Bethel Brings Joy

The past five years has seen a growth in this mountain town, with exciting developments at Sunday River that spill into town life
Words By Anna Mangum
Photos By Alexandra Roberts

A cheesecake and bottle of wine are nestled in your backpack, sturdy stemless glasses strategically stowed away there too, the recipe for a joyful evening being shaken up and poured across the sky in pink hues—and it’s just another Tuesday evening in Bethel. Located between Oxford Hills and the southern rim of the Mahoosuc Range, this mountainous region is marked by lakes, the Androscoggin River, and miles of trails that include a section of the Appalachian Trail.

After a full day of skiing, indulge in Bethel’s fabulous food and drink spots.

When speaking with Julia Young, a broker at Sunday River Real Estate, she described her team’s lifestyle as a welcome respite from the age of technology. A strong community and outdoor living are tenants of life in the mountain town of Bethel. Gould Academy, a co-ed boarding school known for its academic excellence and fantastic ski-racing program, is one of the integral forces that brings families to the area. One of Julia’s kids attends the school, and all of the agents in her office have a child at Gould or one who has graduated from there. “Whether a year-round resident, seasonal, or just on vacation,” Julia says, “people seek out happiness. Even when you’re at the grocery, everyone has smiles on their face. It’s a palpable experience of joy.”

The town’s downtown area is full of new cafés and shops.

The vacationers bring a fresh excitement for the area, and the steady throng of crowds means there are always events and happenings around town. In the winter, Sunday River is the obvious attraction, with its 8 peaks and 884 acres of ski trail. The resort is quick to respond to the ever-increasing demand to ski its groomed terrain with the addition of new lifts, such as the Jordan 8 (heated seats included). Most recently, the development of Merrill Hill will bring new homes to the area—ones that overlook the entire range of Sunday River Resort. Accompanying these properties is newly developed lift and trail access, with new slopes leading directly to their backdoors.

For those with a thirst for adventure, one human-powered activity on the resort that has burst onto the scene is uphill skiing, otherwise known as alpine touring or “skinning.” By attaching “skins” to the bottom of lightweight, touring skis, you can climb all of Sunday River’s more than 1,000 feet of vertical gain. It’s arguably more enjoyable than winter hiking—at the top, you get to rip the skins off and enjoy a cruising ski down the mountain. Outside of the sprawling resort, ice climbing is another popular draw to the area, with some of the region’s most distinguished routes in the neighboring town of Gilead.

Table Rock trail in Grafton Notch is a short drive away from Bethel—a thrilling hike with rock scrambling and ladders.
Gemini Bakery is one of Maine Passive House’s community projects, done in collaboration with Anna Sysco & Nicole Pellerin.
Sunday River has terrain suited for every type of skier. And with the new heated lift, it’s never been easier to stay warm at the resort.

For those who prefer less human-powered activities—or for the ideal rest day—a can’t-miss winter experience is a dog sledding expedition in Newry, according to Julia. “You get all bundled up,” Julia raves, “and set out on a four-hour excursion that includes breaks for food. The dogs absolutely love it!” After a long day of being outside in the cold air, nothing tastes better than dinner at The Last Run Room. Owned by Portland-based Chef Harding Lee Smith, the restaurant delivers elevated food to be enjoyed in heated igloos. Julia adds, “When it snows, it feels like you are inside a cozy, magical snow globe.”

As iconic as Sunday River might be, Bethel is becoming recognized as a year-round destination thanks to the growing full-time community and rise of Airbnb. The beauty of the Mahoosuc Range and sprawling nature is just as compelling in the fairer months—if not, more so. A popular hiking destination is Grafton Notch, with a range of hikes for all levels. Julia recommends Table Rock, a short walk that she enjoys after work with her hiking companion: her dog. “It has the perfect view of the valley and mountains beyond,” Julia says. Bethel Outdoor Adventure provides another optimal activity for those sweltering days in July. A van takes a group up three sections of the river in West Bethel and Gilead for a multi-hour-long float down the water. For a less committed experience on the water, Bryant Pond, South and North Pond, Round Pond, and Songo Pond are wonderful public-access lakes with sought-after fly fishing.

There are view-filled hiking trails easily accessible from Bethel in both Grafton and Evans Notch.

Whether you seek a slower pace of life surrounded by nature, a high-intensity mountain sport lifestyle, or your next vacation spot, we recommend this area to all who are craving a mountain retreat that also delivers on the cuisine. Sunday River’s growth, exemplified by the development of Merrill Hill and their 2030 plan, spills over to the town. As more people return to the area each year, more restaurants are popping up left and right, such as new favorites like Modern Barn and Mountain Social Kitchen & Bar. “It’s been such a fun shift to observe over the last five years,” Julia says of the area’s boom in commerce. “It feels good that it has become an area that can offer so much to any vacationer—whether they’re here for the resort or for a summer getaway.” From the sneak peek at Merrill Hill’s beginning phase of development, I couldn’t wait to return to watch its evolution. And, perhaps, to grab that bottle of wine and slice of cheesecake from The Local Hub and set off for that perfect summer picnic.

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