Hiking in the Bethel region is extremely popular in the summer and fall, but if you’ve never taken winter hikes while visiting Sunday River, it’s time to change that. Here are three easy winter hikes to try in the snowy season.
Esker Trail in McCoy-Chapman Forest
Length: 1.1 miles
Managed by: Mahoosuc Land Trust
This fairly flat, and short loop is located on North Road in Bethel and winds along the banks of the Androscoggin River. With a little bit of incline, you may want to wear snowshoes or micro spikes, depending on conditions, but this is definitely doable in a pair of sturdy winter boots too. If you’re new to winter hikes, this is a great place to start. But for experienced winter hikers, the McCoy Chapman Forest has a few other trails that are accessible from the same parking lot that can be done on their own or in conjunction with the Esker loop.
Buck’s Ledge & Lapham Ledge
Length: 2.4 miles
Managed by: Woodstock Conservation Commission
A short drive to Woodstock, Maine, brings you to two of the more popular and accessible summer hiking spots in the area. Due to recent logging around the trails, which opened up a loop on the Lapham Ledge side, the views of Mt. Abram, North Pond, South Pond, Bryant Pond, and the Presidential Range in the White Mountains are spectacular when the leaves have fallen and there is snow covering the trail. Choose your own adventure by doing one or both of these trails during your winter hike.
Length: 1.9 Miles
Managed by: Private landowners
This out-and-back trail is consistently steeper than the previous options, but is off-the-beaten path in Albany Township. Whether you stop for a short break on the way up, or let your eyes wander on your way back down, you’ll have stunning views of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains. Plus, if you’re looking for a challenge, the short-yet-steep Rock Castle Loop at the top of the trail adds vertical and views galore.
Tips for success:
- Plan to hike with a buddy, or to let someone know where you’re hiking. Despite these being short walks, be sure to pack a backpack with water, snacks, extra layers, hand warmers, a flashlight, and portable charger for your cell phone just in case.
- Dress in layers. You’ll start off cold, but will want to be able to shed layers as you warm up on your hike up. Be sure to add your layers back as your make your descent. This includes snow pants, as well as a jacket with ventilation.
- Consider using micro-spikes or snowshoes. If the snow is packed down but icy, micro-spikes will help to keep your footing. If the snow is deep and soft, snowshoes will help to keep you from sinking into the snow. The Valentine Farm Conservation Center (another great winter walk!) offers a free lending program for snowshoes on a first-come, first-served basis. A pair of sturdy winter boots are key, and trekking poles or ski poles can be helpful too.
- Before hitting any trail, review the guidelines and tips from the trail manager and be respectful of the land. This includes learning if there are leash/voice-command requirements for dogs, snowmobile crossings, or any boundary lines in place from private landowners. Taking the Mahoosuc Way Pledge to Embrace Our Place is a great place to start!