They don’t call it Vacationland for nothing, and of Maine’s prime escapes, the Mahoosuc Mountains are a hidden gem any time of year. The Sunday River area may be known for winter’s snow-covered slopes, but endless possibilities for summer fun make it an undeniably close second for our favorite time of year. Skip the beach. The mountains are where it’s at.
If you’re into adventure, there are plenty of opportunities to learn new skills and pick up a passion. Sunday River’s Mountain Park operates out of the South Ridge Base Area and features ziplining, scenic Chondola rides, a bungee trampoline, and rock climbing, all available through the Adventure Pass. There’s also a new 18-hole disc golf course coming this summer, accessed via the Chondola. It’s the perfect place for some friendly competition on the twin zips, or ear-to-ear grins from the top of the climbing wall.
Sunday River’s Mountain Bike School offers 90-minute lessons for ages 10 and up and teaches beginners the fundamentals of downhill biking, and offers instruction to more advanced downhillers on how to perfect their technique.
The L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools at the Grand Summit Hotel lets you unleash your inner Katniss in the archery range, or explore the surrounding waterways in kayaks and on stand up paddle boards. Guests can choose between introductory lessons for newbies or guided tours for the more-familiar folks.
But the challenges don’t stop there. With foot-races a-plenty throughout the summer season, you can push yourself to the limits starting with Bethel’s MollyOckett Day’s annual 5-mile run/1-mile walk event. The sold-out Tough Mountain Challenge on July 23 puts a unique spin on the popular dirty obstacle race as a 4-mile course that’s tough as nails and extra fun to watch. There’s even a smaller race—the Mini Mountain Challenge—for kids ages 4-12. The MEMIC Peak2Peak Challenge on September 10, Sunday River’s newest event, also dares participants to tackle the mountain’s terrain, but with no set course, racers are tasked with finding their way to the top of all eight peaks and back to South Ridge as an individual or in teams And finally, the classic North American Wife Carrying Championship on October 8 pits couples against one another in a race like no other.
Most of the fun during vacation is in exploring a new place by foot, bike, or boat. For the casual stroll, the Bethel Pathway winds along the Androscoggin River from the Big Adventure Center to Telstar Middle and High School, featuring both paved and gravel paths. The Mahoosuc Land Trust also offers easy trails through the woods for nature-filled exploration.
Hikes of varying length and difficulty also wind through Mahoosucs. Traverse the eight peaks of Sunday River on designated hiking trails, or drive to Grafton Notch State Park to hike the Eyebrow Loop, Table Rock, or Old Speck. For mini forays into the wild, check out the Moose Cave, Step Falls, Screw Auger Falls, also located in Grafton Notch. Mount Will, located 3 miles from Sunday River, is another tried-and-true hike with tough steeps and rewarding views of Bethel and the surrounding areas.
If hot days call for cooler adventures, the Androscoggin River is the place to go. With kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, and inner tube rentals from Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Campground and Sport Thoma, there are endless possibilities for seeing different sections of this picturesque river. Calmer waters wait in the ponds peppered throughout the area as well.
Though golf can be reminiscent of the straight-and-narrow, the Sunday River Golf Club strays from the norm as a scenic mountain course with all the challenge and beauty imaginable.
Join the Festivities
The long days of summer are perfect for nonstop partying, too, and there’s a little something for everyone. The River Rock Festival (July 1–2) brings a host of the top Christian rock bands to pump up the Sunday River stage, wrapped up with a Fourth of July firework show. The 27th Annual Bethel Art Fair (July 2) draws over 60 of Maine’s finest artists, entertainers, and food vendors that same weekend.
The New England Forest Rally (July 15–16) features rally cars racing at top speeds through the back roads of Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire. The Rally Village is staged outside of the South Ridge Lodge at Sunday River, meaning there’s plenty of time for meet and greets with pros like Ken Block before, during, and after your time at the Mountain Park.
And to get ready for that Tough Mountain Challenge we mentioned earlier, Sunday River hosts the Big Ass Bash (July 22) to prep racers and spectators for the big day with live music from Bent Not Broken and Joshua Tree. As the name describes, it’s a party you won’t want to miss.
Relax and Unwind
Do you need a vacation from your vacation? After all, it can be hard to take a breather when there’s so much fun to be had—especially when your fellow travelers are the young or the young-at-heart.
The Jordan Spa at the Jordan Hotel offers everything from facials, massages, and body treatments to manicures, pedicures, and insanely luxurious combination packages Tuesday through Saturday all summer long. The Health Club at the Grand Summit Hotel features relaxation of a different variety in Wellness Classes like Yoga and Zumba. For a schedule of these classes or to book a spa service, visit the reception desk at either hotel.
And who doesn’t like to unwind over a delicious meal? Camp, located in the Grand Summit Hotel is a rustic-chic escape with a delightfully fresh and creative summer menu for food and cocktails. Camp is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, 207-824-5858.
This summer is chock full of big, beautiful moons that are perfect for an enjoyable evening. Celebrate the Buck Moon on July 15, a Sturgeon Moon on August 19, and a Harvest Moon on September 16 with a scenic Chondola ride to the Peak Lodge, live entertainment, a cocktail reception, and a locally prepared moon-inspired dinner for just $39 per adult, and $14 for kids ages 6-12, 800-543-2754.