Located on the doorstep of Sunday River Resort, Bethel, Maine, is well-known as a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders. But local nature guide Alex Carr, founder of Bethel Adventure Tours (betheladventuretours.com), says there’s much more to western Maine than skiing — and that Bethel has the potential to be a four-season recreation destination along the lines of Park City, Utah. “The Mahoosuc range offers some of the best hiking and snowshoeing in New England,” Carr said.
That’s why the lifelong outdoorsman last year began offering partial- and full-day privately guided tours that introduce visitors to the area’s stunning natural scenery, no matter the season. Not that winter isn’t a spectacular time to be here. But there’s plenty to do beyond the slopes, Carr says, from snowshoe tours and fat biking to nighttime “owling” walks.
“There are skiers who come here who may have a significant other or family member or friend who doesn’t ski, and they’re looking for something to do,” Carr said. “They don’t want to be sitting at home, they might want to go on a stargazer tour, or they might want to go birdwatching or snowshoeing.” (And with the price of an adult lift ticket at Sunday River cresting $100, a guided outdoor excursion can be a budget-friendly alternative, too, starting at $30 to $45.)
It’s not hard to access the abundant nearby natural beauty in and around Bethel — there are even trailheads right downtown — but Carr said a guided adventure can help vacationers make the most of their limited time in the mountains. “They can experience much more with a guide — more terrain, more sights, more understanding of history and the nature of the area, more safety, more fun,” Carr said. It’s also a great way to try out a new activity with some reassuring supervision. “Many clients are looking for an introduction into an adventure sport and feel much more comfortable leaving the logistics and planning to an expert.”
Even in the deep, dark woods — hiking out onto a frozen pond at night for an unbeatable 360-degree view of the stars, for example — explorers are in good hands with Carr. A seasoned outdoorsman and wilderness-certified emergency medical technician, Carr started working as a tour guide and ski instructor after a 22-year, globe-spanning career as a US Navy flight officer. “One of my primary duties was navigation,” he said. “Reading charts and maps was essential.” And having worked at an adaptive sports nonprofit for three years, he’s quite comfortable creating excursions for those with limited mobility. “Every tour is family-friendly, and we can accommodate all fitness levels — we can customize virtually every aspect,” Carr said.
Summer and fall are, not surprisingly, prime time for hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking on local waterways, like the Androscoggin River — which Carr said was terribly polluted when he was growing up here. “The Clean Water Act and a huge amount of clean up have transformed this beautiful river,” he said, making it one of his favorite venues for water-based tours. “It’s a fantastic place to paddle and birdwatch, and it’s very accessible for all abilities.”
And while mud season can be a slow period in the mountains, Carr says spring is a great time to go hiking in Maine: It’s relatively bug-free, he notes, and you can still hike to snow in April and even May. Plus, he adds, it’s a unique chance to catch the woods bursting with new life. Carr likes to point out interesting flowers, plants, and songbirds to clients — as well as historical features of the land, like remnants of the region’s booming 19th-century timber industry.
When it comes to hiking during the wet season, Carr said, more important than waterproof gear is what you have in your car when you get back from the trail — namely, some type of plastic bin or tub to toss your muddy boots into. “Just be willing to get a little bit dirty and muddy,” he said. “Nobody cares once they’re out there seeing cool things.”
And while spring rains and melting snow can make for a sloppy trail, there’s an upside to all that runoff: gorgeous waterfalls in full flow. Some, like Step Falls and Screw Auger Falls, are right off the road, Carr said, but others are fairly well hidden or only surface in springtime. “I know a number of places where the trail follows these streams and brooks that become these beautiful nice falls, and you can walk along them for as much as a mile,” he said.
Maybe “mud season” just needs some rebranding; “waterfall season” has a nice ring to it.
Jon Gorey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to email@example.com.