Recent rains have helped bring out the brilliance of the foliage colors across Aroostook County.
Viewed from the public boat landing near the Presque Isle International Airport on Sept. 30, 2022, Hanson Lake shows vivid autumn colors under sunny skies. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Presque Isle Star-Herald

Autumn in Aroostook County is nothing if not colorful. 

When September came to an end on Friday, vivid hues appeared in stark contrast among evergreen forests and harvested fields from south of Houlton to the St. John Valley.

The County is the first place in Maine to reach peak color, which should happen this week, said experts at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Fall foliage is one of the biggest draws for tourists coming to Maine. More than 2.2 million people visited between September and November last year from out of state, said Robert White, director of facilities and visitors center operations for the Maine Office of Tourism. Those numbers were up 8 percent over the previous year, White said, citing data from the office and Downs & St. Germain Research. 

Before the pandemic, autumn was the second-most popular tourist season, drawing around 25 percent to 30 percent of the state’s visitors, tourism officials said on MaineTree.com. In 2018, tourists spent $277 million on lodging between September and November.

Summer ranked first, with about 60 percent of visitors, and winter was third.

Nothing says fall in Aroostook County like a harvested field in Mapleton (left) surrounded by colorful trees and golden birch leaves (right) falling all around this path at Presque Isle’s Mantle Lake park on Sept. 30, 2022. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Presque Isle Star-Herald

The department issues its weekly Fall Foliage Report from mid-September through late October, with information on how shades are unfolding in every part of the state.

Recent rains have helped bring out the brilliance as well. Favorable moisture increases color, while extremely dry conditions often make leaves fall before they reach their peak, according to Climate Central. Drought during the growing season can also lessen color.

Aroostook was the only one of Maine’s 16 counties that did not see drought this summer.

Fall was just beginning to tint trees in the Dover-Foxcroft area over the weekend.

“We are in the midst of our shorter sunny days followed by our long, cool nights which brings about the brilliant fall colors that we all so enjoy,” said Gale Ross, fall foliage spokesperson.

Widespread frost and cooler temperatures will move northern Maine to the height of its color this first week of October, Ross said. Hues will change daily throughout the state, with southernmost areas reaching peak conditions within the next couple of weeks.

Foliage turns to autumn colors along the Piscataquis River in Dover-Foxcroft, while leaves start turning over the Sebec River in Milo. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom / Piscataquis Observer

Northern Maine showed high color as of the most recent report on Sept. 28, with forest rangers in the region reporting little leaf drop. That adds up to good viewing.

The midportion of the state, which includes from Houlton to Calais in the east and western points from Jackman to Bethel, was at moderate levels.

Central and southwestern Maine, including Bangor, August and Fryeburg, and Down East displayed low autumn hues, with midcoast and south coastal regions showing the lowest levels of color.