Fall foliage in Maine: 6 stops on the Lakes & Leaves route

Scenic road trips to admire fall foliage in Maine are varied and include coastal drives around the Acadia National Park and the rugged coast of upper northern Maine to the Baxter State Park area, some of the larger lakes in the state.

Many of the scenic drives in Maine showcase the rugged wilderness of the dense forests and the impressive Maine backcountry mountains.

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Maine is one of the most heavily forested states of the United States, with over 17 million acres of natural scenery, hiking, and spectacular autumn scenic drives. One of the drives is nicknamed Lakes and Leaves and I’ve chosen it because it is particularly breathtaking in the autumn foliage season.

The Lakes and Leaves scenic drive follows a 218-mile loop through central-west Maine, along the lower western shore of Moosehead Lake, and then runs parallel to the tree-lined banks of the Kennebec River. It’s best experienced over a few days rather than a one-day road trip, and accommodation reservations are recommended if you want to enjoy the best time for fall foliage in Maine.

scenic drive in maine see loon in greenville
Loon spotted on a scenic drive in Maine

1. Starting your tour to admire fall foliage in Maine

In the first part of our scenic drive in Maine, you’ll wind your way to the town of Greenville on the southern tip of Moosehead Lake. Begin your fall foliage tour in the town of Skowhegan by taking Route 150 to Route 151 in Athens. Follow Route 151 west to Newport, where you can take Route 7 to Dover-Foxcroft. Take Route 6 to Guilford, then follow Route 6/15 north to Greenville.

gulf hagas fall foliage in Maine
Best fall foliage in Maine: Buttermilk Falls at Gulf Hagas by Andythrasher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Greenville & Gulf Hagas

Stop at Greenville and relax for a while. Greenville is a center for travelers passionate about hunting, fishing, hiking, and boating in the area. It’s also home to a variety of attractions in the city. One of them is the 110-foot SS Katahdin, a famous steamship that leaves from the center of Greenville and crosses Moosehead Lake during the summer, but also through the beautiful fall foliage in Maine. The ship’s views are dramatic and worth scheduling ahead!

A 20-mile ride east of Greenville takes you to the magnificent Gulf Hagas. You’ll get to explore a breathtaking 3-mile-long canyon with water chutes, waterfalls, deep pools, and vertical walls over 300 feet high in some places. This hike is ideal to see the fall foliage in Maine. For those who spread this scenic drive over a number of days, I wholeheartedly recommend doing this side trip!

The Greenville area also boasts some of the best places to go hiking along the nearby Appalachian Trail and is the best place to stop in this region of Maine if you intend to spread your scenic drive in Maine over several days. Just keep in mind to book your holiday rental in New England early!

2. Rockwood

Our scenic drive in Maine continues along Route 6/15, passing Big Squaw Mountain and Ski Area on the left, winding along the shore of Moosehead Lake to the village of Rockwood. Once at Rockwood, you will see the formidable Mount Kineo with its sheer cliff face rising over 700 feet from the deepest point of Moosehead Lake. A breathtaking sight!

autumn canoe fall foliage in Maine
An autumn canoe ride to admire fall foliage in Maine

3. Jackman

Stay on Route 6/15, heading west to Jackman. This 30-mile stretch of the scenic drive is all about the wilderness and fall foliage in Maine. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the dropping foliage views of the hills next to the scenic lakes and ponds along the route.

Just south of Jackman Route 6/15, take Route 201 and follow Route 201 south towards The Forks, along the National Scenic Byway. Jackman is a canoeing center, famous for the 42-mile Moose River Bow Ride. The canoe trip takes two or three days and is a favorite of many outdoor enthusiasts. This is actually one of the few remaining wilderness canoe trips in the Northeast, and coordinated tours are run by local operators.

forks fall foliage in Maine
Fall foliage in Maine: Indian Pond Campground at The Forks by Eric Moreno, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. The Forks

Continue on Route 201 south to The Forks, where the Kennebec River and the Dead River cross. The Forks is the best place to stop for adventurous whitewater rafting trips on both rivers. A few miles west of The Forks you’ll discover Moxie Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in New England at 90 feet.

lakes and leaves route in maine
Fall foliage in Maine on the Lakes and Leaves Route

5. Fall colors of Bingham

The scenic drive in the ME fall season continues south along Route 201 to Bingham. This stretch of the road follows the Kennebec River via Caratunk, offering spectacular views of fall foliage in Maine over the river and the surrounding hills. I’d say it’s one of the best fall foliage sections on this scenic drive in Maine. That’s why I suggest you stop every now and then to marvel at the way the river has carved this amazing scenery. If you have a camera, don’t be shy to use it for some formidable photos!

Follow Route 201 back to Skowhegan to finish this Maine fall foliage tour.

Unlike other scenic drives in New England, on the Leaves and Lakes scenic drive in Maine, you’ll discover some of the key attractions of the natural rugged beauty of the state’s wilderness, rather than villages and towns or other historic monuments. This is the perfect route to plan an entire vacation around it, but it is also great for fall weekends to admire fall foliage in Maine.

Maine fall foliage guide by…

cristina popescu guest post writer on the travel bunny blog

Cristina Popescu is a Romanian blogger who has been traveling since 2008. She has visited 100+ countries across all continents and accumulated firsthand knowledge about beautiful travel destinations. There is nothing she won’t try at least once in a lifetime and she wishes to encourage others to get out and see the world, too.

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