3 Fabulous Foliage Forays on the Blue Hill Peninsula

Fall road-trip recs, for whatever kind of leaf peeper you happen to be.

Photos by Dave Waddell
Text by Brian Kevin, Adrienne Perron, and Sarah Stebbins
From our October 2023 issue

What sets the Blue Hill peninsula apart? Some would argue it’s the scattered bits of settlement, the shingled cottages and tumbledown barns and old stone walls that seem to cling to the land only lightly. Others might insist it’s the water: all those sheltered bays, the cruisers’ paradise of Eggemoggin Reach, the gnarly vein of the Bagaduce River. But let’s make a case for the trees. They’re what first permitted settlers to thrive in this corner of the Wabanaki homeland — sawmills speckled the peninsula’s streams before shipyards sprung up along its coasts, before granite quarries were blasted or copper mines excavated or rusticators’ lodges built. The lush, mixed woods cradled every one of these pursuits, and patches of old growth still persist. In and around Castine, a few hundred American elms still thrive, a miraculous pocket, resisting the blight of Dutch elm disease. In Blue Hill, a pear tree planted some 215 years ago continues to bear fruit. And in the fall, the pines and spruces notwithstanding, the peninsula’s quiet, two-lane roads become corridors of color, inviting long, lazy drives with no particular destination.  

the 1939 Deer Isle Bridge over Eggemoggin Reach
The 1939 Deer Isle Bridge over Eggemoggin Reach.
Route 173 wends through South Penobscot near the Cannery, a canning factory turned arts center.
Route 173 wends through South Penobscot near the Cannery, a canning factory turned arts center.
autumn means hauling out in Castine Harbor
Autumn means hauling out in Castine Harbor.

For the Active Leaf Peeper

STAY at Hiram Blake Camp (220 Weir Cove Rd., Brooksville; 207-326-4951), where the 15 rustic cottages are all just steps from the edge of Penobscot Bay (all with full kitchens and lovely porches and/or decks). If you can get there before the season ends, on October 7, you won’t be fighting any crowds exploring the coves and islands around Cape Rosier in the resort’s rental kayaks or loaner rowboats — a few nice, short trails wind through woods across the street too. On the other side of the peninsula, the tent and camper sites at Oceanfront Camping at Reach Knolls (670 Reach Rd., Brooklin; 207-359-5555) are open through the third week of the month. The friendly, laid-back campground has a big old rope swing, loaner lobster pots, and a short easy trail leading to a lovely secluded beach on Eggemoggin Reach. 

HIKE one of the seven trails up 934-foot Blue Hill Mountain, including the moderate, mile-long Osgood Trail, off Mountain Road, which leads up stone steps and over rocky ledges to views of the town and eponymous bay. Or find a gentler jaunt at the Blue Hill Heritage Trust’s Peters Brook Preserve, where the path from the trailhead on East Blue Hill Rd., just east of Blue Hill’s downtown, follows a stream through Tolkien-esque woods to the sweetest of hiking rewards: a waterfall plunging down mossy granite steps. From there, it’s a short hike to Penny’s Preserve, an adjoining 107-acre tract. Named after the former owners’ beloved pup (and a designated off-leash zone), it comprises three miles of intersecting trails that wind over small hills, through woods, a meadow, and historic granite quarries. 

PADDLE on Blue Hill Bay, along the Bagaduce River or alongside the loons on Brooksville and Sedgwick’s expansive Walker Pond. Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards can be rented at The Activity Shop ($65–$85 per day; 139 Mines Rd., Blue Hill; 207-374-3600), which will drop boats off at the Blue Hill Bay public landing in South Blue Hill, off Route 175, or at the Walker Pond landing on Cooper Farm Road, in Sedgwick. Experienced whitewater kayakers might take to the three-foot standing wave at Blue Hill’s Reversing Falls, on Falls Bridge Road.

low tide with lobsterboat at Castine’s Starr and Virginia Lampson Preserve, stewarded by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, on the banks of the Bagaduce River.
Low tide with lobsterboat at Castine’s Starr and Virginia Lampson Preserve, stewarded by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, on the banks of the Bagaduce River.

From left: the 1859 Italianate schoolhouse housing the Castine Historical Society; waterfront homes in Blue Hill.

Northern Bay, on the Bagaduce River, glimpsed from Route 175 in Penobscot
Northern Bay, on the Bagaduce River, glimpsed from Route 175 in Penobscot.

For the History-Loving Leaf Peeper

STAY at the Blue Hill Inn (40 Union St., Blue Hill; 207-374-2844), which opened in 1830 and retains most of its Federal-era charm, from the clapboards and 9-over-6 windows outside to the six huge fireplaces and vintage fixtures inside. Poster beds, lavish floral wallpapers and upholstery, and Colonial antiques throughout all add to the atmosphere. In Castine, the Pentagöet Inn & Pub (26 Main St., Castine; 207-326-8616) is the oldest remaining summer hotel (open through October 22) from the heyday of the steamboat tourists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Opened in 1894, the turreted Queen Anne Victorian has seen some restoration work since new owners Matt Powell and George Trinovitch took over in 2022. This summer, the pub — beloved for its lobster pot pie and eclectic antique knickknacks — was recognized with a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s historic restaurants program. Open through the middle of October, the Oakland House Seaside Inn & Cottages (435 Herrick Rd., Brooksville; 207-359-8521) has been welcoming guests since 1889, and when you’re sitting in the white rockers on the classic farmhouse porch (or on one of the two private beaches), it doesn’t feel like all that much has changed.

CELEBRATE the season at the annual fall festival hosted by the Jonathan Fisher House (44 Mines Rd., Blue Hill; 207-374-2459), the 1814 farmhouse built by the village’s first settled Congregational minister. The home has seen additions over the years, but tours show off the surprisingly intact, original timber-frame structure, along with books, artwork, tools, handmade furniture, and other surviving 19th-century artifacts. The highlight of the fest is pressing apples and pears for cider (on an antique press, of course), including those from trees Fisher planted as early as 1805. 

WANDER the forested bluffs of Witherle Woods (Battle Ave., Castine), where colonial troops clashed with the British, failing to reclaim the peninsula during the American Revolution, and where American soldiers clashed with the British when the latter seized Castine in the War of 1812. Along the paths of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserve — in addition to knockout views of Penobscot Bay — are the former sites of batteries and a blockhouse, of which almost nothing remains today but signage. Find a few remains of historic military installations at Fort George, just north of the preserve’s entrance, where there are stone and earthwork remains, and Fort Madison, just south, off Perkins Street, where a lonely cannon points out to sea. 

From left: one of Castine’s great elm trees, a rare New England sight, alongside the town dock; a vintage Chevy in a Castine driveway.

downtown Blue Hill’s Mill Stream Bridge
Downtown Blue Hill’s Mill Stream Bridge.

From left: a shingled Penobscot barn; where Camp Stream meets the Bagaduce River, in Sedgwick.

For the Those with Little Leaf Peepers

STAY in a safari-style tent with king- and queen-size beds (and an optional child-size tent), a hardwood floor, a private bath, and a woodstove at Under Canvas Acadia (702 Surry Rd., Surry; 888-496-1148), a glamping resort, open through October 9, on 100 acres fronting the Union River. Meals are served in a shared dining area, and there are s’mores to be had at the nightly campfire — or, through September, you can skip the s’mores and head five minutes down the road for house-churned ice cream, gelato, and sorbet at Pugnuts (1276 Surry Rd., Surry; 207-412-0086). Open through nearly the end of October, the seaside-chic cabins at Aragosta at Goose Cove (300 Goose Cove Rd., Deer Isle; 207-348-6900) have plenty of room for families. Tucked among spruces and granite outcrops at the southwestern edge of Deer Isle, they’re a short walk from the resort’s private beach and much-praised sea-to-table restaurant (though you can always make mac-and-cheese in the cabin kitchenettes). 

DINE in Michele Levesque and Michael Rossney’s backyard, where the couple runs California-style taqueria El El Frijoles (41 Caterpillar Hill Rd., Sargentville; 207-359-2486) — translation: “L.L. Beans” — through late October. Order tacos and burritos (try the “spicy lobster” filling) in the barn, then snag a picnic table or seat in a screened room or outside. Kids can romp on the playground or badminton court while you sip a house-made horchata or a BYOB craft beer from the new Makers’ Market Shop and Studio next door. Another backyard joint, Tinder Hearth (1452 Coastal Rd., Brooksville; 207-326-8381), serves brick-oven pizza from an ever-changing menu (Tuesday through Friday evenings through September; Tuesday and Thursday evenings starting October 10). Scoring a rezzy requires persistence (online booking opens at 9 a.m., and spots often fill up within a few minutes), but no one who has dined in Lydia Moffet and Tim Semler’s cozy heated barn or enchanting garden (where kids can climb trees) will tell you it wasn’t worth it. Traveling with Robert McCloskey fans? Down the road, there are groceries, pizza, and breakfast sandwiches at Buck’s Harbor Market (6 Cornfield Hill Rd., Brooksville; 207-326-8683), aka “Mr. Condon’s store.”

TREAT yourself to inventive sweets from Fancy Nancy’s Blue Hill Bakery (churro donuts, s’mores bars that deliver on the promised flavors but don’t stick to your fingers), on Saturdays through October 27 at the Blue Hill Farmers’ Market (233 Ellsworth Rd.; 207-610-3793). Kids get $5 worth of tickets to spend on fruits and veggies and everyone can boogie to live music. October 7 through 9, stock up on pumpkins and other seasonal bounty while the kids take a hayride and feed the animals at Homewood Farm (118 Ackley Farm Rd., Blue Hill; 207-374-9903).

EXPLORE the Hundred Acre Wood (118 High St., Brooklin), a not-so-hilly parcel named after Pooh Bear’s forest and stewarded by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust. Interpretive signage offers forest-ecology lessons along a 1.7-mile wooded trail, and stroller pushers will dig the half-mile, crushed-gravel loop.

a dilapidated barn in Brooklin
A dilapidated barn in Brooklin.

From left: along the Benjamin River Harbor, at the Sedgwick town landing; a birch-shaded driveway in Brooklin.

looking south, towards Blue Hill Mountain, from Orland’s Great Pond Mountain
Looking south, towards Blue Hill Mountain, from Orland’s Great Pond Mountain.
May 2024, Down East Magazine

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