Does your idea of a dream getaway have you waking up to a mountain vista, skiing down pristine slopes, trekking tree-lined trails, or simply people-watching in quaint villages? For your next weekend road trip or holiday vacation, leave your low-altitude lodgings to live the high life in one of these beautiful American mountain towns.
Believe it or not, more horses than people lived in this former mining town at the end of the 19th century. Today, Ouray is home to around 1,000 residents and a sizable population of tourists. They can often be found cruising down Black Bear Road, chilling out at the world's first ice climbing park, or frolicking on Main Street, a National Historic District chock-full of old buildings. Perhaps the most endearing of Ouray's attractions is its scenic setting in the San Juan Mountains, which has earned the town its nickname, "Switzerland of America."
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Park City, Utah
Each year, hundreds of thousands of skiers, snowboarders, history lovers, and movie buffs descend on this city by the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. They spend their visit cruising the slopes at the Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resorts, traveling back in time at the Park City Museum, or attending the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, the scenic mountain town is such a popular destination for out-of-towners that at any given time there are more tourists than residents in Park City!
A worthy stop on any road trip across the American South, Gatlinburg puts you face-to-face with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you're not hitting the park trails, check out Ripley's Aquarium or the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, or head downtown. That bustling district, which is filled with mountain-themed specialty shops, lights up from November to February each year for the not-to-be-missed annual Winterfest Celebration.
Stowed away in northern Vermont, this small town is nestled in a valley at the foot of Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in the state. For the best views of the 4,393-foot summit, drive along the steep and winding toll road to "the nose" of the mountain, then trek to "the chin," or summit. If hiking isn't your jam, head to the Stowe Mountain Resort for a day of skiing, catch a play at the Stowe Theater Guild, or admire the colorful craft at the annual summer balloon festival.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Dreaming of a white winter? Look no further than Crested Butte. The town transforms into a true winter wonderland during the colder months, with picturesque cottages, ski resorts, and ski trails that inspired its reputation as "the last great Colorado ski town." If, instead, you decide to visit Crested Butte during the summer, you'll enjoy an endless expanse of green that’s ideal for backpacking, rock climbing, or disc golf.
Shenandoah County, Virginia
The site of the Battle of New Market during the Civil War, Shenandoah County is a bucolic region sandwiched between Massanutten Mountain and George Washington National Forest. Outdoor enthusiasts will be wowed by the natural wonders to be discovered on a mile-long guided tour of Shenandoah Cavern. If you prefer to soak up local color and history, sample brews on the beer and wine trails, or trek back to the past on the Civil War trails.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Take an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of our nation's capital, and you'll find yourself in the historic West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry. The site of John Brown's Raid, a key event in the prelude to the Civil War, Harpers Ferry is home to a historic district with about 100 buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When you're finished exploring the past, go hiking, fishing, or white-water rafting at the 3,660-acre Harpers Ferry National Park, located in the Blue Ridge of the sprawling Appalachian Mountains.
Every evening, the setting sun lights up the red sandstone formations of Sedona, suffusing the dramatic natural tableau with a fiery glow. The Red Rock Scenic Byway affords the best views of the ruddy terrain, but to see it close up, venture to 4,919-foot Bell Rock or the even more imposing 4,967-foot Cathedral Rock, one of Arizona's most photographed landmarks. Visitors to Sedona also enjoy rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and stargazing.
This city on Alaska's Baranof Island boasts architectural wonders that enhance its breathtaking location overlooking Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano that can be climbed on a seven-mile guided trail. The city of about 8,850, which was originally settled by Russians, still carries reminders of that history in architectural landmarks like the Cathedral of Saint Michael, a reconstruction of an original Russian Orthodox church.
Ski fiends around the world fly to Frisco for its must-visit quad of ski resorts: Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone. Living up to its moniker of "Main Street of the Rockies," a sizable portion of the tiny 1.7-square-mile town is occupied by its Main Street. The bustling district brims with restaurants and family-friendly activities, from the tubing hill at the Frisco Nordic Center and Adventure Park to the Frisco Historic Park and Museum.
With just one glance at the Jackson Town Square and its four arches made entirely of elk antlers (thousands of them!), tourists know that this is a place that can scratch their itch for the outdoors. In the environs of this iconic Rockies town, visitors will find an elk refuge, a wildlife art museum, three popular ski resorts, and two national parks, including the first ever established in the United States: famed Yellowstone National Park. With the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges surrounding the city, visitors are treated to a spectacular panorama as they tread the park's trails.
Celebrities from Margot Kidder to Peter Fonda have called Livingston home, attracted by its low-key entertainments and sweeping mountain views. If you're lucky enough to find yourself roaming this small town near the Yellowstone River, check out the train history exhibits at Livingston Depot Center. Also, take a stroll through Sacajawea Park, a verdant lawn with trails, a playground, and tennis courts that once served as the site of a historic meeting between Sacajawea and Captain Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
flickr.com via Kent Kanouse
Asheville, North Carolina
While the opulent Biltmore Estate is well worth the trip south of the city center to Biltmore Village, it's the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway that steals the spotlight in Asheville. The 469-mile road carves through a mesmerizing landscape of lush foliage, crowned by the silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Throw in the spectacular Spanish baroque architecture of the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the historic Grove Park Inn, born of the Arts and Crafts movement, and it's easy to see why the city earned a spot as one of Frommer's top seven places to live in the United States in 2007.
Visitors can spot numerous peaks, including Burnt Mountain and Baldy Mountain, from this popular resort town located 10 miles west of Aspen. Many sports enthusiasts are drawn to Snowmass Ski Resort, which is tucked into 3,128-acre Snowmass Mountain, for its plethora of winter activities. Thrills at the resort run the gamut from family-friendly ski slopes and gondolas to rugged hills that challenge even experienced skiers.
flickr.com via Rob Stanley
Take a scenic sojourn to this unassuming getaway, and you'll catch a glimpse of much more than the Cascade Mountains. Peaks, desert, and forest all converge in Bend to create a rare landscape of diverse natural elements. That geographic distinction makes the central Oregon town as fit for rock climbing and paragliding as it is for hiking and rafting.
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Lake Placid, New York
It's no wonder why Lake Placid is a two-time host of the Winter Olympic Games. Its awe-inspiring setting in the Adirondack Mountains, coupled with its eponymous lake, makes it a draw for mountain climbers, skiers, hockey players, and ice skaters. If the town's fervor for sports inspires you to climb all 46 of the nearby mountain peaks, you can join a small but elite club of committed climbers known as the "Adirondack 46ers."
While winter sports enthusiasts hail Breckenridge as one of the best ski towns in the country, art aficionados know it as the site of the International Snow Sculpture Championships, where the world's most skilled artists converge to carve cool creations from mere blocks of snow. During warm-weather months, visitors hike the local trails for a rare bird's-eye view of the colorful Colorado town.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Although the 1874 discovery of gold was Deadwood's claim to fame, setting off the Black Hills Gold Rush, tourists nowadays visit the the town for its abundance of lakes, trails, and the Black Hills National Forest. If you're looking to relive the glory days of the town, check out Historic Old Town as well as the Adams Museum, which features exhibits commemorating the gold find in the Black Hills.
Over the years, both Ernest Hemingway and Tom Hanks have been residents of Ketchum, but the biggest personality in town is Bald Mountain, known by locals as "Baldy." The 9,150-foot mountain offers first-rate slopes for skiing, although Trail Creek, Big Wood River, and Main Street near the town center are equally diverting locales for hiking, fishing, or shopping.
Taos, New Mexico
Venture to Taos, and you may well think you've been transported to 17th-century Spain. Thanks to the Spanish conquest of 1615, the town’s architecture has an undeniable Spanish influence. Charming pueblos fill the streets, including one that dates back between the years 1000 and 1450. The age-old architecture gets a beauty boost from the scenic vista of nearby Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the state.
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