Beach vacations and theme park trips are fun, but perhaps consider switching your destination to a charming mountain town with majestic views of nature’s splendor plus outdoor exploration opportunities.
“America the Beautiful” is true to the song’s title and these five U.S. mountain towns offer breathtaking vista views, a plethora of outdoor activities and wonderful culinary scenes.
Here are five all-season destinations ready to be enjoyed and explored.
It doesn’t get more mountain-y than Stanley, Idaho, which is located about three hours northeast of Boise. Stanley is surrounded by the Sawtooth, White Cloud and Lost River mountain ranges, and this trifecta is an adventure haven for hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and rock climbing.
While Stanley is gorgeous during the daylight hours the town really shines when the sun sets. Stanley is located in the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the first-ever Gold Tier dark sky reserve in the United States and the 12th in the world. Gold tier Gold-tier status is reserved for the areas with the most visible sky phenomenons and the least light pollution. That means stargazers will have amazing views of the Milky Way, meteors and several planets as well as other astronomical events.
► The night sky: 10 great places to go stargazing in the U.S.
Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate that Stanley is home to Redfish Lake, an alpine lake situated at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains, where you can rent a boat, kayak or paddle board and enjoy this beautiful lake.
If you want Instagram-worthy images, book a stay at the Mountain Village Resort which offers private, natural hot springs piped into a man-made pool.
A classic New England village, Bethel is a storybook setting, with a walkable downtown and cozy lodging and dining options nestled in Maine’s Lakes & Mountains region.
With the White Mountain National Forest at the village’s doorstep, plan to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing or Nordic skiing, and you can access the mountains all year long. Also, carve out time for Grafton Notch State Park, which offers hikes with stunning views of the Mahoosuc Range, a northern extension of the White Mountains.
Beyond the views, Bethel features various shops which sell crafty Maine-made merchandise. Dining in Bethel is also noteworthy with roadside gems like Smokin’ Good BBQ to fine dining at Brian’s, or a freshly brewed beer from the Sunday River Brewing Company.
After a day of enjoying the town, settle in at the Bethel Inn Resort, which offers a golf course in the summer and a cross-country ski center in winter.
Bryson City, North Carolina
If you’re looking for laid-back and non-touristy town with view of mountains, consider a visit to Bryson City, which borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina.
Bryson City is about an hour west of the North Carolina tourist town of Asheville, a little more than two hours from Knoxville, Tennessee, and Spartanburg, South Carolina and roughly three hours from Chattanooga, Tennessee; Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.
This charming town is completely walkable and is dotted with local bookshops, galleries with working artisans, breweries, family-friendly museums and restaurants with culinary flair.
Bryson City is ideal if you want to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and partake in outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain biking and fishing.
A unique lodging pick is the Everett Hotel, originally a bank, with a rooftop terrace for guests boasting outstanding mountain views.
It may not be the most well-known town in Montana, but it’s time to discover Kalispell, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. The location also boasts unforgettable views of the Mission, Swan and Salishmountain ranges, which are part of the Northwest Montana Rockies, as well as views into nearby Glacier National Park.
From Kalispell, you’re about 30 miles from Glacier National Park’s west entrance, while Flathead Lake – the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River – is only about 15 minutes south of downtown.
For history buffs, Kalispell is deeply rooted in a history that’s comprised of American Indian Nations, early pioneers and settlers, farmers and fur trappers. After gazing at the mountain views, explore that history at the Conrad Mansion Museum or the Northwest Montana History Museum.
Steps from the museums, downtown Kalispell is lively, with locally owned shops, restaurants, breweries and watering holes – including the brand-new KM Bar. Also, make sure you take in live music from local venues like MontaVino Winery and Kalispell Brewing Company.
While there are several flagship hotels in Kalispell, two interesting lodging options are the Kalispell Grand – a historic property in the heart of downtown – and Sherman Lodge, which showcases upscale accommodations in a lodge.
The juxtaposition of neon lights against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountain range creates a dichotomy of unique beauty in the alpine city of Reno.
Reno could be a jumping-off point for mountain adventures – with more than 20 different trailheads just outside the city center for hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing.
If you want a more lively experience after taking in jaw-dropping mountain views, you can revel in city life with the destination’s lively entertainment, exciting gaming and thriving arts and culture scenes in the midtown and downtown districts, with the Truckee River running right through it all.
As you make your way downtown to Reno’s art district; grab a drink along the river and end the evening with dinner at award-winning restaurants followed by shows with big-name headliners at The Row. After a day of exploring, settle in at the conveniently-located and dog-friendly, boutique Whitney Peak Hotel, which is also home to one of the world’s tallest climbing wall for ultimate views of the mountains and the iconic Reno Arch.