The small town of Bethel, Maine, just 1.5 hours north of Portland and 5 miles from Maine’s most popular ski area, Sunday River, is a year round resort community nestled in Maine’s Western Lakes and Mountains Region.
Bethel is a town where things are different; where Brooks Brothers sells hardware, Victoria’s Secret is a chocolate raspberry dessert, and the Timberland Outlet is a logging truck exit.
Along the Androscoggin River and huddled at the base of Paradise Hill, Bethel is in fact “just this side of Paradise.” The Funky Red barn is a night club and Gould is a private ski academy.
Things to do in Bethel
Most rural villages are one-industry towns. Bethel, Maine is a rare blend of forestry, woods product manufacturing, education, and tourism. In the past decade, the community has become home to active retirees and professionals who have embraced Bethel’s small town nature over that of cities.
Today, Bethel has become the place to get away from it all, but more and more – it has it all.
Sunday River Ski Area
In 1959 a group of local businessmen formed the Bethel Development Corporation. To develop four-season recreation, their first project, funded by local shareholders, was Sunday River Skiway. Over forty years later, Bethel is busiest as a tourist destination in the winter, thanks to the success of Sunday River Ski Area, than the summer.
Grafton Notch State Park
Grafton Notch State Park is a section of the Appalaichain trail just outside of Bethel that draws visitors year round for an adventure.
There are two main trails that travel to the Notch’s summit; and offers a challenge even for seasoned hikers, but the commanding views of the Mahoosuc Mountain Range are worth it. In the winter, the park is open for ice climbing and rock climbing in the summer.
History of Bethel Maine
Settled in 1774 by land grantees from Massachusetts who had fought in the campaign to conquer Canada in 1690, Bethel’s original name was Sudbury Canada. Farming was the mainstay of the region until 1851 when the country’s first international railroad connecting Portland, Maine to Montreal was built.
The trains brought summer visitors from the cities to breathe the fresh air and partake of homegrown food. The railroad carried lumber and milled wood products back to the urban markets.
Bethel is a significant educational center thanks to the generosity of William Bingham II (a modern day patron saint) who endowed Gould Academy and whose foundation continues to provide funding for educational and social purposes in the community at this top private ski and snowboard academy.
In the early decades of the 20th century, Bethel was home to Dr. Gehring’s famous clinic for the treatment of nervous disorders. The National Training Laboratory, now known as the NTL Institute, was established in 1947. NTL specializes in human dynamics and organizational development, attracting participants from around the world. In 1981 Hurricane Island Outward Bound School for outdoor experiential education established its Mountain Center in nearby Newry.
Bethel’s townspeople continue to embrace innovation while maintaining their small town culture. Bethel was one of the first communities in Maine connected to the Internet. They built the World’s Tallest Snowman and Snowoman, and continue to host the National Wife Carrying Championships along with events, concerts, and craft fairs all year round.