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 FlipKey—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 FlipKey).
Bryson City, North Carolina
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.
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.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
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.
Park City, Utah
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.
Fayetteville, West Virginia
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.
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, Oregon
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.)
Lake Almanor Area, California
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.
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.
Red Lodge, Montana
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.
Taos, New Mexico
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.
This post was originally published on the TripAdvisor blog. FlipKey is a TripAdvisor company.