At the far west end of its run across Maine, US-2 winds along the south bank of the Androscoggin River through the dense pine and birch forests of the White Mountains National Forest. Ten miles east of the New Hampshire border, along a placid stretch of the Androscoggin, Bethel (pop. 2,759) was first settled in 1774. At the tail end of the Revolutionary War, the town, then named Sudbury, suffered the last Native American raid inflicted on New England. The Gould Academy, one of Maine’s oldest prep schools, was established at the west end of town in 1836. After the railroads came through, Bethel quickly became a center for White Mountain-area tourism. Founded in 1913, The Bethel Inn Resort (21 Broad St., 207/824-2175 or 800/654-0125, $139 and up) was one of New England’s early health resorts, and it continues that tradition today. The inn is surrounded by 200 acres (including an 18-hole golf course), and if you’re looking for upscale lodging at reasonable rates, this is the place to go. Information on Bethel’s many other well-preserved old buildings can be found in the 200-year-old Mason House, facing the town common, which doubles as a small museum (15 Broad St., 207/824-2908, Thurs.-Sat. 1pm-4pm July-Aug., by appointment Sept.-June, $5).
For outdoor enthusiasts, the Sunday River Ski Area (800/543-2754), six miles northeast of town, draws thousands of visitors to the area for Aspen-scale skiing in winter, and hiking and mountain biking in summer (there’s also a popular “wife-carrying” contest in October). The après-ski party continues year-round, thanks to downtown Bethel’s Funky Red Barn (19 Summer St., 207/824-3003), which has a pool table, food, drink, and good live music.
Back on US-2, which is also known as the Mayville Road, there are a couple of good brewpubs (the Jolly Drayman Pub and Sunday River Brewing Company), plus one unexpected treat. Whenever you see smoke—most likely on Sundays—Smokin’ Good Barbecue (207/824-4744, Sun.) is cookin’ up ribs and baked beans in a bright orange trailer along US-2, a mile north of town, next to the Good Food Store.
Near the well-marked turnoff to Sunday River, there’s a nice picnic area with a covered bridge, along US-2 and the Androscoggin River. If you head north from here a mile or so past the ski area, another sign will point you toward the intricately constructed Sunday River Artist’s Covered Bridge, which spans the Sunday River.
From US-2 at Bethel, Route 26 runs southeast toward Portland and the coast, passing through the spa town of Poland Spring and the world’s last remaining intact Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake (207/926-4597, Mon.-Sat. May-Oct.), where a small museum gives tours ($10).