The Most Stunning Mountain Destinations in the U.S.

Not all of us have the pleasure of living in major U.S. cities like Seattle, Denver, and Los Angeles, where mountain views are a part of the daily routine. Most of us will have to travel to get our fill of these scenic natural creations, which were formed as a result of Earth's tectonic plates smashing together. Mountain views that rise abruptly against a flat landscape can provide inspiration, a respite from everyday life, a feast for the eyes, and not to mention, a wide variety of outdoor activities. With that in mind, here are the best mountain getaways in the U.S. when remoteness and even a little bit of inaccessibility beckon. But don't worry -- they all come with great towns to base oneself in order to catch some local culture and dining as well.

Asheville, North Carolina

Mr Seb/Flickr

Mr Seb/Flickr

With just over 87,000 residents, this popular and, yes, progressive city in North Carolina is primely positioned between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. It offers a stellar arts and music scene (think Friday night drum circles), great locavore restaurants, more than two dozen breweries, and a hint of Gilded Age glamour (picture the oft-visited Biltmore chateau). Visitors to Asheville can spend the day enjoying the views from nearby trails and rivers and then come back to explore the Downtown Art District, which is filled with galleries, museums, and artists' studios. There's even an edible park planted with berry bushes, fruit trees, herbs, and veggies, all free for the taking.

Where to Stay:

Hanalei, Hawaii

Garden State Hiker/Flickr

Garden State Hiker/Flickr

Hawaii's northernmost island of Kauai, nicknamed the Garden Isle, has no shortage of memorable views. The main gathering place of the island is a small town called Hanalei, a Hawaiian word for "lei-making." Tucked between dramatic cliffs, a beautiful crescent beach, and Hanalei River, the town offers opportunities to go hiking, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and surfing. And with an old-world Hawaii vibe, it's no wonder so many artists have also opened galleries here, setting up shops in charming storefronts that beckon with front porches. Dining ranges from food-truck tacos to fresh sushi, and most tend to congregate nightly at Hanalei Pavilion to watch the sunset. 

Where to Stay:

Hood River, Oregon

Tony Fischer/Flickr

Tony Fischer/Flickr

The pretty port community of Hood River -- a popular weekend escape for Portlanders -- is located where the Hood River meets the mighty Columbia River, and offers visitors spectacular views of the snowcapped Mount Hood. Not only is this a place for skiers in the winter, but in the summer, folks from around the world flock to Hood River Gorge for windsurfing (it is said to have been incepted here). History nuts can check out dozens of buildings from the pioneer days in the downtown area (many are even listed in the National Register of Historic Places). The town also offers shops, galleries, urbane farm-to-table restaurants, pick-your-own farms, craft breweries, and wine tasting with nearby Hood River wineries that give Oregon's Willamette Valley a run for its money.

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Larry Johnson/Flickr

Larry Johnson/Flickr

Jackson Hole, located at the doorstep of Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the National Elk Refuge, welcomes millions of visitors every year. The area is flanked by the sweeping Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges, a series of rugged peaks that offer excellent skiing in the winter and beautiful hiking in the summer, plus wildlife sightings amidst miles of open space. New hotels, spas, performance venues, and world-class restaurants give off a slight air of slight opulence in the town, but the community itself stays true to its cowboy roots. Plus, thanks to a community-wide commitment to sustainability, Jackson Hole is often noted for its environmental friendliness. Ladies, this is also a popular girls' getaway due to an appealing male-to-female ratio. 

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Lake Placid, New York

Harvey Barrison/Flickr

Harvey Barrison/Flickr

Despite its name, the village of Lake Placid is actually on the edge of Mirror Lake, one of the prettiest lakes in the Adirondacks. (The village's namesake lies just north of town.) It's easy to see why this is one of the oldest vacation spots in the country. Downhill and cross-country skiing have always been popular activities (after all, Lake Placid was the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics), but the area sees a majority of its visitors during the summer months when people come to swim, hike, bike and kayak. A nice array of hotels, restaurants, and shops line Main Street, and unique cultural events take place throughout the year, including Songs at Mirror Lake, a free concert series that runs from July through August.

Where to Stay:

Lewisburg, West Virginia

Nicolas Raymond/Flickr

Nicolas Raymond/Flickr

Bordered by the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia (a.k.a. the Mountain State), the city of Lewisburg was built around a natural spring and offers plenty of outdoor opportunities. Nearby, you'll find the 76-mile Greenbrier River Trail, which offers a dose of endorphins with mountain views. Visitors can also head to Greenbrier State Forest, which consists of 5,100 acres of densely forested, mountainous terrain for hiking, biking, swimming, caving, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and yes, even scuba diving. Meanwhile, downtown Lewisburg is home to one of only four Carnegie Halls worldwide. It also ranks high among American towns for historic sites, thanks to the number of well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century buildings, including log cabins that date back to 1755, as well as numerous Civil War landmarks.

Park City, Utah

Raffi Asdourian/Flickr

Raffi Asdourian/Flickr

An easy 40-minute drive east of Salt Lake City International Airport lies this historic mining town of Park City, perhaps better known for its legendary powder skiing. Surrounded by the rocky Wasatch Range, the sprawling Park City Mountain Resort has a whopping 41 lifts, more than 300 trails, 14 bowls, 17 mountain peaks, and eight terrain parks. That said, it's no wonder this world-class ski destination is most frequently visited during the winter months (Utah Olympic Park hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.) However, in other seasons, crystal-clear blue lakes offer boating, water sports, and trout streams, along with miles of hiking and biking trails and spectacular alpine scenery. While you're in town, head for Main Street, which is lined with 19th-century buildings that were built during the silver mining boom. Park City residents also support the arts with indoor and outdoor music venues, while the town hosts the Sundance Film Festival each January as well as the Food & Wine Classic in July.

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Sitka, Alaska

USDA Forest Service Alaska Region/Flickr

USDA Forest Service Alaska Region/Flickr

Little known to most Americans, this quaint Alaskan city near Juneau was part of Russia until 1867 when it was purchased from the Americans. Next to the Pacific Ocean on Baranof Island's west shore, Sitka is a hidden gem with small forested islands and snowcapped mountains, including the impressive Mount Edgecumbe, an extinct volcano similar to Japan's Mount Fuji. Arriving is part of the adventure as the destination is only accessible by air or sea. Sitka National Historical Park isn't big, but it's rich with history and there's plenty to do, including hiking trails, ranger-led interpretive walks, carving demonstrations, and ethnographic displays, to name a few. There’s even a Junior Ranger program for kids. And in town, Sitka offers cozy restaurants, pubs, and remnants of Sitka's Russian heritage. 

Stowe, Vermont

Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Anthony Quintano/Flickr

With views of Vermont's highest peak, Mount Mansfield, Stowe was a summer destination for city slickers long before it became a skiing destination in the 1930s. To this day, summer is still peak season for this small Vermont town, especially during Independence Day when the old-fashioned July 4th parade takes place. There's a slew of activities in the surrounding Green Mountains, including a 5.3-mile hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing trail that threads through town. It crosses the West Branch River more than 10 times over wooden bridges, as well as runs along the restaurants and shops lining Mountain Road. The village itself is tiny and consists of just a few blocks of inns, bed-and-breakfasts, shops, and restaurants.

Where to Stay:

Taos, New Mexico

Edmondo Gnerre/Flickr

Edmondo Gnerre/Flickr

Facing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos has no shortage of spectacular mountain views, especially of the majestic Wheeler Peak, the state's highest point. The smell of fragrant sage rises from the valley during the warmer months, while the winter months attract skiers to nearby resorts. For most of the year, the soaring mountains and desert of Taos enjoy relative isolation and magnificent scenery. While there, visit the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. To top it off, numerous historic adobe buildings, galleries, and museums come together to make Taos an ideal retreat for those aiming to unwind and take in a distinct blend of art, cuisine, outdoor recreation, and natural beauty. 

Where to Stay:

Telluride, Colorado

Ken Lund/Flickr

Ken Lund/Flickr

Telluride is not easy to get to by car (flying from Denver is convenient, though expensive), but that's part of the charm. The former mining town where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank in 1889 has evolved to become a resort town exuding understated luxury in the shadow of the beautiful San Juan Mountains. Outdoor enthusiasts flock here for skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and four-wheeling. The town's historic district houses restaurants, shops, and watering holes, along with cultural landmarks like the Sheridan Opera House, a performing arts venue originally built in 1913, and the Telluride Historical Museum, which sits in a converted hospital that was built in 1896. The annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival draws big crowds during the month of June, while the holidays bring a festive display of lights, garlands, and ribbons to the downtown area. Perhaps the best part of Telluride is the mode of transportation -- a free gondola -- that transports residents and visitors between Telluride and Mountain Village at more than 10,000 feet. 

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Whitefish, Montana

Ryan Claussen/Flickr

Ryan Claussen/Flickr

Although National Geographic named it among the "Top 25 Ski Towns in the World," this year-round destination in Montana is relatively unknown to many Americans. Given that it's located on the shores of Whitefish Lake and at the base of Big Mountain, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, boating, or head for Glacier National Park, 25 miles away. The town itself has a mixed array of funky shops, coffee houses, restaurants, dive bars, and community gatherings like Whitefish's winter carnival, which has been taking place for more than 50 years. During the summer months, the train often rolls into Whitefish just in time to catch a Rocky Mountain sunset. Plus, visitors can enjoy events like the Lake-to-Lake Canoe Race, which goes down the Whitefish and Flathead Rivers, and the Olympic-style Summer Games, which features sports like rugby and mountain biking.

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Yosemite, California

Edward Stojakovic/Flickr

Edward Stojakovic/Flickr

Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains features over 1,000 square miles of mountain views, spectacular cliffs, lengthy waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, and some of the most unique rock formations in the U.S. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the third-oldest national park in the country and is visited by 3.7 million people each year. Though enormous in size, most head for Yosemite Valley for the park's two famous landmarks, Half Dome and El Capitan. This area also has excellent hiking trails as well as guided tours and climbing lessons from local adventure outfitters. The village offers shops, restaurants, a range of lodging options, the Yosemite Museum, and the Ansel Adams Gallery. Keep in mind that some roads may be closed due to heavy snowfall during the winter.

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