Top 10 Mountain Towns

Great getaways for diehards who crave something out of the ordinary for their next fishing, hunting or backpacking adventure.

There’s something about a mountain town that draws both the countercultural and the cowboy. Rather than clashing, this oil-and-water blend creates the kind of place where you can get a truly great dinner after a hard day hunting or fishing and then follow it up with a cold beer while sitting between a hippie who happens to hunt and a hard-working hand on a ranch with a Gold Medal river running through it. There are hundreds of these towns scattered across the country, from the Cascades to Appalachia. Here are ten worth setting out for on your next road trip.

10. Lake Placid, New York

Most famous for hosting the 1980 Winter Games, this mountain town is still home to Olympic-level outdoor opportunities, from fishing the famous Ausable River to hunting the Adirondacks. Sure, local hunters will tell you it takes something akin to the Miracle on Ice to actually tag a buck in the big timber, where densities are low and shot-opportunities fleeting, but just to stalk those woods like Leatherstockings is the dream of every deer hunter alive. Of course, there are black bears here too and, for the small-game hunter, hare in abundance. Find a friend with a pack of hounds, strap on the snowshoes and try to keep up on a wintertime chase for bounding bunnies that will leave you breathless.

Don’t Miss: Pick up one of the famous pastries and a cup of coffee from owner/baker Rainer Schnaars at Bluesberry Bakery (for 16 years he’s been getting up daily at 3 a.m. to fill his countertops with crazy-good treats), then head over to the Olympic Center to fill up on U.S. hockey history and maybe catch a pick-up game on the ice.

9. Sheridan, Wyoming

Much like artists in resident at the nearby UCross Ranch, hunters and anglers find inspiration in Sheridan, where Wyoming’s rugged plains run headlong into the face of the Bighorn Mountains. The small city sits in what town boosters like to call (without a wink) the state’s banana belt, and after driving along dry and dusty I-25, Sheridan does shimmer like an oasis of green and blue in all that brown. It also enjoys warmer overall temperatures and less snowfall than the rest of the Cowboy State. The high peaks of the Bighorns do gather plenty of water for the high alpine lakes in the Cloud Peak Wilderness and the trout-filled creeks and rivers, including the nearby Little Tongue. Flat-water fisherman will find trout to 10 pounds in Lake DeSmet and Healey Reservoir. In September and October, hunters have an even harder choice to make—head up into the mountains for elk or venture on the prairie for pronghorn, muley and, yes, even White-Tailed Deer.

Don’t Miss: A short drive to Buffalo offers a big reward in the form of some of the best beef around at the Winchester Steak House. Or stay in Sheridan and belly up to the Mint Bar, just like the local ranch hands have been doing since 1907.

8. Logan, Utah

Selecting the best town on the Wasatch front is bit like picking the hottest Sports Illustrated swimsuit model—they’re all incredibly beautiful and each has its particular charms. While Park City is the obvious choice, the hidden charms of Logan make it a more natural pick. First off, it’s a college town, so it has all the prerequisites for a good time, but the Cache Valley is a sportsman’s paradise. Heading northeast out of town, the Logan River provides some great fishing for brown trout and put-and-take rainbows, but once you get above the third dam, the river runs wild and free to the Idaho border. Here, naturally reproducing cutthroats are the primary target for fly anglers, though browns are abundant and spawning in the fall. Big game tags are tough to come by anywhere in Utah, but those luckily enough to draw one can head up the valley toward Hyrum and east along the Blacksmith Fork to hunt the 14,000 managed acres at the famous Hardware Ranch.

Don’t Miss: A stop at the Aggie Ice Cream Shop on the Utah State University for a heaping scoop of caramel-studded Bull Tracks ice cream.

7. Walden, Colorado

What Walden lacks in residents (just 585 at last count) the little home on the range makes up for in outdoor opportunities. Anglers converge on it for the world-class fall trout fishing found in the North Platte River and nearby lakes at Delaney Buttes, while hunters hike the surrounding peaks of Routt National Forest following herds of bugling bull elk. Of course, there are pronghorn and mule deer here too, along with Walden’s best-kept hunting secret—waterfowling that’s surprisingly good considering the town is centered on a wide, flat plain known as North Park. Dollars spent by visiting outdoorsmen and local ranchers give the town a few amenities typically found in much larger burgs. It seems like the whole town gathers for breakfast at the Moose Creek Café, while dinner service is usually packed down the block at the River Rock. But where locals and tourists really mix is across the street at the Stockman Bar.

Don’t Miss: While the sign outside says North Park Anglers, Scotty Graham and the rest of the guys manning this Orvis-endorsed fly shop are just as eager to talk hunting as they are fishing.

6. State College, Pennsylvania

It might be known as Happy Valley, but make no mistake, the home of Penn State College secures its place on this list for all the outdoor opportunities it has on offer. Nearly 20 different streams flow nearby, including one of the country’s top trout waters: Penns Creek. Penns, and nearby Spring Creek, are limestone streams populated with big wild brown trout. Both see a lot of pressure, particularly in the spring and summer, but fall crowds thin, especially on football Saturdays when locals are busy cheering on the Nittany Lions. Grouse cycles should be on the upswing and Rothrock State Forest, just a half-hour south of town, has 35,000 acres to roam, double-barrel in hand, behind a quartering English setter. Several other State Game Lands surrounding State College are open to deer, turkey and small game hunting in season.

Don’t Miss: Whether on the water or in the woods, you’ll need a sandwich to get you through the day and, in Pennsylvania, that means Seltzer’s Lebanon Bologna, made locally by the same family-owned company since 1902.

5. Grants Pass, Oregon

On paper, it might be hard to imagine Grants Pass, located at a measly 960 feet of elevation, as a mountain town. In reality however, the bustling burg along the banks of the Rogue River is shadowed by the meandering ridges of the Cascades in southern Oregon. With the river running right through town and high mountain lakes nearby, not to mention the wild Pacific Coast a short drive away, Grants Pass is an angler’s dream destination, especially for those targeting sea-run salmon and steelhead. This fall, fisheries biologists are predicting another big run of king salmon, better known as chinook in the Pacific Northwest, returning to the Rogue. As autumn lingers, the chinook will give way to the river’s famous steelhead before coho salmon show up in late October. For hunters, southeastern Oregon offers plenty of public lands to explore, including the Umpqua, Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forests and thousands of acres of timber company lands that are also open to big game and bird hunters.

Don’t Miss: A cup of coffee can still be had for a dime at the soda fountain inside family owned Grants Pass Pharmacy, but the real draw is a phosphate in original flavors (go for the Green River) priced at only a quarter, or splurge on a milkshake or ice cream float for just a few dollars more.

4. Deadwood, South Dakota

It might say Black Hills on the map, but you’ll know you’re in the mountains as you huff up all 7,200 feet of Harney Peak or one of the surrounding ridges running along the corner of South Dakota. After your hike, retire to a suite at the historic Bullock Hotel in Deadwood. Ghosts and gamblers, along with the occasional mountain lion, still walk the streets here, though thankfully, gunfighters are few and far between nowadays. One thing that’s not missing from the area is phenomenal, if unheralded, fishing. From the eponymous creek that runs right through town to remote Deerfield Reservoir, anglers often find trout, splake and panfish in abundance, well away from the crowds of tourists buying rubber tomahawks in the southern half of the Hills. If you want bigger fish to fry, plumb the depths of Pactola Reservoir for giant lakers.

Don’t Miss: It’d be easy to point you toward infamous Saloon No. 10 and its two-headed calf, but before you hit the blackjack tables there, stop at Lewie’s Saloon and Eatery for one of the top three hamburgers in the Hills. (The other two being Bubba’s burger at the Sugar Shack and anything from Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. in Custer.)

3. Lewistown, Montana

Located in central Montana’s Big Sky Country, Lewistown might not seem like a mountain town until you realize three different ranges—the Judith, Big Snowy and Little Belt—surround what was once known as Fort Lewis. While these ranges offer plenty of great opportunities for elk and mule deer, the area is actually the epicenter of Montana’s great bird hunting. With some effort and planning, not to mention a good bit of luck, the over-achieving wingshooter can potentially put bring four different species of grouse (ruffed, blue, sharptail and sage) to hand in a single day, with bonus birds of Hungarian partridge and ringneck pheasant possible as well. And unlike most other bird-hunting havens, the area around Lewiston offers plenty of land open to walk-in hunters, either state and federal public lands or those managed under Montana’s excellent Block Management program.

Don’t Miss: It’s rumored the original owner of the Montana Tavern cut a hole in the floor so he could fish Spring Creek, which runs underneath Lewistown’s downtown. Fishing is no longer allowed at the tavern, but the hole is still there, though covered with Plexiglas.

2. Gunnison, Colorado

To really experience Colorado you have to get away from the frenzied façade of the Front Range and drive deep into the mountains. Here you’ll find little towns like Gunnison, where cowboy boots are still more likely to be scuffed than snakeskin. Sure there’s a softer side of the outdoors represented here, with a world-class whitewater park and miles of mountain bike trails, but hunting still rules. The surrounding units hold some of the West’s best mule deer, with hunters waiting years to draw a coveted tag. The Gunnison Basin is also one of the few regions where mule deer populations are on an upward trend, and officials have responded with increased tag availability. In season, elk and pronghorn in the area also grow big enough to gather crowds when a trophy shows up in the back of a truck as the local coffee shop.

Don’t Miss: Pack a lunch for a picnic at the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The steep, switchback East Portal Road will take you the bottom of this 2,000-foot-deep natural wonder.

1. Fayetteville, West Virginia

Like most mountain towns, Fayetteville overflows with extreme-sports enthusiasts in the summer, but unlike many, it maintains its hometown feel all year long. Rafters and kayakers come from all over for a whitewater trip down the world-famous Gauley River, but the national wild-and-scenic New River provides just as many thrills, especially for the angler. If notching a 100-fish day reeling in the river’s seemingly endless amount of smallmouth bass gets too boring for you (and it’s happens so regularly, it might), rod-gripping rides through some serious rapids with a guide named Redneck on the oars is sure to provide a spike of adrenaline. For the full West Virginia Experience, ask Redneck (less-well-known locally as Larry Nibert) about his cast-and-blast adventures combining smallmouth fishing and waterfowl hunting in the late fall or smallies and turkeys come springtime. If your trip falls on the third Saturday in October, better known as Bridge Day, you might get to see some crazy thrillseekers parachuting off the nearly 900-foot tall New River Bridge.

Don’t Miss: Each morning, raft guides and trust-fund bunnies confess the previous evening’s sins over breakfast at the Cathedral Cafe, a former church turned coffee shop with stained glassed windows still intact. “Thanks so much for your interest in my little part of the world,” says owner Wendy Bayes. “I came here and fell in love with the town in 1992, and guided on the river for 8 years before purchasing the cafe.”

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