Asheville, North Carolina
With the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby, Asheville isn’t exactly a town, but it’s one of the best places in the country for arts, culture and outdoor activities. Considered one of the most beautiful places in America, Asheville is also home to one the largest privately owned homes in the country and has been a literary destination to such illustrious writers as Carl Sandberg, Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Biltmore Estate now hosts a luxury hotel, award-winning restaurants and what’s described as “America’s most-visited winery.” Asheville is also home to a large collection of art galleries, museums and attractions like the North Carolina Arboretum and the towering Basilica of St. Lawrence. But the top draws here are hiking along the historic Appalachian Trail and visiting the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, which stretches 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina and headquartered in Asheville.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
With so much to see and do year round, it’s easy to understand why Glenwood Springs was named the “Most Fun Town in America.” But the accolades don’t just stop there – other notable honors include selections as one of the best places to live and visit in America, best fall colors, best towns for the Fourth of July, best roller coaster rides and spectacular ski resort pools. That last award goes to the world’s largest hot springs pool at the historic Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge, with 107 rooms, fitness club and the award-winning Spa of the Rockies. The other big attraction is Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, featuring an Historic Fairy Caves Tour, the country’s first alpine roller coaster, a jaw-dropping swing ride 1,300 feet above the Colorado River and a thrilling zip ride 625 feet down from the mountaintop theme park. Other activities in Glenwood Springs include hiking, biking, river rafting and skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort.
Hood River, Oregon
Located where the Hood River embraces the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge with Oregon’s highest peak in the distance, Hood River is celebrated as one of the best American destinations for outdoor activities such as windsurfing, hiking and skiing. Like other great American towns, Hood River has earned a number of national distinctions, having been selected as among the best riverfront towns, best ski towns and one of America’s favorite towns. Recommendations for visitors to Hood River include a visit to the Columbia River waterfront, Multnomah Falls, with magnificent views of Mount Hood, and a tour of the lush farmlands along the stretch of road known as the Fruit Loop. Hood River is part of the Columbia Gorge AVA, featuring 36 wineries known for producing nearly 20 varietals, including syrah, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris and chardonnay.
Lake Placid, New York
Since the first Winter Olympics was first held in 1925, the United States has hosted the quadrennial event four times, with Lake Placid hosting two. Located within the majestic Adirondack Mountains, the most popular time to visit is in the summer and fall, offering a variety of outdoor activities, such as camping, boating, cycling and hiking in the largest trail system in the country. In addition to a visit to the Olympic sites, other notable attractions are the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, Ausable Chasm – “America’s Oldest Natural Attraction” – and a train ride on the historic Adirondack Scenic Railroad. The Adirondacks are also home to three microbreweries, two wineries (Goose Watch Winery and Swedish Hill Winery) and a distillery.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is home to more than 20 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including Taos Pueblo – one of America’s oldest continuously inhabited communities. But Taos is as rich in history and culture as it is rich in year-round activities, from skiing and snowboarding in winter to hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing over the summer. The Taos area is a world-class winter destination, boasting New Mexico’s highest peak and served by four ski areas, including Angel Fire Resort and Taos Ski Valley. Other must-see points of interest include the fascinating Millicent Rogers Museum, the world famous San Francisco de Asis Church, a tour of the Earthship Biotecture and the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge and bridge.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.