Chances are you’ve noticed an increase in the number of your friends and family flocking to remote, outdoor, and elevated destinations over the past year or so. Even if you hadn’t, the data confirms that these types of vacations are on the rise. In a 2021 travel report, Airbnb said this summer, large groups flocked to distant places and travel focused on the great outdoors tended to “go up.” With that in mind, there’s a good chance you’re one of the many looking for a fun new place to escape that takes you away from the crowds and gives you a breath of fresh air. If so, there’s hardly a better place to start than the many cool mountain towns in America.
That said, the sheer volume of choices is overwhelming. And while you can just settle for the most popular and be done with it, it’s worth finding options that are not only proven, but also really interesting – and maybe even a little off the beaten track.
Rest assured that no matter where you end up, a mountain town is a solid vacation choice, especially in these unusual times. As Addie Bell, Founder of Jetset & Travel notes, they offer plenty of outdoor activities, they’re great for all seasons, and it’s often easier to stay physically away from others. No, that doesn’t mean the usual rules don’t apply – you should always stay up to date on local and state regulations regarding COVID-19 protocols when traveling anywhere, and Bell advises booking refundable trips. – but a remote destination can offer some respite from the crowds of more city-oriented places.
To help you find the best location for you and your team, TZR reached out to travel professionals to share the coolest mountain towns they know. Some are under the radar, some not so much, but all are expert-approved choices that are guaranteed to immerse yourself in the great outdoors and give you a trip you won’t forget.
Park City, Utah
Why visit: According to Bell, Park City, Utah, is very convenient to get to thanks to the easy access offered by the Salt Lake City airport. Plus, the town’s main street is “filled with fun shops and restaurants,” she tells TZR.
What to do: Aside from the typical activities – ie skiing, ice skating, hiking and more – Bell recommends venturing into Olympic Park. It was built for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games and now features a museum, adventure activities, shows and more.
Where to stay: Bell offers several recommendations for lodging in Park City. His favorites include Montage Deer Valley, Washington School House Hotel, St. Regis Deer Valley, Stein Eriksen Lodge, and Waldorf Astoria. And if you’re staying later in the year, she suggests Pendry Park City, which would open in winter 2021.
Why visit: Do you like skiing? Bell says Telluride is “one of the best skiing experiences in North America” ââand known for its challenging trails.
What to do: Skiing, tobogganing and all outdoor activities, of course. But don’t miss a gondola ride, which takes users up Coonskin Ridge (10,500 feet) for transportation from Telluride to Mountain Village (and, naturally, offers incredible views).
Where to stay: For the ultimate luxury experience, Bell suggests the Madeline Hotel. For a more rustic (but still lavish) stay, try the Inn at Lost Creek.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Why visit: Yes, Jackson Hole may be more famous, but Bell says it’s still worth a visit. “[It] the impression of having stepped back in history; the city is quaint, charming and beautiful.
What to do: Go hiking and skiing as usual. But visitors should also make sure to take a guided wildlife tour of Grand Teton National Park, Bell says.
Where to stay: Jackson Hole has a reputation for being luxurious, so expect to find plenty of luxury accommodations. Among these, Bell suggests the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, a five-star resort ideal for families, and the Hotel Jackson, another luxury hotel in the heart of Jackson Hole, known for its authentic yet modern Western design. (Architectural summary in fact named the latter one of America’s finest hotels in 2017.)
Hot springs in Dunton, Colorado
Why visit: “My favorite is the former gold mining town of Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado,” Martin N. Kunz, author of an interactive book Mountain getaways: the best hotels and retreats from the Alps to the Andes, said TZR. âThis unique complex offers an exceptional experience in the heart of nature with all [the] comfort. Although it is close to Telluride, visitors can immerse themselves in a completely different world.
What to do: If you’re visiting in the winter, Kunz suggests trying your hand (or feet, rather) with a snowshoe. Vacationers should take the time for a scenic horseback ride.
Where to stay: According to Kunz, Dunton Hot Springs is actually a seaside resort and a lodge, complete with very private accommodation including luxury cabins and tents. âThirteen cottages have been converted into comfortable abodes for up to 44 guests,â each with gas stoves, furs, artwork from around the world, and more. âThe winter season is particularly enchanting when a blanket of snow covers the landscapes. The saloon serves as a dining room, and it is no coincidence that the trout are freshly caught in the nearby Dolores River, âthe author shares.
Lake Placid, New York
Why visit: Kunz also suggests Lake Placid, New York, which he says hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. âThe spectacular nature of the Adirondacks offers almost limitless activities. All year round, the best experiences of nature. The ideal destination for families. â
What to do: For children and adults, Kunz suggests visiting the Wild Center for “great fun and learning in an animal environment.” For a more physical adventure, he continues, winter sports enthusiasts have the choice of Olympic disciplines and summer visitors should take the time to discover the lakes.
Where to stay: When it comes to accommodation, Kunz is a fan of the Mirror Lake Inn, which he says has been in the family since 1924 and is next door to “beautiful” Mirror Lake. âThe entire inn is full of rustic charm, from stuffed animals to memorabilia, from books to games; diversions fill every shelf and every table.
Brevard, North Carolina
Why visit: Polly Clover, an avid travel enthusiast and travel content writer, says that of the many mountain towns she has seen while traveling to the United States in her RV, Brevard, North Carolina, is her favorite. Clover cites it as ‘unbelievably awesome’, with a lovely downtown area, a popular brewery, and stunning views. âIn Brevard, you can even spot a few unique white squirrels!
What to do: Clover notes that mountain biking is a popular activity in Brevard, so it’s a great place to visit if you’re in the mood for adventure. However, she says, there are also “around 250 waterfalls to explore, hence its nickname” Land of Waterfalls. “
Where to stay: For lodging, Clover recommends Red House Inn and Pilot Cove. The first is located in downtown Brevard, offers basic accommodation and is within walking distance of shops and restaurants; the latter offers modern and luxurious cabins that line the magnificent Pisgah National Forest.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Why visit: Located in the Rocky Mountains, Crested Butte is a former mining town that is now a ski resort. But it’s not just there for skiing – it’s frequently visited for its hiking and mountain biking opportunities, as well as its scenic meadows. (In fact, it’s known as the âWildflower Capital of Coloradoâ.)
What to do: Michelle Halpern, Founder and Owner of Live Travel Blog Like it’s the Weekend, says, âFor those of you looking for an intense biking experience, try Psycho Rocks at Evolution Bike Park. After you’ve exhausted yourself? âHead to the Montanya Rum Distillery for an incredible high-altitude distilled spring rum, which apparently makes it even better.â And of course, don’t forget to take a wildlife walk around the West Elk Loop to see âsome of the most magnificent aspens you’ve ever seenâ.
Where to stay: “As far as the accommodation goes, I can’t recommend Pioneer Guest Cabins enough, âcontinues Halpern, who notes that in addition to being dog friendly, the place offers a hot tub by the creek, ideal for relaxing. bathe in cold weather. âMy favorite feature was the open fireplace in our cabin which felt like a romantic getaway nestled in the Swiss Alps!â
Waitsfield, Vermont and the Mad River Valley
Why visit: Will Hatton, CEO and Founder of The Broke Backpacker, suggests venturing to the North East for a smaller mountain town, but no less fun or charming. Located in the Mad River Valley (a popular tourist region with two ski areas, Mad River Glen and Sugarbush Resort), it ‘features the most picturesque red barns, white farms and Holstein cows in swift green pastures as if they came straight out of a children’s park. fairy tale book, âhe says.
What to do: “The food available at Waitsfield is second to none, âsays Hatton,â with any restaurant offering local, sustainable, organic produce â. He suggests trying the famous American Flatbread pizzas – although you can âexpect long lines,â he warns. And if you’re venturing there for the beautiful fall weather, he says, be sure to end your getaway with a visit to the Fresh Hops festival in October.
Where to stay: âAfter a day of skiing and snowboarding along Mad River Glen, you’ll desperately want to make yourself comfortable in the Austrian-inspired chalet available at the Grunberg Haus Inn and Cabins,â shares Hatton of the Waterbury, VT. Are you looking for more luxurious excavations? The Pitcher Inn (a Relais & Chateaux property) in Warren, VT, is a popular option.
Big Bear Lake, California
Why visit: Big Bear Lake is known as a “four season destination” in Southern California. As Kim DeLauro, owner of Ready Aim Travel, notes, the picturesque mountain town has two major ski resorts, but also offers a “number of warm-weather activities.”
What to do: After hours of skiing or a day on the lake, refuel with some of the dining options Big Bear has to offer. âThere is a favorite burger restaurant in the area, Get The Burger, which rivals In-N-Out,â she says. âThere is also a Hawaiian restaurant with an amazing poke [called Tropicali] it is an experience in itself.
Where to stay: According to DeLauro, where you stay should depend on the activities you plan to do. âIf you’re looking to ski, mountain bike, or hike, you’ll want to stay closer to the base of the mountain to limit the amount of driving you have to do,â she explains. âThere is nothing more convenient for this than the Snow Summit townhouses. If you are thinking of diving into water activities, staying on Big Bear Lake at the Marina Riviera would be a great option. â