Top Five Mountain Towns

Looking for great spots for hiking, biking, rafting, or fishing? Here are some peak destinations that offer outdoor adventure and indoor comforts.

Lake Ediza in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area near Mammoth Lakes, image

Lake Ediza reflects Sierra grandeur in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area near Mammoth Lakes.

Grand Tetons and barn near Jackson Wyoming, image

The Grand Tetons provide a dramatic backdrop for Jackson, Wyo.

Old Mill District on the Deschutes River in Bend Oregon, image

The former mill along the Deschutes River in Bend, Ore., stands as a reminder of lumber's glory days.

Downtown Ashland Oregon surrounded by trees, image

Sheltered by tree-covered slopes, Ashland, Ore., draws Shakespeare buffs and outdoor enthusiasts.

Mountain Biking Deer Creek Trail near Crested Butte Colorado, image

Mountain bikers pedal along lupine-lined Deer Creek Trail near Crested Butte.

5. Ashland, Ore.

“The play’s the thing,” wrote Shakespeare, but it’s not the only thing in this no-holds-Bard Siskiyou Mountain hamlet. Home to one of the nation’s premier Shakespeare festivals, Ashland offers my favorite blend of high culture and high adventure. I could, were I so inclined, step out of a matinee performance of As You Like It and go for a walk on the Pacific Crest Trail, which traverses the ridge above town. Whitewater rafting outfitters on the nearby Rogue River advertise they’ll get you back by curtain time. Ashland even offers a ski area, which features, perhaps inevitably, the annual Shakespeare Cup.

4. Crested Butte, Colo.

If you’re not already a mountain biking enthusiast, Crested Butte will make you one. Spreading out from this town of brightly painted Victorian storefronts is a vast and beguiling network of old mining roads and single-track routes. Whether you prefer pumping over rocky alpine passes or cruising serenely through wildflower-strewn valleys, you’ll find rides to your taste. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame resides here, and every summer the town stages Fat
Tire Bike Week, billed as “the planet’s oldest mountain bike festival.” After your ride, rehydrate at one of the town’s many saloons and chow down on some of the best Mexican food you’ll find above 8,500 feet.

3. Jackson, Wyo.

From a saddle-seat barstool at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, you can watch an eclectic mix of real-deal cowboys, tourists in Ralph Lauren duds, and Patagonia-clad climbers two-stepping it on the wood-plank dance floor. Cradled in the long, elk-filled valley called Jackson Hole, Jackson makes the perfect base camp for fly-fishing sessions on the Snake River, ascents of the Grand Teton, and day trips to nearby Yellowstone National Park. There’s been a huge influx of money in recent years, driving up prices, but for the rest of us there are still old standbys like my favorite breakfast joint, The Bunnery. (Slogan: “Get your buns in here.”)

2. Bend, Ore.

In the last decade it seemed as if everyone was moving to Bend, and it’s not hard to see why. The town, in the high-desert rain shadow of the Cascades, is a perpetual motion machine, thanks largely to the Deschutes River, which meanders through downtown. You can run or bike alongside it on the Deschutes River Trail, fish it for rainbow trout, and float it on a raft, kayak, or inner tube. When the late-afternoon sun dips behind the mountains, take your pick of pubs pouring a palate-boggling array of locally brewed ales, porters, and stouts.

1. Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Geologic mischief tends to beget unforgettable landscapes—Exhibit A: Mammoth Lakes. The town squats atop an ancient caldera that, judging by the daily swarms of imperceptible mini earthquakes, is still quite restless. Footpaths lead to the otherworldly Devils Postpile and the dreamy spires of the Minarets in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, ranked by many Sierra aficionados (this one included) as the most enchanting corner of the entire range. For an après-hike treat, I like to stop by the Lakefront Restaurant at Tamarack Lodge for chef Frederic Pierrel’s escargot and elk medallions.

Photo courtesy Christopher Briscoe (Ashland); Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association (Crested Butte); John Melton (Bend); pdphoto.org (Jackson/Grand Teton); Laura Patterson Design (Mammoth Lakes)

This article was first published in June 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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