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Swimming Holes Near Bethel, Maine

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

My family recently spent a few days in Bethel and while there, explored several swimming holes and waterfalls in the area. On day one, we were holed in by rain and happy for an excuse to lounge around reading, watching movies, napping and playing poker. By day two, the sun had come out and we went whole hog - checking off an entire list of holes: Frenchman's Hole, The Honey Hole, mini golf holes at Bethel's Big Adventure Center, and takeout from The Pie Hole. On day three, we explored the most impressive of the swimming holes - Step Falls.

The funny thing is, we didn't actually swim at any of these places. The weather felt more like fall, providing zero motivation for jumping into frigid mountain water. If you visit and decide to jump in, more power to you. As my brother-in-law, Jeff, likes to say to his kids, "And when you get the choice to sit it out or swim. I hope you swim." (shout-out to Lee Ann Womack).

Some of these swimming holes were easier to find than others, but I'll share all of the details and directions with you. First stop, Frenchman's Hole.

The highlight of this swimming hole is a large cliff that you can flip or jump off of into the deep water. If you choose (like us) not to swim, there are plenty of falls to explore and ledges to sun yourself on. It's also fun to watch others jump from the cliff. We were the only ones here since we arrived bright and early, but I have seen people jumping in the past... including my nephew, Jack, who is always the first to jump off of any cliff into cold water. His dad has taught him well.

To get to Frenchman's Hole, turn left onto Route 2 in Bethel and follow Sunday River Road for 7 miles. Stay right at every fork in the road. After taking a left onto Twin Bridges Road and driving over two logging bridges, turn right onto Bull Branch Road. About .7 miles down, you will see the parking area for Frenchman's Hole on the left. To find the cliffs and large swimming hole, walk back in the direction you came and look for stairs leading down to the water. Or take the dirt path, just beyond the stairs, which will bring you directly to the cliff. Either works. If you type "Frenchman's Hole, Newry, ME" into your GPS, it will bring you right to the parking area.

Once you've had your thrill of cliff jumping, get back in your car and continue past Frenchman's Hole to the Honey Hole. You will find this calmer swimming area .6 miles from Frenchman's. There are several pull-offs to park your car, but no parking area here. This spot includes many pools and falls, plus one large, honey colored swimming hole.

These two swimming holes can easily be combined into one trip, but you may want to spend an entire day at our next stop: Step Falls. This short hike leads to cascading waterfalls, natural water-slides, clear pools and views of the Mahoosuc Mountains. Owned by the Mahoosuc Land Trust, this 24-acre preserve includes land on both sides of Wight Brook in Newry. This pristine brook flows over ledges and basins created during the last ice age, as melt water filled with sediment poured down, carving deep holes in the rock as the glaciers retreated.

The Step Falls trailhead is located on Route 26 (Bear River Rd), .5 miles before the entrance to Grafton Notch State Park. There is a suggested donation of $5 per person and the lot can fill up quickly on a hot day, so plan accordingly. If you're coming from downtown Bethel, the drive is about 20 minutes, starting out on US-2, then heading east to turn left onto Route 26.

For an even bigger adventure, hike one of the glorious mountains in Grafton Notch (Old Speck, Baldpate, Table Rock or Goose Eye) before swimming at Step Falls. Other natural landmarks to explore off of Route 26 include: Screw Auger Falls, Mother Walker Falls, and the Moose Caves. For details on those caves and waterfalls, link here.

The Step Falls hiking trail is 1.2 miles round-trip and you will arrive at the water quickly after starting out. Our boys had a blast climbing the falls from rock to rock, but Tim and I stayed mostly on the trail since we had our large, clumsy dog with us.

Henry, our 12 year old, could have stayed at Step Falls the entire day. Finn, our 15 year old, also loved it, but hunger got the best of him...and we'd forgotten to pack snacks. This is one of those places that appeals to all ages. With mountain views, waterfalls, and an easy hike, what's not to love? My one bit of advice is to wear sneakers or water shoes. Tim and I opted for flip-flops, which was not the best choice. I'm shocked neither one of us went down on those rock slides...we came close many times.

What I appreciate most about Bethel, is the range of hikes and swimming holes for all abilities. From the magestic mountains in Grafton Notch State Park, to the roadside swimming holes...and golf holes, there is something for just about everyone here. For my family, it was a sweet balance of activity and relaxation. After a busy summer, it was just what we all needed.


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