Maine Foliage Driving Tour
Oxford Hills and Lakes Region
by Wayne Curtis
Submitted by Jean Davis
Submitted by Jenda Bailey
Submitted by Dan Marion
Submitted by Donna Mac
FORTUNATE QUIRKS OF geography have saved both the region of western Maine from Bethel to Fryeburg and the area from the New Hampshire border to the Waterfords from condo developers and the tourism industry. Most travelers passing through, usually on Routes 2 or 302, are hustling from the tourist meccas of coastal Maine to those near North Conway. They barely slow down to enjoy the scenery. Too bad: Rolling hills, granite balds, cold and deep lakes, and unassuming villages give the Oxford Hills a magical, remote feel.
Seeing the region doesn't require extended car travel -- it's more a matter of getting there, then staying put or traveling about by foot. Try to visit during the world-famous (well, nearly) Fryeburg Fair in early October, a quintessential country fair of the highest order. If your timing doesn't work out, don't worry. The region's quiet attractions still hold plenty of allure.
This trip begins in Gray and concentrates on the Oxford Hills and Lakes region. We guarantee lots of vistas, a spectacular drive through Evans Notch, and the easiest hike with a real payoff at the top.
From the Maine Turnpike (I-495), take exit 63 (formerly exit 11) to Gray and pick up Route 26, the sometimes scenic, sometimes not, traffic backbone of the area. If you are an animal lover or are traveling with children, don't miss the Maine Wildlife Park. What started in 1931 as a farm to raise pheasants for release during bird-hunting season has evolved into a haven for orphaned and injured wildlife.
Run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a group of devoted volunteers, the park maintains both natural habitats for the animals as well as several nature trails, offers education programs, and has a gift shop run by the Maine Audubon Society. On our visit we saw bears, a big-antlered moose tucked safely in his hut, fishers, coyotes, peacocks, wild turkeys, a mountain lion, raccoons, and a wonderful selection of birds of prey, including barred and great horned owls, bald eagles, and kestrels. Many picnic tables are available under the shade of tall pines, and snacks are sold in the little shop.
The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community and Museum is just eight miles north of Gray. At this, the last active Shaker community, harvest is the ideal time to visit. The air is filled with the sweet smell of their famous herbs drying in the autumn sun. Tours of the 17 white-clapboard buildings are available. You'll learn about the history of the Shakers and the Englishwoman Ann Lee who founded this religious sect in 1775. We got a start on holiday shopping in the store that sells Shaker crafts (we doubt you'll be able to pass up the lovely oval boxes), furniture, herbs, baked goods, and fudge.
As you drive along Route 26 north, you'll see stretches dotted with mobile and modular homes, some rural poverty, and stunning views of foliage in the Oxford Hills. Agriculture is vital to this part of Maine, and the countryside reflects it with working farms and farm stands, where you'll find maple syrup, homemade ice cream, baked goods, cheeses, jams, and even bison meat.
Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.