7 Cool Small Towns for Escaping the Summer Heat

by  Teresa Bitler | May 11, 2015
Christine Wei
Christine Wei / Nobska Lighthouse

Summer -- and the heat that comes with it -- is just around the corner. Escape the ever-escalating temperatures with a vacation in one of these cool small towns.

Durango, Colorado: Situated along the San Juan Mountains, this railroad town offers a pleasant escape from the Southwest’s blister summer temperatures. And there’s plenty to do. Ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad north to the historic mining community of Silverton or raft the Lower Animas River through Durango. If you want to pick up the speed, head to the greened ski slopes of nearby Purgatory, where you can zipline, race down Alpine slides, and mountain bike. In town, shop the boutiques and dine at upscale restaurants and five breweries.

Woods Hole, Massachusetts: A “salty, sea spray village,” Woods Hole balances Cape Cod charm with scientific research. It's home to the Woods Hole Science Aquarium , the nation’s oldest, established in 1875; the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution , featuring interactive displays; and OceanQuest , which hosts six themed cruises including a Hands-On Discovery one. Break up the science by visiting local galleries, strolling past the Nobska Lighthouse, or catching the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. (For more ideas, check out our Woods Hole and Falmouth Cape Cod weekend guide .)

Traverse City, Michigan: The self-proclaimed cherry capital of the world, Traverse City sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. Celebrate the harvest with u-pick opportunities from mid-June through July (tasting cherry treats is recommended year-round). You can also relax on the lake’s shores, taste the offerings of Leelanau Peninsula’s wineries, or meander the downtown area. We highly recommend visiting American Spoon for its artisanal preserves and Grand Traverse Distillery for its vodka.

Hood River, Oregon: Surrounded by peach, cherry, and apple orchards, this port city sits 60 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River. Winds coming through the Columbia River Gorge make it a premier destination for windsurfing and kite surfing, but it's also a great base for exploring wine country or a day trip to Mt. Hood. And don't forget one of the most popular activities here for locals and visitors alike: exploring the spectacular waterfalls along the Columbia River.

Bryson City, North Carolina: If you're looking for an active outdoor escape, Bryson City just might fit the bill. Located on the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the city serves as a launching point for whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing adventures. Prefer to take it easy? Enjoy the scenery from the comfort of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California: Clint Eastwood was once the mayor of this upscale hamlet -- where there are no chain restaurants or street addresses, and where you’re required to obtain a permit to wear high heels. (Ice cream cones on city streets was against the rules, too, but that's changed also thanks to Eastwood.) Explore the thatched-roof storefronts of Carmel Village, play in the waves along white-sand beaches, or cruise the Seventeen Mile Drive for photo ops of the iconic Lone Cypress and Pebble Beach Golf Course.

Sitka, Alaska: Summer is the best time to visit this island community along the Alaska Panhandle. Book a whale-watching tour, fish for salmon, or learn about birds of prey at the Alaska Raptor Center. Want to see a brown bear? Fortress of the Bear, which rescues orphaned bear cubs, is open to the public. Sitka is also a great destination for history buffs. Stop at Sitka National Historic Park (Totem Park), the Russian Bishop’s House, and St. Michael’s Cathedral.

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