Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Hiking Towns

The folks over at besthike.com recently concluded a series of posts outlining their Top 10 Hiking Towns in the world. Many of the towns on their list I had never heard of, but if you’re a world traveler this series would certainly provide some great ideas for future hiking trips.

Since only one town from the United States (Moab, Utah) made the list, I thought I would offer my own list of hiking towns. This isn’t intended to be a “top 10” list, rather just a brief run-down on some of the hiking towns I’ve visited during my travels.

Favorite hiking towns:

Ouray, CO: This cool little western town in the heart of “Little Switzerland” provides easy access to arguably some of best hiking in Colorado. Two of my all-time favorite hikes are within a 20 minute drive of town: Blue Lakes and the Horsethief Trail.

Damascus, VA: An extremely friendly town that makes a great base for hikes in the Mt. Rogers area. There’s a small diner on the eastern edge of town that serves the best pancakes I’ve ever had (sorry, but I can’t remember the name).

East Glacier, MT: Admittedly, there isn’t much of a town here, but it does have one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been to. Make sure to leave room for dessert - they serve Huckleberry Pies that are out of this world. Serrano’s is a great way of rewarding yourself after a great day of hiking in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park.

Asheville, NC: Can you consider Asheville a hiking town? It’s a little big to be called a town, and you could argue that it isn’t necessarily close to any of the great hiking in western North Carolina. However, if you think Asheville is deserving of the “hiking town” title, chalk this up as a favorite of mine.

Towns I need to spend more time in next time:

Cooke City, MT: Just outside of the northeastern corner of Yellowstone is the laid back, old western town of Cooke City. Not only does it provide access to America’s oldest national park, but it also sits on the western terminus of the Beartooth Highway, a road Charles Kuralt once said was the most beautiful drive in America.

Bryson City, NC: Unfortunately I haven’t spent any time here other than passing by on my way to a few hiking excursions in the Deep Creek area. Bryson seems to have the most character out of any of the towns bordering the Smokies.

Moab, UT: I know this is supposed to be a great little town for outdoor types. I did spend a night here several years ago. We arrived after midnight and couldn’t find a hotel, but someone told us we could set up camp on the outskirts of town. Apparently there must have been something going on that night because there were several other campers squatting in the same place which we called “Hooverville.” The next day we moved on and used the outstanding campground in nearby Dead Horse Point State Park as are base for hikes in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Since we don’t camp all that much anymore, Moab would be the best place to stay next time we visit the red rock desert region of Utah.

Fairplay, CO: We just discovered this town this past fall after a hike up to Quandary Peak. The town is an absolute hidden gem. Although it plays up its association with the popular South Park animated sitcom, it’s really a small, laid-back rustic town with an old west vibe.

Grand Lake, CO – Grand Lake sits on the western side of the less visited Rocky Mountains National Park. Compared to Estes Park, I guess you could call this the “Peaceful Side of the Rockies.”

Other towns I like:

Townsend, TN: The “Peaceful Side of the Smokies” is far more relaxing than that town 15 miles east of here. I would also argue that the food is better here as well.

Taos and Santa Fe NM: Two towns (well, Santa Fe is really a city) that provide access to some great hiking in the Sangro de Cristo Mountains.

Leadville, CO: Funky little old mining town with some great food and access to some great hiking in the heart of Colorado.

Over-crowded and over-commercialized:

Gatlinburg and Estes Park, CO fall into this category. Both towns aren’t that bad during the off season, but during the summer months I find my blood pressure and stress levels moving north.

Over-rated, overly pretentious and no soul:

Vail, Aspen, Breckinridge and Boulder. Yes, they’re all basically Colorado ski towns in the winter, but they all provide access to some great hiking in the off season. For me, however, there’s absolutely nothing that could convince me to stay longer than it takes to fill-up my gas tank. Unfortunately Jackson, WY has also succumbed to the avalanche of big money as well - much of it from Hollywood types.

Feel free to add your own thoughts or comments on any these towns, or, give a shout out to any of your own favorites that aren’t on this list.



My Life Outdoors said...

I love Leadville and have stayed there many times! Not only does it have access to great hiking but it's the best kept secret in CO skiing. I will be heading to Leadville soon and can't wait to get there!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great list. I'll start researching those towns.


besthike editor

Donna Hull said...

You've named so many of my favorites, although I can't claim to have hiked in all of them.

Ouray is one of my favorite Colorado towns. The hiking is great and the townspeople have done a great job of preserving the historical character.

Cooke City, MT is on my list to visit. And, while you're there, drive on over to Red Lodge or Fishtail for the beautiful hikes in the Rosebud drainage.

Happy hiking to you this year.

Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Donna - I've driven the Beartooth a couple of times, and passed through Red Lodge, so I can attest that the area is absolutely spectacular. But I've never done any hiking there. Need to do some research on the area next time I'm up there.

MLO - I love Leadville - stayed there a few times. Have you ever stayed at the historic Delaware Hotel?

smoky scout said...

Two thumbs up for Bryson City, NC. Many nice cabin rentals, a couple of acceptable hotels, some great restaurants, the Smoky Mountain Railroad Depot, the Kephart Days events, and best of all, several back door entrances to the GSMNP. Their Chamber does a great promo job with http://www.postcardsfromthesmokies.com/