Bethel, Maine has the Blues – Blue Mountains, that is!
When it comes to mountains, Vermont has the Greens, New Hampshire has the Whites, and Maine has the Blues. The Blues, better known as the Longfellow Range after Maine’s most famous poet, extend northeast from Bethel to 5,268 foot Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The section of the Blues from the Androscoggin River to the Bear River in Grafton Notch is called the Mahoosucs, likely an anglicized Abenaki Indian term for “land that is hard to hunt in” or “abode of hungry animals.” Some historians believe the term means pinnacle or mountain peak.
Since the 1870’s, travelers have visited the Bethel area to hike the peaks and neighboring foothills, breathe the clean mountain air, spark their creative spirits, and cure their blues. Not to be overshadowed by the more publicized and well-known Presidential Range and White Mountains, the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce is reaching out to visitors of all ages and abilities to hike, walk, and backpack the variety of trails found in the western Maine region.
There are over two dozen day hikes in the area including the Mt. Will Trail, Step Falls Nature Preserve, Table Rock Trail, and Wright Trail leading up Goose Eye Mountain. The Grafton Loop Trail provides a three-night backpacking trip for the adventuresome. In town, the Bethel Pathway along the Androscoggin River, Paradise Road, and self-guided walking tours of the town’s historic district satisfy the casual, exercise walker.
Recently rebuilt, Table Rock Trail is a favorite with families. The 2.4 mile loop follows the Appalachian Trail’s white blaze to the blue-blazed trail. It rises gradually to a height of 900 feet above the trail head. (You may also take a right on the orange-blazed trail to ascend steeply. Children prefer this. Minor caves and clambering are fun.) From aptly named Table Rock, the vista includes 4,180-foot Old Speck Mountain, the third highest mountain in Maine. Step Falls near Grafton Notch was the Nature Conservancy’s first preserve in Maine. The 24-acre preserve trail follows Wright Brook, a braided stream of steeply cascading pools dropping over 250 feet — making this one of Maine’s highest waterfalls. This is an ideal hike for nature photographers. The Mt. Will Trail, developed by the Bethel Conservation Commission, climbs 730 feet through the Bethel Town Forest. The North Ledges Section is highlighted by a descriptive nature trail, followed by a hike to south facing ledges that afford views of the Androscoggin valley and Bethel village. The final rocky descent completes the 3.25 mile loop. The Wright Trail is a full day’s loop hike up to the 3860 foot summit of Goose Eye Mountain. This trail is part of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ Mahoosuc Unit.
For its hiking visitors, Bethel offers a variety of lodging from restored bed & breakfasts, historic inns, to resorts with swimming pools and golf courses, as well as motels and campgrounds. Dining options range from a half dozen pizza places to Chinese, Korean, BBQ, vegetarian, English pub, microbrewery, and fine dining. Day hikers can pick up a pack lunch at the local supermarket or specialty food stores. There is an outdoor outfitter right in town for those in need of hiking, backpacking, and camping gear. The Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce office has trails maps for day hikes in the area and the staff will provide direction to the trail heads. For information on walking, hiking, and backpacking, contact the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-442-5826 or on-line at www.bethelmaine.com.