Best Mountain Towns in US: Beautiful Places to Visit on Vacation
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Time to embrace the high life.
A great mountain town isn’t just a nice place to crash after you hit the slopes, or a rest stop for leaf peepers. The truly great mountain towns are the places that offer a little bit of bliss for anyone, any season. They’re equally appealing for those who explore the trails wearing hiking boots or snow shoes. Campers will find the perfect spot on a nearby lakeshore, while the more luxury minded can hunker down in a gorgeous lodge and enjoy hyper-local food and drink downtown. And no matter the season, you’ll find something to help you fall in love amid the fresh air.
In our favorite mountain towns, life slows down and begs to be savored. Among them you’ll find ancient architecture and world-class wineries, Black Diamond slopes and laid-back lakesides. From high-desert artists enclaves to snow-covered villages in the clouds, no two are the same. Yet in each you’re sure to find welcoming small-town vibes, friendly locals, and absolutely stunning views. Here are 15 of our favorite towns in the shadows of giants.
Taos isn’t exactly a summer hotspot unless you’re being hyper-literal. But once fall starts taming the sweltering inferno, Taos switches to must-visit status. What the Sangre de Cristo Mountains surrounding this New Mexico adventurer’s paradise lack in size, they more than make up for in character. And whether you’re fly fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, river rafting, hot springing, or llama (yes, llama) trekking, a stunning mountain view is almost always in sight. The town itself is an artists’ colony replete with the adobe-hut charisma of Santa Fe and more than 80 art galleries. But at any time of year, plan to people-watch while sipping margaritas at the lively Adobe Bar at Taos Inn, or drink Tecate and play shuffleboard at the oldest house in town, The Alley Cantina.
As the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, as well as the annual Lake Placid IRONMAN triathlon, you might think you need to hit the gym before being allowed entry to this peaceful Adirondack town best known for the “Miracle on Ice.” And while you can use the town as a base for adrenaline-junkie activities like climbing the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks or bobsledding the Olympic Complex, no one’s gonna give you trouble for filling up your growler at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and walking the trail around Mirror Lake. There’s also a gondola ride, scenic railway, and plenty of perches for lakeside drinking and dining like The Cottage at Mirror Lake Inn.
We could have dedicated an entire list to Rocky Mountain towns in general (we have!), or loaded this article with an abundance of great Colorado towns. But if we were to choose one representative from the Rocky Mountain State, our hearts remain in Telluride. To stroll through this serene Old West town, which sits face-to-face with the massive, snow-capped San Juan peaks rising up from its box canyon location, is to know the sheer, awe-inspiring power of mountain living. And while there are few better ways to spend a day than exploring the soulful peaks, you don’t want to be soulful all the time, so be sure to catch your breath at places like the Last Dollar Saloon and New Sheridan Hotel rooftop. Telluride—what we think is Colorado’s best small town, period—is also famous for hosting a ridiculous number of top-tier music and film festivals. Don’t worry about hiring a designated driver if your night gets a little rowdy, either—the public transit here is by gondola.
No self-respecting list-maker would omit Lake Tahoe from a compilation of top mountain towns, so of course you should enjoy everything that makes the area a magnet for revelers (give our regards to Reno). But if you seek a reprieve from the packed ski lodges and gaming floors that steal a bit of South Lake Tahoe’s soul, you can keep your chakras clean in the locals-friendly North Lake Tahoe town of Truckee. While it’s one of the world’s premier ski/snowboard destinations, what really makes Truckee a top mountain spot is the lively-yet-laid-back action in the historic downtown area—a chilled-out drink at Moody’s or a bite at Jax At The Tracks diner both offer a bird’s-eye view into the fine art of clean mountain living.
Some argue that CDA isn’t close enough to the hills to be a true mountain town. Those people, we suspect, just don’t want to share. The deep-blue waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene combined with vibrant pine forests, colorful sunsets, lazy beaches, and a chill vibe conspire to make this a perfect mountain/lake getaway, especially in the quiet, relaxed bubble when summer crowds have already peaked but the weather’s still lovely. You can also hike the Northern Idaho Centennial Trail, grab a burger (no fries) at the iconic Hudson’s Hamburgers, or golf one of the world’s top courses with a floating green on the 14th hole. Just be sure to also take time to explore quirky Wallace, a town that claims to be the center of the universe—a claim we were having much too fun to dispute last time we went to visit.
An hour’s drive from Yellowstone, this rowdy, historic town of 8,000 exists at the intersection of rustic western mystique and artistic expression. Here, free spirits and nature lovers converge, drawn to the area’s unparalleled fly fishing, rafting, and more spoils offered by the stunning Absarokas Range. Sidle up to the de facto town center—the perpetually humming Murray Bar—before exploring a densely packed collection of saloons and eateries on the walkable Main Street. Or, venture out under the big sky. Maybe you’re off for a soak at nearby Chico Hot Springs, or to brave the river and embrace your inner Jim Harrison. Regardless, chances are you’ll be back at the Murray come sundown, ready to hear stories about the city’s wild past while embracing its vibrant present.
Park City’s status as a legendary mountain town was cemented well before Robert Redfort stepped in and unleashed the celebs. This is home to some of America’s finest skiing, sure, but it’s also a dreamy locale where trollies still cart you around in the event that your feet are too sore from hiking the nearby Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Experience an old-school western watering hole at No Name Saloon, or a new-school one at High West, one of the finest distilleries in the country. Once your thirst is quenched, feast among the many top-tier restaurants along Main Street, whose wealth of choice would be laudable in a mid-sized city, much less a town of less than 9,000. In addition to all the mountain town staples like biking, hiking, river rafting, and horseback riding, you get the extra-fun activities of Utah Olympic Park—including one of the longest bobsled rides in the world, and one of only two in the US you can ride.
Whether you call it the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” or the “Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea,” there is no denying the strong pull of this delightful little town on the southern terminus of the Kenai Peninsula’s Sterling Highway. Take in views of the massive Kenai Mountains by boat or plane, or drive out onto the Homer Spit (the world’s longest road into ocean waters) to eagle-watch and drink at the iconic Salty Dawg Saloon. A boat ride to Alaska’s only state wildlife park, Kachemak Bay State Park, will have you mingling with whales and sea otters or, if you prefer to stick closer to home, explore the funky town’s hippie vibes (at places like Ptarmigan Arts) and knock back a few with local fishermen at Homer Brewing Company.
Lewisburg has a fantastic arts scene, but not the kind that is code for “there’s nothing to do here if you’re not into gallery-hopping and poetry readings.” There is everything to do here. History buffs love the show full screen North House Museum & Archives, which offers guided tours as well as Black history and cemetery walks. Tour the Lost World Caverns, or go for an early morning hike and get lunch at the Stardust Cafe. Wind down with a hand-crafted cider at Hawk Knob. Go antiquing, then, if it’s summer, hit the Saturday farmers market, whose bustle belies the fact that the town houses under 4,000 residents. On the first Friday of every month, starting at 5pm, you can find food and art vendors and live music downtown (the event is helpfully called First Fridays After Five). Oh, and when you’re here you’re also an hour from one of America’s newest national parks, New River Gorge, which makes Lewisburg a great base camp and a rightful destination unto itself.
Lead-Deadwood, South Dakota
Frankly, it’s time South Dakota gets its just due. Along with robust Indigenous history and culture, sweeping national parks, and totally bizarre roadside attractions, this utterly underrated state boasts some of the best mountain scenery not just in the Midwest, but in the entire country. Take, for example, Lead-Deadwood, a duo of former mining hubs that sit amongst the peaks and forests of the Black Hills. Aside from the draw of the area during the colder months—come winter, nearby Terry Peak turns both cities into great jumping-off points for skiers and snowboarders who like their slopes uncrowded and serene—you’ll find a bunch of unusual goodies: one of two neutrino reactors in the world, saloons packed with as many hardy locals as nuclear scientists, haunted opera houses, and more Wild West fun. Suffice to say, the likelihood of a boring conversation ‘round these parts is incredibly low.
With historic Victorian architecture and winding streets, you’d be hard-pressed to find a town as distinct as this little Ozark gem. The entire city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means you can consider your burger and Bloody Marys at the Balcony Bar or your green-screen karaoke disaster at Eureka Live Underground a lesson in history. And when you’re done “learning” and are ready to explore, there’s zip-lining, cave tours, boat excursions on the lake, and postcard-perfect foliage in the fall. Just don’t pass up a trip to the nearby Thorncrown Chapel, a jaw-droppingly beautiful glass chapel in the woods.
With its namesake 1,500-foot-deep waterway cutting a stunning 50-mile swath through the impossibly lush Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Lake Chelan is at once a stunning mountain town and central Washington’s best lake town. The hamlet is equally appealing for summertime boaters as it is for powder hounds hitting the slopes of Echo Valley. It’s also, low-key, one of the best wine destinations thanks to the more than 30 tasting rooms showcasing a taste of the unique mountain terroir. Add in a quintessentially Pacific Northwest Main Street full of mom & pop restaurants and bars and you’ve got an all-seasons stunner.
At the gateway to the Grand Tetons and not far from mighty Yellowstone, people often ding Jackson as a playground for the rich and indulgent. Fair. But that also means this tiny town has a stellar food and drink scene that caters to all tastes. Here, restaurants like Gun Barrel serve fantastic steaks for the white tablecloth-averse, while the iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Club is what would happen if somebody reimagined the Old West saloon as a multi-tiered theme park. Meanwhile, beer lovers flock to the legendary Snake River Brewing. If you don’t want to rub elbows with anyone, at least you can grab a great beer and a meal in a cute town before going full Grizzly Adams in the wilderness nearby.
With its so-adorable-it’s-almost-hokey western facades and small-town earnestness, Sisters shines brightly even as nearby mountain metropolis Bend steals the spotlight. Spend the day browsing indigenous art and antiques among the city’s many galleries in the shadows of the towering Three Sisters mountains and be sure to grab a pint and burger at the exceptional Three Creeks Brewing. Then explore the Deschutes National Forest, where rubble fields of volcanic rock point to an explosive legacy, roaring rivers are waiting to be swum and rafted, and those soaring peaks are a magnet for hikers. If you’re here in the summer, don’t sleep on the Sisters Rodeo, which might not be Oregon’s most iconic roundup (that’s in Pendleton), but nonetheless offers a rootin’, tootin’ good time paired with fresh mountain air.
Itty bitty Stowe is probably the Vermont that you’re thinking of everytime you smell maple syrup. Thanks to the powder-perfect slopes of Mount Mansfield, the surrounding cross-country/snowshoe trails, and the wealth of great lodges, the town of 600 or so is heralded as the “Ski Capital of the East.” But even if you hate snow, you’ll fall in love with this postcard-ready New England town’s requisite covered bridge, charming eateries, and incredible breweries including Heady Topper creator at The Alchemist. It’s also a destination for leaf-peepers thanks to the annual explosion of colors—best observed via gondola—and home to some of the most spectacular hiking and nicest darn people in the region… both of which you can experience during a maple syrup tour because, again, this is the Vermont you were thinking of.
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