From the Adirondacks to the Rockies, these charming mountain towns deserve a moment in the sun. If you’re planning a visit, consider a vacation rental from TripAdvisor—like a cozy cabin right on the hiking trails or a modern ski condo.
In a land with hundreds of individual mountain ranges and endless acres of national forests, some of the most exciting vacation destinations in the US boast skylines that haven’t changed in centuries. Home to craggy peaks with steep trails, twisting singletracks and swirling whitewater, this country’s beautiful little mountain towns deserve their own moment in the sun. That’s why we’re featuring 24 scenic communities—each home to less than 10,000 residents—with serious four-season appeal and tons of small-town charm.
Whether you’re planning an adventure vacation or a relaxing mountain getaway, these coast-to-coast destinations show off the most breathtaking vistas America has to offer (not to mention some of the coolest backcountry cabins and rustic ski lodges available for rent on TripAdvisor Rentals).
Read on for the 24 most beautiful little mountain town vacations across America. And once you decide on a destination, you can book all your tours, activities, and attractions right on TripAdvisor, too. Our new 24-hour cancellation policy means you can pre-book before arriving, but still have the flexibility to cancel if your itinerary changes.
The first thing you should know about Ashland? There’s a lot of room to run. Thanks to the recently completed Ashland Trails Project, the area now has more than 50 miles of official trails—the ideal training ground for champion ultra runners like Jenn Shelton and Hal Koerner. But you don’t have to lace up your trainers to fall in love with the area’s breathtaking terrain. Hiking and mountain biking are both popular pastimes (the Pacific Crest Trail and Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway both pass through or near the town), as is rafting on the Rogue River. And Ashland is also home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which produces top-notch performances throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Visit Big Bear Lake, and you’re in for an adventurous vacation—there’s no question about that. Exactly what you’ll be doing, however, depends on the season. Book a cozy cabin during the winter, and you might be riding the lifts, learning to snowboard or sledding after dark at one of the area’s two ski resorts; reserve a lake house during the summer, and you might be mountain biking, Go-Kart racing or renting a pontoon from the local marina. No matter when you visit or what you do, area vacation rentals offer worthwhile amenities like ski storage with boot dryers, private boat docks and plenty of extra space for all your gear.
What Bryson City lacks in size, it makes up for in towering peaks, panoramic views and big natural attractions (namely, the Great Smoky Mountains). For hiking and biking enthusiasts, the Appalachian Trail and Tsali Mountain Biking Recreation Area are both nearby, but the city itself is better known for another outdoor activity: epic whitewater rafting. Don’t miss the opportunity to face some huge drops and rapids on the Nantahala River. Of course, if you prefer to stay on dry land, you can always browse the handcrafted items on display in the area’s artisan-run shops.
Located almost directly on the Idaho-Wyoming border, this Teton County mountain town is close to ski areas like Grand Targhee Resort and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, as well as top national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Naturally, the hiking is downright legendary—steep and sometimes tough, but with heart-stopping scenery featuring waterfalls and wildlife. After a long summer day of trout fishing or mountain biking, take in a movie at the locally beloved Spud Drive-In Theater; during the winter, don’t miss the Teton Valley Great Snow Fest.
Ely is a small town that’s easy to overlook: northern Minnesota, population 3,460, set against the stunning backdrop of the Shagawa Lake. So how did it end up on this list of stunning mountain vacations? We’ve got a few good reasons, starting with the town’s recent renaissance and an upswing in tourism. From ice fishing and dogsledding in the winter to late summer canoeing and early autumn hiking, this hidden-gem outdoors hub has a lot to offer, and travelers are taking note.
For cliffside Victorian homes, quaint galleries and boutiques, meandering mountain roads and 25 miles of backwoods trails, rent a historic home in Eureka Springs and start exploring the Ozarks. This popular mountain vacation destination is surrounded by natural attractions including three lakes, two rivers and a number of public caves, so canoeing, kayaking, fishing and hiking abound. But the fun doesn’t stop after summer ends; nearby spas and outstanding exhibits at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art make Eureka Springs an enchanting winter escape.
Given West Virginia’s nickname (“The Mountain State”) and motto (“Mountaineers are Always Free”), the state’s rugged peaks are an essential part of its heritage—just as much as the small towns nestled in the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountain ranges. Fayetteville is one of those charming destinations, home to the oldest river on the continent and the world’s second-longest single arch bridge. Aside from the region’s legendary whitewater rafting, Fayetteville is also known for rock climbing, llama treks(!) and Bridge Day, an annual October festival and sporting event centered around BASE jumping.
Gatlinburg is practically synonymous with Great Smoky Mountains National Park and those iconic misty mountain ridges. It’s a regional hub for whitewater rafting, horseback riding, ziplining and a long list of other popular outdoor activities; visit in the winter, and you can even fly down the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s only ski resort. Beyond the scenery, though, this entertaining mountain vacation town is known for its boutiques, live bluegrass and a surprising number of distilleries. Ever wondered what apple pie moonshine tastes like? You can sample it here. Make a day trip of it and book yourself a moonshine and wine tasting tour.
The biggest attractions in Glenwood Springs wouldn’t exist without water. Home to the largest mineral hot springs pool in the world and the only known natural vapor caves in North America, the historic resort area has drawn generations of travelers since the 1880s. Today, it’s just as well-known for its friendly atmosphere and activities along a colder, above-ground water source: the Colorado River. From exhilarating rafting trips and fishing in the summer, to spa treatments and skiing in the winter, Glenwood Springs is a quintessential year-round travel destination.
Homer has its fair share of nicknames: “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” “Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea.” “The End of the Road.” But make no mistake about that last one: this destination is not a dead end. Hemmed in by the mountains and the sea, Homer boasts the best of both worlds, so you can go hiking on Kenai Peninsula trails in the morning and sea kayaking on the Kachemak Bay in the afternoon. Well on its way to becoming the state’s adventure tourism capital, the quaint and quirky mountain town lures Alaskans and out-of-state travelers alike with its mild climate, jaw-dropping scenery, excellent fishing and prime bear viewing opportunities. You can even book a six-hour grizzly bear-spotting tour, including a thrilling plane ride and a hike to get a closer look at these fascinating creatures.
Hood River has been called both “a recreational boomtown” and “an agricultural powerhouse,” because the Columbia River port city is equally famous for its strong winds (a windsurfer’s dream) and good fruit. Located an hour east of Portland, where the Columbia River Gorge meets the Cascade Mountain Range, the area boasts some of the best windsurfing in the world and 15,000 acres of orchards—plus microbreweries, top-notch cycling, scenic gorges and balmy temperatures nearly year-round. Pair a leisurely cycle with some first-rate wine tasting on the Oregon Wine Country Experience, a guided cycle stopping at three wineries and offering some of the area’s best views.
Whether you’re a daredevil biker, skier or mountaineer, it’s about time you (ahem) caught up with Ketchum—the self-described home of “one of the lowest resting heart rates anywhere.” Once a Wild West mining center, this central Idaho town is just one mile from Sun Valley, the first American ski resort. Naturally, skiing is an essential part of the fabric of the community (and with 250 days of sunshine each year, it’s not a bad place to visit if you’re craving a little fresh air). Reserve a cabin rental or luxury lodge and prepare for an epic outdoor adventure.
Best known for its namesake resort, Killington boasts 6 peaks, 22 lifts, 155 trails and 3,000 skiable acres, making it the largest ski area in the eastern US. Eleven miles away, the Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Center offers more than 35 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails. And while we’re crunching the numbers, here are five reasons—music festivals, mountain climbing, biking, hiking and golf—to visit after the snow melts. Oh, and one more thing: Killington has played host to three Spartan World Championship events. (We think that about sums it up.)
In northeastern California, where the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas meet, Lake Almanor offers swimming, tubing, kayaking, canoeing and 52 miles of forested shoreline. If lazy summer lake days aren’t your style, the region’s great trails and beautiful meadows are also perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing when colder weather sets in. No matter when you visit, thanks to the number of smallmouth bass, giant rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, the fishing is great year-round.
Lake Placid is a mountain vacation with more than one claim to fame, but you probably know the two-time Olympic host town best for its place in American sports lore. (At the Lake Placid Olympic Center in 1980, the US men’s hockey team performed a “Miracle on Ice” and beat the USSR to claim the gold medal.) But this scenic community in the Adirondack Mountains is also one of the country’s oldest mountain vacation destinations, in part because of its four-season appeal. Book a waterfront rental and enjoy the autumn hiking, winter sports and warm-weather golfing at Westport Country Club, Saranac Lake Golf Club or Ticonderoga Country Club.
For a feel-good comeback story, look no further than the tale of Leavenworth. After the decline of the area’s railway and timber industries in the 1960s, the former logging town remodeled its buildings to create a Bavarian-style alpine village. In the decades since, Leavenworth has become a bustling tourist destination known for its Cascade Mountain scenery and a packed calendar of festivals and performances. If you visit during the summer, don’t leave without catching an outdoor show at the Leavenworth Summer Theater; during the winter, backcountry skiing and snowmobiling are two exciting ways to explore the surrounding region.
Surf’s up in Makaha, a slice of Oahu’s west coast where Native Hawaiians have been riding waves for generations. Located at the base of Mt. Ka’ala, the town is best known for its strong shore break; during the winter, watch expert surfers show off their skills at Makaha Beach Park. Summer brings smaller waves, better for swimming and snorkeling, and Makaha Caverns is a great offshore site for divers.
Recommended Activity: Small Group Tour – Hidden West Oahu With Snorkeling
In 2015, two local spots merged to create Park City Mountain Resort, now the largest ski resort in the country. Add 7,300 skiable acres to the 400+ miles of trails accessible to hikers and bikers during the summer, and you’ll understand why this city is a buzzworthy destination year-round. (Of course, if you’re looking to save a little money, steer clear mid-winter when the Sundance Film Festival comes to town.) If hitting the slopes—or trails—isn’t your definition of a good time, the restaurants, galleries and luxe boutiques on Main Street won’t disappoint.
Recommended Activity: Performance Ski Rental Package from Park City
If you don’t know about Red Lodge’s skiing and snowboarding scene, here’s what you’ve been missing: affordable prices, heart-stopping vistas and plenty of fresh powder (around 250 inches of snow each year). Avoid the crowds at big-name resorts and opt in for a cabin rental with stunning views of the Beartooth Mountains. When warmer weather arrives, this desirable mountain towns town becomes a hot spot for climbing, fishing, rafting and horseback riding. What’s more? In Red Lodge’s historic downtown, you’ll find plenty of unique local spots to shop, eat and enjoy a pint.
Surrounded by (count ‘em!) three major mountain ranges and Idaho’s largest lake, it’s no surprise that Sandpoint is home to some of the West’s best hiking, climbing and fishing—plus a bevy of winter activities at nearby Schweitzer Mountain Resort. What might shock you is that galleries outnumber ski shops in this mountain town, and the local arts and culture scene is thriving. What else flourishes here? Huckleberries, which have inspired local delicacies from jam and ice cream to daiquiris and popcorn. Visit in the mid-to-late summer, and you can pick your own.
Located 15 minutes from Aspen, this former ranching community in the Colorado Rockies is an iconic mountain vacation in its own right. Snowmass Village offers skiers and snowboarders easy access to four mountains during the winter; after the snow melts, hikers and bikers arrive to tackle more than 50 miles of winding alpine trails. Shoulder season, the quietest time of year to visit, offers glimpses of changing foliage and migrating wildlife. Rent a ski-in, ski-out chalet or a rustic cabin on the river and kick back for a secluded getaway.
Two hours north of Anchorage, small-town Talkeetna thrives in the shadow of North America’s tallest peak. Once a center for gold mining, the scenic village is home to 700 year-round residents, rustic dirt roads and a vibrant downtown known for its quirky shops and quaint restaurants. While you’re in town, take a riverboat tour, book a fishing charter, try the canopy zipline course or hop on a “flightseeing” tour for an up-close look at Denali National Park.
Perhaps best known for Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community to be declared both a National Historic Landmark (1965) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1992), Taos is a desert town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Here, galleries, museums and landmark sites are not difficult to come by—but neither are legendary hikes and unforgettable mountain vistas. For a great introduction to Taos, book a guided driving tour, which includes Taos Pueblo and the Rio Grande Gorge. Craving cold-weather activities? Seventeen miles northeast of the town, Taos Ski Valley offers skiing and snowboarding during the winter.
Welcome to Rocky Mountain High Country. If the skyline is giving you a case of déjà vu, it might be because you’ve seen it before—on a can of Coors beer. Telluride is an iconic spot, home to cabin rentals with soaring mountain views and the dazzling slopes skiers dream of all year. We’re partial to the excellent hikes (don’t miss the trek to 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls), thriving restaurant scene (try the buffalo, venison or elk) and buzzy annual events like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Bursting with energy? Pre-book your place on a seven-hour rafting experience on the San Miguel River.
Update: voting is closed as of October 1, 2016. Congratulations to Bryson City, North Carolina for winning our readers’ choice best little mountain town in America! The adventure paradise edged out second-place finisher Gatlinburg, Tennessee and third-place finisher Red Lodge, Montana to take the crown.