A Beginner's Guide to Bethel in Summer
Advice from one newbie to another
Picture this: you’ve just moved to the Bethel area, you like the outdoors but don’t know where to begin. Well, no sweat, because I’m here to help.
Hi! I just moved to the Bethel area at the end of May 2022 and found myself in a similar position. I love hiking and mountain biking, but I didn’t really know where to begin. So, I began where most inquiries do: Google. I started with hikes and found a couple of standouts in nearby Grafton Notch. I set out on my first adventure in mid-June up West and East Baldpate Mountain. It’s roughly a 7.5-mile hike (if you tack on the east peak extension) of moderate difficulty with SPECTACULAR 360 views from East Baldpate.
The following weekend I tackled Old Speck, also in Grafton Notch and in the same parking lot as Baldpate. Old Speck is highlighted by an old fire tower at the summit that is climbable and gives you a completely unobstructed view. It’s a similar length as Baldpate, coming in around 7.5 miles. While Baldpate is an out and back, Old Speck has an option to make a partial loop. About .1 miles in, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. They both take you to Old Speck, but I believe I lucked into the easier way to take the loop. I opted to take the right fork, which has some fun rock scrambling and a wire “handrail” on the steepest section. Eventually the two trails do meet and converge into one path that you’ll take to the summit. The only negative I can say about these hikes is that if you don’t have a breeze at the summit, you will be swarmed with black flies, so keep that in mind.
A fun note about both of these hikes: they follow the Appalachian Trail, so it’s very likely you’ll come across some thru-hikers. I packed some extra snacks and handed them out when I came across some of those brave and hungry souls.
So that’s hiking - on to biking!
Let me preface by saying that although I really enjoy mountain biking, I’m not an expert. I’m a comfortable intermediate rider, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
My first outing on two wheels was at Mount Abram, about 20 minutes from Bethel. Mount Abram is a lift-serviced mountain bike park with trails for almost every ability. I give it that slight caveat because I think you should have at least a very basic knowledge of biking before loading the lift. While the beginner trails are very well maintained, they might catch an inexperienced rider off guard. That said, Mount Abram has an awesome coaching staff that can help you get fitted with a bike and give you some pointers as well. I’ve been out a few times and have stuck to the greens since I’ve been riding alone and want to work on my technique, but if you’re experienced and want to go full send, there’s a Hollywood line right under the chair with tight turns and big jumps.
If downhill biking isn’t really your speed, there are several trail networks around Bethel that have a less aggressive XC feel to them. I went out to the Bethel Village trails and spent a couple of hours rolling around on the different trails.
So, let’s start by finding the trails, which was a touch confusing. I parked right at the Bethel Village Inn. On the backside, there’s a golf cart path which you’ll hop on and follow for a bit until you arrive at a row of condos. At this point, you might notice a faint bike path on the grass to your left. It looks like it doesn’t go anywhere, but that is the bike path. Super clear right? And there’s no signage. However, if you miss it, that’s totally fine. Keep riding through the parking lot and as you reach the end of it, you’ll see a trail on the other side of the road. This will take you onto the trails.
I found navigating the network a bit confusing. I think the trail map I found online isn’t totally updated, and the maps around the trail network are of the winter XC trails. That said, the actual trails are pretty fun and definitely worth exploring. The trails I rode were generally turny and full of ups and downs, so it’s not a flowy cruiser. You have to be on top of it the whole time.
So that’s my review for right now. Don’t be afraid to explore because there are some really great places in our backyard.
Growing up next door in New Hampshire, Maddy spent many vacations roaming around Sunday River's 8 peaks. After college and a brief 5-year stint in Park City, UT, she's back and ready to take some hot laps on Caramba.