Let’s face it, hiking in northern New England is no simple walk in the park. Consider that we’re also home to some of the finest micro-breweries in the business, and one has to wonder: What’s the point of all those rugged, root-tangled miles, shin-slicing rock scrambles, and seemingly endless false summits, if the calories burnt aren’t immediately replenished by a pint of ale and some good old pub grub? Yep, that’s what we thought, too, so we took the liberty of mixing and matching our favorites to create a list of the five best beer hikes in Maine and New Hampshire. Please enjoy this post responsibly.
The rankings are based on the quality of the following criteria:
- The establishments must be within “close proximity” of some serious, badass hiking
- Each establishment must be a brewery
- The brewery must serve delectable grub
So, without further ado:
5. The Mahoosuc Range/Grafton Notch Region & The Sunday River Brewing Company
Located in western Maine, the Mahoosuc Range and the mountains of Grafton Notch offer hiking every bit as splendid as the heart of the White Mountains. All without a fraction of the foot traffic. The boulder-filled gorge of Mahoosuc Notch steals the show in the Mahoosucs, but the Appalachian Trail’s open traverse of Goose Eye’s multiple peaks is every bit as memorable. Not to be outdone, the Grafton Notch Loop Trail, a 38.2-mile trek across six peaks over 3,000 feet, highlighted by 4,180-foot Old Speck, will earn you a super-sized plate of nachos and a burger at the Sunday River Brewing Company.
Our pick: Goose Eye Mountain via the Wright Trail and a Black Bear Porter.
4. The Maine Appalachian Trail and the Kennebec River Brewery
Maine Appalachian Trail thru hikers crossing the Kennebec River “ferry” are likely to be asked if they’re staying at the Northern Outdoors resort, located a short distance north on Route 201 from the crossing. The arm twisting isn’t quite so hard once you realize that Northern Outdoors is home to the Kennebec River Brewery. The food is worthy of being served in a town aptly named “The Forks.” We’d have this one higher on the list if it wasn’t such a haul for day hikers. At the very least you’ll want to plan a 3-4 day getaway on a 37-mile hike from Route 27 across the Bigelow Mountain Range’s rugged peaks to the Kennebec River. Or hike north on the AT for an easier, 2-3 day, 34-mile hike to Monson.
Our pick: Section hike the entire Maine Appalachian Trail and enjoy a Whitewater Wheat.
Side note: Hikers planning on staying at Northern Outdoors should know that the resort caters mostly to whitewater rafting clientele, whose primary objective after hiker midnight typically isn’t getting a good night’s sleep. FYI in case the brewery part above didn’t already make this obvious.
3. Acadia National Park and the Atlantic Beer Company
When it comes to breweries, Bar Harbor is thrice as nice. Sadly, we can only pick one between the Atlantic Beer Company, Bar Harbor Brewing Company, and the Maine Coast Brewing Company. Bar Harbor Brewing loses out here on its lack of food (too bad, too, because the beer is great). The Maine Coast Brewing Company is really a restaurant, Jack Russell’s Steak House, that happens to brew its own beer. In other words, you go here for the steak, not the beer, which leaves The Atlantic Brewing Company as the heavyweight champ for Bar Harbor beer hiking. The beers are top shelf and Atlantic’s in-house restaurant, Mainly Meat BBQ, is an oasis for dirtbag hikers. Just get there early because the restaurant closes at 7 p.m.
Let’s not forget about the hiking. With 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain serving as the high point, Acadia National Park doesn’t look like much on a map for elevation junkies; however, the myriad of trails, many of which offer ocean views, turn the park into Treasure Island for hiking. Most of the trails are only a couple miles in length, but those looking to make a day of it can easily pick a parking location and hike all around the park without too much backtracking. Acadia can be a hive of activity in the summer, so those adverse to crowds may find the best time to visit is in late spring or early fall.
Our pick: Cadillac Mountain via the Gorge Path and a Bar Harbor Real Ale from the Atlantic Beer Company.
2. Pinkham Notch and Moat Mountain
We’d be remiss not to include a shout-out here to the Tuckerman Brewing Company, which not only takes its name from Mt. Washington, but also gives back, donating a portion of its proceeds from the 6288 Stout to the Mt. Washington Observatory. Tuckerman Brewing falls short in the food category, and thank goodness Moat Mountain—a brewery, restaurant and inn—is there to fill the void. Hikers planning this combo should hit the trail early because Moat’s restaurant fills quickly at dinner time, especially in peak tourist seasons. What could be better than to get off the mountain and stroll into the restaurant in the late afternoon, covered with sweat, grime, and perhaps a little blood, to stink up the joint just before the dinner rush?
A short drive up Route 16 from North Conway, Pinkham Notch is no slouch in the hiking department. One side of the road boasts trails accessing Wildcat Mountain and the Carter-Moriah range, featuring an assembly line of peaks over 4,000 feet with grand views of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. If, on the other hand, you want to climb Mt. Washington and any of its northern presidential brethren, simply cross the street. Picking the side of the street with the better hiking is practically a coin flip, but in a “best of” article we have to go with the tallest mountain in New England, don’t we?
Our Pick: Mt. Washington via the Lion Head Trail and a Moat Iron Mike Pale Ale.
1. Franconia Notch and the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery
While there was much hemming and hawing over the slotting of two through five, number one on this list was never in doubt. For starters, the Woodstock Inn has the best location. Just off exit 32 on I-93, Woodstock passes the close proximity test for hiking in Franconia Notch, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the Sandwich Range Wilderness, Mt. Moosilauke—essentially, most all of the White Mountains. In an area where great hikes are aplenty, the loop hike over Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Lincoln and Little Haystack Mountain takes the cake in a popularity contest. And for good reason. The trek across all three summits on the open Franconia Ridge Trail seems like it belongs in a Lord of the Rings film.
The first time I visited the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery was after completing the Mt. Lafayette hike. My brother Brad and I saddled up to the bar next to a man eating buffalo wings who was sending his compliments to the chef. He explained that he was a rep for Perdue and the wings were amongst the best he’d ever had. Brad, inexplicably, asked, “So, are those the medium wings?” The man scoffed. “Nah. Hot.” This is a gentleman, mind you, who certainly looked like he knew his way around a chicken wing. So now we were ordering wings…and they had to be hot. I knew it was going to be a long drive home when the wings arrived garnished with sliced jalapeños on top.
Our Pick: Mt. Lafayette loop hike with a Pig’s Ear Brown Ale. Try the Chef’s Mess for a bit of hiker grub heaven.