In Maine, summertime brings a surge of coast-bound tourists packing towns and B&Bs along the southern shore. But farther west White Mountain National Forest rambles across the border from New Hampshire, and the peaks of the Mahoosuc Range create their own kind of natural paradise. The pristine wilderness here offers sparkling trout-filled lakes and rewarding hikes for beginners and backcountry experts alike. Whether you’re eager to lace up your hiking boots, test your mettle on a white-water-rafting trip or simply want to take in the scenery over a craft beer, we reveal the best places to fall in love with western Maine, from Bethel to the Forks.
Bethel and Norway
Less than 30 minutes from the border of New Hampshire, the 18th-century logging town of Bethel sits along the Androscoggin River at the foot of Paradise Hill. Before hitting the trails, stock your pack with hiking maps and rain gear at True North Adventureware (196 Walkers Mills Rd., Bethel; 207-824-2201; truenorthadventureware.com), a one-off shop selling hiking boots, active wear and camping supplies downtown. From here it’s a short drive to 3,000-acre Grafton Notch State Park (Rte. 26, Newry; 207-824-2912; maine.gov/graftonnotch), which encompasses one of the most challenging sections of the Appalachian Trail.
The short but mighty Table Rock hike (2.4 miles) is the perfect option for beginners, climbing past large birch and beech trees to a flight of stone steps and providing summit views of “the Notch” and Old Speck Mountain. For intermediate ramblers, the Eyebrow Loop Trail (2.2 miles) is a more technical option, rising through hardwood forest to a section of cliffs where a series of ladders assist hikers up a portion of Old Speck’s 2,900-foot shelf-overlook. Here you’ll find one of the best views in the park and the chance to spot nesting peregrine falcons.
Stop for lunch at the Crossroads Diner (24 Mayville Rd., Bethel; 207-824-3673; crossroadsdiner.net; lunch for two, $25*), a favorite haunt among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers for its belly-filling portions, including the sky-high Slaw Burger, topped with coleslaw and onion rings. For a bit of shopping, Elements Arts Gallery (162 Main St., Bethel; 207-824-0577; elementsartgallerymaine.com), on Main Street, sells a selection of pottery and live-edge wood furniture by more than 40 Maine craftsmen. If you’re looking to get back outside, make the 10-minute drive north to Sunday River Ski Resort (15 South Ridge Rd., Newry; 800-543-2754; sundayriver.com; from $59), where you can soar over streambeds and a ravine on one of six zip-line tours, or head to New England Horseback Riding and Carriage Driving (591 Kings Hwy., Mason Township; 207-731-4747; newenglandridinganddriving.com; lessons, from $75), where horse enthusiast Leonarda Joost hitches up her rescue steeds to teach hour-long carriage-driving lessons on 22 acres of cleared paths in White Mountain National Forest.
Consider booking a table on the porch of the historic Gideon Hastings House, overlooking the town common at 22 Broad Street (22 Broad St., Bethel; 207-824-3496; 22broadstreet.com; dinner for two, $50), in Bethel, where chef Christopher Converse’s lobster bisque brings a touch of Maine to the pan-Italian menu. For something a bit more casual, try the cascading lobster roll at Sunday River Brewing Co. (29 Sunday River Rd., Bethel; 207-824-4253; sundayriverbrewingcompany.com; dinner for two, $30), washed down with the pub’s Jamaican stout. Or head to the quaint town of Norway, a half hour south and home of the award-winning 76 Pleasant Street (76 Pleasant St., Norway; 207-744-9040; 76pleasantstreet.com; dinner for two, $55), which serves dishes, like lamb loin chops braised with white beans, under vintage chandeliers.
Wilton, Farmington and Rangeley
During the first weekend in August, locals celebrate the summer harvest at the old-time Wilton Blueberry Festival (various locations in Wilton; wiltonbbf.com; admission, free; Aug. 5–6), which features blueberry picking, boat rides on Wilson Lake, live music and a blueberry bake-off.
Just 15 minutes north in the adjacent town of Farmington, there’s plenty to see at Frost Antiques and Gifts (1151 Fairbanks Rd. [Rte. 4], Farmington; 207-778-3761; frostantiquesandgifts.com), a family-owned shop that has sold local Maine antiques for more than 40 years. Swing by the tasting room at Tumbledown Brewing (805 Farmington Falls Rd., Unit 7, Farmington; 207-944-0697; tumbledownbrewing.com), a new addition to the state’s flourishing craft-beer scene. Owner Matthew Swan keeps four house brews on tap (try the Tumbledown Irish Red). For lunch, sip a bowl of gazpacho at Soup for You! Café (222 Broadway, Farmington; 207-779-0799; lunch for two, $25). If you’re eager to stretch your legs, try the Tumbledown Mountain (Byron Rd., Weld; 207-778-8231) hike, in nearby Weld. Sheltered by a mix of hardwood and softwood forest, the 1.8-mile Brook Trail climbs to Crater Lake, a rare alpine pond and the perfect spot to go for a swim when the weather is warm.
For more fun in the sun, pack a picnic and point your car toward Rangeley Lakes State Park (Rte. 17, Rangeley; 207-864-3858; maine.gov/rangeleylake), an 869-acre reserve in the shadow of Saddleback Mountain, just an hour’s drive northwest of Farmington. You can pause along the way on Route 17 to take in the Height of Land lookout, which has showstopping views of Mooselookmeguntic Lake below. An all-season destination for outdoor enthusiasts, Rangeley’s six major lakes and 900 acres of land, rivers, streams and ponds are the perfect place for swimming, picnicking and canoeing, with plenty of options for hiking. The two-mile Bald Mountain trail, in Oquossoc, which has panoramic views of the White Mountains, is a great choice. For scenery without breaking a sweat, visitors can set sail on one of Rangeley Region Lake Cruises’ (274 Shore Rd., Oquossoc; 207-670-8391; rangeleylakecruises.com; scenic cruises, from $25) restored wooden boats; Rangeley offers charters and hour-long group cruises.
In the town of Rangeley you can pick up an espresso or bubble tea at Inner Eye (2487 Main St., Rangeley; 207-864-5100; facebook.com/innereyemaine). And you can refuel with dinner at the Rangeley Inn & Tavern (2443 Main St., Rangeley; 207-864-3341; therangeleyinn.com; dinner for two, $50), where the rustic menu includes double-cut pork chops with onion relish.
Carrabassett Valley and the Forks
No trip to Maine is complete without a glimpse of the state’s star animal attraction, the moose. During the summer, Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, in Carrabassett Valley, offers weekly three-hour guided moose safaris by bus with a 95 percent sighting success rate (5092 Access Rd., Carrabassett Valley; 800-843-5623; sugarloaf.com; from $25). Or plan a daylong river excursion in the Forks, a region known as Maine’s white-water-rafting mecca. On Northern Outdoors’ Kennebec trips (1771 U.S. Rte. 201, the Forks; 800-765-7238; northernoutdoors.com; from $89), you can power through Class IV rapids inside the Upper Kennebec’s rock-walled canyon. At midday you’ll break for lunch at a riverside cookout where you can scout for otter and osprey while your guides prepare grilled chicken.
Back on land, raise a glass of blueberry ale at Northern Outdoors Kennebec River Pub & Brewery (1771 U.S. Rte. 201, the Forks; 800-765-7238; northernoutdoors.com) and toast to your time in western Maine, where there’s adventure around every turn and, if you’re lucky, maybe even a moose or two.
RCI® Affiliated resorts in Maine include:
Member Review: “The massages here are wonderful.”
Member Review: “The staff is top-notch.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
Telemark Inn Wilderness LodgeTurn-of-the-century former country home run by New England Horseback Riding and Carriage Driving offers five guest rooms and a wraparound front porch. 591 Kings Hwy., Mason Township; 207-731-6888; newenglandridinganddriving.com; doubles from $145 a night, including breakfast
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Summer 2016