The 24 Best Mountain Towns in the U.S., Ranked
From Lake Placid to Cordova and some select places in between, here’s our (highly subjective) list of the nation’s best mountain towns. Before telling us where we went wrong, please take a moment to acknowledge the courage and gall it takes to attempt such an impossible feat.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
What makes the perfect mountain town? Quick access to adventure, of course, but how about the less obvious attributes? Does it have solid breweries and après food? Can an abundance of bike parks outweigh a lack of taco joints? Maybe. We explored such criteria in this highly subjective list, weighing each town against its peers in an attempt to rank the best mountain outposts in the U.S., from the southern Appalachians to the Chugach. There’s a good chance we’re going to piss you off with our picks. We probably left off your favorite town. Or worse, we included a place you wish we’d never written about. Some of the towns on this list are so damn awesome that they’re suffering from side effects like crowded trailheads and ridiculous home prices. For that, we’re sorry. We’re only human and maybe we put too much stock in an empty trail, a tasty IPA, and a great breakfast burrito. Tell us where we went wrong in the comments.
24. Cordova, Alaska
No roads connect this fishing hub with other towns in Alaska, so you’ll have to catch a seaplane or boat to get here. But once you’ve arrived, the best of the state is just out your back door. The community (population 2,800) sits at the mouth of the Copper River on Prince William Sound, surrounded by glaciated peaks that are protected by Chugach National Forest. The Copper is both a means of transportation and entertainment. Catch a boat upriver to see Childs Glacier, which drops ice chunks into the water with alarming regularity, or cast a line and try to hook some salmon. Kayakers can paddle between icebergs in Orca Inlet, and skiers based downtown can walk to Mount Eyak, where 800 vertical feet and an average 120 inches of snow are served by a historic single chairlift. A lifetime of hiking trails are scattered throughout this corner of Chugach Mountains, many leading to alpine lakes and other glaciers.
23. Roanoke, Virginia
Roanoke gets overshadowed because of its blue-collar bones, but its adventure chops are the real deal. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise directly from downtown, offering immediate access to rigorous road-bike climbs that top out at the Blue Ridge Parkway and 400 miles of flowy singletrack, while the Appalachian Trail skirts the edge of town if you’re interested in a 2,000-mile jaunt or a short, scenic stretch of it. It’s even home to one of the toughest tests of distance running in the country, the Blue Ridge Marathon, putting it to you with more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain. And the food? Unpretentious farm-to-table fare with a Southern accent, washed down with something from the burgeoning craft-beer scene. Deschutes Brewery liked Roanoke so much, it opened an outpost here.
22. Terlingua, Texas
The Texas Hill Country is adventure packed and all, but the peaks that define the far western corner of this state are the real deal. The Chisos Mountains hit 8,000 feet, rising from the dusty Chihuahuan Desert, and the entire stretch is contained within the one-million-acre Big Bend National Park. The tiny town of Terlingua, with a population of 50 or so, sits on the boundaryof the park and has a killer bar in the Starlight Theatre Restaurant, a couple of other dining options, and some beloved stone ruins. There’s mountain biking galore in nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park, road and gravel cycling throughout the national park, and some of the best overlanding you could imagine. And we haven’t even mentioned the Rio Grande, which flows just south of town, carving tall, dramatic cliffs that define the edge of America.
21. Spearfish, South Dakota
Perched on the northern side of Black Hills National Forest and hugging the Wyoming border, Spearfish is an hour and a half from Badlands National Park in one direction and an hour from Devils Tower, one of the country’s finest trad-climbing destinations, in the other. But you don’t need to get in your car to get radical; Spearfish Canyon, with its thousand-foot-high limestone walls, begins just outside downtown and runs south for 20 miles through the Black Hills, offering endless climbing, mountain-biking, and hiking options. During the winter, those trail systems become a hotbed of cross-country activity. As for the town itself, expect a college-educated-cowboy vibe, thanks to the presence of Black Hills State University.
20. Davis, West Virginia
Davis is not large. Its population hovers at 600, and its downtown is just a few blocks, but it has everything you need: a pizza place, a burrito joint, and a brewery. Then there’s the wild and rugged Monongahela National Forest on the outskirts, stacked with some of the most challenging singletrack on the eastern seaboard. The nearby Dolly Sods Wilderness is a prime pick for backpackers looking to traverse rocky outcroppings, meandering creeks, and high-elevation bogs. The town itself is located just minutes from two downhill ski resorts, Canaan Valley and Timberline Mountain, and one cross-country-skiing hub, Whitegrass Ski Touring Center, all of which enjoy some 200 inches of lake-effect snow each year.
19. Durango, Colorado
Durango has everything more famous towns in Colorado have, except the crowds. A former mining town and railroad hub, it has since expanded to 25,000 residents, who relish the four seasons of adventure in their backyard. Rafting the Class III–V Animas River, which cuts through the small city center, can be a multiday excursion on the Upper Animas or a post-work session at the Durango Whitewater Park. Mountain biking is ingrained in the culture—a shocking number of Olympic bikers grew up here—while hikers hit the 17-mile Highline Loop Trail or a section of the Colorado Trail. Durango doesn’t register as a ski destination, but locals have Chapman Hill, a two-rope-tow affair that rises from downtown, and Purgatory, a 1,605-acre resort that boasts the largest cat-skiing operation in the lower 48. The town is also just 45 minutes from Mesa Verde National Park, easily one of the most interesting units in the park system. All this exploring will no doubt work up your appetite, and you’ll find Durango stacked with surprisingly eclectic food (get the Southwestern sushi roll at Rice Monkey), while the brewery scene is exactly what you’d expect from a world-class mountain town and includes one of the O.G. craft breweries, Ska.
18. Taos, New Mexico
It’s easy to get caught up in Taos’s history—people living here for centuries, starting with the ancestors of the Pueblo, who settled in the area around 900 A.D. Since then it has seen a rotating cast of characters, from Spanish conquistadors to artists like D.H. Lawrence and Ansel Adams. The dining scene is also pretty spectacular for such a small town—where green chile is found on many a menu—but it’s what lies just outside town that has us swooning: the trails of Wheeler Peak Wilderness, Taos Ski Valley’s winter powder and summer flow trails, and the 800-foot granite cliffs of the Rio Grande Gorge. No, Taos isn’t a secret, and you’re going to have to share the goods with a few other people (though not as many as some of the other towns on this list), but can you blame them for showing up? Summiting 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak in summer is a must, as is pedaling the high-altitude singletrack on the north side of the ski valley, followed by the mixed-sausage plate (bratwurst, Nürnberger, and Debrezinar in one serving!) and a 32-ounce stein of Spaten Lager at the aptly named Bavarian. Fishing for cutthroat in the Rio Hondo is up there, too.
17. Leavenworth, Washington
OK, Leavenworth has a bit of kitsch to it, thanks to a Bavarian-style downtown complete with copious German beer gardens. It also has the riches of the Cascade Mountains beckoning from nearby, starting with the Icicle and Wenatchee Rivers, where whitewater paddling and fly-fishing are favorite pursuits, and the powdered peaks of Stevens Pass Ski Area, which can see an astounding 425 inches of snow a year. In between you have rock climbing in Icicle Valley, mountain biking in Freund Canyon, and a community that’s committed to the outdoors, supporting a local ski hill with two rope tows, a robust ski team, and the only ski jump on the West Coast. And did we mention all of the beer gardens?
16. Stanley, Idaho
If you can’t make the jaunt to Alaska, Idaho will do. The state is as wild as it gets in the lower 48, and Stanley, in the center of the Sawtooth Valley with its 10,000-foot namesake peaks, is the ultimate tiny base camp. The Salmon River helps carve the town’s boundaries, offering immediate access to fly-fishing and Class IV rapids. Fishing and paddleboarding on alpine lakes, like the 1,500-acre Redfish Lake, are common practice within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, as is wildlife watching for bighorn sheep and elk. Come winter, Galena and Banner Summits are quick getaway options for backcountry powder, while endless stashes are hidden amid the 40 peaks surrounding Stanley. Downtown is delightful and supports its small population of 100 (make like a local and grab a breakfast burrito from Stanley Baking Company), but if you want some glitz or lift-served downhill, Sun Valley Mountain Resort is just an hour south.
15. Bentonville, Arkansas
The Ozarks aren’t known for towering peaks, but don’t mistake their muted summits for humble terrain; the landscape is rugged, especially if you’re on a mountain bike. And Bentonville (population 49,467) has taken advantage of that feature, building more than 300 miles of singletrack in the past decade. One result is a downtown renaissance: its historic main street has come back to life with restaurants and boutiques that pay homage to Southern charm, with a nod toward changing times. (Case in point: this speakeasy in the basement of a former church.) The town has also seamlessly married culture with adventure: more than 100 pieces of public art can be found along the trails. Make a pit stop at the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a destination in itself, housing pieces by numerous icons, including Warhol and Rockwell.
14. North Conway, New Hampshire
North Conway might be best known as a ski town—and that’s a legitimate distinction with Cranmore Mountain Resort’s steeps and glades just a mile from downtown and six more alpine resorts within an hour’s drive. But winter is just part of the draw. The storybook village (population 2,179) is nestled in Mount Washington Valley, surrounded by the White Mountains, and ideally located near some of the best trad climbing and hiking in New England. Climbers flock to Cathedral Ledge for long multi-pitch routes, and hikers have 800,000 acres of national forest to explore outside town.
13. Chattanooga, Tennessee
This outdoor outpost of 179,690 residents has been a rock-climbing mecca for decades, thanks to the towering sandstone bluffs and boulders that define the Cumberland Plateau, to the west. Hundreds of sport routes traverse the Tennessee Wall, while Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain is a center for trad. But in the past ten years, mountain biking has taken prominence, with more than 100 miles of singletrack creating a prime network for cyclists, earning Chattanooga a silver-level Ride Center recognition from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). Hikers have 150 miles of trails to choose from, including the 200-mile-long Cumberland, which begins outside town and runs north along the plateau. The broad but mellow Tennessee River carves an arc around the city center and begs paddleboarders and rowers to spend time in its currents, while the Class IV rapids in the Ocoee, an hour east, beckon hardcore whitewater enthusiasts.
12. Whitefish, Montana
Whitefish has the distinction of being both a ski hub (Whitefish Mountain Resort’s 3,000 acres are minutes north of downtown) and a national-park gateway (Glacier is 30 miles east). Either of those outdoor attractions would be reason enough to call Whitefish home for a weekend or a lifetime, but it’s the nuances between the obvious gems that make this area of the northern Rockies so damn compelling. The Flathead River and its tributaries are a hotbed of native trout, while the glacier-fed Whitefish Lake offers picture-perfect paddling. As for biking, the Whitefish Trail is 43 miles of flowy singletrack, with a trailhead two miles from downtown.
11. Copper Harbor, Michigan
As far as you can get from major centers of civilization in the Midwest, this former mining outpost (population 100) sits on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, flanked by the largest of the Great Lakes on one side and the rocky ridgeline of Brockway Mountain on the other. It’s five hours from the nearest interstate, and cell service is nonexistent unless you hike to the top of Brockway. You can even occasionally catch the aurora borealis from this latitude. Summer is about mountain biking, with some of the most impressive singletrack starting in town. Or hop a ferry to explore Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. Meanwhile, an average winter sees more than 250 inches of lake-effect snow, turning the tip of the peninsula into a playground for fat bikers and cross-country skiers, and nearby Mount Bohemia runs the only cat-skiing operation east of the Rockies.
10. Lake Placid, New York
Is Lake Placid a tad too touristy? Maybe. But there might not be a more complete winter destination in the lower 48. There are only a couple of places in the U.S. where you could try out an Olympic-size ski jump or go bobsledding, and Lake Placid is one of them, thanks to the 1980 Olympic facilities that still welcome tourists and athletes alike. You can also spend time dogsledding, ice skating, or cross-country skiing on 12 miles of groomed trails just outside town, or just run laps on what is arguably the most badass toboggan chute in the country. Then there’s Whiteface Mountain for downhill turns. Lake Placid is surrounded by the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, home to hiking trails galore as well as Wallface, an 800-foot granite cliff with some of the best climbing in the state, located in the deep wilderness of Indian Pass. This town is serious about mountain biking, too: old ski hills have been turned into new systems of singletrack at Craig Woods Trails, where a defunct slope from the seventies has been transformed into some serious flow trails.
9. Sedona, Arizona
Don’t let the New Age crystal shops fool you—Sedona is a town that’s grounded in its surroundings. The hub of 10,000 sits at 4,350 feet in the center of almost two million acres of national forest, a landscape of high-elevation pine-filled peaks and stunning red-rock formations. There are more than 400 miles of trails to choose from, many of which start on the edge of town and feature an array of buttes, arches, and caves to explore. Scrambling up Bell Rock is a must, as is traversing Devil’s Bridge and spending time at the pools and caves of Devil’s Kitchen. But maybe mountain bikers have it best, thanks to the variety of smooth slickrock and technical descents mixed with purpose-built dirt paths. The double-black Hiline Trail could be the highlight, full of clifftop views (and clifftop exposure) and a descent that’s equal parts flowy and sketchy.
8. Bozeman, Montana
It’s tough to say if Bozeman is a fishing town or a skiing town, a boating town or a mountain-biking town. The truth is, it’s all of those—and a college town to boot (go, MSU Bobcats!). Located in a flat valley, Bozeman is bookended by Bridger Range to its north and the Spanish Peaks to the south. Anglers can head to high-alpine lakes or movie-set-worthy rivers; the Lower Gallatin offers world-class trout close enough for a happy-hour cast. For skiers, Big Sky Resort is nearby and famous, but Bridger Bowl is the more convenient home hill, with 2,700 feet of vertical drop and a lively après parking-lot scene. But Bozeman’s true gem is Hyalite Canyon, a multisport, four-season destination just 15 miles from town, where trails lead from easy-access campsites to mountain meadows in the summer. In winter, Hyalite becomes one of the best ice-climbing spots in the country. Need to tick off a bucket-list adventure? Yellowstone National Park, 70 miles south, can been seen on a day trip.
7. Stowe, Vermont
Stowe might be too perfect. First, you have the quaint village, loaded with New England charm and underpinned by a farm-to-table ethos. Then you have Stowe Mountain Resort, which consists of two peaks, including the tallest mountain in the state, and pulls down 300 inches of snow a year. It boasts over 485 acres of skiable—and, in the summer, bikeable—terrain. Add in access to some of the best beer on the East Coast, a local land trust that’s preserved more than 4,000 acres for the public, rugged adventures at nearby Smugglers Notch State Park, and more groomed nordic trails and singletrack than you could possibly explore, and you have the recipe for perfection. Just be prepared to sit in traffic if you want to ski Stowe Mountain on a Saturday.
6. Asheville, North Carolina
Cyclists, take note: Asheville sits in a bowl surrounded by 5,000-to-6,000-foot peaks and offers a sturdy mix of two-lane blacktop, gravel, and singletrack traversing those mountains in every direction. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, arguably the best road-cycling destination in the country, cruises by the edge of town, and getting to Pisgah National Forest’s legendary singletrack only requires a quick warm-up or cooldown from your home base. Meanwhile, kayakers look to the Class V Green River, and hikers have the highest mountains on the East Coast to explore. Everybody comes together for a beer downtown, blessed with too many breweries to count. And when we say everybody, we mean everybody–because the secret is out, and outdoorspeople have come to appreciate its amenities; the downside of all this is that traffic jams are common on highways that feed Pisgah National Forest, and housing prices continue to escalate.
5. Bend, Oregon
Forget the stereotypes of copious rain overwhelming all parts of the Pacific Northwest. Bend sits on the dry side of the Cascade Range, so the powder is fluffy during the cold months and the trails are buff in the warm ones. Mount Bachelor, 20 miles away, affords more than 4,300 acres of lift-served terrain during the winter and a state-of-the-art bike park when the snow melts. Roadies love the 20-mile climb up to the resort, while mountain bikers have more than 300 miles of singletrack to tackle. Some trails traverse through town, and others take in the 10,000-foot peaks on the horizon, home to alpine lakes, waterfalls, and dormant volcanoes. Pilot Butte, an urban park popular for recreation, offers seven miles of trails and a summit with stunning views. Deciding how to spend your time downtown may be the biggest challenge: galleries, good food, better beer, and a whitewater park where you can tube, kayak, or surf the Deschutes River are just a few of the excellent options. Naturally, such attributes have led to the quintessential problem facing mountain towns—everyone wants to move here. With so much to keep you happy and healthy in Bend, it’s hard to blame them.
4. Truckee, California
The bustle of Lake Tahoe can be overwhelming, but Truckee, 12 miles north, has managed to retain itslow-key vibe. The western character of its historic downtown still shows through and through, and if you’re looking for a beach scene that’s quieter, head to Donner Lake instead. During the summer, the mountains in this section of the Sierra Nevada are lousy with climbing, notably the tall granite slabs seen at Donner Summit and closer to Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe. Truckee happily hosts cyclists with 22 miles of paved bike paths as well as a bike park and the world-class singletrack of Tahoe National Forest just out its back door. Alternatively, make a beeline to the Tahoe Donner Trail System, with 60 miles of multi-use trails, or hit the famous Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe. Come winter, local families flock to the Tahoe Donner resort, with 3,170 skiable acres.
3. Telluride, Colorado
The conversation about Telluride starts with the ski resort of the same name, which drops 4,000 vertical feet across 2,000 acres just upslope of downtown (a gondola connects the town center with the resort’s mountain village). Seriously, you can ski right into town here—and not just some manufactured ski-resort village but an actual community. With with all the love Telluride receives (don’t bother searching for real estate; if you have to ask, you can’t afford it), it can feel a bit cramped considering Telluride itself is tucked into a box canyon within the towering San Juan Mountains. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room to spread out, as those mountains are home to the densest concentration of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks in the nation. Hiking and mountain biking take over come summer, with singletrack that begins where side streets end. But the unique culture it evinces is as vibrant as the adventure. Its architecture is more Victorian than mining camp, the food scene is legit, and the summer is punctuated by big events like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Telluride Blues and Brews.
2. Jackson, Wyoming
Yeah, you know about the antler arches, the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, and Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. There aren’t a lot of secrets in Jackson anymore. But that doesn’t make the town or its corner of the Tetons any less stunning. The resort gets all the love (and rightfully so), but don’t overlook Snow King, which serves as a pre- and post-work ski workout for locals, or Grand Targhee, 45 miles away, which has just as much to offer mountain bikers during the summer as it does skiers in the winter. You might not know that you can ride your bike to Grand Teton National Park. And there’s never a bad time to visit Bridger-Teton National Forest, pass some enjoyable hours fly-fishing the Snake or Firehole Rivers, or hitting the gondola-served singletrack. And what would a mountain town be without proximity to wild animals? The National Elk Refuge is minutes away.
1. Park City, Utah
Park City is a ski town, sure, with Deer Valley and Park City Mountain looming on the horizon, but it’s so much more than just downhill turns and champagne powder here. The Wasatch offers the picture-perfect frame for this former silver-mining boomtown, delivering adventure beyond the lifts. There are 450 miles of trails surrounding Park City, earning it one of the few gold-level Ride Center designations from IMBA. A tandem of blue-ribbon rivers (the Provo and the Weber) keep anglers entertained, while every hiking trail seems to lead to a different high-alpine lake. Back in town, High West is producing some of the best whiskey in the country, a free trolley is an excellent means of alternative transportation, and the food scene is far more eclectic than you’d expect of a place with 8,000 full-time residents.