Summer and winter, this Western Maine town draws outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs
Near Maine’s western border, in the shadow of the White Mountains, Bethel boasts a rich history and access to outdoor activities, making it a popular destination year-round. In the colder months, the nearby Sunday River and Mount Abram ski resorts draw skiers and snowboarders from throughout the Northeast, while summer and fall bring hikers and mountain bikers to the area’s numerous trails. The charming village of Bethel is also home to specialty shops, restaurants, and Gould Academy, a small college-preparatory school.
“Bethel is such a nice, walkable village,” says Robin Zinchuk, outreach and development director for the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce (she previously served for 32 years as the organization’s executive director). Zinchuk directs visitors to the Museums of the Bethel Historical Society, located in two historic village homes, one of which boasts restored Rufus Porter School murals in the entrance hall. Zinchuk also recommends the preview gallery for the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, an impressive addition to the village due to open in the late fall. In addition to displaying gemstones, the museum “illuminates the history of the people who have been traditionally attached to mining and gems in western Maine,” she says.
To acquaint guests with the area’s outdoor recreation options, Zinchuk likes to take them for scenic drives. One of her favorites starts on the Sunday River Road, stopping first at the Artist’s (or Sunday River) Bridge, a covered pedestrian bridge named for its popularity with artists, and continuing on to Frenchman’s Hole, one of several notable swimming holes and waterfalls in the area. “On a hot day, the adventurous jump off a rock into a deep pool,” says Zinchuk. She also recommends heading up Route 26 to Step Falls Preserve, part of the Mahoosuc Land Trust, where an easy hike winds along the cascading falls of Wight Brook. “At the top you can picnic on the flat rocks, take in the views, listen to the sound of running water, and drink in the natural beauty,” she says.
For a small town, Bethel offers a surprising variety of dining options. These include the popular ChoSun Sushi Bar and Grill; the Jolly Drayman at the Briar Lea Inn, which serves traditional British pub and Indian food; and 22 Broad Street at Gideon Hastings House, known for its martini bar and northern Italian menu. “The Smokin’ Good BBQ trailer at the Good Food Store—open seasonally—is not to be missed,” says Zinchuk. She also recommends the “relaxing atmosphere” of Millbrook Tavern at the Bethel Inn Resort, where diners have a view of the pastoral golf course in summer, snow-covered cross-country ski trails in winter, and the rugged surrounding mountains all year.