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Voters' Choice: The 4 Best Towns in America

After 20 days and more than one million votes since the start of our 2014 Best Towns Tournament, we're finally down to the final four. With less than two weeks left, we take a minute to weigh in on what makes each of the finalists so special.

Outside editors weigh in on what makes Provo, Ithaca, Duluth, and Asheville so special. Read more. (SeanPavonePhoto/Thinkstock)
OutsideOnline Best Towns

After 20 days and more than one million votes since the start of our 2014 Best Towns Tournament, we're finally down to the final four. With less than two weeks left, we take a minute to weigh in on what makes each of the finalists so special.

Here at Outside, we've been watching the Best Towns 2014 bracket with bated breath—not only because there have been some big surprises (we're looking at you, Duluth) but also because we've been rooting for our favorite towns, too. Now, our editors share some of what make the four finalists so special.

If you haven't voted yet, what are you waiting for?

Provo, Utah

"Provo might be the most underrated town in Utah. It’s laid-back and affordable and has incredible access to just about everything except surfing. There are literally hundreds of miles of singletrack in American Fork and Payson Canyons, world-class rock- and ice-climbing all over the place, and even whitewater kayaking on the lower Provo River. Plus, Sundance Ski Resort is just 20 minutes up the road and is home to one of the coolest bars in the state, the Owl Bar. It’s worth going up there just for a drink.” —Sam Moulton, executive editor 

Ithaca, New York

“I first visited Ithaca on a gray, rainy day in the spring. But even the dreary weather couldn’t take away from the beauty of the place: rocky crags, dense forests, and hundreds of waterfalls, gorges, and swimming holes. Plus, it’s a college town complete with some top-notch restaurants. (I’d recommend sandwich shop Gorgers for a hearty, inexpensive lunch.) Next, hike to spectacular Ithaca Falls, which are only a short walk from downtown.” —Axie Navas, assistant online editor

“In summer, you could do worse than picking up a few bottles of light, white wine at a local vineyard and taking a pontoon boat out on Lake Cayuga.” —Fritz Huber, online editorial assistant

Duluth, Minnesota

“Minnesota’s Duluth is the perfect mixture of Midwest small town friendliness and big (enough) city life, with the largest lake in the world (by surface area) on its front porch. Positioned at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, the country’s farthest inland port city is home to two colleges (three, if you count the one in neighboring Superior, WI, across the river), and 23 parks, including Leif Erikson Park, which hosts movies on the lakeshore every Friday night throughout the summer, and Lester Park, which contains both the Lester River and Amity Creek drainages—short but sweet Class IV-V whitewater runs.

"Travel across the lift bridge in downtown and cruise 7-mile Park Point, the world’s largest freshwater sandbar (also a surfable beach break), or head north up historic Highway 61 (made famous by Bob Dylan) three hours toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Some of the best micro-brewed beer in the Midwest can be found at Fitger’s Brewhouse (go on a Wednesday night for a wild rice burger, sweet potato fries, and live bluegrass).

"Sea kayaking in the Apostles Islands is only an hour and a half away. And, sure, it gets cold in the winter, but there’s snow—lots of it. Ski or snowboard at either Spirit Mountain or Lutsen Resort, or go ice and mixed climbing at Casket Quarry on the east side of town.” —Dave Costello, senior editor at Alaska magazine

Asheville, North Carolina

“Home to possibly my favorite restaurant in the world, Tupelo Honey Cafe. The fried chicken and grits cakes deliver a knockout punch with only one remedy—a walk over to Monk’s Cafe, which has the best beer-on-tap selection I’ve found. But best of all, it’s near Cherokee National Forest, which has some of the most scenic hikes I’ve ever taken.” —Jonah Ogles, associate editor

“World-class mountain biking, kayaking, and climbing within a stone’s throw of downtown. An hour’s drive gets you to Linville Gorge, where you’ll find some of the best backpacking and trad climbing on the East Coast. Asheville's food scene is also fantastic: try the “Not Your Mama’s Meat Loaf" at Tupelo Honey Cafe.

"And, of course, hands-down the best beer scene in the country. With 12 breweries in town, plus one of the top beer bars in the world at the Thirsty Monk, you won’t be hurting to find good beer. Heavyweights Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company have also all settled on Asheville as a home base for their East Coast operations. It’s not hard to see why.” —Bryan Rogala, video production manager

Filed To: Best Towns / Minnesota / New York / Asheville / Utah
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

the-ring-race.jpg
(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.