Best Mountain Towns in US: Beautiful Places to Visit on Vacation

People often think of mountain towns as a winter destination for ski trips, and while they’re not wrong, these spots are actually great any time of the year. Whether you’re hiking along wildflower-blanketed hills in spring, cozying up in a cottage by the lake in summer, or camping and climbing as the leaves shift to fiery shades of rust and orange in the fall, America’s best mountain towns really are made for all seasons.

Here, life slows down or even takes a step back in time with Wild West saloons, ancient adobe huts, and Bavarian-themed beer gardens. The best part? You may feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but you’re usually a quick drive from somewhere pretty spectacular, be it Yellowstone, a world-class ski resort, or mirror-like lakes—and you’re guaranteed majestic vistas and a great brewery (or a city of them) along the way. Here are 16 of our favorite towns in the shadows of giants.

adobe buildings
The Taos Pueblo is both a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it the only living Native American community to claim both titles. | Josemaria Toscano/Shutterstock

Taos, New Mexico

Taos isn’t exactly a summer hotspot unless you’re being hyper-literal. But once fall starts taming the 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.

a village by a lake surrounded by trees
Lake Placid is one of Upstate New York’s greatest gems. | Lake Placid AKD

Lake Placid, New York

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.

a gondola descending into a town filled with fall foliage
Where the Old West meets the mountains. | Blaine Harrington III/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Telluride, Colorado

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—and worthy distractions include 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 festivals and film fests. Don’t worry about hiring a designated driver if your night gets a little rowdy, either—the public transit here is by gondola.

a person in a hammock in front of a mountain lake
This beer town has plenty of nature to be explored. | Visit Bend Oregon

Bend, Oregon

Not only are there gorgeous views of Mount Bachelor to be had from Todd Lake in Deschutes National Forest, there are also volcanoes, waterfalls, buttes, caves, and even rugged badlands ready to be explored. Bend is, simply, everything you expect out of Oregon, with a fraction of the hipsters. It’s a legendary beer town built on the foundation laid by Deschutes Brewery. Its food and drink scene punches above cities thrice its size. It’s also a cannabis-friendly hub of outdoor music, all set up in a mountainous confluence of an old mill town and a modern Pacific Northwest city. And if you somehow haven’t gotten your fill of mountain town love, it’s also the entry point to nearby spots like Sisters, another western-influenced charmer in the shadows of three snowy peaks.

street view of Burlington
Vermont’s biggest city boasts some of the best beer in the country. | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Burlington, Vermont

There’s a reason that people in Burlington are perpetually in a great mood: The biggest city in the Green Mountain State is like a greatest hit of Vermont’s finest qualities. Plunked on dreamy Lake Champlain, you’ll find impossibly delicious restaurants where pretty much every ingredient is sourced nearby; some of the best and most coveted beer on the planet; a destination-worthy farmers market; and easy access to a whopping six ski resorts tucked into the near endless mountains. Drive a little outside of town and you’ll be knee deep in sugar shacks, red barns, general stores, and endless farmland. Or, just hunker down and chat somebody up at the nearest brewery. Chances are, that same friendly somebody farmed one of the ingredients in your hazy IPA.

a busy festival in a small mountain town
See another side of Tahoe. | Photo by Mike Dawson, courtesy of Truckee Thursdays

Truckee, California

No self-respecting list-maker would omit Lake Tahoe from a compilation of top mountain towns. But instead of the crowded touristy lodges and casinos 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.

young man jumping of a rocky cliff
Yes, this gorgeous lake is actually in Idaho. | Nature’s Charm/Shutterstock

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Some argue that CDA isn’t close enough to the hills to be a true mountain town. Those people, we suspect, are just being selfish. 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.

aerial view of downtown Asheville
Craft brew and spectacular mountain scenery—what more could you ask for? | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Asheville, North Carolina

Over the last few years, this offbeat, arts-centric town has grown into one of America’s best drinking cities and, simultaneously, one of its best live music cities. Asheville now has an absolutely obscene number of breweries operating in the city and spread out all over the surrounding area, two favorites being Asheville Brewing Company and Wicked Weed. On top of all that, you’ve got trendy farm-to-table restaurants and, of course, the Blue Ridge Mountains. They’re right there. As is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is basically like hiking for your car, and one of the best drives in the entire country.

View of downtown Livingston
This Wild West town is your gateway to Yellowstone. | EQRoy/Shutterstock

Livingston, Montana

An hour’s drive from Yellowstone, this rowdy 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. 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.

aerial view of Park City
Park City has everything from some of America’s best skiing to western watering holes. | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Park City, Utah

Park City’s status as a legendary mountain town was cemented well before the star of The Great Waldo Pepper stepped in. 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. 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 U.S. you can ride.

street view of Leavenworth
Leavenworth feels like an authentic Bavarian village—beer garden and all. | Visit Leavenworth WA

Leavenworth, Washington

Unlike Bavarian-style towns in the south and Midwest, you could legitimately wake from a bender at Leavenworth’sMunchen Haus and think you’d been kidnapped and shipped to Von Trapp country. Here, Bavarian buildings are encased by the snowy peaks, giving it the feel of some sort of Germanic Brigadoon, one that serves as a hub for world-class skiing, hiking, and climbing that attract climbers from all over the globe. Is it a little corny? Well, yeah, especially during Christmas, when half the Pacific Northwest comes to pet reindeer. But its isolated locale in the middle of the mountains keeps it pretty much off the tourist trail year-round, meaning you can escape here and be assured you’ll have the place mostly to yourself.

Street view of Lewisburg
Lewisburg is like a living history lesson with museum-like hotels and a great art scene. | The City of Lewisburg

Lewisburg, West Virginia

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 General Lewis Inn, which is part-hotel, part-museum. 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 (it’s a thing), 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 5 p.m., you can find food and art vendors and live music downtown (the event is helpfully called First Fridays After Five).

street view of Deadwood
The duo of former mining towns are a great base for skiers and snowboarders heading to nearby Terry Peak. | Michael Kaercher/Shutterstock

Lead-Deadwood, South Dakota

Frankly, it’s time South Dakota gets its just due. Along with robust Native American 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.

Halibut Cove island
Homer has whales, otters, and plenty of hippie vibes. | CSNafzger/Shutterstock

Homer, Alaska

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.

Historic downtown Eureka Springs
The historic district is built around the city’s natural springs. | Rachael Martin/Shutterstock

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

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.

street view of Jackson
From Jackson, make your way to some of the country’s most stunning parks and mountains: the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. | f11photo/Shutterstock

Jackson, Wyoming

At the gateway to the Grand Tetons and not far from 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. Jackson is home to the superlative Melvin Brewing—which is housed in a Thai restaurant and crafts the world-famous 2×4 IPA—and the legendary Snake River. 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. And 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.

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Kastalia Medrano is a New York-based journalist and avid traveler. Follow her on Twitter.
Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and he prefers hiking in his car whenever possible. Follow him on Twitter.

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