GORHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Moose tours anyone? Once a railroad town with a locomotive yard, Gorham is now known for Moose Brook State Park, a scenic spot where it is possible to spot its namesake animals grazing. Popular for camping and fishing in summer and skiing in winter, Gorham, with its sprawling Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center located at the base of Mount Washington, attracts outdoor lovers year round. Music enthusiasts will find the Medallion Opera House of interest as well.
HANCOCK, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Incorporated in 1779, Hancock is named for its most famous business owner, and the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock. A fascinating historic community in the Monadnock region, almost every building on Main Street in downtown Hancock is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can stay at The Hancock Inn, built in 1789 — the oldest inn in New Hampshire and one of the oldest in New England.
The postcard-perfect town of Craftsbury, located in northeastern Vermont, is a place of white picket fences and family-run farms set amid rolling hills. The region has been described by TripAdvisor as one of Vermont's best kept secrets, thanks to the people, the food and the refreshing lifestyle. In the spring, maple sugaring is a popular activity. In July, plan on exploring the Antiques and Uniques Festival and come August there's Old Home Day, which in past years has included pet shows, children's games and train rides.
Home to McCloud Falls, and its three spectacular tiers along the McCloud River, McCloud is an ideal place for summer swimming and trout fishing in the nearby Sacramento and Klamath rivers. Climbers and hikers flock to the town en route to Mount Shasta, Castle Crags or Trinity Alps, all of which are in the area.
RED CLOUD, NEBRASKA
Located in a region that was once used as hunting grounds by the Pawnees, Red Cloud has since become a fascinating visit for literary buffs thanks to one of its most famous past residents, author Willa Cather. In 1884, Cather moved to Red Cloud and the community became the inspiration for Cather's novels. Today, several of the 19th century buildings described in Cather's books are part of the Willa Cather Historic District, the largest district devoted to an author.
Situated at the convergence of three glacial rivers, Talkeetna is a popular base for outdoor excursions. The most notable way to experience the area is via air tours, but there are also land and water options. Still other activities include zip lining and fishing, or simply walking along the waterfront taking in the mighty Susitna River. On clear days you can see the Alaskan Range and Denali in the distance. Downtown Talkeetna is also home to quaint shops, local breweries and restaurants.
The rural farming community of Plains is most famous for being the birthplace of Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. Today, visitors can explore the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, which includes the former Plains High School, Carter's 1976 presidential headquarters and his boyhood farm. The Plains Historic Inn includes seven period suites built by President Carter and others, which are authentically furnished to represent each decade from the 1920s to the 1980s.
There are a few not-to-be-missed highlights in Atlanta. One is Muffin's Trains, a store that includes a massive display of O Gauge model trains guaranteed to make any train lover drool. The other is Lisa's Pie Shop attracting residents from all over Indiana thanks to its award-winning creations, including 'pies in a jar' as well as fresh breads, quiches and cookies. Each year, Atlanta hosts the New Earth Festival, an event that brings together about 600 artisans and more than 100,000 visitors.
CLOUDCROFT, NEW MEXICO
A village within the Lincoln National Forest, Cloudcroft's popularity is due in part to its 8,600-foot elevation, which makes for mild summers that attract tourists from West Texas and New Mexico. Cloudcroft's history dates back to about the 1890s. Today, popular activities include golf, tennis, hiking, biking, skiing, horseback riding, and fishing. Visitors can also explore the history of the Mescalero Apaches at the Sacramento Mountains Museum & Pioneer Village.
LEIPER'S FORK, TENNESSEE
About 25 minutes south of Nashville, is Leiper's Fork, a thriving artist's community. The hip and inviting town is made up of about 12 buildings that include country diners and gift shops. Antique shops and several high-end art galleries: The Copper Fox, Leiper's Creek Gallery and David Arms, draw visitors from around the world. And if that's not enough, Leiper's Fork hosts numerous music festivals and events each year and even a model airplane competition. If you visit, don't miss taking in a movie under the stars at Leiper's Fork Lawnchair Theatre.
SUGAR HILL, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Incorporated in 1962 Sugar Hill is named for the large groves of sugar maple trees found within the community's limits. A 17-square-mile outdoorsman's paradise, Sugar Hill offers clean air, and stunning views of the White and Green Mountains from atop Sunset Hill Ridge. History buffs can pop into the Sugar Hill Historical Museum while foodies check out The Sugar Hill Sampler, to browse unique goods and sample locally made food and drinks. Come spring, the community is awash in wildflowers making it a great place for flower picking.
Once a logging town, Helen reinvented itself as a replica of a Bavarian alpine town, when the industry experienced a decline. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, the community is now known for its charming Bavarian-style buildings and vineyards. Nearby Unicoi State Park is home to a lake and campsites. Don't miss stopping for a wine tasting at Habersham Winery, which has been producing award-winning wines since 1983 and is one of the state's oldest and largest wineries.
A village named after Makanda, a local Indian chieftain, this tiny community has become well-known for hosting a variety of festivals throughout the year. The Makanda Springfest is an annual, two-day event showcasing local artists and live music, while the Makanda Vulture Fest in October, celebrates the migration of the black vulture and the turkey vulture to the region. The town itself is full of artists and entrepreneurs, and many unique shops and businesses along its boardwalk.
BELL BUCKLE, TENNESSEE
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places Bell Buckle traces its roots back to 1852. Now a thriving arts community, visitors may explore rows of unique shops and eateries, or time a trip to coincide with one of the community's many festivals. On the third Saturday in June, the R.C. & MoonPie Festival features bluegrass music, dancing and a parade. Can't make the festival? Stop by The Bell Buckle Cafe which is becoming a hub for musical talent from all over Tennessee. The cafe features live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
Named for the Marshalls, four brothers who established a dairy industry in the area in the 1850s, the small town later became a stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad. Located on the pristine Tomales Bay, along a sleepy stretch of California's Highway 1 about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marshall is an oyster-lovers paradise. Hog Island Oyster Company serves up world-famous fresh, hand-raised, sustainable raw and barbecued oysters and the The Marshall Store, another legendary oyster venue, serves locally raised fare. When not slurping oysters, Tomales Bay offers kayaking, and midnight bioluminescence tours.
HARPERS FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA
Home to 19th century buildings, a Civil War museum and John Brown's Fort (a key site in an 1859 abolitionist raid), Harpers Ferry is also the location of the the meeting of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The Appalachian Trail Visitor Center is another top attraction. For those not planning on hiking the trail, the center also includes educational exhibits. At Harpers Ferry National Historical Park there are living history demonstrations and workshops throughout the year focused on 19th century trades such as blacksmithing and tin-making.
ZOAR VILLAGE, OHIO
Founded in the early 1800s by a group of German religious dissenters who wanted to create a utopian community, Zoar thrived for more than 80 years, making it one of the most successful settlements in this country's history. Today, visitors will find museums, early American architecture and a quaint village. The museums display artifacts detailing Zoar's evolution from an 1817 communal settlement for German separatists to a major stop along the Ohio & Erie Canalway in the mid-1800s.
Balltown is worth the trip simply to visit Iowa's oldest restaurant Breitbach's Country Dining, which has been operated by the Breitbach family since 1852, and continues to be the heart of this small community. Visitors come from all over to enjoy the famed fried chicken and homemade pies. Featured in the documentary "Spinning Plates," the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation America's Classic award. While in Balltown, take a short drive north out of town to experience a stunning view of the Mississippi River Valley that stretches into the hills of southwest Wisconsin.
Each spring and summer, Ohiopyle becomes a mecca for outdoor adventurers with fly fishing, white water rafting and hiking on the Laurel Highlands trail. Located within the surrounding Ohiopyle State Park and along the Great Allegheny Passage, the town offers a network of hiking and biking trails through the Allegheny region of the Appalachian Mountains. The Falls City Restaurant and Pub is both dog and kid-friendly and hosts live music on the weekends. The pub also has an extensive selection of micro-brewed craft beer.
THE FORKS, MAINE
Located at the confluence of the Dead and the Kennebec rivers, The Forks is the place to go if you're a whitewater rafting enthusiast. Numerous companies within the town also lead guided ATV tours, and mountain biking, rock climbing and snowshoeing excursions. In the fall the area is known as a leaf peeper's paradise and come winter it's an ideal place for snowmobiling.
With four restaurants for its 22 residents — more per capita than any other U.S. town — the tiny hamlet of Dorset dubbed itself the "Restaurant Capital of the World." The town, which is six miles northeast of Park Rapids, also boasts the Heartland State Trail, a 49-mile multi-use trail that runs from Park Rapids to Cass Lake. There's also a yearly, "Taste of Dorset" festival which coincides with the election of the Dorset Mayor — decided by a random-name hat draw.
No list of small towns would be complete without at least mentioning Monowi. Established in 1902 when the railroad extended into the area, it's the only incorporated town in the country with a population of one. Elsie Eiler, the town's lone resident, pays herself to serve as the town's mayor, clerk, treasurer, librarian and bartender. A visit to Monowi is a novelty experience. Stop in to the local watering hole, Elsie's Tavern and don't blink, or you will miss it.