Bethel has been recognized as a winter sports town ever since Sunday River opened for downhill skiing more than 50 years ago.

As the ski resort has expanded to more than 100 trails across eight mountain peaks, so too have the number of amenities in and around town. The throngs of winter visitors can now choose from a wide range of indoor and outdoor entertainment options, inns and B&Bs, and pubs and restaurants.

Come that period between the snowy seasons, however, namely spring, summer and fall, things can seem a little quiet in this still-quaint New England village. But that’s a perception — and a good part reality — that some local folks are determined to change.

“Since the 1870s, travelers have visited the Bethel area to hike the peaks and neighboring foothills, breathe the clean air, spark their creative spirits and cure the blues,” said Wende Gray, a member of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce. “We’re reaching out to visitors of all ages and abilities to come and hike, walk and backpack the variety of trails in the western Maine region.”

Talking with Bethel residents and business owners on a recent visit, I discovered there’s a wealth of uncrowded trails in close proximity to town and lots more not too far away, making the area a central, if understated, location for hiking adventures.

“I’ve got a list of more than 30 hikes nearby,” said Landon Fake, former Outward Bound regional director and Mahoosuc Land Trust board member, who is starting a new hiking organization called Mahoosuc Pathways to develop and promote more trails in the region.

Here’s a short list of recommendations:


The Bethel Recreational Pathway connects Davis Park to the Mayville area, crossing the Androscoggin River on a new multi-use bridge.

Just to the east, the Androscoggin River Walking Trail follows a scenic bend in the river for 1.5 miles.

The Bethel Historical Society has assembled a self-guided walking tour of the village, taking in 39 sites and structures of architectural and historic significance dating from 1774 to the 1920s.


Mount Will in Bethel Town Forest is a short loop hike to the ledges and cliffs overlooking the farmlands and forests of the river valley.

Maggie’s Nature Park features a pleasant network of trails that loop over Ring Hill and extend south to Peaked Mountain. And Mount Christopher, an unassuming bump when viewed from Route 26, rises west of Bryant Pond. Make the 2-mile loop hike and you’ll be treated to a series of stunning clifftop vistas.

The Oxford Hills extend westward to the Bethel area, and Mount Zircon, Bald and Speckled mountains, and a host of other peaks offer terrific views for a reasonable amount of effort.


The rugged Mahoosuc Range rises in spectacular fashion a few miles north of Bethel.

From Grafton Notch, hikers can tackle a series of interesting hikes. Cliff lovers will enjoy the lofty heights of Table Rock on the east side of the notch, or scramble to the airy lip of the Eyebrow just across the way. Both are 2.5-mile loop hikes involving climbs of about 1,000 feet.

Gain some serious elevation and put miles under your boots on a trek up Old Speck, Maine’s 5th highest peak, and its summit observation tower.

Or seek out the windswept alpine heights of East Baldpate. Both hikes are about 8 miles round-trip via the Appalachian Trail.

Puzzle Mountain is a rewarding 10-miler on the Grafton Loop Trail leading to spectacular panoramas. And the barren and rocky ridges of Rumford Whitecap sport three trails for great hiking and a cornucopia of blueberries in high summer.

The Maine section of the White Mountain National Forest has a range of classic hikes, like Caribou, Speckled and East Royce in the Evans Notch area. But there are many more off the beaten path, such as Red Rock Mountain and Butters Mountain on the eastern edge of the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, or maybe Albany Mountain, Deer Hill and Lord Hill, all with low crowd factors.


There are public national forest campgrounds at Hastings, Cold River and Basin along Route 113 in Evans Notch, and at Crocker Pond, west of Route 5 in Albany.

A number of private campgrounds also are available in and around Bethel.

“We’ve got mountains to ski on, yes, but we’ve also got mountains to hike up and down,” Fake said. “There’s a little bit of everything outdoors for such a small town.”

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and hike suggestions to:

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