The Best Mountain Towns

01 Nov 12
The Best Mountain Towns

Best Outdoor City

Chattanooga has been getting a lot of press in the outdoor industry the last couple years. This is no accident. This city has undergone one of the great revitalizations in modern American history, completely transforming itself from grim pollution spewer, to clean outdoor mecca. I had a blast exploring the city and talking to the locals about what the city was and what it is now.

Best Mid-Sized Mountain Town

Though I had visited Roanoke many times during my lifetime, when I visited Roanoke for this story, it was like seeing the city for the first time. Roanoke has fully committed to being a destination for the outdoors and it is reflected everywhere. From the city government to the lifetime residents to the medical school transplants, people are focused on the city’s image as a place where the active lifestyle, and all that goes with it, can thrive.

Best Small Mountain Town

What struck me about Hot Springs on my trip there was the kindness of the locals. This is a small town with a huge heart, and that is what truly endears it to the people who pass through or come to visit the springs. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows when a hiker, or a reporter, comes through town. Besides all the recreation opportunities, which are numerous, this welcoming atmosphere is what really defines Hot Springs.

Mountain Towns map


No concrete criteria exist to quantify what makes a mountain town or how you achieve such a distinction. Not every town at a high elevation is a mountain town, but not every mountain town is in the actual mountains.

So what makes a good mountain town? The simple answer, to quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, is “I know it when I see it.” You can usually tell if that dot on the map has an outdoor culture the minute you pull into town. Commuters on bikes, runners on a lunchtime jog, or a full tasting room at the local brewery are all good indicators you are in the midst of a mountain town paradise. These things are a big hint that the outdoor lifestyle is central to what makes up the fabric of a community, but ultimately they are a result and not a cause.

The single most important aspect of a mountain town is, and always will be, the people. You can have all the open space and money in the world, but it is the people of any given town that define it as true mountain town or not. Without a community committed to building the infrastructure, you are left with just a town in the mountains, not a mountain town. It is the people that enable a place like Chattanooga to transform their city from the most polluted in America to the most progressive; or a sleepy stopover like Damascus, Virginia to become “Trail Town, USA.”

That’s the funny thing about outdoor recreation: it takes a commitment from the people to maintain.  Trails need clearing, rivers need cleaning, and access needs protecting. It would be easy for Asheville to rest on the laurels of its already robust outdoor reputation, but the community is constantly striving to improve the opportunities for its citizens to access the outdoors in any way possible.

Sure, bike lanes and municipal parks are great—really great—but the bottom line is these improvements attract the type of person who will settle in a town and open an independent outdoor outfitter or climbing hostel. It is this independent, can-do spirit that sustains a mountain town’s economy and infrastructure for decades to come. What makes mountain towns special is the combination of local governments, entrepreneurs, conservationists, artists, and local outdoor enthusiasts working together to maintain their happy little hamlets.

We also wanted to thank our supporters who helped make the Mountain Towns poll such a success. They have always been great supporters of our mission: inspiring people to go outside and play!

Don’t forget to vote in our Best of the Blue Ridge poll where you choose your favorite things across from across the region!


  • […] Read the full article on Roanoke, and the rest of our Best Mountain Town poll winners here. […]

    Video: Best Mountain Town Roanoke, Va. — Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine   28 Jan 13, 12:44 pm

  • […] Read the full article on Hot Springs, and the rest of our Best Mountain Town poll winners here. […]

    Video: Best Mountain Town Hot Springs, N.C. — Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine   28 Jan 13, 12:13 pm


    Candy Rutledge   25 Dec 12, 11:28 pm

  • I have lived in several of these towns; some, Boone, Greenville, Sylva, Brevard, Asheville, and Bryson City are really cool. However, some of the towns on this list should not qualify: Tri-Cities , Charlotte, Raliegh, and DC?

    Charlie smith   26 Nov 12, 8:34 pm

  • […] Outdoor enthusiasts are certainly taking notice of Chattanooga’s growing presence as one of the country’s best mountain towns. Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine recently named the city as ‘The Best Outdoor City’ in the nation. Check out the article here. […]

    Outdoor Adventure Awaits in Chattanooga | Tennessee Triptales   20 Nov 12, 4:33 pm

  • No Blackburg? I don’t get it, how’s it not a “great mountain town”? It’s in the mountains (unlike Charlottesville, Charlotte, DC, Richmond, Raleigh), has great bike infrastructure, a local brewery, is 15 minutes away from rafting on the New River, mountain biking at Pandapas Pond, unlimited hiking trails, etc.

    Graham   19 Nov 12, 6:57 pm

  • Please add me to your e-subscription list!

    Bob Broadbear   10 Nov 12, 7:54 pm

  • Kudos to your magazine for the informative article about Best Mountain Towns. So much information I had to read it over and over. I also enjoyed the parochial reaction from many who felt their towns were underrated or not covered. Its refreshing to see people expressing civic pride. I hope the summary article by Will Harlan entitled, “Where the Heart Is” finds its way to the desk of every city politician in every mountain town in America. As the author correctly points out the future of our communities is in our hands but keep in mind that our voices can be silenced by an unscrupulous politician whose self- interest receives a higher value than our collective will.

    M. Redman   08 Nov 12, 1:43 am

  • Rosie,

    Thanks for your comment. You are correct, the hot springs in Hot Springs are not like in Colorado where you can just go out and take a dip. These East Coast hot springs are on private land, and have been since the founding of the town. Also, they are not structured like your western hot springs in that they are not streams of hot water but literally bubble out of the ground and are then pumped across the river to the spa. Luckily, the tubs are great and there is plenty of other parts of Hot Springs to enjoy!

    Thanks for reading!

    – Jack

    Jack Murray   06 Nov 12, 2:40 pm

  • So happy that Hot Springs won, however, you can’t visit the springs. You can only enjoy the “springs” by getting in a hot tub at the Hot Springs Spa. I think your article is misleading because it makes it seem that you can hike to some springs and just jump in. Yes, I have done that in Colorado, but it’s not possible in Hot Springs.

    rosie   06 Nov 12, 2:22 pm

  • Soooo happy to live in Roanoke!

    Katrina   02 Nov 12, 10:20 pm

  • My Daddy is from Hot Springs, I grew up in Knoxville Tn and spent my summers, vacations and holidays in HS and had the privilege of moving there 17 years ago for 5 years and I love HS with all the love I have. The people are wonderful, they take care of each other and you can go there and always feel the love, God Bless Hot Springs and all the locals there!!! They are Fabulous!!!!!!!

    David Treadway   02 Nov 12, 3:43 pm

  • Roanoke over Asheville? Hmmmm. Roanoke is a nice town and all, but hmmm.

    Doug Sahm   02 Nov 12, 3:28 pm

  • Roger,

    Thanks for the comment. Martinsville is certainly on the up and up in the outdoors scene. I was down at the Smith River Fest with the BRO Roadshow earlier this year and definitely felt the enthusiasm from the great crowd there. Everyone that stopped by the tent was really on board with Martinsville pumping up their outdoor image, and I’m sure they will be in the mix very soon. I am also really looking forward to doing some fishing on the Smith either this spring or possibly sooner. Thanks again for reading!

    – Jack

    Jack Murray   02 Nov 12, 10:13 am

  • I live in Martinsville, Va and while we are a newcomer to the outdoor scene, we are growing our outdoor opportunities and have some great things to do. We have an award winning 4.5 mile rail trail, The Dick and Willie Trail, the Smith River that is great for fishing and rafting and 25 different park facilities many with hiking trails.

    Philpott Lake is a beautiful lake that is great for boating and fishing. Henry County Parks and Recreation is building a new marina on the lake next year that will be great for boaters looking to keep their boat on the lake.

    Roger Adams   02 Nov 12, 10:06 am

  • Jack,
    Thanks for mentioning RootsRated. It might be helpful for your readers, and certainly helpful for us, if you would insert a hyperlink to the website.

    Kind Regards,

    Fynn Glover   02 Nov 12, 10:04 am

  • I love you nominated a town close to me as a contender for for Best Small Mountain Town, Blairsville GA! Hiawassee is way closer to Brasstown Bald as the crow flies and in driving distance. Also, the little town of Hiawassee is closer to two jumping off points on the Appalachian Trail, Unicoi and Dick’s Creek Gaps, and is a great resupply location for AT thru-hikers. It also boasts one of the largest lakes in N. Georgia, Lake Chatuge, with great water skiing, wakeboarding, trophy striper fishing, sightseeing, and is an 8000 acre stand-up paddling paradise. Book a SUP tour, or rent a board, from Southern Water Trails. Think about us, the next time you guys are looking at the Best Small Mountain Towns in the Blue Ridge!

    Linc Stallings   01 Nov 12, 7:49 pm

  • I agree with Hot Springs for sure. The Mountain Magnolia Inn is there! Enough said!

    Rich & Bambi Berman   01 Nov 12, 5:49 pm

  • […] Check out the following link and scroll about 1/4 of the way down for the article on Roanoke. The Best Mountain Towns Roanoke beat out both Asheville and Morgantown (among others) to win the […]

    Roanoke wins title of Best Mid-Sized Mountain Town - Roanoke - Salem area - City-Data Forum   01 Nov 12, 4:45 pm

  • Lauren,

    It’s pretty awesome that you have lived in both these great cities! In my addendum to the piece (“What Makes a Good Mountain Town?” at the bottom), I try to explain that our definition of a “mountain town” is not reserved exclusively to those towns at the highest elevation – although that certainly helps. Richmond has all the trappings of a true mountain town – trails, rivers, vibe, etc., except for that one thing.
    While it is true that Richmond is technically not in the mountains, the city’s enthusiasm and commitment to the outdoors is what makes it a “Mountain Town” in our eyes.

    Por ejemplo: When I visited the Florida Keys, it immediately reminded me more of Jackson Hole than, say, the Outer Banks because the fish bum vibe of the locals was almost exactly like that of the ski bum vibe out West. It would be very hard (ok, impossible) to call the Florida Keys a mountain town, but ultimately it is the people that make the difference.

    Thanks for reading!

    – Jack

    Jack Murray   01 Nov 12, 4:21 pm

  • This article is a little bit confusing to me. I grew up in Chattanooga and have now lived in Richmond for two and a half years and LOVE both cities, but I have to say that a major difference between them is this: Chattanooga has mountains, Richmond… doesn’t. I mean, I suppose you could drive a few hours out and find some, but while Richmond is certainly a “river” city, it’s not a “mountain” city. I guess we have some big hills…? I’m not complaining about Richmond being included, I appreciate seeing its name all over the news, but I’d prefer that its publicity be accurate.

    Lauren   01 Nov 12, 3:59 pm

  • Trey,

    As a graduate of one of those two colleges, I can agree with you on Lexington’s appeal as a mountain/valley town. Unfortunately, we could not include all the towns of the Blue Ridge, and I’m sure we missed many others worthy of the title. Fortunately, on the other hand, we will have more opportunities to feature destinations like Lexington in our magazine and will keep any suggestions in mind.

    Thanks for your input and for reading BRO!

    – Jack

    Jack Murray   01 Nov 12, 3:25 pm

  • While technically a valley town, I was disappointed to see a huge empty circle where Lexington, VA should be. With its two colleges, great coffee, and numerous other attractions its a big miss in the small town category.

    Trey Shehan   01 Nov 12, 2:44 pm

  • […] Read the full article on Chattanooga, and the rest of our Best Mountain Town poll winners here. […]

    Video: Best Mountain Town Chattanooga, Tenn. — Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine   01 Nov 12, 11:53 am

  • any one of these towns are great destinations and places to live. i can personally attest to lewisburg, greenville, chattanooga, and roanoke as awesome places to visit or make home as well as many of the smaller hamlets and the already discovered like asheville and charlottesville.roanoke and chattanooga were my choices and i think anyone should look at greenville as a perfect example of what can be done with an influx of capital.roanoke needs to keep moving in this directionbut its going to take investment and a more activist local govt. one only needs to look at the $#$% up over building soccer feilds for the local soccer clubs to get an idea of the intransigent mentalities of some entrenched interests and politicians. theres no reason why roanoke cant look like asheville within the next 5 yrs, and a more affordable less pretentious version at that!

    athy   01 Nov 12, 11:05 am

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