Offbeat Adventure

7 of the Best Towns in America for Adventurers

For a certain type of person, the best part of a town is what's just outside of it. By that metric, this article is a collection of the very best towns in America. With a plethora of adventure in spitting distance — hiking, rock climbing, rafting, and more — these towns are hubs of activity and exploration. But even on days when you can't get your mountain bike on the nearby trails, they're lively places for mountain culture, art, socializing, and of course, lots of good beer, making them the ideal places in America to both get outside and come back home.

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Crested Butte, CO

If the ritzy, posh vibe of Vail or Aspen is your idea of a Colorado mountain town, you're in for a treat in the quiet, rustic town of Crested Butte. Surrounded on almost all sides by national forest, the hub features a plethora of backpacking, hiking, and rafting in the Elk Mountain Range. But its real draws are the miles of skiable terrain and mountain-bike trails, including the classic route over Pearls Pass to Aspen. Plus, it all comes in the package of a former mining town, rather than the built-up glamour of the state's more popular ski spots.

Lake Placid, NY

New York's Adirondack Park is one of the largest publicly protected tracts of land in the lower 48, bigger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Parks combined! With two-time Olympic Games host city Lake Placid as your base camp, you'll never run out of things to do. The park is home to 46 peaks reaching over 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) that are just a short drive away. Same goes for countless desolate lakes and ponds begging to be paddled throughout the country's first real backwoods, including Mirror Lake, which the town surrounds (the larger Lake Placid itself is right next door).

Leavenworth, WA

The first thing you'll notice driving into Leavenworth is the slightly kitschy Bavarian theme that permeates everything downtown. It will make more sense as soon as you look up. Surrounded by soaring rocky Cascade Peaks and tucked in a small, narrow valley, Leavenworth is about as close to the beauty of the Alps as you'll get in the U.S. Leavenworth is on the Wenatchee River just east of Stevens Pass, which puts it just on the dry side of the Cascades, so it gets roughly 12 fewer inches of rain every year than downtown Seattle. But the pass and the mountains regularly get a dump, making this the ideal Cascade ski basecamp.

Asheville, NC

The Blue Ridge Mountains might not be quite as tall or rugged as many of the other peaks surrounding the towns on this list, but come fall colors, there's no place you would rather be. With tons of hiking trails and old forest roads crisscrossing the hills outside of town, there's always something to see. And when you're done, Asheville has one of the nation's greatest number of microbreweries per capita.

Taos, NM

Where else can you mix Puebloan architecture and Southwest aesthetic with the soaring Sangre de Cristo Mountains and a collection of ski resorts? Taos is a hub for artists, as well as a home base for adventurers including hikers (head to the top of nearby Wheeler Peak, the state's tallest mountain), rafters (paddle under the 800-foot basalt cliffs of Rio Grande Gorge), and more.

Truckee, CA

Lake Tahoe is seeing rapid development as the population of nearby San Francisco swells, but on the lake's north side, Truckee has somehow maintained its vibe as a stopping point on the Transcontinental Railroad that puts the lake's crystal blue water (with plenty of swimming, paddling, paddle boarding, and more) and the surrounding mountains within reach. The area is home to a collection of ski areas and is just a few hours from the east side of Yosemite National Park — enough time to rock climb on the continent's most famous walls by day, then grab a beer in town at night.

Moab, UT

This desert wonderland is a paradise of exploration. Both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just outside the dusty town, but red rock canyons, gorges, and spires cover the landscape even outside of these major tourist points. Camp and explore nearly anywhere in the miles of BLM land in the area, drive down rough 4-wheel-drive roads, swim in the mighty Colorado River upstream from the Grand Canyon, rock climb desert towers, and more before returning to a red mining town with a vibrant culture.

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Written by Ryan Wichelns September 17, 2018