Inland Maine Fall Foliage Drive
Swaths of pine, spruce, and fir trees offset the red, orange, and yellow of maples and birches along this popular foliage drive through Western Maine's mountains, but hardwoods largely dominate the landscape.
Wending its way to the four-season resort town of Rangeley, near its northern terminus, the route passes by or near stunning overlooks, forest-lined lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails, and a state park.
From Mexico, Route 17 heads north from U.S. 2, flowing past old homesteads and fields along the Swift River Valley before making the winding, mountainous ascent to Height of Land, the drive's literal pinnacle. This must-stop overlook has off-road parking, interpretive panels, stone seating, and a path to the nearby Appalachian Trail. Mountain vistas are reflected in the many (and often connected) lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. On a clear day you can see west to New Hampshire and Canada. Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Upper Richardson Lake seem to float in the sea of forestland below. A few miles north of here is an overlook for Rangeley Lake, also with interpretive panels.
Best Time to Go
Fall color usually peaks in the Rangeley area in the first or second week of October. Get fall foliage updates at www.mainefoliage.com.
Planning Your Time
The Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway (www.byways.org) makes up much of this 59-mile drive (1½ hours without stops), but plan for a relaxed full day of exploring.
In tiny, welcoming Oquossoc, where Routes 17 and 4 meet, The Farmer's Daughter welcomes passersby with displays of pumpkins and mums during autumn. Inside the seasonal specialty foods store you can pick up apple cider and picnic items. Or stop at the Gingerbread House Restaurant for a meal, or just ice cream or baked goods. The hamlet is also home to the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, where you can learn why visitors have come here to fish, hunt, and enjoy the outdoors since the mid-1800s.
Rangeley, 7 miles east on Route 4, has restaurants, inns, waterfront parks, and outdoorsy shops. The countryside sweeps into view along public hiking trails at both Saddleback Maine ski resort and the 175-acre Wilhelm Reich Museum.
The road to Rangeley Lake State Park is accessible from both Routes 4 and 17, as is the Appalachian Trail. Overhanging foliage frames waterfalls at the scenic rest areas at or near each end of the drive: Smalls Falls on Route 4, the byway's eastern terminus, and Coos Canyon on Route 17 en route to Height of Land. Both spots have several falls, swimming holes, and paths with views of the drops. Coos Canyon is along the Swift River, a destination for recreational gold panning. You can rent or buy panning equipment at Coos Canyon Rock and Gift, across from its namesake. It also sells sandwiches and snacks.
Need a Break?
The Farmer's Daughter. At The Farmer's Daughter, much of the produce—including pumpkins and gourds come fall—is from the family farm. At the bakery counter, you can buy a cup of coffee or apple cider in season. 13 Rumford Rd., Oquossoc, ME, 04964. 207/864–2492.
Wilhelm Reich Museum. This museum showcases the life and work of controversial physician-scientist Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957). There are magnificent views from the observatory and the many trails on the 175-acre grounds. 19 Orgonon Circle, off Rte. 4, Rangeley, ME, 04970. 207/864–3443. www.wilhelmreichtrust.org. Museum $6, grounds free. Museum July and Aug., Wed.–Sun. 1–5; Sept., Sat. 1–5. Grounds daily 9–5.
Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust. This trust protects 13,000 acres of area land. It has trail maps and information about outdoor activities in the area. 52 Carry Rd., Oquossoc, ME, 04964. 207/864–7311. www.rlht.org.
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