I have to really thank you folks for the suggestions on drives through the mountains from western Maine. What a great time we had. Of course, it helped that the weather this past week (Oct 1-3) was spectacular.
(Warning - the words spectacular, gorgeous, glorious, fantastic, beautiful.... are used a LOT here. I have run out of adjectives!)
We drove from the MA/NH border up Rt. 95 to Portland. The colors even around the southern coast were surprisingly very pretty. At Portland we turned west to pick up Rt. 302 through Naples (a very pretty town with some nice vistas by the lakes) to Bridgton, Maine, where we were staying at a B&B in town. Note to those who like to shop/putter around interesting shops - make this drive with someone who will actually STOP at all the antique shops/thrift stores/farm stands along Rt. 302! LOL....
We arrived in Bridgton before 1pm, having made great time since we did not stop at any off the said thrift/antique shops... Our B&B was the Noble House Inn - a very pretty "homey" and comfortable place. See my separate review. We enjoyed our stay very much.
As we were able to check in early, we chose to use the rest of the day to go to the Fryeburg Fair. Mmmmmmm..... meh. Growing up on the North Shore of MA, we usually go to the Topsfield Fair in the fall. I think there is more to see and do there. Hubby was not a fan of the "Gobbler" sandwich (turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce), which was shredded turkey in gravy, as compared to the one at Topsfield, which is turkey slices. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that it actually HOT that day, and hubby can't walk very well, and he had been doing the driving/not stopping. I know others like the Fryeburg Fair a lot, so maybe we just weren't in the right frame of mind. Plus, it was Tuesday, and there were no big events going on (I think woodsman's day would be fun, but heard it was very crowded). We did have a nice ride on the ferris wheel (view of the mountains) and went shopping (FINALLY!) in the specialty foods tent. Bought some cheese, delicious blueberry pepper jelly, and artisan bread to bring back to the B&B for a snack. We got back just as the sun was setting, sat on the porch of our B&B, drank champagne and had our snacks, then had a great sleep.
The next morning we woke early, had breakfast, and were on the road by 9am. The weather was crystal clear, and warm. Just lovely. We headed north, and followed the route set out by TA's MainerOnTheGo. Rt. 117 to Harrison, on the north end of Long Lake.... some very nice views here over the lake, which was so placid in the early morning, with some decent foliage colors (maybe halfway to peak on Tuesday, so probably very pretty right today). We then headed further north on Rt. 35 to Bethel, making sure to stop for photos at the iconic Maine signpost at the intersection of 35 and Rt. 5.
Headed into Bethel, ME, where we took a short side trip north, following Rt. 5, to Sunday River and the Sunday River covered bridge (aka the Artists' Bridge). This is a really pretty, rustic bridge, and the fall colors were just lovely. But still not peak here on the eastern side of the White Mountains on Oct 1st.
From Bethel (pretty town, would like to spend some more time here) we headed west on Rt. 2 to Gorham, NH, passing by the Shelburne Birches mentioned by MainerOnTheGo. There is a picnic area there, but it was closed off. I'm pretty sure this had nothing to do with the gov't shutdown.... there were a few other places to pull over for photos, but a Certain Someone was driving again... :-)
From Gorham, we headed south on Rt. 16 through Pinkham Notch. I was excited for two things - finally seeing the top of Mt. Washington, and taking the Wildcat Mountain gondola to get some scenic vistas.
Remember I mentioned how clear and spectacular the weather was? Mmmmmm.... Mt. Washington had other ideas. The peak was completely clouded over... Oh well, the rest of the sky was clear so we'll head to Wildcat anyway. Got there and the parking lot was empty, which I considered surprising considering how nice the weather was.... except....nope, it was closed. Turned out I got my info incorrect, the gondola is only open on weekends in the fall. Darn, there goes two hours of our plans. Hubby then convinced me to attempt to go up Mt. Washington anyway. We got to the visitor center, where we found out that the winds at the peak were over 60mph and the windchill was in the 30's, and the cloud cover had got worse. Seeing the top of Mt. Washington was not to be.
The foliage in the valley was incredible anyway, so we continued south, stopping and taking photos pretty much everywhere. We stopped at Glen Ellis Falls, thinking maybe the falls would be close enough for Dave, my hubby, to view (he has limited mobility). But it wasn't really doable for him with all the stairs. I took in the falls without him as he waited up top. Very pretty little walk but a lot of stairs.
The colors in the notch and valley were soooo nice. In Jackson, we stopped for a while, checking out the Honeymoon Covered Bridge. From there, the Intervale overlook area (the visitor center was... closed ;-( ) Mt. Washington was still clouded over. I resigned myself to never seeing the top of that mountain. Continuing south, we had so much time left before we had to be in Fryeburg ME for our dinner reservation, that we decided to head to Cathedral Ledge. The views are as gorgeous as I remember, even though they don't face to Mt. Washington.
From Cathedral Ledge, we took West Side Rd south, conveniently missing the North Conway shopping outlets :-( and ended up at the Swift River Covered Bridge, then passing the Saco River Covered Bridge into Conway. From there, we headed east on Rt. 113 towards Fryeburg. Instead of following Rt. 302/113 though, we picked up E. Conway Rd. to get off the main drag. It was a pretty drive through the river valley, past farmlands, and into Fryeburg, ME.
Our anniversary dinner was at the Oxford House Inn, and we arrived well before our reservation. So we settled onto their back lawn, which faces west overlooking the river valley and mountains, with a draft beer and an appreciation for some "sitting time". Our dinner was fabulous, and our table had the same views, as the sun set. See separate review.
The next morning, our check-out day, and hubby asked what we wanted to do. Head straight home, or take another drive? I was hoping to hit up some of those thrift shops/antique stores... but it was another glorious sunny and warm fall day, and hubby had another idea. Let's go back and see if Mt. Washington is clear!
OK, twist my arm... LOL.... We headed back through Fryeburg, and I had the idea to try another back road. We headed over to Intervale via Hurricane Mountain Rd. It must have some spectacular views, right? Wrong. It's an ....interesting road. Twisting, turning, and seemingly straight up the mountain, but not a single vista - all trees. Pretty trees, though :-) So we came out onto Rt 16 again, and almost immediately we found ourselves at the Intervale Visitor Center again, with it's spectacular view of Mt. Washington, which was.... totally clear! Woot! 54 years living in MA and NH, and I had never seen the observatory before. And the foliage was gorgeous, and the weather was lovely, and... well, hubby gets points for his choice today :-)
So we decided to take the very long way home, and headed north and west along Rt. 302 through Bartlett and our 5th covered bridge of the trip (this one turned into a gift shop, bleh) and through Crawford Notch - another route I have never taken before. Wow. The foliage must be at exactly peak right now, as there was not a single tree that wasn't a pine that wasn't yellow, red or orange. The hillsides were ablaze, and I made Dave stop at every place to pull over and get photos of the babbling Saco River, covered with yellow falling leaves. There was a small pull-over on the north/west bound side of the road, and it looked like lots of folks were taking photos, but you couldn't see much form the road. I got Dave to stop, and we came upon the most beautiful vista through a field in a valley, with Mt. Washington in the background. The field was covered with purple flowers, the foliage was orange, the mountain was purple in the background and the sky was brilliant blue. Postcard-worthy. Somewhere either right before or after this vista, was the Willey House historic site, another nice little stop. Have I mentioned the foliage? Man, I have never seen so much orange in my life.
Another stop at Silver Cascade, and I was a happy camper, thinking we would head home and have great memories. But Dave had another idea, and just as I was saying what beautiful scenery there was along Crawford Notch, BAM! We turn a corner and there is Bretton Woods, the White Mountain Resort Hotel, and the great expanse of the Presidential Range with Mt. Washington in all it's glory. Holy moley.
So we drove up to the hotel, walked out to the veranda overlooking the mountains, ordered up a cheese tray and wine, and sat there for another two hours, just gazing and snapping pictures. Life. Is. Good.
Reluctantly headed through Franconia Notch, south on Rt. 93, and we were home by 5pm. Fantastic trip, fantastic weather, fantastic foliage. Never saw anything like it.
Get out there soon!Edited: 06 October 2013, 18:55