48 Hours in Bethel: Summer
While the Bethel region is most known for skiing, nestled in this western Maine town are shops, hikes, activities, and restaurants for every type of traveler throughout the year.
Check-in and martinis
It’s just after 5 p.m. when we pull in to charming downtown Bethel, and the picnic tables at the new Steam Mill Brewery are already filling up. My best friend, Stephanie, and I decide to split a flight of beer so we can taste a little of everything. It is hard to pick a favorite, but we land on one of the brewery’s first beers, Paradise Perle, a Belgian wheat ale.
It’s a warm August evening, so we request a table on 22 Broad Street’s porch and start the evening with two martinis: a classic dirty martini and a pomegranate version. The menu says the beef carpaccio and the beef braciole are house favorites, so we opt for both as well as an order of arancini and a caprese salad. The carpaccio is paired perfectly with capers and arugula. The arancini are crispy and cheesy, but we exercise extreme self-restraint and save two for a late-night snack. For our entree, we split the tender and juicy beef braciola so we will have room for a tiramisu and cappuccino dessert.
Omelets and gems
With a big day of adventuring ahead of us, Camp at the Grand Summit Hotel is the perfect place for the most important meal of the day. We head through the buffet line and fill our plates with bacon, home fries, fruit, toast, and veggie-filled, made-to-order omelets. If it weren’t for our very busy itinerary, we could have cozied up and sipped coffee here all morning.
The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum is home to one of the finest collections of Maine’s minerals and gems, some of which were extracted from the surrounding western Maine mountains. The full museum is not yet open, and Barbra Barrett, the museum director, offers us a behind-the-scenes tour of what’s to come. The museum has a large collection of fragments of the moon and will have a whole room dedicated to meteorites.
Just a stone’s throw across the street is a bright-colored store called Nabos. This mother-and-daughter-owned shop is filled with funky and functional gifts. I pick up a pair of saber-toothed-tiger earrings, because where else are you going to find an awesome pair of tiger earrings? We stop at Stonetree Creative, a photo studio next door, where owner Matt Stagliano gives us a few recommendations for photo opportunities.
Next we head for a caffeine pick-me-up at DiCocoa’s. A tempting display of pastries and breads greets us as we walk in. A cold brew and croissant are just what we need to continue with our day.
Covered bridges and chondolas
The Good Food Store and Catering Company is bustling when we arrive for lunch. Local farmers are dropping off produce, and hikers are grabbing snacks for their journeys. The specialty grocer has lots of organic Maine products and delicious prepared foods. We grab to-go lunches and head for Sunday River Road.
We slowly drive down this scenic stretch, stopping to take photos of the river along the way. We arrive at the Sunday River Bridge and set up a little picnic just under the covered bridge to enjoy our lunch next to the rambling river.
At the recommendation from some locals, we take a quick detour and drive through the Peaks neighborhood. Tucked into the mountain are stunning ski homes with sweeping backdrops of the Sunday River region, perfect for photo taking.
We continue our scenic tour and head toward the mountain for a chondola ride up to North Peak. The ride in the enclosed chair provides spectacular views of the valley and the Mahoosuc Range. We hike around the summit and watch as mountain bikers come zipping in and out of trails and down the mountain. We catch one of the last lifts back down the mountain so we can get ready for dinner.
Calamari and a local spot
Even though it’s a tad chilly, we opt to sit on the large porch at Brian’s. Our knowledgeable server recommends the Thai calamari. When the dish arrives we are happy that we listened. The crispy saltiness of the calamari is perfectly cut by the sweet hot chile sauce and sriracha aioli. Steph and I both order entries off the tantalizing specials menu.
Our next stop, the Funky Red Barn, is truly a locals’ spot. Although we’re told the best time to go to “The Funky” is Thursday, for the prime rib special, tonight we enjoy cold beers in the laid-back, fun, and funky atmosphere before calling it a night.
Back at the Grand Summit Hotel, we head to the hot tub to unwind from a long day of exploration. Steph and I debrief about the day’s events, plan for tomorrow, and watch as the stars dot the sky above the mountain.
A morning swim and bangers for breakfast
As soon as I step foot into the Jolly Drayman Pub, I fall in love. The British pub has a beautiful wooden bar that boasts a large beer selection, and it is charmingly decorated with posters from Europe. It also features a traditional snug, a cozy room off the main dining area. Although we are here for brunch, we drool over the dinner menu filled with classic British and Indian cuisine, such as beef Wellington and vindaloo. We enjoy our bangers and eggs before heading on our way.
The weather has gotten warmer, so we head back down Sunday River Road to find a place to swim along the river. Frenchman’s Hole is even more magical than we imagined. It is a hot summer day, and this popular swimming spot is busy with locals and tourists cooling off at the bottom of the ten-foot waterfall. We take the plunge from the top of the falls into the cool, clear water below.
Antiques and roadside barbeque
Although it’s hard to pull ourselves away from the classic Maine summer fun, we are excited to check out our next stop, Steam Mill Antiques. Housed in a beautiful 1820 farmhouse and barn, Steam Mill Antiques is filled to the brim with antiques and collectible items—it’s a thrifter’s heaven.
We can’t leave Bethel without a stop at everyone’s favorite roadside barbecue trailer, Smokin’ Good BBQ. Plumes rise from the meat smoker as we place an order for Texas brisket and pulled pork with sides of cornbread, slaw, and beans.
We leave Bethel full, happy, and glad to know more about the many things this western Maine wonderland has to offer.