48 Hours in Bethel

While the Bethel region is known for being home to one of the Northeast’s great ski resorts, it’s also a year-round destination for a variety of other outdoor activities as well as historic towns, museums, and excellent dining.

A dog-day afternoon

The excited yelps of dozens of Yukon huskies greet us as we walk down the long, snowy driveway of Mahoosuc Guide Service in Newry. Mahoosuc’s Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater, who are registered Master Maine Guides with decades of experience breeding, raising, and sledding dogs in Maine, Canada, and the Arctic, deftly harness up a few teams so that my husband, Hugh, our two daughters, and I can try dogsledding.

Tucked into Kevin’s homemade ash and birch sleds, we hear Polly calmly utter, “Let’s go,” and the dogs take off in perfect sync—powerful, swift, and quiet in the newfallen snow. We’re coached to stand on the runners and mush. It requires not just balance and control but an ability to communicate with the dogs.

We stop for a wilderness campfire lunch, and the dogs lounge and nap in the snow. Over a hearty split-pea soup and bagels toasted on sticks over the fire (the dogs devour hard boiled eggs, shell and all), Slater spellbinds us with a perfect recitation of Robert Service’s poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

Warming up with a swim and dinner

Dog-tired and hungry from our afternoon of mushing, we stop at Coffee Hound Coffee Bar at Sunday River for a few of their famous lemondrop crepes with coffee and hot chocolate.

After checking in to the slopeside Grand Summit Hotel, we walk to its warm outdoor pool to swim under the stars and, for Hugh and me, to drink cocktails from Camp, the hotel’s main restaurant. We stop at the sauna, then get dressed for dinner at Camp. A children’s buffet allows our girls to grab food while we order. The cedar-plank cod with roasted chorizo beet hash and smoked corn butter is outstanding, as is the pancetta-wrapped meatloaf with wild mushroom whiskey sauce.

Starting on the slopes

We grab breakfast at Camp before a short walk to the Little White Cap Quad chairlift. Conditions are great for our first time exploring Sunday River’s eight peaks and 16 lifts (including the Chondola, with alternating gondola cars and high-speed quads). We would need more than two days to cover the variety of terrain at Sunday River.

For lunch, we visit Cho Sun, the sushi restaurant and noodle bar at South Ridge base lodge. The restaurant has another location in downtown Bethel. We order the popular dolsot bibimbap, a spicy steamed rice dish served in a hot stone pot with seasonal vegetables and beef, shrimp, pork, or tofu, all topped with a fried egg.

Exploring Bethel after skiing

We call it a day after a long run from the top of Barker Mountain and across Locke Mountain, ending just steps from our room at Grand Summit Hotel.

In addition to a variety of shops, galleries, and eateries, the nearby village of Bethel is home to the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, showcasing the region’s mining and geological history. The museum’s gift shop is now open, and the rest of the museum is slated to open this fall. After stopping by the museum, we spend an hour at the Philbrook Place, a rustic old barn that houses a collection of small businesses selling toys, clothing, sporting goods, antiques, and Maine-made arts and crafts.

We grab an early dinner in the center of the village at Brian’s, a warm and comfy restaurant with an eclectic menu. Highlights include a delicious saltimbocca with chicken, marsala cream, forest mushrooms, and linguini, and lamb T-bone steaks with mint sauce, sweet pea puree, and garlic mashed potatoes. The kids love their lightly breaded fish-and-chips.

Tuning and a night cap

Fortified, we race back to South Ridge base lodge for after-hours tubing on the floodlit Sundance Trail. We have to drag the kids off the mountain, but then we get them into their swimsuits for a relaxing half-hour in the outdoor pool, a quick stop in the sauna, and beverages at the Camp restaurant bar.

Pancakes, skiing, and burritos

After devouring stacks of pancakes at Camp, we explore more of the mountain and notch the last few peaks, including Oz, the highest point at Sunday River ski area.

We do an early lunch at the Cilantro Burrito Bar in the South Ridge base lodge. The eatery seems to offer every combination of stuffings a tortilla could hold and has a phenomenal variety of sauces. Near South Ridge base lodge is the home of Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, a nonprofit that provides free programming that allows people with physical disabilities to ski, snowboard, and snowshoe in the winter and participate in other sports in the summer.

Snacks and horseback riding

With a full morning of skiing under our belts, we check out of the hotel and bid farewell to Sunday River. We pick up some baked goods and desserts for the road at DiCocoa’s Market and Bakery in Bethel, then drive about ten miles south to Deepwood Farm for some winter trail riding on horseback.

Deepwood Farm owner DiAnne Ward, who has dedicated her life to horsemanship, saddles up some gorgeous horses for us while she regales us with stories of her farm and home (which is virtually off the grid). We had imagined a short ride around the property, but she and her top farmhand lead us on a several-mile trek down a snow-covered country lane and along some forest trails. It is charming, peaceful, and fun—a perfect ending to a delightful Maine winter weekend.