Every adventure needs a great base camp—a place to stock up on provisions, hire a guide, and grab a cold drink at the end of the day. Here are the nine top towns for climbing, hiking, paddling, and exploring, with tips from locals on their favorite hangouts.
1. Moab, Utah
While Moab doesn’t have the same quaint feel as a trekking town, it’s a central access point to some of the most beautiful parks in the United States. Within a short drive, you’re surrounded by the surreal red rocks of Arches National Park. Or the scenic Island in the Sky, the towering viewpoint of Canyonlands National Park, where you can gaze over hundreds of miles of colorful canyons. Or the La Sal Mountains, which reach heights of nearly 13,000 feet, giving visitors a chance to climb in alpine forest. Maria Olschewski, who runs a mountain bike tour company in town, says her favorite day trip is to Dead Horse Point State Park for incredible views of the Colorado River snaking by 2,000 feet below.
There are so many mountain bike trails—trail rides, technical rides, and lung-crushing cross-country routes—in the area that it’s hard to ride them all in one trip. Olschewski says that for those just starting out, the Klondike Singletrack offers a good mix of challenging sections as well as places to pick your head up and just enjoy the lunar rockscape. But her favorite route for advanced riders is the Porcupine Rim, a trail that limns a 200-foot cliff overlooking one of the most scenic valleys in canyon country. Tight and fast turns swing through the juniper woodlands and pine forest with technical drops along the way.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, Atomic is a local burger favorite. Or if you feel like splurging, Desert Bistro offers flamenco music and pork loin. Moab Brewery is a good place to round out the night with a Dead Horse Amber Ale or Rocket Bike Amber Lager. As you’d expect, there are plenty of hidden gems to be discovered in downtown Moab.
Local entrepreneurs have answered the call of outdoor enthusiasts with a slew of bike shops and outdoor stores, and there’s even several well-stocked used-gear exchanges for the bargain shopper. During the summer you may need lodging reservations well in advance of your visit, but in the off-season it’s possible to score killer deals, including at the several three-star hotels in town. Arches shows off its most spectacular colors with a fresh coating of snow.
When to Go: September is a happy medium, but for people who aren’t afraid of a little snow, winter is a great time to visit.