10 Great Small Towns for Big Vacations

These smaller communities are gateways to big adventure and vacations for the whole family.

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Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Michael H Spivak/Moment/Getty Images

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Small Towns for Big Vacations

The bright lights of big cities are great, but America's smaller communities offer some of the most breathtaking scenery and richest cultural experiences in the country. Here are just a few of our favorite small town getaways across the nation. (Pictured is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado).

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Located on the front doorstep of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is perfect for family getaways. Shop for everything from homemade taffy to moonshine along its picturesque main street, and take in 360-degree views from the Gatlinburg Space Needle that towers 40 stories above town. Zipline from the top of a mountain at the new Anakeesta theme park, and go from the mountain to the sea at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. In nearby Pigeon Forge, cool off at Dollywood Splash Country and Theme Park, and check out other attractions such as the Alcatraz East Crime Museum and the Titanic Museum Attraction.

Vernal, Utah

As the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal, Utah proudly claims its title of Dinosaurland. Fly fish or raft the Green River, boat Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area, camp and cliff dive at Steinaker State Park and Red Fleet State Park, and horseback ride, fish, mountain bike or just relax at Red Canyon Lodge.

Taos, New Mexico

Taos in northern New Mexico is nestled high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is home to Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO site that is among the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. Hike or ski at Ski Taos, shop for authentic Native American art on the historic town plaza, experience Taos' famous art culture at its museums and savor New Mexico’s famous chile-based cuisine at any number of restaurants in town.

Fredericksburg, Texas

Settled by German immigrants in 1846, Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country has one of the best Oktoberfests in the nation. In the spring bluebonnets cover fields, and in the summer the area wineries and orchards attract visitors. Learn about Fredericksburg’s most famous son, Admiral Chester Nimitz, at the National Museum of the Pacific War, and about the United States' 36th president at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, the "Western White House." Take a cooking class at Fischer & Wieser’s Culinary Adventure Cooking School, enjoy a local beer downtown and pamper yourself at Fredericksburg Herb Farm's spa after shopping Fredricksburg's charming main street.

Chatham, Massachusetts

The seaside town of Chatham on the elbow of Cape Cod has public beaches perfect for playing and seashell collecting, as well as quiet inland freshwater ponds for kayaking and swimming. Its charming main street is lined with local shops and restaurants, and on Friday summer nights the Chatham Bandstand is hopping with live big band music. Cheer for the Chatham Anglers baseball team at Veterans Field, then enjoy a Cape Codder on Chatham Bars Inn’s porch.

Tallahassee, Florida

What Tallahassee, Florida, lacks in beaches it more than makes up for in Florida culture and adventure. Grab a plate of Ernestine Fryson’s famous fried catfish and hushpuppies while experiencing the best of the blues at the Bradfordville Blues Club, zip line through a cypress swamp at the 52-acre Tallahassee Museum, paddle one of Tallahassee’s five rivers and swim in one of the world’s largest freshwater springs at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.

Durango, Colorado

Tucked in the southwest corner of Colorado, the Victorian mining town of Durango near Mesa Verde National Park is a family-friendly adventure-sports playground. Mountain and road biking, kayaking and rafting the Animas River, hiking the San Juan Mountains and skiing and snowboarding at nearby Purgatory Resort are a few favorite adrenalin-fueled pursuits here. At night, enjoy casual fine-dining and local brewpubs downtown, which is filled with local shops. Take the steam-powered Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to Silverton, some 50 miles to the north through breathtaking mountain scenery, and enjoy any number of community events that take place in town throughout the year, including January’s Snowdown and May’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.

Cody, Wyoming

Named for Buffalo Bill Cody, Cody is steeped in Wild West history. Just 30 miles from the eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Cody celebrates the West with the century-old Buffalo Bill Center of the West that details Plains Indians cultures, the area’s natural history, Western firearms and art. At the Heart Mountain WWII Interpretive Center, learn about the Japanese-Americans who were interned here during the Second World War. Watch cowboys and cowgirls test their skills at Cody Stampede rodeo events, and camp under the starts at Buffalo Bill State Park.

Lodi, California

Perfect for couples, this small city 40 miles south of Sacramento plays a big role in California’s wine industry. Lodi has become a destination for wine lovers who are especially interested in production, and with more than 113,000 acres of vineyards that include Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi is called the Zinfandel Capital of the World. More than 85 wineries including Michael David, Berghold and Lucas call Lodi home and have tasting rooms. Lodi is also known for its olive production, some of which may be sampled at Olive Drop Olive Oil. Enjoy the grounds, rooms, restaurant and spa at Wine & Roses and stroll Lodi’s downtown that’s filled with local shops and tasting rooms. On Thursdays, May through August, downtown streets are closed for Lodi’s extensive farmers market.

Bentonville, Arkansas

Sam Walton opened his small 5&10 store on Bentonville’s town square in 1950, and today that storefront is the Walmart Museum that highlights the times and growth of one of world’s largest companies. Walton’s daughter, Alice, funded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that opened in 2011, a free museum that features treasures such as Gilvert Stuart’s "George Washington" (the portrait that appears on the $1 bill) and Norman Rockwell’s "Rosie the Riveter" (pictured). Bentonville’s woods have become a mecca for mountain bikers, and art ranging from the contemporary found at 21C Museum Hotel to folk art at Terra Studios has made Bentonville a weekend destination for a wide range of visitors.

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