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Valentine Farm, Bethel

Updated: Jan 28

I love finding accessible trails, but it's even more exciting when I stumble upon one by accident. This preserve in Bethel offers 1.2 miles of universally accessible trails, winding through woods and fields with views of the Androscoggin River, the Bethel Community Garden and the Habitat for All Pollinator Garden. I found this trail as a result of poor planning and an experience that reminded me, once again, to always check the trail manager's website before setting out to explore any new trail...especially in the winter months.

Androscoggin River at Valentine Farm, Bethel Maine

My original plan had been to drop my son and his friend off at Sunday River for a day of skiing, then take my dog Romy to explore the Bethel Community Forest, just 15 minutes away. I'd done a search on All Trails, and discovered a trail with a view that I was excited to explore: the 3.6 mile out and back Ridge Summit Trail. What I should have done next: check the trail manager's website for current conditions and closures. What I did do next: probably poured myself another cup of coffee and got distracted by something else.

Local trails are maintained by any combination of land trusts, towns, conservation groups and outdoor recreation organizations. Maine Trail Finder lists the trail manager for each trail in our state, but you can also find it by just googling the trail name - the manager's website will always come up.

Since I did not check this trail manager's website (which is Inland Woods & Trials, btw), when I arrived at Locke Mountain Road (the road that leads to the trailhead), I found a closed gate and several "no parking" signs: my first clue that these trails were not accessible in the winter.

Maybe I should have looked for another trail at that point, but it's tough to deter me when I have my mind set on something. So I parked my car far from the gate, before returning to it and walking around it. After a short trek up a steep logging road, we arrived at the trailhead and learned that yes in fact, these trails were closed for the winter. We did attempt to hike in deep snow for some time before turning back and finally giving in. And I had called my husband at the trailhead to give him my location, since we were the only two souls out there. This is a new practice for me, but it's a really important one. ALWAYS let someone know where and when you'll be hiking, especially when hiking alone - or with a large, stubborn dog who's been known to stop walking in the middle of a hike.

Although we didn't get to experience the ridge summit trail, we were granted a pretty sweet view from the trailhead. We will return to these trails in the summer months. Maybe with mountain bikes, since this trail network is made for those.

After returning to our car and heading back towards Sunday River, I noticed a parking lot with a trailhead sign and had to pull in. What I discovered was another entrance to the Bethel Community Forest at 305 North Road and this one was OPEN. I got out of my car to read the postings on the kiosk and as luck would have it, met a woman who served on the board for Inland Woods & Trails. Thank you universe! She explained that this was the winter parking lot. From here, a 2 mile trail leads to the summer trailhead that we'd just attempted to explore. Eventually, this trail system will continue all the way to Sunday River...they're working on it. Here is a map that explains the trail network.

This friendly and knowledgeable board member also recommended a preserve to explore nearby called Valentine Farm. She explained that the trails there would always be well traveled and packed down, even post snow storm. So off Romy and I went, to a preserve that didn't require snow shoes.

Maintained by the Mahoosuc Land Trust and located at 162 North Road in Bethel, this trail is universally accessible and even has a write-up by Enoch Glidden, Maine Trail Finder's Accessibility Ambassador.

Here I found a peaceful walk along the Androscoggin River and through quiet woods. I also met another mom with her dog who, like me, had opted out of skiing on such a cold day. If your kids need skiing, but you and your dog need walking, this is the trail for you.

There is a storybook walk on the 0.6 mile East Loop and also a fairy garden. The 0.4 mile West Loop walks past the Habitat Garden before winding through the woods. The 0.6 mile River Loop features a former agricultural field with 600 feet of Androscoggin River shoreland. It is now being managed for bird habitat. I would recommend exploring all three loops and it won't take you long!

Snowy trail through woods at Valentine Farm in Bethel, ME

In hindsight, the first hike I had planned may have been a bit much for a slow dog in the deep snow...on a 12 degree day. As it turns out, our walk at Valentine Farm was just perfect for us. Sometimes you don't get what you want, but you get what you need. And today, this peaceful, family-friendly, dog-friendly, accessible trail in Bethel was exactly that.


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