Bethel, Maine Vacation Guide
It snows a lot in the Maine’s Lakes & Mountain Regions. One clue is the name White Mountain National Forest. Another is the Sunday River Resort, the second largest ski resort in Maine. But just so there was no mistake that Bethel was the king of this snow blessed destination, this mountain city set out to make a statement.
In 1999 they built the world’s tallest snowman, measuring 113 feet, 7 inches tall. Nearly a decade later, in 2008, they built the world’s tallest snowwoman, at 122 feet, 1 inch, and broke their own record. Her name was Olympia, named after Maine’s Senator Olympia Snowe. With her flared skirt she almost looked like a misplaced lighthouse tower, but with feminine charms. A “When Will She Melt?” raffle was held, with the proceeds going to charity. Olympia didn’t fully melt until July of that year, seemingly reluctant to bid goodbye. Chances are you’ll feel the same when you visit historically charming, fun-loving Bethel, Maine
Bethel Maine Basics
Three major airports put you within driving distance of Bethel, which is less than 15 miles from the New Hampshire border. Portland International Jetport is the closest, a 90 minute drive away. Manchester, New Hampshire Airport is a three hours drive and Boston Logan International is one-half hour beyond that. The Bethel Regional Airport, near the center of town offers services for smaller planes, mostly for private pilots.
Once you land, rental cars or shuttle services are available from the airports. Public transit is limited in Bethel and the surrounding area. If you plan on doing a lot of traveling, especially in winter, you might want to opt for the car. During the warmer seasons many roads are bike-friendly, not to mention scenic, so that would be another option in the Bethel area. Local shuttle service is offered by reservation. In winter, free shuttle service is available to local ski hills.
Accommodations range from high-end resorts and vacation rentals, many at or close to the Sunday River Resort, to bed and breakfast properties in historic inns as well as youth hostels. In Bethel’s downtown core, the Victoria Inn is a bed and breakfast in a 19th century Victorian, complete with turrets, a charismatic roofline and gingerbread trim. Nearby, the Chapman Inn sits in a home built by a retired sea captain in 1865, also offering period furnishing combined with modern creature comforts.
The Sudbury Inn, circa 1873 is another charmer. It was built as an inn and is a favorite with families and those traveling with pets. The onsite Suds Pub is a local watering hole. They do serve pizza and other treats along with all of those “suds.” All three properties are in or close to Bethel’s downtown historic district.
The Bethel Inn Resort is just south of the historic district and is a full service luxury property complete with spa and golf course. The family friendly property offers a golf school in the warmer seasons and ski packages during the winter. Cross country skiing is available onsite and downhill runs are at Sunday River, Mt. Abram and Black Mountain, all nearby.
The Bethel Maine Hostel is roughly two miles west of downtown along Route 2, on the way to West Bethel. A companion property, the Maine Snowboarding House, is actually in West Bethel. Both are close to the Androscoggin River, and the latter within ten miles of the Appalachian Trail. Both are open year round.
Campgrounds are available in Bethel, along the Androscoggin River, and in the Unorganized Territory of South Oxford, part of the White Mountains National Forest. Crocker Pond Campground is the closest mountain camp to Bethel, sitting at the end of a dirt road. There are only seven sites, but there is a boat ramp on Crocker Pond and nearby Broken Bridge Pond, popular fishing holes. The campground and ponds are managed by the US Forest Service. The campgrounds along the river are larger, able to accommodate most RVs and offer canoe and kayak rentals.
Restaurants in Bethel are clustered around the center of town and along Route 5 leading to the Sunday River Resort. Barbeque, Italian, old fashioned diners and the iconic Pat’s Pizza are all in town. Shops offer everything from local crafts and foods to camping and outdoor gear, most near the center of Bethel or on the route to Sunday River Resort. There are few services in West Bethel, which is sparsely populated. The town of Gilead is about five miles farther west, near the New Hampshire Border and equally small.
Bethel Historic District
The Bethel historic district is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Originally settled as Sudbury in 1774, the area was, and still is an agricultural town. The Revolutionary War kept the town from growing, but finally in 1796 there were enough people to found a true town. At that time the name was changed to Bethel.
The oldest home and structure in Bethel is the Dr. Moses Mason home, built by a physician that also served in Congress between 1833 and 1837. His home was built in 1813 and along with the O’Neill Robinson House, circa 1821, houses the Bethel Historical Society Museum. Artifacts from Bethel’s early beginnings, a collection of mineral specimens from throughout Maine and the homes themselves are on display. The Mason home has a grand entryway with murals painted by the Rufus Porter School in 1835. It’s like walking through a forest to get to the main house.
Bethel is also home to the Gould Academy, a co-ed private college prep boarding and day school that was started in 1836, thanks to Reverend Daniel Gould. Originally from Cape Cod, Gould was Bethel’s first pastor and he left his entire fortune to the school when he died, but only if it was named after him. Up until 1969 this was the only high school in town.
Events in Bethel
The Fourth of July Community Picnic is held each year at the Dr. Moses Mason house. Guests are invited to bring lunch and picnic on the home’s side lawn while enjoying a concert, the presentation of colors and the singing of the National Anthem. This celebration was stared by the Dr. himself in 1850. The Bethel Historical Society continues the tradition. If it happens to rain, the event is moved indoors to the Middle Intervale Meetinghouse, another historic structure dating back to 1816.
At the end of July is Molly Days, complete with the Molly Days Road Races. The races include a one mile fun run for kids and a five mile race for adults. The event is named after Mollyockett, a Pequawket Indian that lived among the new settlers. Legend has it that she was a medicine woman of sorts and traveled the land, living in the old ways for her entire life. She is credited with saving the life of Hannibal Hamlin when he was an infant. Hamlin went on to be a governor of Maine and Vice-President to Abraham Lincoln.
The Maine State Triathlon is held each August, with athletes completing a 750 meter swim, a 24 kilometer bike ride followed by a 5.8 kilometer run. A pared down version is held the day before for children from 8-14.
Other annual events include the Bethel Golf Classic, held at the Bethel Inn Resort Golf Course each June, the Harvestfest in September, Wares Fare in November and the Country Christmas in Bethel, held each weekend from the end of November until just before Christmas.
The Bethel Winterfest is celebrated in February and includes dog sled and horse-drawn sleigh rides, a sliding hill, Nordic and snowshoe events. This is a regional event with some venues at Sunday River Ski Resort and Mt. Abrams Ski Resort. Airplane rides are also available out of Bethel Airport.
Newry’s big claim to fame is that it is home to the Sunday River Ski Resort. The area was originally settled in 1781 and was one big plantation owned by Benjamin Barker and his family. After multiple changes of ownership, the land was renamed Newry after a town in Northern Ireland. It is still an agricultural zone with a tiny population, except in ski season.
Newry is located near the Sunday and Bear Rivers, both tributaries that drain into the Androscoggin River. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking are popular summer sports. The town is also home to the Artist’s Bridge, so named because it has been the most painted and photographed of Maine’s covered bridges. Built in 1872 it crosses the Sunday River and is still open to pedestrian traffic.
The town is also home to the Step Falls Preserve, governed by the Nature Conservancy. The 24-acre park offers hiking trails including one that goes to the top of the falls, offering panoramic views of the White Mountains. The falls were formed during the last ice age when Wight Brook was carved by glaciers. The name comes from the step like pattern of the water as it cascades from rock to rock to rock. This wildlife rich area is day use only and just one place near Newry where you might find a moose or two.
There are no accommodations or restaurants in Newry itself, but the town is only about six miles from Bethel and the Sunday River Ski Resort is right next door. There is one campground east of town, on the way to Hanover, and others at nearby Grafton Notch State Park and in Andover farther north.
Bryant Pond – Woodstock
The village of Bryant Pond is southeast of Bethel, and sits on the southern end of Bryant Pond. It is the largest settlement in the rural Woodstock Township and is the urban center for the region. North Pond, South Pond, Twitchell Pond and Indian Pond all provide quiet, remote fishing and paddling locales.
Bryant Pond is known for being the last area to do away with hand-crank telephone exchanges. The Bryant Pond Telephone Company was privately owned until 1981 and operated out of the living room of Elden and Barbara Hathaway. The couple used an old fashioned magneto switchboard to answer and connect the calls. Residents were reluctant to give up their crank phones and resisted the new owners, the Oxford County Telephone & Telegraph Company until 1983 when the last “crank” was “yanked’ and replaced by a modern dial-up exchange. The Bryant Pond Telephone Museum has reserved the switchboard and other memorabilia.
No accommodations are in town, but the Mollyockett Motel & Swim Spa is south of Woodstock on the way to West Paris and Greenwood. West Paris is best known for the Paris Manufacturing Company that produced sleds, skis, wagons and other wood items. Greenwood, named for an early surveyor, is home to the Harvard Quarry at the summit of Noyes Mountain. It is a favored destination for rock lovers and mineral collectors. There are a few restaurants and small stores along Route 26 but most of the eateries and motels/hotels are closer to Bethel. Bryant Pond also goes by the name Christopher Pond and the area does offers a number of high-end vacation rentals, some with lovely waterviews and all decidedly Maine.
Bethel Area Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Bethel, Maine area.
- Bryant Pond Maine
- Gilead Maine
- Greenwood Maine
- Hanover Maine
- Newry Maine
- West Paris Maine
- Woodstock Maine