Leaf-peeping

Can a leaf have its own website? How about a phone number? If you are a fan of Maine’s fall foliage, you’ll be pleased to know that the answer is “yes” on both counts. Affectionately called “leaf peepers,” visitors who come to enjoy the state’s annual riot of deciduous color can find up-to-the-minute foliage reports at MaineFoliage.com. They also can call the Maine Foliage Hotline at 1-888-MAINE-45.

The official foliage website, hosted by the State of Maine government, is a particularly useful source. In addition to foliage reports, the site offers a Kids’ Page full of fun facts; a Q&A section that tells you everything you need to know, such as how to take good pictures or how to preserve leaves; a guide to When & Where to Visit; and even a photo gallery.

According to Gale Ross, who’s been managing Maine’s online foliage reports and telephone hotline since 1996, “three to four thousand people visit the website during the six weeks of foliage season.” They typically want to know not only where to go to find peak conditions, she adds, “but also where to see a moose or eat a lobster. All the fun touristy things people like to do.”

The foliage season normally runs from mid-September to late October, Ross notes. “But people really need to pay attention to the weather. It’s the biggest contributing factor determining what kind of season we’ll have.” The best conditions for a colorful fall are average temperatures in spring and summer, with adequate rain and sunshine, along with warm nights and cool evenings beginning in mid-August.

“If we have a wet spring and a wet summer,” Ross says, “the trees get stressed and they defoliate early.”

The foliage reports that Ross posts are based on seven zones:

ZONE 7Northeastern Maine, including Fort Kent, Caribou & Presque Isle
ZONE 6Northwestern Maine
ZONE 5Western Mid-Maine, including Greenville, Rangeley & Bethel
ZONE 4Eastern Mid-Maine, including Houlton, Millinocket & Calais
ZONE 3Central & Southwestern Maine, including Bangor, Augusta & Fryeburg
ZONE 2Downeast Maine, including Machias, Bar Harbor & Penobscot Bay
ZONE 1 Mid-coast & South Coastal Maine,including Camden, Portland, Kennebunkport &
Kittery

While getting the timing just right for leaf peeping in Maine can be tricky, Ross says, visitors can usually count on good viewing in northern Maine during the last week in September, in central and western Maine during the first week in October, and in coastal and southern Maine during the second and third weeks in October.

As for the best routes to follow, MaineFoliage.com suggests dozens of options, but if you want a recommendation from a pro, talk to Ross. “My favorite area is the western mountains,” she says, “along Route 27 through the Carrabasset Valley and on over to the Rangeley Lakes.” She should know. “When people are still enjoying the July 4th holiday, I start working on the upcoming foliage season,” she laughs.