the weekends too). Grab Maine-made souvenirs on the same block at The Calico Patch (174 Broadway; 207-778-4950), an eclectic gift shop with a great selection of Maine-authored books.

Lodging in Farmington leaves a little something to be desired, so head a few miles south to the Wilson Lake Inn (183 Lake Rd., Wilton; 207-645-3721), where the rooms are clean and mod and you can take in fall color strolling the surrounding gardens and lakeshore.

Mill Pond, in New Vineyard, along Route 27
Mill Pond, in New Vineyard, north of Farmington on Route 27.

FARMINGTON

Western Maine’s two main foliage thoroughfares, Route 27 and Route 2, meet up in Farmington, so the college town with the busy Main Street makes a great stopover. See what kind of deliciousness is on chef Em Reeves’s daily soup board at Soup For You! Café (222 Broadway; 207-779-0799), and don’t skip the locally baked anadama bread.

Around the corner, Tuck’s Ale House (160 Main St.; 207-860-2666) is the spot for Maine beers from all across the state, with 12 rotating taps (and for live music on the weekends too). Grab Maine-made souvenirs on the same block at The Calico Patch (174 Broadway; 207-778-4950), an eclectic gift shop with a great selection of Maine-authored books.

Lodging in Farmington leaves a little something to be desired, so head a few miles south to the Wilson Lake Inn (183 Lake Rd., Wilton; 207-645-3721), where the rooms are clean and mod and you can take in fall color strolling the surrounding gardens and lakeshore.

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NEWRY/BETHEL

From little Newry, a foliage road-tripper can set out for the jaw-dropping high-lakes vista at Height of Land (on Route 17, an hour’s drive north), the imposing mound of Old Speck, Maine’s fourth-highest mountain, in Grafton Notch State Park (on Route 26, 10 miles northwest); or the crisp, explosively colored valleys around Evans Notch (on Route 113, a half-hour southwest). Or stay in town and ride the Chondola at Sunday River Resort ($15; 15 South Ridge Rd.; 800-543-2754) for an eagle-eye view of the whole region.

As if that bounty wasn’t enough, neighboring Bethel is home to two of the state’s best ways to eat pork: dry-rubbed, smoked, and pulled at Smokin’ Good BBQ (212 Mayville Rd.; 207-824-4744) and inside Korean mandu, or steamed dumplings, at Cho Sun (141 Main St., 207-824-7370). Peep the colors at the Bethel Village Trails system that unfurls behind the classic Bethel Inn Resort (21 Broad St.; 800-654-0125).

Barn along Bear River Road, just east of Grafton Notch State Park
Barn along Bear River Road, northwest of Newry and just outside Grafton Notch State Park.
At Coos Canyon, in Byron, on Route 17, the Swift River powers through a rocky gorge.
At Coos Canyon, in Byron, on Route 17, the Swift River powers through a rocky gorge.
Artist’s Bridge, as it’s known, on Sunday River Road in Newry
Artist’s Bridge, as it’s known, on Sunday River Road in Newry.
A tumbling stream in Grafton Notch State Park
A tumbling stream in Grafton Notch State Park.

The view from behind Harvest Gold Gallery, in Lovell, of Kezar Lake and the Baldface-Royce Range.

Barn along Bear River Road, just east of Grafton Notch State Park
Barn along Bear River Road, northwest of Newry and just outside Grafton Notch State Park.
Artist’s Bridge, as it’s known, on Sunday River Road in Newry
Artist’s Bridge, as it’s known, on Sunday River Road in Newry.

NEWRY/BETHEL

From little Newry, a foliage road-tripper can set out for the jaw-dropping high-lakes vista at Height of Land (on Route 17, an hour’s drive north), the imposing mound of Old Speck, Maine’s fourth-highest mountain, in Grafton Notch State Park (on Route 26, 10 miles northwest); or the crisp, explosively colored valleys around Evans Notch (on Route 113, a half-hour southwest).

A tumbling stream in Grafton Notch State Park
A tumbling stream in Grafton Notch State Park.
At Coos Canyon, in Byron, on Route 17, the Swift River powers through a rocky gorge.
At Coos Canyon, in Byron, on Route 17, the Swift River powers through a rocky gorge.

Or stay in town and ride the Chondola at Sunday River Resort ($15; 15 South Ridge Rd.; 800-543-2754) for an eagle-eye view of the whole region.

As if that bounty wasn’t enough, neighboring Bethel is home to two of the state’s best ways to eat pork: dry-rubbed, smoked, and pulled at Smokin’ Good BBQ (212 Mayville Rd.; 207-824-4744) and inside Korean mandu, or steamed dumplings, at Cho Sun (141 Main St., 207-824-7370). Peep the colors at the Bethel Village Trails system that unfurls behind the classic Bethel Inn Resort (21 Broad St.; 800-654-0125).

Fall Foliage in Western Maine
A farm road in Grafton Notch, with Mount Hittie looking down.
Moose Pond, in Bridgton, just southwest of Lovell.
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LOVELL

The rolling foothills of the Mahoosucs and the long, blue expanse of Kezar Lake make for some pretty stunning panoramas all around quiet little Lovell. Guests can take in much of it from the screened porch of the Center Lovell Inn (1107 Main St.; 207-925-1575), where innkeepers Rose and Prince Adams serve dinner at sunset. Across the street, at the Harvest Gold Gallery (1082 Main St.; 207-925-6502), find something to take home — Maine-made jewelry, art, pottery, and more — as well as one of the area’s more classic mountain tableaus, a kaleidoscopic view that opens up across the gallery’s sloping back lawn. Harvest gold, indeed.

The view from behind Harvest Gold Gallery, in Lovell, of Kezar Lake and the Baldface-Royce Range.
The view from behind Harvest Gold Gallery, in Lovell, of Kezar Lake and the Baldface-Royce Range.

LOVELL

The rolling foothills of the Mahoosucs and the long, blue expanse of Kezar Lake make for some pretty stunning panoramas all around quiet little Lovell. Guests can take in much of it from the screened porch of the Center Lovell Inn (1107 Main St.; 207-925-1575), where innkeepers Rose and Prince Adams serve dinner at sunset. Across the street, at the Harvest Gold Gallery (1082 Main St.; 207-925-6502), find something to take home — Maine-made jewelry, art, pottery, and more — as well as one of the area’s more classic mountain tableaus, a kaleidoscopic view that opens up across the gallery’s sloping back lawn. Harvest gold, indeed.

Moose Pond, in Bridgton, just southwest of Lovell.
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