It’s officially foliage season in Vacationland! It’s time to celebrate with apple picking, mugs of hot cider, pumpkin carving in cozy sweaters, and of course, visiting fall festivals and packing up the car for a picturesque day on the road. We’ve selected a few of our favorite festivals and helpful information on Maine’s celebrated system of Scenic Byways, winding along lakes and rivers, through the mountains, and along the coast.
Favorite Maine Fall Festivals
October 8-11, 2021
While the usual Damariscotta Pumpkinfest has been scaled back this year due to health concerns, eliminating the famed Pumkinboat Regatta, the celebrations go on with Giant Pumpkins on Main Street, an art installation of decorated oversized gourds. The event website explains, “Each year, local Maine artists more than meet the challenge of decorating dozens of ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkins that are displayed in downtown Damariscotta and Newcastle.”
Swine & Stein Brewfest, Gardiner
October 9, 2021
A celebrated day-long beer and food tasting festival. The event website explains, “Gardiner’s Swine & Stein Brewfest, presented by Camden National Bank and Burke’s Roofing & Masonry features all-day samples from some of Maine’s best breweries, wineries and distilleries in an open-air beer garden along historic downtown Water Street. Organized by Gardiner Main Street, this annual fall beer festival also includes a full lineup of great music, tasty food vendors, fun games and activities all day long.”
Sunday River Fall Festival, Newry
October 9-10, 2021
Head to the western mountains before the snow flies and enjoy Sunday River’s annual Fall Festival. The event website explains, “With classic and quirky events like the North American Wife Carrying Championship, our annual Sunday River Sports Sale, scenic chairlift rides, and more, you won’t want to miss this event during peak foliage season.”
Sugarloaf Homecoming Weekend, Carrabassett Valley
October 9-10, 2021
Head farther north to scenic Carrabassett Valley for Sugarloaf’s famed Homecoming weekend. The event website explains, “We’ll be offering scenic lift rides, outdoor entertainment on the Beach, and plenty of fun activities for all ages. Come check out the UpCountry Artists Sugarloaf Art Show in the King Pine Room, and our restaurants and shops throughout the weekend.”
York Harvestfest & Kidsfest, York Beach
October 16, 2021
This family-friendly rain or shine event on Short Sands Beach features live music, food and art vendors, and kids-centric activities like storytime and face painting. Learn more on the event website.
Harvest on the Harbor, Portland
November 4-7, 2021
Liquor and oysters come together at Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor festival, showcasing the finest Maine craft liquors alongside local oysters. Learn more at the event website.
Maine Harvest Festival, Bangor
November 20-21, 2021
Taste the best in Maine fresh food at the Maine Harvest Festival in Bangor. As the event website explains, “We invite you to join festival friends from Greater Bangor, the great state of Maine, northern New England and Canada to experience and enjoy the fall harvest of over 200 Maine farmers… Sample the best of the best from our Maine vintners, brewers and distillers. Begin your holiday shopping with festival fiber artisans and their masterpieces and enthusiastic Maine chefs and home cooks as they showcase and share their story, demonstrate, sample and sell what makes Maine, Maine.”
Maine Foliage Road Trips: Scenic Byways
Western Lakes & Mountains Region
Once a route marked by swift-moving rivers flowing through the mountain valley, the Grafton Notch scenic byway begins in Newry, just north of the Sunday River Ski Area, and travels along Route 26 to Grafton Notch State Park and Lake Umbagog, which crosses the New Hampshire border. This byway follows along the Bear River for much of the trip. Visitors traveling through Grafton Notch State Park should be sure to stop and explore the short hiking paths leading to the park’s sights, including Screw Auger Falls and Mother Walker Falls.
Skiers and snowmobilers know this route well, as it’s the well-traveled route to Sugarloaf along the winding Carrabassett River. But once you pass the turnout for the resort, the stunning views continue through the small mill town of Stratton, over the Flagstaff Lake causeway with stunning views of the Bigelow Range, and then following the Dead River north to Eustis. The flowing streams and picturesque pines open up to the magnificent Chain of Ponds, a cluster of lakes along the Boundary Mountains just before the Canadian border.
The route scales the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline before dropping to rolling valleys and hills and Rangeley Lake. The Height of Land on Route 17 is the route’s showstopper, with stunning views of Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson lakes, Toothaker Island and the richly forested mountainsides. The Smalls Falls Rest Area is worth the stop, with picturesque waterfalls winding through an ancient canyon.
The Pequawket Trail Scenic Byway derives its name from the Sokokis Indian tribe that once inhabited the Saco River Valley. This route does momentarily pass through New Hampshire before returning to Maine. Along the journey the Saco River and the Mountain Division Rail run parallel to the byway, between Standish and Fryeburg. The White Mountain National Forest offers unparalleled scenic vistas, and provides miles of world-class hiking and climbing for all levels of enthusiasts.
Northern Maine Region
Attractions along this scenic lake route include Lily Bay State Park and Mount Kineo. You can continue from Jackman to the Old Canada Road below.
The Old Canada Road (U.S Route 201) leads travelers on a trip through time. In towns like Bingham, classic clapboard homes line the streets and harken back to the boom days of the 19th and early 20th centuries when lumber barons reigned over the surrounding forest. In places like The Forks, modern-day adventurers gather to camp in the backcountry and raft down swift-flowing rivers. Route 201 follows the old river trading routes of the Abenaki tribe. Be sure to stop at Moxie Falls for a short hike to a beautiful waterfall in a gorge.
One of the northern-most of Maine’s scenic byways, the Fish River Scenic Byway – State Route 11 follows the rolling hills between Portage and Fort Kent. This drive offers outstanding views of wildflower meadows, Eagle Lake and Maine’s tallest peak, Mt. Katahdin. Because much of the route is forested, you might catch a glimpse of eagles and moose along the way. Route 11 is a primary north-south corridor connecting Aroostook County, Maine with New Brunswick, Canada. Settled by the French-Acadians in the 19th century, the region is proud of the strong Acadian influence on its food and cultural traditions.
The Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway is a must-see for a great, nature-based experience. The Byway is 89 miles long and extends from the Baxter State Park boundary near Togue Pond over Baxter Park and Millinocket Lake Road to Millinocket where it joins Route 11 to East Millinocket and Medway. The route turns northerly in Medway on Route 11 to Stacyville and Sherman, then north to Patten, home of the Lumbermen’s Museum. From Patten the route follows Route 159 through Mount Chase and the Village of Shin Pond to the northern boundary of Baxter State Park at Matagamon. The Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway can be accessed from I-95 at Exit 244 in Medway and Exit 264 in Sherman. The Byway offers miles of travel parallel to the East Branch Penobscot River, with side trips along the West Branch, as well as breathtaking views of Katahdin and the Appalachian chain. The journey provides a mix of pastoral farms, meadows, recreational trails, and working forests filled with wildlife and significant natural areas.
Downeast Maine Region
Here a warm welcome awaits the traveler in the rural communities along the byway route. Aptly called the “Million Dollar View”, this stretch of U. S. Route 1 offers travelers unsurpassed views of the Chiputneticook chain of lakes including East Grand, Brackett and Deering (all teeming with fish). Travelers can also view rolling hayfields, Mount Katahdin, Peekaboo Mountain and the landscape of New Brunswick, Canada. Travelers may spot local wildlife including bears, deer, eagles, loons and moose. Scenic turnouts provide front-row seating for the vast and impressive views to the east and west.
A few miles from busy U.S. Route 1 and worlds away from the bustle, great gray owls and bald eagles can be seen soaring among the trees or over blueberry barrens along this quiet two-lane highway. The towns of Cherryfield and Franklin, which serve as gateways to this byway, offer many good examples of 18th and 19th-century architecture, as well as the chance to experience rural small-town life. Cherryfield is known as the “Wild Blueberry Capital of the World.”
The 125-miles long Bold Coast route extends from the coastal fishing community of Milbridge eastward along the coast to Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States, and then scoops around Cobscook Bay to Eastport. Visitors travel along the rocky coast, passing through iconic wild blueberry barrens; sparsely developed coastal forests; tidal marshes and freshwater bogs; the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation; active fishing harbors; recreational trails providing opportunities to explore the natural wonders and scenic bounty; and historic villages lined with exemplary architecture and museums.
This route passes through the only mainland section of Acadia National Park and beautiful Schoodic Point. The shoreline is marked by lighthouses, wildflowers, osprey, eagles, and views of Cadillac Mountain and Mount Desert Island. Blueberry barrens turn the surrounding hills violet and green in late summer and brilliant scarlet in the autumn. Seaside villages and working harbors from Sullivan to Prospect Harbor reveal well-preserved examples of simple New England architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Special thanks to the Maine Department of Transportation for providing maps, resources and information on these scenic byways and maintaining them for all to enjoy!