GearCamping

The Last of the Real Mountain Towns

We have a secret. That cabin you’ve always dreamed of? It’s within reach—if you know where to look.

The best real estate isn't always the most expensive. There are some spectacular mountain destinations in the U.S. that haven’t yet been overrun by mega mansions. Take these five alpine getaways, which each have rustic charm and beauty—and a down-to-earth property prices. For now, at least. 

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

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(Photo: Aneese/Thinkstock)

Why here: Pigeon Forge, population 5,800, and nearby Gatlinburg are the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the western side. World-class whitewater paddling and climbing, and hundreds of miles of mountain biking and hiking are all at your disposal. 

What $175,000 can buy: A one-bedroom, two-bath creekside log cabin with a sleeping loft and hot tub, listed at $154,900.

Why it’s so affordable: The Pigeon Forge area, home to the Dollywood and NASCAR Speedpark amusement parks, is considered too red-necky for the urban elites of the South and Northeast, who prefer to flock to tonier Asheville, North Carolina. 


Greenville, Maine

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(Photo: Richard King/Google)

Why here: The old logging town of Greenville, population 1,600, sits on largely undeveloped Moosehead Lake, the largest lake in Maine and the crystal source of the Kennebec River. There’s no mountain town in New England with more remote, or gorgeous, surroundings.

What $175,000 can buy: A rustic, 1-bedroom, 700 square foot cottage with neighborhood access to the lake, listed at $70,000.

Why it’s so affordable: Location. The drive from Boston to Greenville is about 4.5 hours. Meanwhile, Cape Cod is 90 minutes away from Beantown, and the White Mountains and Lakes Region of New Hampshire is two hours.


Darby, Montana

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(Photo: Top Ten Tepic/Google)

Why here: Darby, population 700, near the Idaho border, in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana is sandwiched by the Bitterroot Range and Sapphire Mountains, two endless outdoor playgrounds.

What $175,000 can buy: A 1,900-square-foot, 3-bed, 2-bath getaway with broad mountain views listed at $118,000.

Why it’s so affordable: The well-heeled who buy mountain homes prefer to be closer to ski resorts. Darby is a half-hour drive down Route 93 from the nearest one—the humble Lost Trail Powder Mountain. Backcountry skiing, like on Trapper Peak in the Bitterroot Mountains, is practically just out your back door, though.


Sugarloaf, California

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(Photo: Zillow/Google)

Why here: Fewer than ten miles from Big Bear Lake, Sugarloaf (population 1,800) sits at 7,000 feet in the San Bernadino Mountains of California. The region is a sports paradise—in both summer and winter. 

What $175,000 can buy: A two-bedroom, one bath, 864-square foot cottage with knotty pine-paneled walls, listed at $129,900.

Why it’s so affordable: Because for the hoi polloi from Los Angeles, it’s all about zip code. If a home doesn’t have 92315 at the bottom of its address (meaning it’s in Big Bear Lake) they’re not interested.


Rhododendron, Oregon

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(Photo: Liz Warren/Google)

Why here: Mount Hood is the undisputed outdoor recreation nexus for the Northwest, and the hamlets west of the summit along US 26, including Rhododendron, are natural jump-off points for adventure.

What $175,000 can buy: A 3-bedroom, 1-bath cottage on nearly a half-acre by Still Creek in the Mount Hood National Forest, listed at $117,500.

Why it’s so affordable: The actual town of Rhododendron isn’t quite as well-located as Mt. Hood Village (sandwiched by the Salmon and Sandy rivers) to the west, or Government Camp (by Summit Ski area) to the east.

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