Beaches or mountains? Admittedly, having grown up in Idaho, I tend to be slightly biased toward the mountains (although I love a good beach). The majesty of America’s impressive mountain ranges has inspired and captivated us for centuries. In today’s fast-paced digital world, I believe mountain landscapes offer the best opportunity to recharge your soul with adventure and ample excuse to simply unplug.
This year, writers let us in on some of their favorite mountain adventures from coast to coast! After reading a few of these stories, I have a feeling you might be rethinking that standard beach vacation you planned again this year.
1. Whittier, Alaska
Whether you plan to visit Alaska by land or sea, the tiny town of Whittier topped our readers’ list of favorite mountain towns in 2022. Tucked between glacial mountains on the western edge of south-central Alaska, Whittier is a popular departure point for many cruise ships. Take the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage for a stunning and relaxing ride, then board one of the cruise ships for a 5-hour excursion through Prince William Sound. You’ll see countless large sea animals and 26 incredible glaciers while your ship captain carefully navigates the icy waters.
2. Snoqualmie, Washington
A visit to the Pacific Northwest’s storied Snoqualmie, Washington, is delightful at any time of the year, but winter can be magical. A scant 45-minute drive from Seattle, this breathtaking mountain community offers the perfect landing zone for adventurers or those seeking an escape from city life. Perched on a cliff overlooking the mesmerizing Snoqualmie Falls, the luxurious Salish Lodge & Spa offers sought-after lodging and an award-winning dining experience. Outdoor adventures abound year-round with skiing, hiking, golf, cycling, and more. If you’re a fan of the television series Twin Peaks, you’ll enjoy visits to all the famous show haunts in Snoqualmie! Read more about this delightful getaway!
3. Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
How does a mountain lake retreat sound? Offering a little bit of something for everyone, Coeur D’Alene captivated our readers this year. Summertime in northern Idaho is an excellent escape from hot, humid climates. The evenings can be chilly, so remember to bring a sweater or light jacket. Early risers love the summer mornings when the sun begins to rise before 5 a.m. With all kinds of water sports, golf, trails for hiking and cycling, casinos, and shopping, it’s hard to imagine running out of things to do here. Travelers with a bad case of wanderlust, however, have a lot of options too! Explore the beautiful Mission Church of the Sacred Heart, Idaho’s oldest building. Drive to the picturesque, fascinating, historic Wallace, Idaho, where the 1996 movie Dante’s Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan, was filmed. You can learn about the silver mining industry from here or go for a bike ride on the Hiawatha Scenic Bike Trail. A repurposed old rail line, the trail takes you over train trestle bridges and through long dark tunnels (headlamps required)!
4. Ketchum, Idaho
If you aren’t familiar with Ketchum, you likely know this town by its resort name: Sun Valley! Famous for its ski slopes which have welcomed skiers since 1936, it’s aptly named for its impressive 205 days of annual sunshine the area enjoys! But there’s more to Ketchum than snow! This area has been my favorite summer playground since I was a child! The mountains here provide ample backcountry experiences suited to every fitness level.
Whether you choose a horseback ride, an overnight wilderness camping adventure, or a day fishing at the headwaters of the Salmon River, you will be gobsmacked by the breathtaking beauty at every turn. If you are less athletically inclined, enjoy bird watching, walking in the steps of literary great Ernest Hemingway, people watching, or exploring countless galleries and shops. If you are a self-described foodie, the long list of culinary delights here will more than satisfy your tastebuds! Read more about this delightful mountain town and plan your next non-ski trip!
5. Kalispell, Montana
Another mountain lake town our readers loved is found in neighboring Montana. Kalispell is a great base camp for visitors to Glacier National Park or some of the state’s lesser-known (but equally gorgeous) state parks because of its proximity and a long list of activities! On inclement weather days, fill your time by visiting museums, shopping, and exploring local foods. If you’re looking for a more low-key day, take a drive.
Chances are high that you’ll observe some wildlife. Did you know that Montana has the most animal species in the lower 48 states? Grizzlies, lynxes, deer, moose, elk, wolverines, otters, porcupines, mink, and more call this treasure of a state “home.” Fresh summertime mountain air, wildflowers, expansive views, wildlife, and countless outdoor activities will draw you back to Kalispell time after time.
6. Cody, Wyoming
The self-proclaimed “Gateway to Yellowstone,” the tiny mountain town of Cody, Wyoming (population 10,000), hosts 300,000-400,000 visitors yearly! Developed by Buffalo Bill, Cody is the quintessential western town with rodeos, western wear stores, and saloons. The nearby “Old Trail Town” offers visitors a collection of buildings dating to the 1890s preserved for you to see. Cody is worth a visit all on its own, but if you’re already traveling to Yellowstone National Park, you really should go!
7. Sheridan, Wyoming
Tucked away at the base of the Bighorn mountains, just south of the Montana border, Sheridan, Wyoming, offers visitors a healthy dose of culture, history, and cuisine. Readers looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in the American West loved the idea of a long weekend of exploring this lovely town. The town offers several attractive lodging options, including a nearby dude ranch for the ultimate Wyoming experience. It may be small, but don’t be fooled! Visitors to Sheridan are frequently surprised by the culture, history, and activities that go far beyond the norm. Sure, you can catch a rodeo in Sheridan, but how about a polo game? This exciting town has plenty to offer.
8. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Is Colorado calling your name? Take advantage of famous ski towns in the summer! Steamboat Springs is a beautiful winter destination but shouldn’t be missed during the warmer months. Several natural hot springs dotted around the area inspired the name of this quaint mountain community. The springs offer a tremendous regenerative and relaxing soak, especially after a day of adventuring in the mountains.
Plan a meal around a gondola ride to the top of Mt. Werner (10,570 feet above sea level) for panoramic views of the Colorado Rockies and delicious cuisine. Explore local breweries, boutiques, and a weekly farmers market in town. Steamboat Springs summers have everything from river floats to hot springs soaks.
9. Provo, Utah
With a population of more than 115,000 residents, Provo is one of the larger towns on our list. Still, it’s a clear winner for visitors looking for outdoor adventure, culture, and history. Here, you’ll find mountains in every direction. As you imagine what the area looked like 200 years ago, it’s easy to see why Mormon pioneers set their claim and settled in this area. Provo is home to Brigham Young University and the Native American Ute tribe also has deep ancestral roots here. If you’re traveling by RV, the Lakeside RV Park offers plenty of shade, mountain and water views, and free Wi-Fi!
10. Pinetop, Arizona
Pinetop is the perfect Arizona getaway in summer or winter, depending on what you’re after. Located 3.5 hours northwest of Phoenix (approximately 7,000 feet above sea level), it’s the perfect getaway for anyone missing the magic of all four seasons. The summers provide a comfortable climate conducive to all kinds of active options for hikers, non-motorized boaters (and kayakers), anglers, and cyclists alike.
Pack a picnic for two and enjoy a relaxing afternoon beside a tranquil lake. If you enjoy camping, drift off to sleep under the stars while you take in the Milky Way! In the winter, magical snowy landscapes abound, drawing in ice fishers, snowmobiles, and alpine and cross-country skiers! For an afternoon or evening of winter fun with your family, go tubing or reserve a sleigh ride! Chances are high that you’ll fall in love with this hidden Arizona gem.
11. Madrid, New Mexico
The Southwest has a treasure trove of mountain towns. If you’re visiting Albuquerque, you’d be disappointed if you skipped a day trip to Madrid. This tiny mountain town of 300 residents is home to a much larger art community. It features more than 40 shops filled with funky art treasures waiting to be discovered. That conversation piece for the coffee table is probably waiting for you in Madrid! But art isn’t all this vibrant mountain town is known for. Film and history connoisseurs will find the area rich with untold stories. A December visit will have you re-imagining your light display all the way home.
12. Ellijay, Georgia
If you think you have to visit Washington state for the perfect apple-picking weekend, think again. Ellijay, Georgia, offers fall visitors a picture-perfect apple adventure worthy of a Hallmark film set! Even if apples aren’t your thing, you are bound to find something you enjoy in this small mountain town about an hour and a half north of Atlanta. Located at the base of the Appalachians, Ellijay offers excellent mountain biking, hiking, winery tours, and delicious food and restaurants. You can even play with animals awaiting adoption — or adopt one at a local rescue. Visit Ellijay with your sweetheart, a group of friends, or by yourself — there’s something for everyone.
13. Townsend, Tennessee
If the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in your travel plans for 2023, consider entering the park through Blount County’s Townsend, Tennessee. Known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” you are less likely to encounter noisy crowds and frustrating traffic jams. Enjoy miles of cycling, stunning hiking trails, horseback riding, beautiful drives, and archaeological digs, all from Townsend. Take the guesswork out of things and learn something new when you sign up for a guided tour. Lodging in Townsend ranges from camping to house rentals, but you can also stay in nearby Knoxville if you prefer a traditional hotel experience.
14. Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Wilkesboro, North Carolina, is one of the most versatile towns on our list. Even the pickiest traveler in your group will find something that piques their interest in this delightful mountain town. Explore exhibits filled with modern art, historical artifacts, and military displays, or discover a new trail as you fill your lungs with fresh mountain air! The tastes and smells of local down-home cooking, the sounds of the robust music scene, and friendly southern hospitality will awaken your senses. You’ll want to book your next trip before you ever check out of this quaint town! Choose rustic or luxury accommodations. It’s truly a choose-your-adventure kind of town!
15. Lewisburg, West Virginia
If you’ve had the good fortune of a Cardinal train whistle stop through this delightful mountain town, you likely made a mental note to go back to Lewisburg for a more extended visit. Lewisburg will quickly win your heart with its diverse performing arts culture, culinary delights, and expansive scenery steeped in early American history. Home to the West Virginia Winter Music Festival and the Greenbrier Valley Theater (West Virginia’s professional theater), Lewisburg serves up plenty to do alongside the invitation to get away from your busy life!
16. Manchester, Vermont
Have you ever dreamed of jumping into a Currier and Ives painting with your sweetheart? A visit to romantic Manchester, Vermont, could make that dream reality! Visit Manchester in the winter and book a horse-drawn sleigh. Relax as you snuggle under warm blankets, sipping a cup of hot cider, and enjoy the beautiful mantle of snow around you. But there’s more to this East Coast mountain town than snow and sleighs. The history! There’s so much history! You’ll easily fill a weekend exploring and discovering unique places like the ancestral home of Abraham Lincoln’s only son to survive into adulthood. Manchester also has fantastic shopping and eateries to explore regardless of the time of year.
17. Franconia, New Hampshire
Rounding out our list, we visit New Hampshire to discover a picturesque little town found along the Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the state’s White Mountain National Forest. Franconia is extremely popular in the fall when leaves are at their peak color transition. Plan your trip according to the time of year and expect significant traffic during autumn. Regardless of the season, you definitely should visit Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park (reservations required). It’s an easy 2-mile walk appropriate for all ages and abilities. The stunning scenery is punctuated with waterfalls, covered bridges, and mountain views.