On the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Magazine has created a ranking of the most beautiful small towns in the USA worth visiting. All the listed small cities have less than 20,000 inhabitants and are located in close proximity to major national parks.
The ranking includes places that are worth a visiting for two reasons: they are worth seeing due to their natural or cultural assets and offer special attractions, and they are close to the most beautiful national parks in the whole country. Perfect for any short or long-term visit, little family vacation or just as a stopover during a road trip.
Whether you have your destination set or are still looking for some inspiration on where to go, this list is for you. Without further ado, scroll down and find the top 10 list below, starting off with beautiful Whitefish in Montana.
10th: Traincity – Whitefish, Montana
Situated in northwest Montana, Whitefish is a great year-round destination. The small town is a charming mountain town located near Glacier National Park, which makes it a great go-to location for all outdoor adventurers. The city is famous for their train station and its diversity of outdoor activities. The townspeople are friendly, laid-back and enjoy welcoming visitors any time of the year. Spring and autumn are great times to go biking, while the summer season is perfect for horseback riding and water sports. Find out more about Whitefish here.
9th place: Peaceful – Houghton, Michigan
For those who are seeking peace and quiet, Houghton is the place for you. With the next larger city being four hours away, you can be assured that you’ll find peace and privacy here. Houghton is located on a peninsula on the south shore of Portage Lake in Michigan. Numerous forests invite you to get active and join the outdoors, whether through a hike in the area or by visiting the lakes close by. You can also visit Isle Royale National Park, where you will find a rich wildlife habitat for numerous moose and even some wolves. Find more information here.
8th place: Berlin, Maryland
Berlin is located on the coastline of Maryland with a little community of almost 4,000 people. The little town got its name from a former restaurant that was called Burleigh Inn. The city is located on a peninsula and offers a rich mix of gastronomic locations as well as local shops and passionate and chatty small business owners. When you stop by Berlin make sure to make a trip to the nearby Assateague State Park, which stretches along the coast and is known for the wild horses living here. For more information on Berlin (Maryland), click here.
7th place: Beautiful – Bar Harbor, Maine
Spread across many islands in Maine’s Frenchman Bay lays the pretty town of Bar Harbor. The small city becomes a true hotspot for high society types during the summer. If you love fish and seafood, you’ll find the absolute best of the best here, the lobster is especially popular. Just around the corner is Acadia National Park, known for its rugged cliffs and landscape of mountains and lakes. For more information on Bar Harbor, click here.
6th place: Small Town – Kailua, Hawaii
On the coast of Hawaii, at the foot of the Hualalai Volcano, lies the small town of Kailua. The Smithsonian Magazine recommends a visit any time of the year, but especially during the annual Coffee Festival in November. Kailua has earned a reputation for producing excellent coffee beans and various coffee products. The small Hawaiian town is also just a few minutes drive away from some great wild forest reserves and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. More about Kailua here.
5th place: Small Wine Capital – Dahlonega, Georgia
Dahlonega is considered the heart of the Georgia wine region. Lovers of good wines can take part in wine tastings and visit the many beautiful wineries. The best way to do this is during one of the many wine festivals. These festivals are held on several weekends between early summer and fall. At the Crisson Gold Mine, you can go back to the gold rush era and try your luck at panning for real gold. Find out more here.
4th place: Magnificent – Mancos, Colorado
Mancos in the US state of Colorado is a really small place, only just over 1,300 people live here. It’s worth coming by for a visit though because Mancos is the perfect starting point for many outdoor activities. Mesa Verde National Park is also just 10 minutes drive away and features more than 4,000 protected archaeological sites, including the well-preserved rock dwellings of pre-Columbian Anasazi culture. Accommodation can be found in and around Mancos through motels, ranches, apartments and even a few AirBnb’s. Get more information on this true outback gold nugget here.
3rd place: Mammoth Lakes, Sierra Nevada
On the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada lies the Mammoth Lakes, a well-known winter sports, and outdoor adventure resort area. It’s also definitely worth a visit during summer since the sun shines here for more than 300 days a year on average. The perfect spot for exploring the beautiful natural landscape with its many lakes and waterfalls. In addition, Yosemite National Park is not far away. Find out what else you can do in the city and around the area.
2nd place: Hot Springs, Arkansas
The small town of Hot Springs in Arkansas is, as its name suggests, is famous for its hot springs. The city is located next to Hot Springs National Park, which is always worth paying a visit. When you go in make sure you have your water shoes with you since it can get slippery. The historic bathhouses have been listed as one of the historical monuments of the region. There are plenty of other things to see in Hot Springs, including various art museums and a giant Tesla coil that inventor Nikola Tesla once experimented with. For more about Hot Springs, click here.
1st place: Small Town – Seward, Alaska
In front of an impressive mountain backdrop in Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula is the 3,000 inhabitants small town of Seward. Here begins Iditarod Trail, a historic, approximately 1600-kilometer long outdoor trail network, which is known for hosting a famous dog sled race. If you are in the area, make sure to visit the Kenai Fjords National Park. It’s important to bring the right gear and equipment though since it can get cold and wet very quickly! This breathtaking landscape will drive any photographer wild, be sure to bring a handy and versatile tripod. Canoeing, hiking, watching wildlife are just some things you can do around Seward with its beautiful harbor. It’s a well deserved #1 on this list, and worth a visit throughout the whole year. To find out more click here.
If you haven’t done much traveling before you might find my 30 Essential Items for a Road Trip post interesting. Combined with the Top 40 Apps article you should be good to go and well prepared for your trip.
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Your outback gear and review team