1. Ogden, Utah: Sports of All Sorts
This former bustling railroad hub 35 miles north of Salt Lake City was nearly forgotten after I-15 was built, effectively putting the kibosh on train travel. And so the town languished until the early 2000s, when youthful mayor Matthew Godfrey was elected on the promise that he would transform the town into an adventure hub.
These days, Ogden rivals the best outdoor towns in the country (we’re looking at you, Boulder) for sheer amount of natural resources. You’ve got the Wasatch range, home to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain’s ample slopes in the winter and arguably the region's best downhill mountain biking in the summer; hundreds of miles of singletrack and hiking along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail; stand-up paddleboarding, swimming and boating on Pineview Reservoir in Ogden Valley; and two kayak parks that flow right through town. At the heart of that town is historic 25th Street’s locally owned restaurants, bars and funky storefronts peddling everything from local brews to antiques.
Sleep A brand-new Hilton Garden Inn opens downtown this June. At the other end of the spectrum, the 1927 Ben Lomond Suites, also downtown, was added to the Register of Historic Places in 1990. Eat One-year-old Slackwater sits on the banks of the Ogden River and dishes up pizza, pasta and casual fare. There’s also live music Thursday through Sunday. Drink Roosters Brewing Company is an Ogden institution, brewing its own beers on location. Try the Bees Knees Honey Wheat.
2. Leadville, Colo.: Raft the Arkansas River
The waters of the Arkansas River, south of Leadville, offer some of the rowdiest, adrenaline-pumping whitewater in the state. Arkansas Valley Adventures leads various trips down the Class III to IV rapids, from half-day to several-night trips. The Numbers is a favorite, so named for the eight sections of rapids, one of which ( no. 5) boasts a steep drop. No young'uns allowed—minimum age is 15.
Shack up in Leadville, less than 20 miles north of AVA’s put-in site. The historic silver mining town saw its boom in the late-19th century, when it was Colorado's second most-populated city (behind Denver). A one-time home to Doc Holiday, Buffalo Bill and (Unsinkable) Molly Brown, Leadville’s historic main drag draws year-round adventurers who play in the surrounding Sawatch range.
Sleep The modest Columbine Inn & Suites is clean and comfortable, free wi-fi, air conditioning and continental breakfast included in the rate. Eat Hike to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse for unbeatable views and a home-cooked meal. In town, High Mountain Pies is a homey little pizza joint with tasty pies and Italian sammies. Drink The historic Pasttime Saloon, circa 1878, is a little grungy, a little loud and just right for a cash-only cocktail.
3. Ashland, Ore.: Hike the Pacific Crest Trail
With countless access points to the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail, Ashland is heaven for trail runners and fat-tire fanatics. The town of about 20,000 squished between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges keeps its small-town charm thanks in part to geography and in part to a fierce contingent of outdoor-worshippers who truly value what nature has to offer. Huge supporters of the arts, Ashland voters recently chose to increase lodging taxes by 2 percent to fund the two dozen annual festivals that roll through town, including the hugely popular Oregon Shakespeare Festival, held in Ashland in some capacity or another since the 1890s.
Hike past ancient volcanoes, mountain lakes and along burbling rivers on the PCT. Everything from daytrips to multi-day backpacking excursions are doable from Ashland. Find resources at Pacific Crest Trail Association’s website. The nearby Rogue Valley wineries may not be hikable, but they're an easy daytrip from Ashland. Hit up the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided map tour.
Sleep Book a room at the Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925. It’s a historic downtown landmark with small rooms typical of the early 20th century, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in charm, service and, most important, location. Eat For mom's Sunday dinners reimagined, Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine is the spot, taking meatloaf, mac and fried chicken to new heights. Drink Check out Caldera Tap House's 20 taps spewing such scintillating brews as Hopportunity Knocks, Rauch Ur Bok and Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter.
4. Burlington, Vt.: All About the Lake
A college town at heart, Burlington benefits from a youthful buzz that makes places like the Church Street Marketplace and the year-round farmer's market such great spots to hang out. But when the lifts quit turning at Stowe and Bolton Valley, locals head to the lake for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fly-fishing, sailing—even diving for shipwrecks. It’s all in there.
Several revitalization projects over the past decade have cleaned up the lakefront district. Cruise the seven-mile bike path, checking out the shops and restaurants along the way. In town, Church Street Marketplace, the four-block pedestrian causeway with nearly 100 storefronts, comes to life in late spring and summer with live music and street performers.
Sleep The Victorian-style Willard Street Inn sits on a hill overlooking downtown Burlington and is a quick walk to shops and grub. Eat and Drink Farmhouse Tap & Grille, known for its great burgers, is a farm-to-table gastropub serving local and organic poultry, beef and greens. Or head downstairs to The Parlour for some pulls in the taproom or a seat in the beer garden.
Photo courtesy of Only in Ogden