The 20 Best Mountain Towns in America

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Explore America’s mountain towns, with trails, microbrews, lakes, and scenic views.

For a real recharge, spend some time at altitude.

 

Park City, Utah

The outside world may associate Park City with glitz – the Sundance Film Festival, luxe ski resorts, restaurants helmed by big name chefs – but ask locals what they love most and it’s sure to be the trails. The hills that surround town hold an unprecedented 400 miles of loops, networks, and connector trails for hiking, trail running, or biking. Best of all, the easy-to-access trails virtually bring the Wasatch Range to you and then drop you off back by quirky Main Street.

Nowadays, High West Distillery in nearby Wanship gets all the buzz, but you can have an equally superb time at Park Silly Sunday Market, a summertime fest of crafts, food, music, and a bloody mary station with enough accoutrements to make your drink feel more like a paperweight. Since warmer weather means not worrying about being first in line to hit Park City’s 9,300 skiable acres, reserve your stay at Washington School House. The hotel is a stone’s throw from downtown, and also has a tranquil pool and an unreal free breakfast with bounty from the farmer’s market.

Getting There: Fly to Salt Lake City; drive 40 minutes east.

For more information, visit
visitparkcity.com.

Scott Markewitz

Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte Bike Week, in late June, touts “Bikes, Beers, and Bands,” but that may as well be the town motto. The 130-year-old former coal-mining camp is nestled in a bowl of high pasture, in a cul-de-sac formed by jagged mountains etched with hundreds of miles of Jeep roads and killer singletrack. Rent a dual-suspension ride from Crested Butte Sports, and get a map marking fabled rides like 401, a 14-miler that starts near the ghost town of Gothic, climbs past Emerald Lake, and descends through helmet-high wildflowers. Or, venture to Evolution Bike Park with 30 miles of lift-served singletrack, including the new machine-built Psycho Rocks, which lives up to the stomach-churning title.

For après-bike, head to Montanya Rum distillery – turns out that rum ages best at altitude, and the water from the spring-fed aquifer it’s distilled with is as pure as the stuff gets. Sure, you could book a hotel, but camping at Paradise Divide offers car camping at 11,250′ and wildlife sighting you won’t soon forget.

Getting There: Fly to Gunnison; drive 30 minutes north.

For more information, visit gunnisoncrestedbutte.com.

Mediacolor's/Alamy

Talkeetna, Alaska

Talkeetna may rise only a few hundred feet above sea level, but the peaks of the Alaska Range – Foraker (17,400 feet) and, North America’s highest, Denali (20,320 feet) – hover like white ghosts over the town’s thick fringe of spruce trees. In summer, Talkeetna bustles with international climbers gunning for some of the world’s most formidable summits. As the locals put it: The Gore-Tex is in bloom.

“We love it,” says Alaska Mountaineering School owner Colby Coombs. “Instead of the usual crowd at the Roadhouse, you might end up sitting at a table next to five guys from Greece.” Long hours of daylight mean no one’s in too much of a hurry, and night tends to look a lot like day. Live music pours out of places like Mountain High Pizza and the Village Park. After hours, whatever that means here, the scene becomes mellow and shifts to the TeePee, which has “the flattest pool table in town.” Starting in mid-May, catch the Denali Star Train from either Anchorage or Fairbanks, and enjoy a newly revamped menu with an emphasis on local ingredients.

Note: Talkeetna’s immediate surroundings are so wild and full of bears that venturing off into the woods is actually discouraged. But long days allow you to do things the Alaska way: Catch a Talkeetna Air Taxi for a flightseeing tour of the mighty one, Denali, with the option of a glacier landing at base camp, or hop a floatplane into the Talkeetna Mountains wilderness for a guided hike – or a day of fishing near a remote lake.

Getting There: Fly to Anchorage; drive two and a half hours north.

For more information, visit talkeetnachamber.org.

Mira/Alamy

Warren and Waitsfield, Vermont

In the Mad River Valley, Holstein cows graze green pastures, big red barns stand beside white farmhouses, and covered bridges span the burbling Mad. Sister valley villages Warren and Waitsfield are places for sedate retro pleasures like lounging on a village green, ogling 19th-century architecture, or playing 18 at Sugarbush’s Robert Trent Jones Sr. course.

Locavores, rejoice: Restaurant menus here cite the source of lamb, farm-raised venison, and organic produce; American Flatbread, a Thursday-Sunday restaurant on a Waitsfield farm, does organic-everything pizzas that have locals queuing for hours; and the BigPicture Theater and Café in Waitsfield features house-made maple-glazed donuts to-go with its program of folk music and art-house movies. Even the local taco joint, the Mad Taco, sources from area farms, smokes its own meats, and serves regional craft cervezas. To work up an appetite, jump on your road bike. The smooth, sleepy lanes that roll past rivers and creeks full of fly casters are among the best in the country. Route 100 is pleasant enough, but for a challenge, go for a gap ride like the 50-mile Tour de Hump, which links Waitsfield, Appalachian Gap, and Duxbury Gap. For a taste of Europe, stay at Austrian-inspired Grünberg Haus Inn and Cabins, that exudes upper New England charm, 20 minutes outside of Waitsfield (it’s pet-friendly, too).

Getting There: Fly to Burlington; drive one hour southeast.

For more information, visit madrivervalley.com.

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

Ketchum, Idaho

Ketchum sits beside the second-largest roadless area in the Lower 48 – the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness – making it one of the most isolated spots in the country. Heading into the wild is as easy as driving over Galena Summit to Redfish Lake, where the crisp blue water reflects the Sawtooth Range’s most impressive peaks. Stare at it from its wide, sandy beach or tour it on horseback.

In town, a strict building code keeps hillsides and ridgelines free of development, yet it remains surprisingly lively. The town has long been an escape for the rich and famous, firm in the belief that isolation needn’t come at the expense of a good martini and a decent symphony (Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks have homes here). On any given evening, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon a free outdoor jazz concert in one of the town’s half-dozen parks or at the $35 million Sun Valley Pavilion. Hit the Roundhouse, a repurposed vintage ski lodge at 7,700 feet, for a pre-concert meal, and the wine bar Enoteca for a drink and wood fired pizza afterward. When you’re ready to pass out, the Knob Hill Inn is equally beautiful in summer months as it is when “snowga” season is in full swing.

Getting There: Fly direct to Ketchum.

For more information, visit ketchumidaho.org.

Gordon Wiltsie

Red Lodge, Montana

Cradled in a valley just outside the northeast corner of Yellowstone, Red Lodge is base camp for exploring America’s best national park. Ninety minutes southwest is the Lamar Valley – wolf country – and Specimen Ridge Trail, a tough hike through a petrified forest to a great view of Mount Washburn.

In town, take a guided cruiser-bike tour down the snaking Beartooth Highway, one of America’s most beautiful drives. Then get buzzed on a Ben Nail IPA on the sun-drenched deck at Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, where rancher types and transplants, drawn to the town’s lack of pretense, will happily dish on their favorite fishing hole or secret hike. Sleep off a hangover as a guest of the Lazy E L Ranch, where you can arrange to have a local chef prepare first-rate meals for you and your gang.

Getting There: Fly to Bozeman; drive three hours east.

For more information, visit redlodge.com

Gordon Wiltsie

Truckee, California

Lake Tahoe, 1,600 feet deep, is the big draw in these parts, but gold-rush hub Truckee, 12 miles away, doesn’t suffer the same crowds as South Shore and Tahoe City. Plus, Truckee is within 10 miles of 10 other lakes: Donner, for fishing or swimming, and Prosser, glass-smooth in the morning and motor-free, for standup paddling.

Truckee is also a rising trail running destination with the Squaw Mountain Run, Castle Peak 100K, and Sierra Crest Ultra Run all worth the trip alone. For the daredevil biker, tackle trails like Jackass or Yogi’s, knowing there will be downhill, lift-served mountain biking at Northstar California Resort when you need a breather (or if you simply prefer to take it easy). Reward yourself for setting new PRs with Skydive Truckee Tahoe or, you know, never leaving bed at log cabin-esque Cedar House Sport Hotel.

Getting There: Fly to Reno; drive 40 minutes west.

For more information, visit truckee.com.

Purestock/Getty

Taos, New Mexico

As the most otherworldly place in America, Taos is a mystical place with a deeply rooted native presence and imperfectly rendered adobe architecture. The rich red Sangre de Cristo Mountains, towering 6,000 feet above town on three sides, stand beneath an intensely blue sky. Unless you need a T-shirt, skip the central plaza – the Taos Inn, a block north, is the real heart of town. Hole up for a Cowboy Buddha margarita (none of that mix crap – we’re talking silver tequila, Cointreau, and real lime juice) and the grilled rattlesnake-and-rabbit sausage appetizer. Or, beeline to the newer Taos Mesa Brewing for a few beers washed down with their Frito pie.

Experience true Southwest wilderness by hiking or trail-running on Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico, at 13,161 feet, or rafting the Rio Grande Gorge, 800-foot basalt cliffs spanned by the dramatic Gorge Bridge. The Taos Box stretch is a full day of intense Class III and IV whitewater in a narrow canyon teeming with eagles, coyotes, and mountain lions. If you’re debating on where to stay, the answer is the Greater World Earthships Community, homes that define off-the-grid living in the strangest and best ways possible.

Getting There: Fly to Santa Fe; drive an hour and a half north.

For more information, visit taos.org.

Adam Schallau

Roscoe, New York

The Sullivan Catskills may be close to New York City, but you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. Kittatinny Campgrounds is the place to go for an active day – with paintball, rafting trips, and 3,000-feet dual-racing zip lines. Fly fishing enthusiasts will also enjoy the many offerings of Trout Town (Beaverkill is top notch), and an entire museum devoted to the sport

Cap off your getaway by riding the singletrack at Pearson Park on Walnut Mountain to whet an appetite for round two of tastings at Catskill Distilling Company, Roscoe Beer Co., or Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, the maker of buzzy Hudson Whiskey, and open to the public for tours seven days a week.

How to get there: Fly to New York City, drive two hours north.

For more information, visit sullivancatskills.com.

Sullivan County Visitors Association

North Conway, New Hampshire

This New England jewel is surrounded by the 660,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and endless hiking and bike trails (it’s also incredibly motorcycle-friendly). Tee off in one of the area’s 11 golf courses or trade clubs for canoes and float down the Saco River, where rafting, kayaking, and inner tubing are also options. In the winter, North Conway is all about ice climbing, but summer is equally alluring for climbing, with two schools offering guided trips and courses, Eastern Mountain Sports and the International Mountain Climbing School. Nearby Omni Mount Washington Resort puts you in the shadow of the northeast’s largest peak (Mount Washington), or hole up at the Cranmore Inn Bed and Breakfast if you’re looking to stay closer to town.

For more information, visit mtwashingtonvalley.org.

Getting There: Fly to Manchester, New Hampshire; drive an hour and forty five minutes northwest.

MWV Chamber of Commerce

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Most come to this Colorado town for its hot springs – the world’s deepest – but they’re missing the nearly 3 million acres of San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness Area. Make your first pitstop the Turkey Springs Trail System, comprised of 14 interconnected singletrack routes with loops, rocks, short steep pitches, and side slopes. If you’re craving whitewater, head out on the San Juan and Piedra Rivers. Or, take it easy enjoying nature at Pass Creek Yurt and wash off the day (and, we hope, a hike on the Continental Divide Trail) in a solar-powered shower.

Afterwards, you can create your own beer crawl between Pagosa Brewing Company, Red Leg Brewing Company, and Riff Raff Brewing Company, made with local spring-fed geothermal heat, a feat that only one other brewery in America can claim (Klamath Basin Brewing in Oregon).

Getting There: Fly to Durango; drive an hour east.

For more information, visit visitpagosasprings.com.

Visit Pagosa Springs

Manchester, Vermont

The Green Mountain State may get plenty of winter love, but in summertime it’s a hiker’s nirvana. Manchester proves particularly ripe for adventure: Kick the dust up on Lye Brook Falls or Mount Equinox trails, the latter of which brings you to the peak of the Taconic Range, one of the principal peaks in Southern Vermont. Rest weary legs at the Kimpton Taconic, which provides some cool in-room offerings for hikers like walking sticks and survival kits (hand wipes, poncho, first aid kit, etc.), along with on-site mountain bikes. Once your limbs are adequately exhausted, indulge in leisurely pursuits like an aerial restorative yoga class at Heart of the Village Yoga followed by a meal at The Perfect Wife.

Getting There: Fly to Burlington; drive two and a half hours south. You can also take a Greyhound bus directly to Manchester.

For more information, visit manchestervermont.com.

James Chandler

Chattanooga, Tennessee

There’s no way around it: Chattanooga is an active-man’s town. Nestled between two mountains at a bend in the Tennessee River, the city of 173,000 has a competition going on most every weekend, including both a full and a half Ironman, along with plenty of hiking, whitewater kayaking, and fishing for the more laid-back. While the outdoors are the reason to come, the top-notch food, drink, and hotels are no afterthought. 

Don’t miss stirring up some foam via kayak on the rapids of the Tennessee River Blueway, hang gliding at Lookout Mountain, and tackling the cracks of the Tennessee Wall, an epic crag on the rim of the Tennessee River Gorge. There’s also always the three-mile run on Bluff Trail, which hugs the scenic edge of Lookout. And if you’re already spent, there’s fried chicken and a long beer list waiting for you at Champy’s.

Getting There: Fly direct to Chattanooga.

For more information, visit chattanoogafun.com


Roanoke, Virginia

A contender for the mountain biking capital of the East, with a first-rate selection of challenging trails, ranging from Carvins Cove’ Hi-Dee-Hoo (lots of switchbacks) to Mill Mountain Star Trail, which takes you to the world’s largest free-standing illuminated neon star. When you’re done with a long day in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the historic Hotel Roanoke offers in-room massages to relieve tight muscles, and the 24/7 Texas Tavern has been relieving hungry stomachs since 1930. Once you’re rejuvenated, hike the three trails at the “Triple Crown” along the Appalachian Trail. Consider that part one of your training for the annual Blue Ridge Marathon, a springtime race with over 7,430 feet in elevation change.

Getting There: Fly direct to Roanoke; Amtrak passenger rail is also opening in fall 2017.

For more information, visit visitroanokeva.com

Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Casper, Wyoming

With a slogan like “the mountain town for the wild at heart,” you know you’ll want to pack extra Advil for both physical and booze-related ailments. In Casper, it’s a difficult choice between climbing or kayaking Fremont Canyon, but we’ll go with the former for the insane burnt orange reflection of the jagged rocks in the water below. (Swing by local adventure outfitters like Mountain Sports or 307 River Sports for gear.) Come meal time, steer the crew towards Silver Fox, a laidback steakhouse with baked scallops worth abandoning any other plans. Though, after some recovery time, try to snap out of your food coma, and enjoy a beverage at locally-owned favorite Moonlight Liquors.

Getting There: Fly to Denver; drive four hours and fifteen minutes north. Or, take a connecting flight to Casper/Natrona County International Airport.

For more information, visit visitcasper.com

Visit Casper

Bryson City, North Carolina

As the southern gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City sticks close to its roots with lots of killer hickory-smoked barbecue and bluegrass music. The five-traffic-light town, completely wrapped by dense forest, still has its old-fashioned ice cream fountain, called Soda Pops; its mountain-crafts shops selling corn-shuck dolls and sourwood honey; and a big, chugging locomotive that runs right through town twice a day.

But in Bryson, you also find a kayak on every roof rack. Outside town is the Deep Creek section of the park – great for trail running, day hikes to a trio of waterfalls, and tubing. Nantahala Outdoor Center is the paddling-rafting nexus of the southeast (if not the country), with a paddling school and float trips on the Nantahala. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad excursion may sound a bit touristy (it is), but the 4.5-hour round-trip is a more laid-back way to see the backcountry. Skip the hotels here, and a book a cabin, like Shooting Star Ridge, outfitted with fire pits, a hot tub, mountain views, and the blessing (or curse?) that is WiFi.

Getting There: Fly to Atlanta; drive three hours north.

For more information, visit greatsmokies.com.

Travis Dove

Rapid City, South Dakota

The home of Mount Rushmore is also ripe for adventure, with the Black Hills Mountain Range boasting Black Elk Peak, the highest summit in the U.S. east of the Rockies. Lace up and pack extra grub for the Harney Peak Trail, where going at it from the Northern approach is best for more experienced hikers. Rest up at Cambria Hotel and Suites, custom built for its mountain-town setting, and it’s a quick drive to Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park, a mecca for bison viewing. And since we’d be remiss to not send you to Mount Rushmore’s 60-foot faces of Washington and the gang, do that. And after, sit back at a local haunt and raise a glass to the fine men etched in stone with a signature South Dakota red beer; an unlikely but restorative combo of tomato juice and beer.

Getting There: Fly direct to Rapid City.

For more information, visit visitrapidcity.com.

South Dakota Department of Tourism

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Colorado’s most genuinely Western mountain town has Rocky Mountain beauty and unpretentious authenticity. Beneath Sleeping Giant mountain, the 12,000-foot Flat Tops, and the sharp, solitary summit of Hahns Peak are working cattle ranches spread over undulating green hills that give the town a feeling of big-sky spaciousness.

Downtown, with its century-old red-brick buildings, has an old-school soda fountain (complete with cream sodas and a jukebox) and shops like F.M. Light & Sons, a 100-year-old Western-wear store. Locals head to the pro rodeo on weekends to eat barbecued ribs and watch big names from all over the country compete. If you’re not in town for a race, marathon, or triathlon, chase thrills at the Emerald Mountain quarry, where you can conquer 8.8 miles of singletrack and soak up some unforgettable valley views. Soak sore quads afterward at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a set of secluded, natural-stone pools full of 104-degree mineral water. Trade the campground for dispersed camping on Buffalo Pass and thank us later.

Getting There: Fly to Denver; drive three and a half hours northwest.

For more information, visit visitsteamboat.com.

Christopher Alan Selby/Alamy

Lewisburg, West Virginia

The bucket-list mountain biking challenge here is the Rocky Ridge Trail from the top of Kate’s Mountain. Dropping 1,500 feet in less than two miles with no switchbacks, it makes anything else in the sprawling Greenbrier State Forest look easy. Book a room at the General Lewis Inn, which dates to 1834, or The Greenbrier, another historic property, dating to 1778, where you can take a spin at skeet shooting or falconry.

When the mood strikes, head to Smooth Ambler Spirits, where a handsome wooden bar is the perfect spot to sip gin or whiskey, and windows let you get a peak of the production side. Still thirsty? Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company and Hawk Knob Appalachian Hard Cider & Mead beckon.

Getting There: Fly to Charlottesville; drive two hours west. You can also fly to Charleston, WV, and drive an hour and forty five minutes southeast.

For more information, visit greenbrierwv.com.

Greenbrier County CVB

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Tucked beside the Sawtooth Mountains, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Grand Marais has it all. First up, fuel your adventures at Angry Trout Cafe, housed where an old fishing shanty once stood. Then, embrace your inner Nick Offerman at The North House Folk School where you can hone your wood carving, fly casting, and sailing skills. Get out at Judge C.R. Magney State Park where a rugged trail drops you off at series of waterfalls. Mountain bikers can stop at the Superior National Forest ranger station at the edge of town for maps and trail information.

The Hungry Hippie Farm and Hostel, a newly opened converted barn is perched in the hills above Lake Superior and a short drive from Voyageur Brewing Company

Getting There: Fly to Duluth; drive two hours to the northeast.

For more information, visit visitcookcounty.com.


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