Three Perfect Days in the Western Mountains of Maine

Ask anyone with kids: Summer happens in a blink. One minute you’re busy loading the car for your next weekend adventure, and the next, back to school ads are reminding you that this precious time off is nearly over. To ensure that you make the most of your time here in the Western Mountains of Maine, below are one local mom’s secrets to three perfect days.

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Friday: The Sunday River Mountain Park
If you’re not already staying at Sunday River Resort, consider it your base camp for your long weekend adventure. On property, two resort hotels offer all of the bells and whistles a family with young ones might need (read: outdoor heated pools). These hotels offer multi-room units with kitchens or kitchenettes, perfect for the mom or dad whose many roles includes short order cook.

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Now (more importantly), let the fun begin! The easiest way to cover the most ground on Day 1 is with an Adventure Pass. The Adventure Pass gives you all-day access to four of Sunday River’s most popular activities including Scenic Lift Rides, Twin Ziplines, the Bungee Trampoline, and Climbing Wall. Passes are $25 ages 13 and older and $22 ages 12 and younger, and can be purchased at Sunday River Sports in the South Ridge Lodge. While you’re picking up your Adventure Passes you can also use this time to pay for the other Mountain Park activities, like the two-hour Zipline Tour or 90-minute mountain bike clinic that you’ve gone ahead and preregistered for because you’re a kid-parent-scheduling ninja (800-543-2754). If those Samurai skills slipped your mind, or you’re looking for a different kind of fun, go ahead and try the brand new 18-hole disc golf course. You’ll take the Chondola up, and cruise your way down the walkable course.

By noon you’ve probably covered enough vertical to make the likes of a Sir Edmund Hilary smile and hunger has set in something fierce. Fear not, little adventurer, Mainely Grill, located amidst today’s many adventures, sources products locally and regionally to serve the best hamburgers, veggie burgers, and hand-cut fries in the land, and will recharge those batteries enough for an afternoon dip back at your hotel pool.  Don’t worry about looking for dinner tonight (Marco? Polo…), Sunday River’s Camp restaurant located in the Grand Summit Hotel is a family favorite and no-brainer. Adults appreciate the many appealing entrees (and drinks), and kiddos love the Little Camper menu (207-824-5858).

Saturday: From “The River” to The River
Sunday River to the Androscoggin River to be exact. However, before you start channeling your inner Brad Pitt or begin to daydream of his likes in A River Runs Through It, make like Paul Maclean (with children) run to (drive to) Café Dicocoa located on Main Street in Bethel, just five miles from the resort. This café/bakery (not “fakery” as you’ll soon see) uses the absolute best ingredients to make everything from scratch, and why it is a repeat Best of Bethel Winner. Bottom line: Their iced coffees are amazing and have magical mom/dad restorative powers and their egg sandwiches put others claiming the same name to shame. The handmade chocolate croissants are pretty darn good, too (125 Main St, Bethel, 207-824-5282).

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Now fueled and ready to go, you’ve realized that your tummies only hold so much yumminess so you’ve packed the rest to go for lunch. Back up the road on Rt. 2 (and just past a Rite Aid and Family Dollar should you need items like sunscreen, sunglasses, and water), is Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Campground with canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards, and even inner tubes to rent. Specializing in water trips that range from 4-mile (1-2 hour) journeys to a 10-mile (3-4 hours) excursion, even those with minimal water experience can navigate from start to finish thanks to their convenient drop-off service and river-side location that also serves as your finish line (121 Mayville Rd, Bethel, 207-824-4224).

Since you’ve worked up an appetite for dinner, you’ll hit up another Best of Bethel winner, Suds Pub located on Main Street. Between the old school Pac Man game, the casual family-style set up, the ample crayons to color with, and the sports playing on every corner TV, this little oasis in the basement of the Sudbury Inn is the perfect place to unwind after a busy day under the sun (151 Main St, Bethel, 207-824-6558).  Another great option if you’re looking for takeout instead is Smokin’ Good BBQ located in the Good Food Store parking lot (212 Mayville Rd., Route 2, Bethel, 207-824-3754). Pick and choose from your favorite smoked meats and delicious sides or sample everything with an order of Dave’s Double Wide Family Combo.

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Sunday. Park it—the Grafton Notch State Park that is!
Just because the car is packed doesn’t mean that the adventure is over. Opt for a late breakfast which may feel more like brunch should you have little, little human alarm clocks, and hit up Crossroads for true diner fare including bottomless coffees (24 Mayville Rd, Bethel, 207-824-3683). This should give you enough time to call in your 11am takeout order from The Good Food Store which specializes in amazing sandwiches and salads and always has a daily special (212 Mayville Rd., Route 2, Bethel, 207-824-3754).

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The breakfast struggle can be so real sometimes.

Now you’re fueled and ready to go. Located about 20 minutes away from Bethel is Grafton Notch State Park, a breathtaking mountain valley known for its hiking, birding, and watchable wildlife. Just before the park entrance, however, is Step Falls Preserve—an easy hike that rises 200 feet along Wight Brook in a series of cascades, and beckons little hikers to scale granite rocks alongside its tumbling waterfalls and icy pools. Start here and warm up the legs before moving into the park for a more challenging hike like Table Rock or scenic waterfall like Screw Auger Falls.  Just don’t forget to bring a camera or phone—your kids will want to practice their inner East Coast Ansel Adams while here.

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Hungry for more? On your way out, consider making the trek back into the Bethel area for ice cream at the Hitching Post Diner (156 W Bethel Rd, Bethel, 207-824-4624). Ice cream—at least in my family—is always a surefire way to add the proverbial cherry on top to any family trip.

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