The next day, I set out for what I had intended to accomplish the day before, heading north of town toward state Route 26, pausing at the well-named Good Food Store, widely considered the best sandwich shop in town. I got the turkey and cheddar sandwich, mostly for the lure of the homemade bourbon barbecue sauce, then headed up toward five miles of road that any state would love to call its own: Grafton Notch State Park.
The highway cuts through the park, which makes it a series of stops within the autumn color, rather than one place to park and explore. And on a rainy Thursday, the stops were largely mine: Moose Cave, Screw Auger Falls, Mother Walker Falls Gorge and the series of walks within each.
I blazed up Table Rock trail, which felt at times like a straight vertical climb through forest. Halfway up, I was socked in with gray and mist, so the climb was for its own sake; no colors but no problem on a quiet weekday afternoon. The way down on the backside was far gentler. The last mile was on the Appalachian Trail, one mile of the 2,181 miles stretching from all the way up here to Georgia.
Back low, the color was in full effect once more, and I ate my turkey, cheddar and bourbon barbecue sandwich in the parking lot, facing a tall wall of yellow, orange and rock.
I drove past the other sights, largely alone, left to marvel in particular at Screw Auger Falls, where if you let your eyes relax, you see autumn: all those colors trapped in the water, sent over the falls in a flash and plunged into the foamy white below.
I spent five hours in those five miles. It was yet another lesson that the hunt for fall colors doesn't depend on covering massive distance. It's taking in the distance slowly.
If you go
Fall color season can be difficult to predict, but it usually peaks in western Maine during the first 10 days of October.
Getting there: One of Bethel's charms is remoteness, which means getting there can take some work. It is about 90 minutes from Portland International Airport, three hours from New Hampshire Airport in Manchester and 31/2 hours from Boston Logan International Airport. Portland is closest, but Manchester is served by more airlines and seems to be a less expensive destination.
Stay: Though small, Bethel boasts plenty of places to stay, many of which are quaint and affordable bed-and-breakfasts, such as Crocker Pond (917 North Road, 207-836-2027, crockerpond.com). For something cheaper and in the heart of town, consider Sudbury Inn (151 Main St., 207-824-2174, thesudburyinn.com).
Eat: There is a wide range of options, from expansive Italian at 22 Broad Street (22 Broad St., 207-824-3496, 22broadstreet.com) to decent bar food at Sudbury Inn (the blackened salmon was surprisingly fresh; close to 30 beers on draft) and pitch-perfect sandwiches (and a quality wine and beer selection) at Good Food Store (212 Mayville Road, 207-824-3754, goodfoodbethel.com), as well as Smokin' Good BBQ in a trailer in Good Food Store's parking lot.
More information: bethelmaine.com