Why These Five Unlikely Spots Should Be On Your Summer Vacay Short List
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Mountain towns are often thought of destinations to hit when the snow is falling, but if you save booking a ticket for cold weather, you miss out on endless outdoor activities, events, culinary experiences and live music. Believe it or not, ski towns have even more options of things to do in the warmer months. From hiking, biking and white-water rafting to music festivals and outdoor dining, mountainous locales are not to be ignored when planning your late-summer getaways (August adventure, anyone?). Here, a list of where to go and what to do in five of the country’s top mountain towns.
Aspen is a gorgeous and glamorous destination in the Rocky Mountains that, contrary to popular belief, draws more tourists during the summer than it does in the winter. The go-to phrase of Aspen locals is "you come for the winter and stay for the summer," and you'll find out why as soon as you land and spot the lush foliage and stunning scenery. But it isn't only nature that puts on a show during an Aspen summer: There are the summer-long Aspen Music Festival & School classical concerts, Jazz Aspen's Labor Day Festival featuring headliners Hall & Oates and Maroon 5, Aspen Institute symposiums, Aspen Art Museum and Anderson Ranch Arts Center events and lectures and much, much more, meaning the summer is packed with endless ways to be culturally enriched.
And when your mind is in tip-top shape, get your body in tune too with incredible hikes, mountain biking (take the lift up Snowmass with your bike if you can’t stand the climb), road biking (the grueling trek to Maroon Bells is particularly popular for its scenic payoff at the end), kayaking, rafting, rock-climbing and even paddleboarding at Stillwater, just outside of town toward Independence Pass.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make sure to grab a seat on one of the many outdoor patios. Order a spicy marg and a crab cake at Bodega, enjoy the truffle fries at Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain, try the escargot at Cache Cache, indulge in pasta and pizza at Aquolina and don’t miss the bar burger served with a view of Aspen Mountain at the world-renowned The Little Nell hotel.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley may be Idaho's beloved ski getaway, but its summer offerings are plentiful. Hundreds of miles of single-track and 30 miles of paved trails mean bikers of every interest and skill level can enjoy the spectacular surroundings. There's also horseback riding, golf courses, fly-fishing and pretty much every other outdoor activity you can imagine. Have lunch at The Roundhouse by taking the gondola up the mountain and then hiking down to walk off your meal—jump in the river at the bottom to cool off. Or hike Adam's Gulch Loop, which is easy to get to from town but will get you far enough into nature to feel away from the crowds. If you're feeling productive, head to Galena Lodge, a day lodge set in the Rocky Mountains approximately 20 miles north of the resort in Ketchum, and hike around there. Grab a local Idaho beef burger for lunch at the lodge afterward—you’ve earned it.
If you’re into more mellow activities, do sun salutations with a view at Yoga on the Mountain or rent bikes and ride the path from Sun Valley to the nearby Gimlet and back. There are also day trips to the Salmon River where you can go white-water rafting on Class II and III rapids. More of a viewer of nature than a partaker? Not a problem. See a movie at the Opera House or make your way to one of the free Sun Valley Summer Symphony concerts that take place throughout the summer featuring some of the most famous names in classical music. It seems music can be found around every corner in Sun Valley, from live music in the Limelight Hotel’s lounge to concerts featuring bands like Lord Huron at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. The three-day Sun Valley Center Arts & Crafts Festival (from August 11 to 13) is an outdoor exhibit of artists from around the country. And for those who can't get enough culture, there's Ballet Sun Valley, featuring international ballet performances from August 22 to 24 and an Ernest Hemingway Festival from September 7 to 9.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The Wild West is still alive and well in Jackson Hole, which helps account for this small, picturesque town's undeniable charm. Sitting at the base of the imposing Tetons at just above 6,000 feet, Jackson Hole is both gorgeous and primely located near Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. It's home to world-class mountain biking, some of it accessible right from town. Snow King Mountain, the ski hill located within the town of Jackson, has a plethora of trails that wind through Aspen groves. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, located 12 miles outside of town, offers trails accessible by lifts, so you can skip the grind of the uphill and just enjoy all the thrill of the downhill.
For a few envy-inducing scenic shots for Instagram, take the lift to the top of Snow King for amazing views of the Tetons and the town below. And if you like a cocktail with a view, take the gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort after 5pm for happy hour at The Deck. A requirement for all visitors to Jackson Hole is a pit stop at the iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where you may be greeted by patrons two-stepping. If an authentic Western cookout is more your style, head to Bar T 5, where you will arrive at your Dutch-oven dinner in Cache Creek Canyon by a horse-drawn covered wagon. Natch.
If you're East Coast–based, you know that Stowe, Vermont, is the spot on the right side of the country to indulge all your outdoor cravings. And while it's a popular destination among skiers and snowboarders, it's even more popular during the summer months. Sure, like the other towns, there is biking, fishing, hiking, golfing and all sorts of water sports (canoeing, kayaking, etc.), but Stowe also offers events and out-of-the-box activities for visitors of every interest. For starters, there is the Stowe Wine & Food Classic from August 26 to 27, featuring wine tastings, artisan liquors, craft beers and food by renowned Vermont chefs.
In the mood for a thrill? Head to the top of Stowe Mountain Resort and soar through the sky on the zip-line tour. It's an undeniable rush, and thanks to two side-by-side lines, you can do it as the same time as a friend. Prefer something more mellow? People-watch and take in your surroundings by cruising along the 5.5-mile, paved Stowe Recreation Path (commonly referred to as the "Rec Path") on foot or on a bike. If you get hot, take a dip in one of the swimming holes you'll pass on the way, or pack a few sandwiches and enjoy lunch at a picnic table along the path. If you prefer to visit Stowe a little later in the year when the leaves are beginning to turn, plan your trip for September 8 to 10, when the Stowe Jazz Festival brings music to town.
Park City, Utah
In Park City, Utah, the fresh mountain air of the Wasatch range comes with a quaint downtown and not one but three area mountains offering endless ways to dive into nature. There is Park City Mountain Resort, the Canyons and Deer Valley, which means whether you want to channel your inner child on the alpine slide, go for a scenic lift or gondola ride, or bike, hike or horseback ride, there is an activity for you. Regardless of whether fly-fishing is your thing, doing it on the Provo River is a must—you'll be on a gorgeous river surrounded completely by nature, and you might even get lucky enough to catch something. Create a cruising playlist and get in your car and drive the 20-mile Alpine Loop, one of the most scenic drives in North America, following Highway 92 up the American Fork Canyon through Uinta National Forest and into Provo Canyon.
Once you're hungry, make your way to Park City's adorable downtown and check out Handle's menu of creative dishes (don’t miss the cauliflower in buffalo hot-wing sauce). Whiskey and rye lovers will definitely want to stop by High West Distillery's saloon for a meal and a libation—serious fans should make the 20-something minute trek to Wanship for a tour of the distillery where the spirits are made. And just outside of Park City is Deer Valley and the Montage Deer Valley hotel located on Empire Pass, right on the ski mountain. The uber-luxe property offers an incredibly cozy atmosphere and several restaurants for grabbing a bite or a drink. Make sure to stay until 8pm, when the s'mores setup comes out. This is an absolute don't-miss—we’re talking homemade marshmallows in every flavor imaginable. (Squeeze in a workout that day because you’re going to want more than one.)