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Maybe you love becoming one with nature, but hate giving up modern day creature comforts. So why not have both? Your best option: small town America. Across the United States, many communities provide close proximity to the personal solace and physical endurance offered in nature, but with solid choices on where to eat or stay at day’s end. Here are eight small towns for escaping to nature and still being back in time for dinner:

Also: These are Wisconsin’s most charming small towns

bar harbor maine

Bar Harbor, Maine | Flickr CC: Dana Moos

Bar Harbor, Maine

Neighboring Acadia National Park, this island town holds its own with outdoor attractions. From heading out on the water to going around town, there are tours for seasonal whale watching, wind jamming, carriage rides and walking, plus the opportunity to go onboard vessels like a Downeast-style lobster boat. To further your appreciation for marine life, check the local tide schedule to quickly observe the tidepoolson Arcadia’s Wonderland Trail. For family fun, visit Mount Desert Oceanarium, an educational center. If window browsing is more your thing, Bar Harbor is stocked with mom and pop businesses for finding “made in Maine” goodies or something to eat from cafés and restaurants.

Murrells Inlet-south carolina

Lego sculptures at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina | Flickr CC: Forsaken Fotos

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

This fishing village is surrounded by outdoor splendor. A short drive away, Brookgreen Gardens has a massive outdoor sculpture collection, zoo and butterfly garden, plus boat rides and trail tours highlighting this lowcounty garden/wildlife preserve’s past as a set of rice plantations. Bonus: Admission tickets are good for seven consecutive days, so a return trip is a definite possibility. Huntington Beach State Park is great for bird watching, heading on a bike trail or walking around Atalaya Castle, the former winter home for industrialist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, who founded Brookgreen Gardens. As for dining, wander along MarshWalk, a wooden pathway linked to eateries, bars and live music venues. Consider Wicked Tuna, whose fishermen deliver the day’s catch straight to the restaurant; Hot Fish Club for its open-air gazebo; and Drunken Jack’s, which plays off the area’s pirate history.

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado |Flickr CC: paurian

Estes Park, Colorado

As the base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park gives visitors not only a good taste of the outdoors, but also a growing beer, wine and distillery scene. For example, Snowy Peaks Winery uses Colorado-grown grapes and has a “no-wine-ing” zone for the younger set (who can partake in juice tastings). For dining, find choices in American cuisine like Twin Owls Steakhouse or Cascades Restaurant. Getting back to nature, check out Estes Park Memorial Observatory, a science education center; Open Air Adventure Park, with more than 30 aerial obstacles; and, of course, Rocky Mountain National Park, with ranger-led programs year-round. As for lodging, check out the Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park | Flickr CC: John Menard

Watkins Glen, New York

This village south of Seneca Lake has what’s considered to be the most well known state park belonging to the Finger Lakes region. With its lower part near the village, and the upper half being open woodland, Watkins Glen State Park is lined with a path of trails and bridges and locations for camping and fishing. It’s easy to spend a full day or two at this park, as its Gorge Trail leads visitors along the park’s 19 waterfalls. In town, find good eats ranging from casual to upscale settings with cafésand restaurants. TheColonial Pottery & Creamery churns out homemade small batch ice cream while Rooster Fish Brewing serves up small batch beers and seasonal/specialty brews on tap and GRAFT wine + cider bar has quite a selection of New York State wines and hard ciders.

bryson city-north carolina

Bryson City | Flickr CC: Wagon16

Bryson City, North Carolina

Five minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City provides many waterside activities, thanks to being linked to lakes, rivers, and trout streams. It’s also very easy to stroll around. Make stops at local bookstores, bike shops, artisan arts/crafts galleries, history museums, a microbrewery, or a mix of bistros and restaurants like The Filling Station Deli & Sub Shop or the breakfast-centered Mountain Perks. And for all ages, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad keeps on chugging. It offers two excursion rides from Bryson City, one trekking along Tuckasegee River through a tunnel to Dillsboro (passing by the wreckage of the train used in the movie, “The Fugitive”), and the other across Fontana Lake to the Nantahala River Gorge.

Mendocino, California

Mendocino, California

Mendocino, California

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this North Coast village gets a lot of artistic attention, and the quaint scenery is probably the reason why. Don’t be surprised to see plein-air painters and photographers at work around town, capturing its Cape Cod vibe on their canvases or through their lenses. At nearby Mendocino Headlands State Park, discover sea bluffs and inlets and observe spring wildflowers or the winter migration of grey whales. Back in town, vintage buildings weathered by time have been repurposed as shops, restaurants, and B&Bs, but Mendocino’s past is still ripe for rediscovery via a visit to Ford House Museum. And speaking of art, view local talent at Mendocino Art Centeror Artists’ Co-Op of Mendocino.

Taos, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico | Flickr CC: Larry Lamsa

Taos, New Mexico

This northern New Mexico town has an invigorating combination of nature including forest, mountain and desert areas that seemingly blend harmoniously. A 30-minute drive away, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument has a ton of hiking trails, fishing spots and scenic points from which to choose. Near central Taos, Carson National Forest contains Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point (at a whopping 13,361 feet). The overall outdoor scenery also compliments Taos’ pueblo architecture and Southwestern cuisine. Epicureans will find everything from farm to table settings, like the one at the organic focused restaurant, the Love Apple, to fine dining and microbreweries.

woodstock - vermont

Woodstock, Vermont

Vermont has its share of charming towns, but this one holds something extra: the state’s only national park. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is graced with sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlock trees, woodland carriage roads and trails and a Queen Anne mansion where three conservation-minded families over the course of two centuries once lived. Hiking trails are a plenty, with some linked to the park or readily accessible in town from Mount Peg. Woodstock is picturesque in its own right, with a covered bridge smack in its center and a village green surrounded by Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival-style homes. Meal choices go from upscale, like the Red Rooster at the Woodstock Inn, to casual such as Mon Vert Café. Plus, get your fix of maple syrup and cheese at Sugarbush Farm.

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Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann

Michele writes about women's travel, destinations, culinary, and cultural topics for various outlets and has ventured as far as Fiji, to date. She also muses her tales on She Is Going Places.

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