BY K.C. DERMODY
The heat of summer can be brutal. If you don’t want to stay inside your air-conditioned home this season, the good news is that there are some fantastic mountain towns for enjoying beautiful scenery and outdoor adventures without melting. These destinations, in particular, may be the very best for escaping those sizzling temperatures.
The highest incorporated town in the U.S., Leadville sits at 10,152 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies, the perfect place to enjoy cool, fresh mountain air. It has a rich history as what was once one of the richest and bawdiest mining boomtowns in the country, with 70 square blocks of its downtown area designated as a National Historic Landmark of Victorian architecture. You’ll find plenty of activities to fill your itinerary, as Leadville has begun to develop an outstanding food scene and has lots of fun shops and antique stores to explore, but the miles and miles of trails for scenic hiking are one of its biggest draws.
Stowe is a wonderful place to play in the summer without having to endure extreme heat. There’s a great 5.3-mile hiking and biking trail that runs through town, crossing the West Branch River, traveling over charming wooden bridges and following along the shops and eateries that line Mountain Road. Stowe Mountain Resort offers fun warm season activities too, including zip line adventures and obstacle courses.
The sun is almost always out in Sun Valley, but it’s unlikely to get too hot. Look forward to the frequent festivals and concerts, and just minutes from town there is a wide range of hiking options for enjoying the dazzling scenery, including Bald Mountain Trail. The 5-mile trek brings a big reward: 360-degree vistas stretching from the Smoky Mountains to the west, across the Pioneers to the east, the plains of the Snake River Valley to the south and Boulders to the north. Catch a free ride back down via the ski lifts and gondola.
A mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, Bend sits is nestled along the east side of the Cascade Mountains, a gorgeous mountain town with frequent sunny skies and summer temperatures that average in the low 80s. Take advantage of all the water that surrounds it for a cool dip, or fish one of the many famous streams, rivers and lakes that make it an anglers’ paradise. There are opportunities to hike and bike, and after a day of play, delve into the fantastic craft brew scene.
Missoula is nestled in the Northern Rockies of Montana, surrounded by spectacular beauty that includes being at the confluence of three rivers, with seven wilderness areas nearby. Enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, boating and fishing, in temperatures around the low to mid-80s. It offers cultural attractions, including outstanding local museums, art galleries and three distinct shopping districts too.
Tucked into a box canyon that’s framed by the towering jagged peaks of the San Juans, Ouray boasts comfortable temperatures that don’t exceed the upper 70s. The mountains and cliffs that surround the town are ideal for outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking and climbing. History buffs will enjoy the mining-era Victorian structures that remain from its early days as a mining town, all beautifully restored, with the entire Main Street a National Historic District. Cool summer evenings are wonderful for soaking in the hot springs, located right in the heart of town.
A gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, this historic town with its wooden sidewalks was once a place where arguments were often resolved by gunfight. Today, it’s a popular base for enjoying the area’s magnificent scenery, abundant wildlife and outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and whitewater rafting. It also hosts a variety of shops, eateries, entertainment and lively nightlife. Be sure to hop on the aerial tram that leads from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous for a bird’s-eye view from the peak.
Leavenworth is a Bavarian village famous for hosting one of the nation’s top Oktoberfests and its magical atmosphere during the holidays, but a host of activities can be enjoyed in the warmer months too. The Wenatchee River runs right through, providing opportunities for rafting, tubing and fishing, and there are miles of hiking and biking trails nearby. Fuel your pursuits with fabulous fare, including plenty of popular Bavarian options like brats and beer.
Taos is a cool northern New Mexico mountain town with a population of just under 5,000. It packs a punch when it comes to things to see and do, not to mention the colorful sunsets that provide the perfect grand finale to the end of any day. In Taos, delve into everything from the arts to food, with an impressive array of eateries ranging from mom-and-pop cantinas to upscale dining. Don’t miss Taos Pueblo, a multi-story adobe village that’s been continuously inhabited since pre-Columbian times. While many of the living spaces now serve as shops for Pueblo Indian craftspeople, the Pueblo Indians have managed to diligently protect and preserve their culture.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire offer an unforgettable way to keep cool, from a cable car ride up Cannon Mountain and hiking the observatory trail to rolling along the Cog Mountain Railway to the summit of Mount Washington to take in the views from New England’s highest peak. In the foothills, Squam Lake, famous as the film setting for 1981’s “On Golden Pond,” is ideal for paddling and fishing for rainbow and lake trout, bass, and more.