Fort Davis, Texas
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18 Off-the-Radar Mountain Towns Across America

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Fort Davis, Texas
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You'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain

Forget your Aspens and Ashevilles, your Santa Fes and Sedonas. When it comes to mountain towns, we'd rather hunt down off-the-beaten-path spots where the dreaded boomtown status hasn't yet detonated. In each of these tiny mountain towns across the country, you'd be hard-pressed to find an obnoxious throng of tourists, yet each is charming in its own laid-back way, filled with delightful finds down side streets and, in most cases, surrounded by a recreational paradise that will make you long to get out and explore. For more small-town inspiration, check out our Tiny Travelogue: 50 Small Towns to Visit Across the U.S. (mountains, however, not guaranteed).

Ouray, Colorado
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Ouray, Colorado

Let the other Colorado mountain towns have their pretentious ski-resort vibes — you won't find that in laid-back Ouray. Instead, relax in this former mining town's Ouray Hot Springs Pool, or the vapor caves of the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings. The numerous recreational activities available nearby include hiking, biking, rafting, ice climbing in the winter, off-roading, fishing, and more. Later in the day, head into town for dinner and drinks at one of Ouray's many restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and coffeehouses. And don't miss the opportunity to also visit nearby Ridgway, about a 15-minute drive away and another not-to-be-missed, off-the-radar mountain destination.

Related: 50 Spectacular Hot Tubs and Thermal Springs Around the World

Sandpoint, Idaho
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Sandpoint, Idaho

This little northern Idaho town doesn't get the same press as nearby Coeur d'Alene, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a breathtakingly beautiful little town that offers plenty of adventure. Its tourism website offers itineraries for the outdoor enthusiast, arts aficionado, family traveler, and leisure lover. It's also less than 30 minutes from a theme and water park, and the area has plenty of places to eat and drink, including the highly rated Floating Restaurant in nearby Hope on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille. Don't fancy a drive? Head to Sandpoint's The Fat Pig for seasonally rotating menus and locally crafted beer.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas
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Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Nearby Hot Springs hogs much of the press when it comes to the Natural State's quaint little mountain towns, but Eureka Springs is just as cute with fewer crowds (and a much smaller population). The town is known for gorgeously preserved Victorian structures like the Palace Hotel & Bath House and the Basin Park and Crescent hotels. For foodies and beer lovers, there's also a brewery, fudge factory, patisserie, teahouse, and small-batch ice cream parlor, in addition to numerous other eateries. Check out the local wildlife refuge, and nearby Thorncrown Chapel is a can't-miss. Finally, if you're the outdoorsy type, there's tons to do here, including paddleboarding, golfing, fishing, biking, and more.

Related: 89 Iconic Buildings and Monuments Across America

Tubac
Tubac, Arizona/Facebook

Tubac, Arizona

Tubac, situated between the Tumacacori and Santa Rita mountain ranges, makes the list for its almost entirely off-the-radar status when compared with Copper State destinations like Sedona and Flagstaff. Not many people know about it, but it's cool enough to have been written about by The New York Times, and Travel & Leisure named it one of America's "10 Most Charming" small towns to visit. A former Spanish presidio turned artist colony, this little town of about 1,200 residents hosts a surprisingly large array of funky boutiques and impressive art galleries "situated along meandering streets punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains."

Truckee, California
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Truckee, California

This former railroad town of about 20,000 north of Lake Tahoe bills itself as a "base camp for a big life," and indeed, there are loads of things to do here. Visitors can explore the streets of the historic downtown, taking in its shops, restaurants, breweries, and markets, or they can head outdoors for plenty to whet a year-round adventurer's thirst, including everything from horseback riding and hiking to skiing and sledding or even skateboarding and practicing jumps in one of the local bike and skate parks. Finally, as the site of the 19th-century Donner Party incident, it has a fascinating, if macabre, piece of history that gives it just a bit more edge than other mountain towns.

Tannersville, New York
Village of Tannersville

Tannersville, New York

Deemed "The Painted Village in the Sky," Tannersville is located squarely within Catskill State Park and offers a little something for everyone. There is a thriving arts community here, evidenced in organizations like 23Arts, the Catskill Jazz Factory, and the Orpheum Performing Arts Center. As in most popular mountain towns, there's plenty to do outdoors, including Rip Van Winkle Lake Park, which has a playground; skate park; handball, volleyball, and basketball courts; and a disc golf course. There's also a bike path that cruises the village from east to west. Antique car enthusiasts should take note of the annual Father's Day and Cruisin' on the Mountaintop car shows, which happen in June and September and include food, drinks, and live music.

Jonesborough, Tennessee
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Jonesborough, Tennessee

This northeastern Volunteer State town perfectly blends an appreciation of its historic roots — it's known as "Tennessee's oldest town" — with efforts to court modern tourists through creative marketing. It bills itself as the Storytelling Capital of the World, hosting October's annual National Storytelling Festival as well as serving as home base for the International Storytelling Center. But the spinning of yarns isn't all Jonesborough has to offer, of course. Visitors will find plenty of interesting shops, exciting meals, museums, festivals, hiking and biking trails, and more in this colorful and charming town near the Appalachians.

Terlingua, Texas
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Terlingua, Texas

Surrounded by the Chisos Mountains and Mule Ears peaks, with the Santa Fe de Los Pinos framed in the distance, this former quicksilver mining town is tiny, with an estimated population of around 50 to 60 folks. But those who know about Terlingua, which promotes itself as a "ghost town," adore it in all its eccentric glory. One of many small and funky towns located in the state's Big Bend region — an area that attracts many of the state's eccentrics — Terlingua is home to a trading company, the historic Starlight Theatre, the Big Bend Holiday Hotel, and two famous annual chili cook-offs that attract an interesting cast of characters each year. Adventurers should also swing by the cave-like La Kiva Restaurant and Bar, a one-of-a-kind establishment that was once named one of the "50 Best Bars in America" by Men's Journal.

Dahlonega, Georgia
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Dahlonega, Georgia

A northern Peach State town of around 7,000, Dahlonega has a tiny population and an out-of-the-way location that belie just how truly cool this place is. It's been named one of the South's best small towns by many publications. It's also billed as the Wine Tasting Room Capital of Georgia, a Great American Main Street Award winner, and an official Appalachian Trail community — all of which mean you can shop, sip, sup, and hike to your heart's content in and around Dahlonega, home to the University of North Georgia. But, of course, there's more, including a thriving arts scene, live music, historic gold rush museums and mine tours, waterfalls, and annual festivals like an arts, wine, and jazz festival in May.

Related: Best 'Main Street' Shopping Districts in All 50 States

Hendersonville, North Carolina
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Hendersonville, North Carolina

If you love Asheville but crave something new and a little less, well, overrun, the little town of Hendersonville, about 40 minutes south, won't disappoint. It's got live theater, great boutiques, orchards and farmers markets, and plenty of outdoor recreation, including zip line tours and the waterfall-laden DuPont State Recreational Forest, where much of "The Hunger Games" was shot. It also bills itself as pet-friendly, so be sure to bring the dogs along — you'll find plenty of places to exercise them on- and off-leash. Finally, Hendersonville is part of the Cheers Trail, which showcases the area's beer, wine, cider, and mead producers.

Dubois, Wyoming
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Dubois, Wyoming

Located between the ranges of the Absarokas and Wind River Mountains, Dubois (rhymes with "cowboys," the townsfolk like to say) is "one of the last real old West towns — a charming hidden gem with the authentic feel of the frontier." Like most towns on this list, it's got the goods to keep pretty much anyone entertained for a day or three — an unspoiled natural valley for birders and wildflower lovers (plus plenty of other wildlife), galleries and boutiques, a historic downtown with attractions like Welty's General Store and two old-school taverns, and enough outdoor recreation to fill even more days. There's also some local flavor that you won't find anywhere else, like the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, and the weekly square dances and small-town rodeos.

Custer, South Dakota
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Custer, South Dakota

Custer is one of those mountains towns that's not exactly off-the-radar — it's surrounded by destinations like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse memorials, as well as Wind Cave National Park, after all. Yet all these nearby destinations often mean that few people really delve into the town itself — which is a shame, because it's a very welcoming place, with 50 hotels, campgrounds, vacation rentals, resorts, and bed and breakfasts. It's also filled with public art (mostly in the form of painted buffaloes "roaming" the streets), and a great place to grab a bite to eat or a frosty brew between those other destinations. One can't-miss: Bobkat's Purple Pie Place, which serves hundreds of pie slices a week, as well as ice cream, milkshakes, sandwiches, paninis, and more.

Red Lodge Mountain Palisades
Red Lodge Mountain Palisades by Elkman (CC BY-SA)

Red Lodge, Montana

California has its "base camp" in the form of Truckee, and Red Lodge is Big Sky Country's "Base Camp to the Beartooths." The surrounding recreational paradise offers climbing, fishing, camping, and more in the summer, winter skiing and snowboarding, and a great deal else during in-between seasons. The historic downtown is filled with quaint hotels and tons of places to grab a bite, whether you're looking for "the local burger joint or enjoying an elegant, farm-to-table meal." Want to feel like a local? Check out the Snag Bar, an iconic piece of 100-year-old history with friendly bartenders, tasty burgers, and, of course, plenty of flowing cocktails.

Abiquiu, New Mexico
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Abiquiu, New Mexico

If you're looking for a bit of off-the-radar excitement in the Land of Enchantment, this mountain town is one that Georgia O'Keeffe helped put on the map when she moved there in 1949 until her death 30-plus years later. And, yep, that makes Abiquiu, located between better-known Santa Fe and Taos, a great town for art lovers. Start with a visit to the famed artist's former home and studio, a national historic landmark, and be sure to also check out Ghost Ranch, a 21,000-square-foot retreat and education center that covers ancient and modern history as well as O'Keeffe's life and work (there's a tour that will take you to both). There's also the stunning Purple Adobe Lavender Farm, where you can wander the grounds, then grab a bite to eat in its seasonally open teahouse.

Related: 22 Small Towns With Vibrant Art Scenes

Salida, Colorado
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Salida, Colorado

This central Colorado town is nestled in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and surrounded by more than a dozen "fourteeners" (mountains with elevation of at least 14,000 feet). And sure, there's plenty to do outdoors — hike, bike, fish, camp, float, four-wheel, hunt, etc. — but the town itself offers a number of fun destinations, from varied shopping boutiques and art galleries to stellar restaurants, bars, breweries, and distilleries. Don't miss the opportunity to grab a sandwich from the huge menu at Sweetie's, and stop in Wood's High Mountain Distillery to sample one of the local ryes, gins, vodkas, and more. There's a great little park in the center of town, if you have kids tagging along, with access to float the Arkansas during warmer months. For dinner, you can't go wrong with Currents, Amicas Pizza, or most of the other eateries in town.

Sisters, Oregon
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Sisters, Oregon

Located a bit over 30 minutes northwest of Bend, Sisters offers the same convenience to Oregon's Deschutes County scenery and recreational paradise, with a lot fewer folks to contend with. During the day, carve a run or hike the trails of Mount Bachelor, catch a fish in nearby Suttle Lake, or explore the Instagram-worthy rock formations at Smith Rock State Park. Then head back into town for a spa treatment at a local brewery (yep, you read that right), a late lunch at Sisters Meat and Smokehouse, or dinner at Sisters Saloon & Ranch Grill — both have stellar reviews.

Stehekin, Washington
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Stehekin, Washington

This little town, cradled in the North Cascades, is unique on this list in more than one way, but what's most notable is that you can get here only "by boat, plane, or foot" (most people take the Lady of the Lake ferry). Once you arrive, you'll find a thriving — if limited — outdoor, agricultural, and dining scene. Take a self-guided tour of historic Buckner Orchard and Homestead. Grab a bite to eat at the Stehekin Pastry Company, or a cold brew and breathtaking scenery on the sun-filled deck at the North Cascades Lodge. If you're craving a bit more excitement after that, it's just another gorgeous ferry ride to Lake Chelan, Washington, another lovely small mountain town destination in its own right.

Fort Davis, Texas
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Fort Davis, Texas

Both desert and mountain town, Fort Davis offers quaint Main Street-esque experiences like the Stone Village Market and Fort Davis Drug Store (where you can order a burger and milkshake). It also features one-of-a-kind adventures like the Fort Davis National Historic Site, where you can learn about the nation's African-American "Buffalo Soldiers," and the McDonald Observatory, which offers "one of the clearest views of the stars and planets on Earth." While there, stay a night or two at the adobe Indian Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and located within the boundaries of Davis Mountains State Park. Before dusk, be sure to venture out for walks — you might spy a javelina, mule deer, or mountain goat, or hear the vibrating call of the canyon tree frog.