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Portland, Bangor, Acadia, Bar Harbor and Maine Fall Foliage Colors, Cruises, Tours

Things to do / Travel Guide

Click for Fall, 2010 foliage report and map, updated every three days.

Coastal Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

Boston area residents have a dilemma come mid-October. Should they head up the Maine Coast to see the fall foliage or over to New Hampshire and Vermont. The best bet is to do both, as they are completely different experiences. What's the advantage the Maine coast has over Vermont? Heavily forested and rugged coastline and islands, scenic harbors and lighthouses, fewer crowds, better seafood and less weekending New Yorkers. There are even a few vintage railroads and historic ships to boot.

The entire 250 mile length of the Maine Coast (as the crow flies) reaches its peak in mid-October, slightly later than the higher elevations of other New England fall foliage spots located at . The most colorful contributions in the Maine fall scene come from the orange and red hues of the maple trees' leaves, the birches that color the forests blazing yellow, and the deep red of the blueberry barrens.

Heading north from the Boston metropolitan area, leaf peepers will get their first chance to experience the many aspects of the Maine autumn season somewhere around Wells and the Kennebunks. Coastal views and rural landscapes get better further east, and the mid-coast area between Wiscasset and Belfast is considered prime fall foliage territory. Don't miss the views from Mt. Battie, near Camden.

Make it a longer weekend and continue further “downeast” to Bar Harbor, or do the whole nine yards and travel all the way to the New Brunswick border. While that may seem like a great idea, most people do not get further east than Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. After all, Maine is a pretty big state, especially when compared to its New England neighbors.

Kennebunks and South Coastal Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

A bit more than an hour's drive north of Boston, one begins the Maine fall foliage experience around York.
Wells, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Saco Bay follow, less than 30 miles from the Maine border. These towns on or near the coast, offer a tamer taste of the Maine fall foliage experience than the rugged coastal areas further east. Driving east on U.S. Highway 1 will have you passing by factory outlet stores, but will also provide access to some good foliage viewing spots.

Near York, Mount Agamenticus at 652 feet offers views of the Atlantic Ocean, the nearby lakes, further away mountains, and the forests filling in the rest of the landscape. The most enjoyable fall activity around Wells is walking the trails of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (also known as Laudholm Farm). Guided nature walks and other programs are available.

The Kennebunks have done a very good job of preserving their history and nature. Right in the heart of Kennebunkport, the Emmons Preserve has two short trails to enjoy the fall colors. The volunteers of Saco Bay Trails maintain several good and easy to hike trails in the Saco area. One, the Saco Heath Preserve, features a 1.8 mile trail over a heath bog. The colors of the bog and the Atlantic White Cedar are especially stunning in the fall. Also in Saco, Ferry Beach State Park is a prime foliage destination, mainly due to the bright crimson colors of its tupelo trees.

Freeport and North of Portland, Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

You can get everything you need for the outdoors at the local L.L. Bean, but after some obligatory shopping in Freeport, venture a bit away from Main Street to Wolf Neck Woods State Park and Bradbury Mountain State Park. There are several trails in these parks and special guided tours and programs during the fall. The easily hiked to (half mile round trip) summit of Bradbury Mountain has great views of the fall color. With some luck, you will get to see hawks and eagles above. In Wolf Neck Woods State Park, try the North Loop Trail for blazing yellows.

An easy and rewarding way to venture beyond South Coastal Maine is by grabbing the Maine Eastern Railroad heading east out of Bath to Wiscasset or going all the way to the end of the 57-mile rail line in Rockland.

Sebago Lake and Inland of Portland, Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Routes

While much of what is unique about the Maine autumn experience is the meeting of the colorful forests and the rough sea, some people actually prefer to head inland upon hitting the towns of South Coastal Maine. The highlight of this area is the Sebago Lake region. This includes Sebago Lake itself, one of the largest and deepest lakes in Maine. It also includes Long Lake, Crystal Lake, Brandy Pond and about 50 other bodies of water. Lakeside cabins are widely available throughout this area, less than an hour's drive from Portland, Maine. Camping facilities are available in Sebago Lake State Park. Located near Sebago, it has an easy trail that reaches to the 1415 foot summit of Douglas Mountain. The summit is topped by a stone tower that allows for views of the fall landscape all the way to the blue ocean in one direction and the White Mountains 45 miles distant.

U. S. Highway 302 provides access to most of the Sebago Lake region, heading north out of Portland. It passes Naples, Bridgeton, and the main lakes of the area on the way to Fryeburg and the New Hampshire border where one may find some prime New Hampshire and Vermont foliage spots. In addition to Naples and Bridgton, one can find other good areas for fall foliage trips inland in the regions of Waterboro and Limerick.

Further north, visitors to Fryeburg, on the New Hampshire border near Conway, will enjoy the Fryeburg Fair during the first week of October. It is the largest agricultural fair in Maine. Expect to see over a thousand cattle, horses, goats and sheep and even a few llamas and alpacas. As you head further north you will enter the White Mountains, and onto foliage views quite different than those of Coastal Maine.

The Songo River Queen runs one to two hour fall foliage cruises on Long Lake, departing from Naples.

Portland and South Coastal Maine Fall Foliage Cruises

There are several boat excursions available from Bath, ranging from one hour to a half day's leave. Some sail around Casco Bay, while others head inland up the Kennebec River.

Casco Bay Lines runs frequent ferry service year round from Portland to the nearby islands in Casco Bay. While not specifically targeted at the leaf peeping crowd, approximately $10 will get you your own tour of the waters and wooded islands of Casco Bay.

From Kennebunkport , a 2 hour trip aboard a locally built sailing vessel will cost about $40.

Camden, Belfast and Mid-Coast Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

The town of Camden has one of the most picturesque settings in the state, and nearby Camden Hills State park is where sea and mountain meet. Located in the park, Mount Battie offers great views from its summit, especially during fall foliage season. There are numerous trails (and a road) that access the panoramic view at the top. Include adjacent Mount Megunticook for a longer hike through the birches and sugar maples.

U.S. Highway 1 is the main access road for leaf peepers in mid-Coast Maine. Heading east from the historic and pretty town of Wiscasset, along the 55 mile drive to Belfast, travelers will enjoy the historic and quaint atmosphere of the local towns and villages such as including Thomaston, Rockport, and Camden. Side trips towards the coast allow for some time exploring small fishing villages and scenic harbors, as well as the opportunity to enjoy the fall colors from a sea kayak or other vessel. Not scenic sounding enough? Add a lighthouse into the mix for a memorable time.

Boothbay and Mid-Coast Maine Fall Foliage Routes, Train Rides and Excursions

From west to east, the following roads provide good sea access:
  • State Route 27 on Boothbay Peninsula. The Boothbay region has a well developed tourist infrastructure. There are many attractions, as well as historical sites and plenty of options for getting out on the water. Grab some hot apple cider at the annual Boothbay Harbor Fall Foliage Festival.
  • State Route 130 and State Route 32 provide access to the extremely photogenic fishing town of New Harbor and the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point, both on the Pemaquid Peninsula.
  • State Routes 97 and 220 on the Friendship Peninsula.
  • State Route 131 which explores St. George Peninsula from Thomaston to tiny Port Clyde.
The Art Deco cars of the Maine Eastern Railroad provide a comfortable and relaxing trip through 57 miles of the Maine Coast, between Rockland and Brunswick. The full route takes 2 hours one way and costs $25. Shorter routes and round trips can be booked as well. The trains run Wednesday through Sunday during the fall, with 1-2 trains a day in each direction.

For a different perspective on the fall season, head inland from U.S. Highway 1 towards the many lakes in the area. Recommended routes near Camden include State Routes 105, 173, 235 and 17. Also inland, the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad Company runs two hour fall foliage tours during peak season, usually on weekends. The route, from Burnham Junction to Unity, is only about 10 miles as the crow flies, but the 1913 locomotive running on 140 year old track takes its sweet time, and treats its passengers to excellent views of the fall colors, the quiet streams, and the lovely Unity Pond.

Mid-Coast Maine Fall Foliage Cruises

Some of the best fall foliage views along the Maine coast can only be seen from the water and a full range of such excursions are available during peak fall foliage weekends. Multiple operators run 3-4 day cruises out of Camden, Rockland, and Belfast. These historic schooners, windjammers, offer a luxurious few days out on the sea with only a handful of other passengers. Most likely your ship has had an interesting life before being pressed into fall foliage service. Some were fishing boats, some were racing yachts, some shipped cargo and dredged oysters and some are even official National Historic Landmarks. One ship, the Stephen Taber, was built in 1871 and is the oldest sailing ship in continuous use in the United States. Expect these experiences to be quite pricey – upwards of $500 per person for a weekend cruise.

One to two hour fall foliage cruises leave from New Harbor on the Pemaquid Peninsula. Costs are generally under $20.

Bar Harbor and Downeast Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park are among the highlights of any fall foliage trip to the Maine coast. The town of Bar Harbor with its historic sites, shopping, dining, and lodging options makes a good base for foliage viewing in the area. Alternatively, campsites are available in Lamoine State Park, also located on Mount Desert Island.

Acadia National Park's hiking trails, bike paths, lighthouses, ocean views, rocky shorelines, and scenic drives that are so popular in the summer are even more beautiful during autumn. The view of the fall colors as seen from Cadillac Mountain, is considered one of the best views in Maine. The 40 mile Acadia Scenic Byway follows State Highway 3 and smaller roads on Mount Desert Island. The granite mountains, wild coast and clear blue lakes provide an ideal setting for the changing fall colors. Those interested in learning about the local flora can study and enjoy the 300 species found in the Wild Gardens of Acadia located in Acadia National Park.

West of Acadia National Park in Downeast Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

To the west of Ellsworth on U.S. Highway 1, take State Route 175 south at Orland, to begin a tour of Blue Hill Peninsula. Plan to spend at least a day. There are several picturesque and historic towns to explore, including Blue Hill, Brooklin and Deer Isle, and there are many sea kayaking and hiking spots in the area, as well. Expect to get lost exploring the winding roads of the peninsula, including (in no particular order) State Routes 15, 166, 172, 175, 176, 199. The section of State Routes 175 and 15 from Brooksville to Sedgewick are particularly scenic with a recommended fall foliage view from the Caterpiller Hill Rest Area. Only experienced bicyclists should consider negotiating these winding and hilly roads.

East of Acadia National Park in Downeast Maine Fall Foliage Tours and Routes

Heading east of Acadia on U.S. Highway 1 from Ellsworth, (the road is also known as the Schoodic Scenic Byway), visitors will enjoy the thousands of acres of blueberry barrens with their deep red fall color blanketing the fields of Cherryfield. The scarlet fields are at their best on State Route 193, north of Cherryfield.

Heading east of Ellsworth on U.S. Highway 1, consider detouring south on some of the smaller roads for great foliage views. Several of these roads are loops that allow you to return to U.S. Highway 1 further along your drive east. State Routes 186 and 195 take you around the Schoodic Peninsula . Further east, State Route 187 passes through quaint and historical towns, hitting the water at Jonesport and nearby Beals Island. This area is prime lobster territory. Further east still, at East Machias, the 27 mile Cutler Road (State Route 191) continues along the coast – one of the loveliest coastal stretches in Maine. Almost 7 hours and out of easy weekend reach from Boston, this pristine section of the coast gets very little traffic even during peak foliage season. When you reach the red and white lighthouse at Quoddy Head State Park, you have gone as far east as you can on the Maine Coast; in fact, as far east as you can go in the United States.