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Seek your mountain town
In ancient times, mountains were seen as the domain of the divine, a place for introspection and insight. While the guest list these days is no longer so exclusive, high-altitude getaways are still ideal for renewal and play. America's two grand mountain ranges, the Appalachians and the Rockies, are sublime vacation spots, as are their smaller offshoots.
Our choices for top mountain towns include classic destinations known for outdoor sport, a leisurely pace and stunning scenery. Pick one nearby for convenience, or head for more distant hills to stretch your boundaries and your comfort level. Hiking, skiing, shopping, exploring – you'll find more than the air to be invigorating!
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Telluride is not an easy destination to reach, yet it draws tourists year-round for good reason. Combining tiny mountain town charisma and big city amenities, Telluride appeals to all sorts of travelers, from hardcore mountain bikers and backcountry skiers to pampered society types.
It’s not exactly Aspen or Vail – it’s retained enough of its former mining-town identity to avoid that classification – but it’s not Moab, either. And therein lies its charm.
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Stowe is best known for its skiing, but the truth is, there’s a lot more to enjoy. Winter activities include more than skiing, such as snowshoeing, snowmobiling or ice skating.
During the summer months, there are more than a dozen recreational pursuits to fill your days, not to mention museums, art galleries, shops and the kind of scenic drives that only New England can offer. Plus, Ben & Jerry’s is right down the road and gives factory tours 362 days a year.
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Skiing, water sports, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding – the Poconos has it all. When you’re done outside, you can take a cooking class, visit a museum or historic site, tour a winery or microbrewery, and savor a fine meal. Back outside, try a water park, check out an organic farm or two, or take in a NASCAR race. When night falls, enjoy a play, a band or a casino.
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Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has a unique, quirky personality. It may be known for Biltmore Estate, the largest home in the U.S., but there’s much more to Asheville than that. In and around town, outdoor enthusiasts will find enough trails, rivers, cliffs, and ski runs to occupy weeks of vacation time.
Loads of independent stores specialize in vintage clothing, books, arts and crafts, antiques and music. Dining, too, could be a full-time diversion in Asheville – from burgers to sushi, crepes to burritos, this town feeds every craving.
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Jackson Hole sits in a valley, with mountains all around. It’s a ski area built around a resort that ranks among the best in the nation. At the end of Jackson Hole is Jackson, a quirky little Wild West-style town complete with elk horn arches and cowboy bars alongside designer clothing boutiques and fine restaurants.
From here, you can be out in the wilderness in a matter of minutes. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park are a short drive away, too.
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Flagstaff is an ideal base for exploring some of the Southwest’s best-known natural wonders: Grand Canyon National Park, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelly, Meteor Crater and Montezuma Castle National Monument are all easy day trips.
Closer to town, you can enjoy all manner of outdoor pursuits, along with museums and art galleries galore. Mountain towns seem to attract microbreweries, and Flagstaff isn’t lacking in that department either.
Another unique characteristic it that, unlike much of Arizona, Flagstaff gets lots of snow – about 100 inches per year on average.
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Bozeman has all the usual summer and winter activities; skiing, hiking and fishing are here in abundance. Don’t miss the massive Museum of the Rockies for an amazing look at the geology and history of the region.
As a college town, Bozeman also offers an eclectic variety of restaurants, shops, sights, tours and events.
Photo courtesy of E+ / ivanastar
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Most people don’t consider Albuquerque a mountain town. However, what appear at first glance to be contradictions are actually what make Albuquerque such a great mountain destination.
It’s got the full gamut of year-round outdoor activities: piles of museums and cultural venues, a diverse population and a huge variety of food and drink. It’s the kind of place where you can spend the entire day hiking or skiing, then chow down on a steak or some enchiladas.
Photo courtesy of E+ / Onfokus
Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta
Banff and Lake Louise rest inside Banff National Park, so there are two things you need to know: this is remote territory and the views are unbeatable.
The other thing to be aware of, if you haven’t already guessed, is that this is a paradise for outdoorsy types. Winter skiing is among the best in the world, but during the warmer months, you certainly won’t be hard-pressed to find something to do.
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Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler has world-class winter sports facilities, having hosted most of the events for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It's also home to one of the most incredible mountain bike parks in the world. That's in addition to hiking, fishing, climbing, wildlife tours, geocaching, golfing, zip-lining, horseback riding, white water rafting and more.
No matter what season you love, no matter what your particular favorite outdoor activity, Whistler is an amazing destination.