For Jackie Jones Heninger, a perfect day in Asheville, NC, unfolds with breakfast at Tupelo Honey Café and hiking in Pisgah National Forest, followed by a cold beer at the Highland Brewing Company.
And if it's a Tuesday, live music caps off the evening. "Check out the bluegrass jam at the Isis Restaurant and Music Hall in West Asheville, and you will hear some great local musicians," promises Heninger, who regularly makes the four-hour drive to Asheville from Clayton, NC-especially in summer.
As the weather heats up, there's no better time to head for the hills, where the air is a little fresher and the breezes a little cooler. Asheville ranks as one of the nation's top mountain towns, according to Travel + Leisure readers, who voted in our annual America's Favorite Towns survey. They evaluated hundreds of towns on everything from burgers to adventure-travel opportunities to friendly locals.
Some mountain towns were built from scratch as resorts, such as Lake Placid, NY, and Eureka Springs, AR. Others, like Leadville, CO, and Park City, UT, were mining towns that found new life as tourist destinations after silver prices tanked or the gold ran out. But visitors flock to all of them for similar reasons: outdoor activities, laid-back festivals, outstanding food, and plenty of local color.
Andrea R. Vaucher, a journalist and travel author based in Santa Monica, CA, fills with anticipation whenever she makes the hair-raising descent into Telluride airport. "Once you're ensconced in this Colorado paradise, digging into a pizza at Baked in Telluride in the historic town center, watching a foreign film at the Telluride Film Festival, or tapping your toe at the Bluegrass Festival-you just have to pat yourself on the back for being in precisely the right place."
For the full list of America's favorite mountain towns, click here.
No. 1 Aspen, CO
With 14,000-foot peaks, Aspen is a marquee destination for skiing. But America's No. 1 mountain town and overall favorite town keeps the party going year round with festivals celebrating art, food, wine, and music. There's even the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is appropriately suited to a town voted No. 3 for both its festivals and its intelligent locals. (Aspenites also happened to rank No. 2 for attractiveness.) In this laid-back yet moneyed town, it's not unusual to see billionaires and ski bums elbow-to-elbow, throwing back beers at watering holes like the Aspen Brewing Company and Hops Culture.
Visit Estes Park
No. 2 Estes Park, CO
This popular gateway town for visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park got the top vote for coolest motels for good reason: many well-oiled operations like the Western-themed Saddle and Surrey have been in the same hospitable family for generations. Estes Park ranked No. 2 for both its active people and its charming town square, Bond Park, surrounded by boutiques and sweet shops. And it came in No. 4 for cool souvenirs, including the signature "chainsaw bear"-a totem-like bear carved using, you guessed it, a chainsaw.
Dennis Curran /VermontVacation.com
No. 3 Stowe, VT
Stowe was a summer destination for city dwellers seeking respite from the heat long before it became a skiing destination. And to this day, summer is peak season for this tiny Vermont town beneath the Green Mountains. Readers gave Stowe high red-white-and-blue marks for both its patriotism and its old-fashioned July 4th parade and celebration. It also scored highly for its active and athletic locals-the kind of people who'd appreciate the 5.3-mile hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing trail that threads through town. It crosses the West Branch River 11 times over wooden bridges and past the restaurants and shops lining Mountain Road.
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