If all the Maine ski resorts and mountains were a big family, then Sunday River would be the fun uncle. The resort brings skiing Santas, wandering yetis, fireworks, and night skiing while still staying loyal to the family business of operating an epic ski destination well worth leaving the lighthouses and craggy coastline behind.
Sunday River isn’t just a mountain — it’s a collection of eight connected peaks anchored by a base where the party and Apres events always seem to be the stuff of legends. And we haven’t even gotten to the warm weather activities at nature’s playground that expand further into Western Maine’s majesty.
Oh, but we will …
Getting to Know Sunday River
First of all, it’s important to know that Sunday River is an actual river and a ski destination. The resort’s namesake river is a tributary to the Androscoggin River.
The ski resort is located in Newry about 80 miles north/northwest of Portland and just 6 miles from the picturesque town of Bethel. Plus, New Hampshire is 14 miles west as the crow flies, but you’ll drive 20 to 30 miles to cross the state line by car.
Sunday River History
Les Otten kicked off Sunday River Ski Resort in 1959, starting small and blowing up into the epic winter spot we know today. He hustled hard, adding lifts and trails and turning it into a go-to place for diverse skiing.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Otten ramped things up big time, introducing cool stuff like the Sunday River SuperQuad. The resort is all about that snow game too and a killer snowmaking system that keeps the slopes solid.
The resort keeps reimagining the art of skiing and its newest lifts rank as some of the most advanced chairlifts in the world and the fastest of their kind in North America. And, did we mention the heated seats?
The Resort Layout at Sunday River
Hearing that a resort has eight peaks might be intimidating, but they are all connected by trails. Plus, each mountain has a lift or quad. Let’s break down each mountain and difficulty level.
This double-diamond mountain is for the most advanced skiers, with 23 trails, three lifts, and a 2,425-foot elevation.
The first trails of Sunday River were carved here. Among the 19 trails, two were designed for racing down from the summit. Two lifts reach the 2,520-foot elevation here.
One of Maine’s finest spring skiing locations, Barker Mountain, is also the hub of resort access. Fifteen trails and one lift serve this slope with a mix of beginning-to-experienced terrain.
Spruce Peak is centrally located with eight trails and one lift access at a top elevation of 2,690 feet. Corduroy trails and long runs allow easy access to the western side of the range.
Topping out at 2,140 feet, a Chondola (chairlift/gondola hybrid) takes you to the best family-friendly area of the mountain. You’ll have 20 trails to choose from and Peak Lodge accommodations at this mid-mountain mainstay.
On a mountain known for crowds, Aurora Peak offers 14 trails and one lift to about 2,700 feet and more personal space.
You’ll need to be a skiing wizard to handle the natural and challenging terrain of the highest peak — 3,150 feet. The mountain boasts 11 trails and a massive lift going to the top.
You’ll find the best views at Jordan Bowl at nearly 3,100 feet high and eight trail options. Several runs are great for those looking to try their intermediate skills as they level up.
Also, the range includes overnight accommodations from luxury to budget-based to mountain cabins. And, there are enough restaurants to keep you carb’d up for the next run and nightlife rivaling any entertainment district in the state.
Things to Do at Sunday River in the Winter
In the spirit of Sunday River’s personality, we’ll go a bit off the groomed path to review things to do in the winter.
However, as one of Maine’s community-based resort destinations, you can look beyond the mountain for winter activities, and we’ll touch on a few of those to guide you to the right spot for things like Nordic skiing in a little bit.
For now, let’s dive into the winter things to do at Sunday River.
Skiing & Snowboarding
With a ski season from Halloween into early May, The River is known for having the most reliable conditions in the East.
Sunday River is primarily a ski and snowboarding resort mixed with some of the most fun and outrageous activities you can hope for in an outdoor adventure. The range has 139 trails covering 53 miles among 884 acres:
- Beginner Runs: 30%
- Intermediate Runs: 36%
- Advanced Runs (Black Diamond): 18%
- Expert Runs (Double Black Diamond: 16%
MORE: Plan your skiing/snowboarding itinerary with the Trip Guides — from beginners to couples to kids.
Snow-Go Ski Bikes
One of the newest trends in skiing is hopping on this bicycle-ski hybrid. The rental price includes a training lesson, and rentals are available for half or full days. The Snow-Go Bikes easily hook to the ski lifts and fit in the gondolas.
In addition to numerous holiday activities at Sunday River, here’s one that offers a snow experience without having to strap on skis or a board. The Apres Aglow takes you through a half-mile trail decked to the max. You can even bring a sled to pull the kiddos along the way.
NOTE: The sun can set as early as 4 p.m. in this part of Maine. Even in early March, sunset hits around 5:30 p.m. until the clocks “spring forward.”
You’ll find two rinks in the region. One is at the Grand Summit Hotel at Sunday River. The other is in downtown Bethel’s village. Ice skate rentals are available at each location, or you can bring your own.
Check the resort schedule for fireworks because these displays aren’t just for the 4th of July. Around a dozen displays are scheduled between December and February. The views are incredible whether you hang out on the slopes or head to the Foggy Goggle deck.
Remember “Bumble” from the Rudolph claymation story? Two “Yetis” on this mountain bear a striking resemblance. They live in a slopeside house at South Ridge and can be occasionally seen mixing and mingling.
They are named Betty and Eddy and were inspired by the legend of a Yeti who (allegedly) was spotted on Old Spec Mountain.
Snowshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing
If you want to go snowshoeing or cross country skiing, you’ll need to visit Carter’s XC Ski in Bethel alongside the Androscoggin River. That’s 10 miles from Sunday River and 5 miles from downtown Bethel.
The trails here are designed for these activities, as well as for fat biking. You can even rent sleds to pull young kids along. Guided tours and lessons are available throughout the winter too.
You’ll need to go off the mountain to do this activity as well, but Mahoosuc Guide Service can hook you up. You can decide if you want to play with the pups and help prepare them for the ride or just sit back and enjoy your Iditarod.
Things to Do at Sunday River in the Summer
The mountain makes a great warm-weather destination, opening new trails and activities for the whole family.
While you won’t have access to the full mountain, numerous hiking trails lead to the best views regardless. The routes include five “easy” trails, four “moderate” trails, two “difficult” options, and another pair of “extreme” choices.
The Sunday River Golf Club gets numerous accolades for its championship Robert Trent Jones course layout through sensational mountain views — bonus points are awarded for the stunning fall foliage views from each hole.
Scenic Lift Rides
Soak in the Maine scenery from the Chondola, even if it’s just to go up and back down again. Also, it offers great access to the higher elevation trails.
Sunday River Outfitters
A buffet of choices awaits at the on-mountain activities through Sunday River Outfitters. Activities can run from 90 minutes to three hours, including:
- Standup paddleboarding
- Axe throwing
I can’t mention Sunday River without talking about the ACTUAL Sunday River, which has some of the state’s best swimming holes and waterfalls. Frenchman’s Hole is a popular spot during hot summers, while Honey Hole is a tamer location just upstream.
More Activities & Amenities at Sunday River
Events help define that “Fun Uncle” vibe of Sunday River, and the amenities truly raise the bar to a resort level. That includes the Jordan Spa where you can get a massage or other spa treatment to soothe achy muscles or just spoil yourself.
Holiday Events at Sunday River
Of all the ski destinations we’ve reviewed, Sunday River is the most festive during the holidays. There’s the annual Santa Sunday when people race down the slopes in Santa costumes, a mid-December “Winterfest” celebration of Sunday River’s birthday, and a slew of activities planned for just before Christmas through New Year’s Day.
Fall in Sunday River
Fall foliage is just the cherry on top of autumn activities around Sunday River. The Annual Wife Carrying Championship is one of the most unique fall events, during which husbands carry their wives through a messy obstacle course, hoping to win beer and cash.
Plan Your Sunday River Getaway
The Sunday River app can help you plan your trip without missing any event or new activity. You should always check ski and slope conditions before driving to Sunday River.
Once you’ve enjoyed the high-energy experience of Sunday River, you still have nearby Bethel to explore, which transports you back to a Victorian time with unique businesses and restaurants.
Another great thing about Sunday River is that you never know what it will think of next. So, don’t be surprised if you see the World’s Largest Snowman greeting you upon arrival.