While many make a beeline for the beach the moment a little time away becomes available, I find myself heading in the complete opposite direction: to the mountains. Towering peaks protruding from the earth, radiant reflections off alpine lakes, and the allure of fragrant forests are what draw me in.
Our writers have shared some of their favorite mountain towns over the years, and this year our readers couldn’t get enough. From the grandeur of the Rockies to the history of Appalachia, these tucked-away towns in the mountains are exceptional getaways for the altitudinal adventurer. Fresh air, spectacular views, and plenty of small town charm await in these adorable mountain towns that our readers loved this year.
Big Bear Lake, CA
This quaint town within the San Bernardino National Forest is just over 2 hours from Los Angeles and just under 3 from San Diego. Known for its winter sports, you will discover plenty of things to do and enjoy year-round. Set out on a hike through the forested mountains, and don’t miss your chance to experience the section of the Pacific Crest Trail that works its way through the region. After your hike, get out on the lake and feel the cool splash of water as you skim across the waves. These are the best things to see and do in Big Bear Lake, California.
Nestled in the mountains halfway between Portland and San Francisco, you will find the charming town of Ashland. Come for the mountain views or the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — or both — and learn why Ashland is one of our top mountain town picks. Natural beauty extends in all directions in the foothills of the Cascades, providing ample space for hiking and enjoying nature. Or experience the arts and architecture that abound, from Shakespeare to cabaret and film festivals to fantastic art museums. Learn how to have a glorious getaway in beautiful Ashland, Oregon.
Just 2 hours outside of Seattle, you will happen upon the charming town of Leavenworth. This Bavarian village in the Cascades is an exciting stop regardless of the season, but you won’t want to miss its annual holiday lights which can be seen between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. From schnitzel to sausage, sample scrumptious German fare and then chase it all down with a pint of locally brewed beer. Go river rafting during the warmer months, or take a run on the slopes once the powder has fallen; the outdoors will keep you busy no matter what time of year your journeys bring you. Read here for more inspiration while planning a perfect weekend in lovely Leavenworth.
As you journey north from Anchorage to Denali National Park and Preserve, you will most certainly pass through the rustic town of Talkeetna in southern Alaska. Mountain climbers seeking the honor of reaching the summit of North America’s highest peak often find themselves in this remote town for provisions and rest. Once in town, take your time getting around to the local shops, eateries, and museums, experiencing the gateway to Denali like a true local. Learn more about this adorable small town you just can’t miss on your way to Denali National Park.
Red Lodge, MT
Heading southeast from Alaska, we return to the continental United States and the rugged Rocky Mountains. Over the years, the area has evolved with the changing times; from a Native American hunting ground to coal mining, from prohibition creativity to a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, the town has survived time and time again. Make your way around the historic main street, head out on a nature-filled hike, or fish the waters with a local guide. The Beartooth Scenic Byway connects the town with Yellowstone National Park making this a great stop on your way to one of the nation’s most iconic national parks. Learn more about all of the thrilling things to do in remote Red Lodge, Montana.
Sun Valley, ID
Like many mountain towns, Sun Valley is a renowned ski resort area. Yet there is so much more to do in Sun Valley than ski, especially if you enjoy the great outdoors. Spend your days exploring the trails around the mountains on foot or horseback; enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the valley below as you paraglide with a certified instructor; or try your hand at reeling in a record lunker. Winter months afford the option of world-class ski slopes as well as snowmobile excursions throughout the Sawtooth Basin. Here are our picks for the best things to do in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Park City, UT
Another great ski town, Park City — located just outside of Salt Lake City — is best known for the three S’s: slopes, sports, and Sundance. The premier ski slopes led to the Winter Olympics descending on the area back in 2002, and you will still find ample opportunities to relive this historic era in Utah’s history. Additionally, the Sundance Film Festival draws tens of thousands of filmmakers and movie buffs to the region each winter to showcase the hard work of independent filmmakers hoping to catch their big break. You won’t want to miss these 8 great things to do in Park City once you are done skiing.
If you are looking to be in the heart of the mountains during your next trip, then look no further than Leadville, Colorado. The town towers an astonishing 10,000+ feet above sea level and is known as the highest incorporated city in all of North America. This “Wild West” town will keep you busy as you stroll down historic Harrison Avenue enjoying the architecture and charm of this once-booming mining town. Enjoy a historic train ride or explore the rugged terrain, just don’t forget to breathe deeply here at the high altitudes. Here are 6 reasons to visit beautiful Leadville during your next trip to Colorado.
You won’t find world-renowned ski slopes in Ouray, but don’t let that keep you from this charming town with a Main Street nationally recognized as a Historic District. Experience Victorian architecture, learn about mining, soak in a hot spring, or take a stroll by the Uncompahgre River. As a terminus of Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway, Ouray is a fantastic chance to stretch your legs for a few hours (or days) before or after experiencing this scenic drive. Here’s how to enjoy a perfect weekend in gorgeous Ouray, Colorado.
Red River, NM
Experience the southern Rockies from Red River, New Mexico. Summer camping options are numerous, from yurts to cabins, to traditional tent camping. Enjoy the sights and smells of the woods while hiking the mountainous terrain. In town, settle in during one of many fun festivals throughout the year such as the annual Art and Wine Festival, Oktoberfest, and even an Old West Fun Fight during the summer. Best of all, getting around town is as simple as jumping on the Red River Miner’s Transit, a free transportation service. These are the 5 best things to do in beautiful Red River.
When looking for a reprieve from the scorching summer heat in Tucson, look no further than the mountains to the northeast and the cozy town of Summerhaven. This Arizona “summer haven” is just an hour and a half outside of the city, but may take the wind out of you as you climb nearly 7,000 feet in elevation to get there. The drive alone is worth the trip, traversing terrain that slowly fades from desert into forest, with beautiful vistas and fields of wildflowers in between. Once in town, explore the fantastic trails, indulge at the local eateries, and relax in the cooler weather. Learn more about the mountain town of Summerhaven, where Tucson locals go to beat the heat.
Eureka Springs, AR
The midwest is not known for mountains, and yet nestled just south of this region in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, the Ozark Mountains emerge from their flatter neighbors. Eureka Springs offers up a heaping helping of small-town southern charm, with a dash of big city-caliber entertainment. Experience downtown shopping among Victorian shops and ambiance; relax in one of the many springs that call the area home; or go below ground and explore the expansive caverns that await the curious eye. Here are 13 reasons to make quaint Eureka Springs your next getaway.
The Appalachian Mountains — once the western boundary of the country — may not tower as high as their neighbors out west, but they certainly provide for magnificent mountain views. You will find the town of Helen in northern Georgia along the southern end of this historic range. Much like Leavenworth, Helen will transport you to Bavaria with its unique architecture, bold colors, and savory menu selections. Hike to a gorgeous waterfall, mine for gems, or take a ride on the Georgia Mountain Coaster while in town. If your interest is piqued, learn more about the great activities that await in adorable Helen, Georgia.
Blowing Rock, NC
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, the town of Blowing Rock awaits. Gaze out over the spectacular views below from high atop the titular rock itself located just 2 miles outside of town. Or if you prefer, take in the sweeping vistas from the safety of a historic steam engine. Partake in a festival, chow down on local cuisine, and peruse the shops of local wares as you experience the best that North Carolina has to offer. For more information on how to have the perfect retreat in beautiful Blowing Rock, read here.
Another great stop near the Blue Ridge Parkway is Wytheville. Hike or bike the forested trails that surround the town or try your hand at trout fishing. Nature flourishes in Wytheville, but so does history. In fact, it is the birthplace of a First Lady, who some even claim was the first functioning female U.S. President. Learn more about this intriguing claim to fame and other fantastic things to do in historic Wytheville, Virginia.
Harpers Ferry, WV
At the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, you will find the historic city of Harpers Ferry. The strategic point on the rivers is also where the states of West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia come together making it a strategic location during the Civil War. Learn all about the town’s military history at the National Historical Park, try whitewater rafting, or take part in a spirited ghost tour if you dare. Read more to learn how to spend an amazing weekend in Harpers Ferry.
Jim Thorpe, PA
The picturesque Poconos of Pennsylvania are within reach of many eastern cities including New York and Philadelphia. If you are looking to enjoy a relaxing getaway in the Poconos, consider the quaint town of Jim Thorpe. While in town, poke-a-nose into the history behind why the town was renamed after the famed Olympic gold medalist if you are curious (as I was), and then take in the sights from the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway before exploring the rest of the region. A stop in Jim Thorpe is just one of many fantastic things to do in the Poconos.
Lake George, NY
While not a Finger Lake, Lake George is similarly shaped, albeit far closer to Vermont than Syracuse. The town of the same name sits at the southern end of the lake, surrounded by the vast Adirondack Park. The lake is a major draw for this mountain town, where you can explore the waters by speed boat, kayak, or even enjoy a leisurely excursion via steamboat. Then head for the expansive Adirondacks for a breathtaking hike along a forested trail. Here are our top picks for the best things to do in beautiful Lake George.
No, not that Woodstock (which actually took place in Bethel, New York, and not Woodstock at all, but that is another story for another day). This Woodstock is a charming New England mountain town you will find tucked neatly into the Green Mountains of Vermont. Hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, learn falconry, and just enjoy the beauty of nature while in town. When you are ready to hit the slopes, don’t be scared away based solely on the names of the area ski resorts: The only thing that Suicide Six and Killington Ski Resort desire to eliminate is your boredom. Here are our recommendations for the best things to do in Woodstock, Vermont.
Campers, boaters, and hikers should include Lincoln, New Hampshire, in their travel plans for the upcoming year. The White Mountains of New Hampshire welcome you with open arms to take a break and unwind. Autumn is an excellent time to experience the vibrant colors, or come in winter to see the mountains blanketed with snow. Learn all about Lincoln and 10 other must-visit quaint towns across New Hampshire.
You will find the quiet town of Bethel adjacent to the popular ski resort, Sunday River, making it an ideal location to set up camp for a ski retreat. Whether you come to town for the slopes, the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, or as part of a scenic fall foliage road trip through New England, Bethel is worth the trip.
From California to Maine, and Colorado to West Virginia, these are the mountain towns our readers couldn’t get enough of this past year. If you are like me and prefer slopes to sand, and hikes to high tides, consider one of these quaint towns for your next trip.