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Scenic Foliage Drives

Maine Foliage Driving Tour

Oxford Hills and Lakes Region

by Wayne Curtis


Photograph of Fryeburg, ME
Submitted by Jean Davis

Photograph of Fryeburg, ME
Submitted by Jenda Bailey

Photograph of Lovell, ME
Submitted by Dan Marion

Photograph of Sunday River, ME
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.

DAY ONE

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-95), 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.

Managed 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.

Reader Comments

Comment from on September 9, 2008

If you put this in either Google Maps or Yahoo Maps format it would be a big help.

Larry - Hobe Sound (one color) Florida

Comment from Wendy Tyler on August 17, 2010

You say you are in Bethel but you really never go near the town With Gould Academy, the Bethel Inn and common, the magnificent churches and awsome restauants you really missed out on what bethel is.

Comment from Deborah Judkins on August 27, 2012

If you like a scenic byway, from Bethel take 26 and 2 past the Sunday River Ski Area road in Newry and take 26 to the left up through Grafton Notch to visit Screw Auger Falls and Moose Cave. The road will take you through Upton, Me right on the NH state line where you can take a look at Umbagog Lake. The views are spectacular in the Fall and the foliage unbeatable the first week of October. There is a wonderful place to stay overnight in Upton called the Upton House. Google them to find contact information. And, several historic buildings in town include The Grange Hall, The Upton Union Church, The Upton Schoolhouse (which now houses the Upton Historical Society on the upper floor) and the Upton Ladies Aid Association building. All of these buildings date from about 1850 to 1890 and are still used by the townspeople. Continuing on Route 26 to Errol, NH brings you to LL Cote's store where you can buy about anything you might need and see all of the stuffed wildlife that is housed there on display including a white Bull Moose. The Hawg Trof is just past the junction with Route 16 and a great place to have any meal. You can take Route 16 down to Berlin and Gorham, NH and then reconnect with Route 2 in Gorham so you can get back to Bethel, Maine. This is probably an extra day or two added to your trip but well worth it.

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