Come to Bethel Maine, where history and modern delights blend among the tapestry of towering mountains and river flats. The town’s name means “House of God,” and visiting is a truly sacred experience.
Roam the picturesque streets lined with charming colonial buildings, each whispering stories of the past. Surround yourself with the stunning natural beauty at the cusp of the White Mountains. It should come as no surprise that tourists (formerly known as rusticators) searched for solace here after the Civil War.
Home to acclaimed skiing and jeweled secrets tucked into the mountains, Bethel has managed to be a big vacation spot without becoming big. USA Today ranked Bethel as the No. 6 Best Ski Town in America, and there are so many other things to do in Bethel Maine as well.
Bethel’s off-the-grid appeal doesn’t sacrifice luxury and allure. It’s as tough as it is tasteful. It might be just 12 miles from New Hampshire, but it’s a million miles away from all your worries.
Outdoor Things to Do in Bethel Maine
Bethel’s allure as an outdoor destination is documented back to the post-Civil War area, once a playground for the rich. Now, it accommodates all budgets and brings a unique charm that makes it the pinnacle of four-season outdoor Maine recreation.
Sunday River got its name from the biblical reference to Sunday being a day for rest and recreation. Eight peaks fill the resort property, now one of the largest of its kind in New England with 135 trails. The amenities of the resort give it that Aspen vibe without being smug.
The resort also offers trendy “Chondola” rides, which is a hybrid between a gondola and a ski lift. Keep an eye out for Eddy & Betty the Yetis on the mountain and in the lodge. You might even ski right past their home!
The Mt. Abram Maine resort is a winter wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts. With 51 trails and 1,150 feet of vertical drop, it offers diverse terrain for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.
When the snow is gone, the mountain turns into a mountain bike park with trails from easy to elite and mountain biking lessons available for all ages.
If sliding around the mountainside is more your speed, Carter’s XC (Cross-Country) Ski is for you. Skis are available for rent, along with fat bikes, snowshoes, skate skis, and sleds. Ski lessons are available to get comfortable with every rental option.
With so many outdoor options, it can be intimidating to find the perfect place to start that matches your skill level. That’s where Bethel Outdoor Adventures can help. An expert guide can take you through the backcountry or on groomed trails in the winter, with paddling, hiking, and wildlife tours in the summer.
This guide service offers an expansive list of things to do, like canoe trips, dog sledding, fishing, and Indigenous culture tours. The dog sledding tour is a must for pet lovers because you get to help hitch the team and can pet them as much as you’d like.
“… even if our bodies returned to our jobs, our minds are off skiing down the lake, patting the dogs, and sitting on boughs in the cook tent.”Bill Clark after taking a dog-sledding tour
Land trusts are treasures in Maine and generally offer looser dog rules on preserved land that doesn’t get as crowded at state parks or ski resorts. Locations in this land trust include Buck’s Ledge Community Forest and Tumbledown Dick Mountain. There’s a wonderful swimming spot at Frenchman’s Hole.
TRAVEL TIP: Tumbledown Dick Mountain is not the same place as Tumbledown Mountain, though both are amazing pieces of preserved land in Maine.
The land trust surrounds Grafton Notch State Park, and the two share one of the most challenging sections of the Appalachian Trail. The summit of Old Speck stands 4,000 feet above sea level with a fire tower at the top that you can (carefully) climb.
The Moose Caves are a popular destination, but don’t let the name mislead you. The trail runs along a gorge that has a cave crevasse near the center. The caves were named for the ill-fated moose that made a misstep and fell in.
This adventure company has a campground and many adventure tours to consider, but the real gem here that stands out is the sluicing. Buy a bucket of rocks and search through the different gems and minerals.
TRAVEL TIP: Another rockhounding adventure is available in nearby West Paris at Dig Maine Gems.
Gibson’s Apple Orchard in West Bethel offers much more than just apples as seasonal harvests for raspberries bring guests in throughout the summer.
You can pick your own apples and buy fresh-squeezed cider. Don’t forget to grab some of that famous Maine syrup too. And, you can visit it in the fall for the pumpkin festival.
Head 12 miles down Route 35 to see the World Traveler Signpost. This roadside attraction lists the distance to towns that bear country or international city names, like Paris, Norway, and Peru.
Why does Maine have so many cities named after international places? Some were as a tribute to immigrants’ home countries, others were celebrating the fight for independence those countries had, and others were simple typos that never got fixed. For example, Norway Maine was supposed to be called Norage.
HOW DO YOU SAY THAT? While Maine has certain tongue twisting words — like Mooselookmeguntic — you can’t even look at the towns of Madrid (MAD-rid) and Vienna (VY-enna) and assume you know how to pronounce them. Ask a local and follow suit.
Go Chasing Waterfalls
This region is known for some of the most popular waterfalls in Maine. A sampling includes:
Watch your footing around waterfalls and never go to the edge and look over. The wet rocks can be as slippery as ice.
Indoor Things to Do in Bethel Maine
Bethel takes pride in its history, and many indoor options include celebrating the land and legacy of the community.
If you don’t think Maine has a lot of interesting natural artifacts, then you don’t know Schist (or Slate, or Pegmatite, etc.). This unique museum celebrates the art of rocks, minerals, and gems from Maine to Mars.
In fact, the largest piece of Mars on Earth is located here, along with a rock garden that shows all the varieties found in the bedrock of the state. Also, the museum went viral during a plea for help to find pieces of a meteor that exploded over the Downeast & Acadia region.
The historical society could actually be the entire town, as so many buildings are preserved in the historic district. The formal museum includes two buildings and a baker’s dozen of exhibits. If you’re here during the holidays, don’t miss “Christmas at the Mason House.”
Nobody can tell a story like a Mainer, and this art gallery celebrates the work of famous artists capturing beautiful scenes, each with a story behind it. Artwork includes woodwork, glassblowing, and quilts. Check the schedule for local events and kids’ activities too.
You can’t blame Bethel Maine for holding onto its roots, but you’ll see The Gem and know that this town can colorfully look to the future. The Gem looks nothing like your hometown option, with bright colors blending along the exterior. Inside, blockbusters mix with performances by Bethel’s best performers.
Five generations of family lived in the Hastings Homestead for more than 200 years. Now a museum, this 1820s property is preserved as a time capsule, connecting history, the arts, and nature.
Additional Attractions Near Bethel Maine
Nearby New Hampshire offers a handful of great activities within easy driving distance.
Just 30 minutes from Bethel, you can climb the Mt. Washington Auto Road, and we do mean CLIMB. This road is steep and challenging for even the best vehicles. The reward is reaching the top of Mt. Washington, known as having the “World’s Worst Weather.“
Shelburn Reflection Pond
Anyone taking a trip to New Hampshire should stop at Reflection Pond just west of the state line in Shelburn. This is one of those perfectly still lakes where the landscape is mirrored in the water. Ideally, visit during sunrise, sunset, or peak fall color season.
Restaurants in Bethel Maine
Bethel Maine has many restaurant options to keep you energized for exploring the town’s natural and historic wonders.
Casual Dining Options
Pete’s Griddle wants to see you “Wicked Soon,” and if we could grab the French Dip special right through the computer screen, we would! This place is such a favorite for lunch and dinner that it added breakfast hours four days a week.
For another breakfast option and lunch, Crossroads Diner is open with an extensive menu, including Frank’s New York pizza. During late summer, try the blueberry muffins with the wild Maine blueberry at the peak of the season.
Feed that lobster roll craving or budget a few burgers — like the chicken and waffles or the surf and turf — at the Butcher Burger. Triple-cooked Butcher fries are available by the pound. This is one of several restaurants in Bethel that compost all leftovers.
Mountain Social Kitchen & Bar
The menu is short but so creative, infusing duck, scallops, oysters, meat, and a variety of pasta to the menu. The drink menu includes Maine-made beers, wines, and mixed drinks.
Cho Sun 207
We love that even upscale doesn’t mean that you have to dress up too much, and Cho Sun 207 makes that very clear, touting itself as “A casual, yet elegant & exotic dining experience in the heart of Bethel.”
Korean and Japanese offerings fill the menu with wine and sake on standby. Tables are available by candlelight or outdoor torches when the weather is warm.
Le Mu Eats
Le Mu Eats brings a Latin American twist to Western Maine with a colorful exterior to match the colorful menu. You’ll find a mix of international finds and American favorites, with brunch service on weekends. The chef is very much into monochromatic colors, so take an Instagram photo before you eat.
Coffee & Dessert Shops
Gemini Cafe & Bakery
The Gemini Cafe & Bakery is a dream come true for the two owners, who feel like they’re “twins,” hence the name. This is more than great pastries and a cup of coffee. It’s a community gathering place where old friends reconnect and new friends are made.
Black Diamond Nutrition
If frozen coffee or an energy drink is your cup of tea, stop by Black Diamond Nutrition on your way to Sunday River. Coffee selections include a “healthier” version that’s just as tasty. Weekly specials like the glazed donut coffee will certainly make this a favorite stop on your Maine adventure.
The Bethel Sugar Shack
The Bethel Sugar Shack has burgers and pizza, but you’ll be drawn to the soft-serve and hard-serve ice cream too. From the Snickers ice cream cake to the s’mores cheesecake, this place will surely satisfy your sweet tooth. Don’t forget the Maine classic dessert at the Whoopie Pie counter too.
Wineries & Breweries
This brewery sits right along the river near the main road, making it an easy stop without having to go all the way to the resort. Commonly referred to as “the brewpub” around town, this popular gathering spot was the third brewpub in the entire state, opening in 1993.
This brewery was named after the famous mill that was once fueled by river waters. The owners grew up in this area and started small-batch brewing in a garage before finally getting this location just north of the Sunday River brewery. And, don’t miss summer nights in the brew garden.
Bethel Maine Hotels & Other Lodging
The accommodations in Bethel range from basic to bougie, with a lot of history tucked inside many hotels.
Families will love the spacious layout of the two-bedroom suites in this charming bed & breakfast dating back to 1873. Two restaurants, a heated porch, and a brewpub round out the amenities of this lively inn.
Plan for live music three nights a week and an open-mic night for those who want to entertain the crowds. Free shuttles are available to and from Sunday River as well.
This resort welcomes budget travelers on the road between Sunday River and downtown Bethel Maine. The views of the Androscoggin River are calming, with an indoor pool to make a splash year-round. Deluxe rooms, suites, and efficiency rooms meet the need of all travelers.
All roads of Western Maine Yurts lead to the eight options in the forest community of Chandler Brook Village. Guests are close enough to the ski resorts and downtown Bethel while still being near trails out the back door. The yurts are tough enough for winter stays, with arctic insulation and a stove in each unit.
This might be the most pet-friendly accommodation in Maine. Dog sitting is available for all guests, with a 2,000-foot fenced yard out back. Plush dog beds for sleeping and life jackets for romping in the water are available. Dogs also get special frozen treats. Oh… and people are welcome too.
More to Learn About Bethel Maine
Bethel’s history is so finely woven into the fabric of history that, if not for a few key moments, it could still be a watering hole for moose.
The Battle of Quebec was a battle between France and New England in 1860. Land for what is now Bethel was given to a handful of soldiers’ descendants. They named it Sudbury-Canada.
Settling Bethel didn’t come easy. Indigenous people roamed the land at a time the English and French were gobbling up land in what is now Maine and eastern Canada.
The legendary Molly Ockett was born into the Abenaki tribe, but her healing powers were shared with both settlers and natives. She might have been Maine’s very first mediator.
Bethel is also the site of the “Last Indian Raid in New England.” Two local men were held hostage until the end of the Revolutionary War. They returned to Bethel and built the town that evolved into a tourist destination for the upper class.
Between the hard workers of the lumber industry and the fertile soil of low-lying lands next to rivers, the mountains slowly blossomed into wilderness adventures that we still cherish today.
Bethel Maine Weather
Bethel gets nearly 8 feet of snow each winter, and what the weather systems don’t create, the ski resorts do. The ski season runs from late October to late April, so bring all your winter accessories.
Summers bring warmer temperatures from June through August, with highs in the upper 70s and mild nights dipping into the 50s. Bug spray, sunscreen, and worn-in hiking boots will be needed. Rain boots will be helpful for the flash flooding that accompanies spring storms.
FAQs About Bethel Maine
Is Bethel Maine pet-friendly?
Paws Inn isn’t the only establishment in Bethel Maine that welcomes pets, though it does go above and beyond. Most of the accommodations here are pet friendly.
The ski resorts don’t allow dogs on the mountain, but they can be at the base areas. Your dog will love sticking its head out the window on a covered bridges scenic drive.
Most adventure tour companies will welcome your pet to come along as well, but ask before booking.
What festivals are held in Bethel Maine?
What is the closest airport to Sunday River and Bethel Maine?
The largest commercial airport is Portland International Jetport, about 90 minutes away. Augusta State Airport is about the same distance but only has flights to Boston through Cape Air.
Discover Everything About Bethel Maine
Bethel has managed to pack a lot into a small town thanks to the expansive region. From the Appalachian Trail to the waterfalls to the ski slopes to the versatile culinary scene, this town will continue to be one of the best small towns in Maine to visit.