Perfectly situated for a leaf-peeping getaway among the color-changing forests of autumn, Bethel, Maine, offers history and beauty. This historic town was founded in 1774 and today is best known as a ski town, but the same peaks that, when covered in wintry white, appeal to skiers are even more spectacular when dressed in vivid autumn hues. Fall colors can usually be observed starting in late September, with the peak likely to occur in the first week of October.
Bethel's proximity to the New Hampshire border makes it a prime destination for those who want to see foliage in the White Mountains, too. A fall visit to Bethel puts leaf peepers in the heart of a region noted for scenic driving, hiking, biking, moose watching, and more.
How to Get There
Bethel is located in western Maine at the intersection of Routes 26 and 2. It is within driving distance of several major cities, including three hours, 30-minutes from Boston, seven hours from New York City, and five hours from Albany, New York, or Hartford, Connecticut. The closest airport is the Portland International Jetport (PWM) in Portland, Maine, about 90 minutes away.
Where to Stay
Bethel offers a wide variety of accommodations, from large ski resorts to quaint bed and breakfasts.
- The Bethel Inn Resort: This hotel has been a fixture on the village common since 1913; it's your choice for fine lodging and resort activities including golf, tennis, and swimming (the outdoor pool is heated year-round).
- Sudbury Inn: Cozy and pet-friendly, this inn is centrally located and offers seven two-room suites, plus a three-bedroom apartment. A full country breakfast will fuel you for a day of chasing fall color photo ops.
- Bethel Village Motel: Here, you'll find budget-friendly rooms in the heart of this Maine mountain village.
- Sunday River Ski Resort: This resort complex offers lodging in its Grand Summit and Jordan Hotels, as well as in the Snow Cap Inn and Snow Cap Youth Lodge, which is made for large groups. Before the snow falls, you can typically find good autumn rates here.
Where to Eat and Drink
As a resort town, Bethel offers plenty of options for dining out, whether you decide to stay close to your hotel or venture out to another restaurant across town. Two popular restaurants in town are Brian's, which serves rustic seafood, and 22 Broad Street, which serves authentic Italian food.
Other popular dining choices include The Suds Pub and the more formal dining room at The Sudbury Inn; the casual Rooster's Roadhouse; and the pub at Sunday River Brewing Co. If you're looking for a restaurant with a more upscale feel, perhaps after a ride on the chairlift, you can try Camp or Sliders at the Sunday River Resort. And if you're in the mood for grilled meats, Smokin' Good BBQ offers the best pit barbecue in the area.
What to See and Do
There are plenty of local attractions to tour in Bethel, from museums to covered bridges, plus other ways to keep you busy during your fall visit. In 2020, some events may be canceled and businesses may be closed, so be sure to check official websites for the latest details.
- Take a Scenic Drive: During fall foliage season, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better home base for scenic driving than Bethel. Wind your way through Grafton Notch State Park along Route 26, and don't miss the drive north to Rangeley, Maine, along Route 17: The Height of Land overlook is spectacular.
- Visit the O'Neil Robinson House: Learn about local history at the Bethel Historical Society in this house that dates back to 1821.
- Drive Under the Sunday River Covered Bridge: Nicknamed the Artist's Bridge, this is a picturesque bridge near the town of Newry that makes for a good photo opportunity.
- North American Wife Carrying Championship: Held at Sunday River Resort on October 9, 2020, you can witness competitors face an obstacle course race while carrying their wives in order to win their wife's weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.
- Sunday River Chairlift: Head to the Sunday River Ski Resort for a ride on the chairlift if you want to enjoy some aerial views of the foliage.
- Shaker Village: An hour's drive away from Bethel in Sabbathday Lake, this village is home to the last active Shaker community, an independent religious group related to the Quakers.
- Fall Festivals: Don't miss events like the annual Harvestfest and "Chowdah" Cook-off, which is held in September. Local farms may also be organizing events for the season.
- Maine Mineral & Gem Museum: You'll want to buy a colorful souvenir in the museum shop, which sells jewelry featuring Maine-mined gemstones.
Day Trips From Bethel
If you'd like to go on an adventure with Bethel as your starting point, there are many interesting and fun places to visit within a few hours of driving.
- L.L. Bean Flagship Store: Mainers love L.L. Bean,. and the flagship store in Freeport, Maine, (62 miles away from Bethel) is a must-see for outdoor and flannel enthusiasts.
- Castle in the Clouds: This mansion in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, (70 miles from Bethel) has some of the best views of sweeping fall foliage in all of New England.
- Conway Scenic Railroad: In North Conway, New Hampshire, (44 miles from Bethel) take a scenic fall ride on an antique train. In Conway, you'll also find the start of the Kancamagus Highway, one of New England's most superb fall drives.