These six superb drives - some of them recognized by the state as scenic byways - are perfect for a perfect fall day.
Take the back way between Waldoboro and Camden for stunning lake vistas.
Barely half a mile north of Moody's Diner in Waldoboro, Route 235 bears north off busy Route 1, winding through fields and along ridge tops and past farms that were first cleared by the eighteenth-century German settlers lured to the area with promises of a metropolis that didn't exist. Watch for the sharp left turn (and subsequent great views) above Seven Tree Pond, and be sure to pause to admire the village green in Union. The road shares a short stretch of pavement with Route 17, heading east before it ventures off on its own again, past Alford Lake, up over hills and down through dales before landing in the tiny and rightfully optimistic burg of Hope. If your plans call for you to return to Waldoboro, bear right onto Route 105 to reach Camden, from which Route 1 will lead you home through Rockport, Rockland, and Thomaston.Route 9
One of Maine's most infamous roads has been transformed into one of its most superb highways.
It's a little-known secret that one of the best highways in Maine has almost nothing on it. In terms of human interruptions, that is. The hundred or so miles of Route 9 running from Eddington, just upstream from Bangor on the east side of the Penobscot, to Calais is one of the most pleasant, fast-moving, and scenic thoroughfares around. A former stagecoach track built to carry the mail in the mid-nineteenth century, the "Airline" has been reconstructed in recent years to provide frequent truck lanes, practically flawless pavement, and mountain and lake vistas that rival some you'd find in a national park. It's a spectacular way to reach the laid-back delights to be found Down East, from the fishing village of Grand Lake Stream (turn left at the intersection with Route 1) or the seaside communities of Calais, Eastport, and Lubec (bear right at Route 1). It'd make for a long day to return from whence you came, but if you need to head back to civilization you can either retrace your steps on the Airline or else head back via Route 1 through Machias and Ellsworth.Route 17
Natural wonders never seem to end in western Maine.
The paper-mill town of Rumford provides the starting point for this western Maine exploration, which passes through some of the state's most scenic countryside before reaching the tiny lakeside community of Oquossoc. The stretch of Route 17 that parallels the Swift River is one of the most beautiful roads in the state at any time of year but is especially stunning in autumn, when the mountains on either side radiate red, gold, and orange. The coup-de-grace of this highway, though, is where the road curves around the corner of Spruce Mountain and pauses at a scenic pullout the locals call Height of Land. With Mooselookmeguntic Lake stretching across the foreground, Bald Mountain rising one thousand feet above the shoreline, and the sunlight reflecting off Richardson Lake to the left, the view is about as close to perfection as you can find. You'll almost certainly choose to stay in the Rangeley Lakes region overnight (call ahead, since autumn is every bit as busy as summer), but if you must return to reality then follow Route 4 through Phillips, Strong, and Farmington, before looping back to Rumford.Route 201
This scenic gorge has been stunning since, well, about the last ice age.
This route follows the old river trading paths that the Abenaki tribe used for commerce with Canada, winding alongside the Kennebec from Skowhegan for a while before heading off to the border outpost of Jackman. The paths have long since turned into Route 201, a fine, high-speed highway, but the views across Attean Pond and the Moose River have remained as stunning as they were centuries ago. The towns of The Forks, Bingham, and Solon each provide a glimpse of the way life was when cargo moved by carriage and wagon, with businesses and homes tucked right against the road. Don't forget to stop at a few of the historic markers along the way, most of them tracing Benedict Arnold's ill-fated march to Qu`bec in 1775. This route, a portion of which is one of Maine's scenic byways, is stunning enough during autumn to do twice, in which case you can simply retrace your steps. To extend your route and take in some spectacular new vistas (but keep your eyes out for moose), turn east in Jackman and follow Route 6 through Rockwood, Greenville, Monson, and Guilford before heading back down to Skowhegan.Route 11
Add this road to your list of reasons to head to the County this fall.
You shouldn't need an excuse to visit Aroostook County, but if you do, consider the thirty-seven-mile stretch of Route 11 from Portage to Fort Kent just cause. One of Maine's seven official scenic highways, the route offers amazing views of wildflower meadows, Eagle Lake, and Mount Katahdin. As if these vistas weren't enough, the heavily wooded road is home to plenty of moose, so you're likely to have a wildlife sighting as well. (That also means, of course, that you should drive cautiously.) If this scenic byway doesn't satisfy your need to soak up some Acadian culture, pop onto Route 1 (look ma, I'm at one end!) through Madawaska, Van Buren, and Caribou. You may discover that Maine's largest county is also one of its loveliest, especially at this time of year. And here's a hint: if you're looking to make the most of Maine's foliage show this year start with this drive, as the colors will turn earlier in the County than elsewhere in the state.
Mount Desert Island consistently provides some of Maine's most spectacular autumn scenery.
Let's face it: there's a reason some 2.5 million people head to Acadia National Park every year. The funny thing, of course, is that most of them head onto Mount Desert Island during the height of summer, when the views of Frenchman's Bay and the Cranberry Isles are overshadowed by idling RVs and rows of parked cars. You won't have the park to yourself during leaf season, but the crowds do noticeably thin out after Labor Day. The best route is the simplest one, so once you cross the Route 3 bridge from Trenton just bear left and head into Bar Harbor. You'll need to take a left onto Mount Desert Street and then a right after the Village Green, at which point you'll be headed out of town and past the Jackson Laboratory, world-famous for its work with genetic research. Hop onto the Loop Road (you can buy your park pass at the entrance booth or at the National Park Service office in town) and take a clockwise tour of the island, pausing at such attractions as Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, and Jordan Pond. The mountains explode with reds, yellows, and oranges at this time of year, and you'll do well to schedule some time for a hike up Gorham or Champlain Mountain. After popovers at the Jordan Pond House you can either extend your drive by heading over to Southwest Harbor and the "Quiet Side" of MDI, or else start back to Trenton and the mainland via Route 198.This article was originally published as a supplement to the September 2007 edition of Down East Magazine.