Phoenicia, New York
Phoenicia is a small community that’s gained a big reputation as a Catskill Mountains destination. As a hamlet in the town of Shandaken, Phoenicia is home to only about 300 people, but it has been discovered in a big way.
“We’re a very quaint and quirky hamlet in the middle of the mountains, and it’s always been a place where there’s room for everybody,” said Dave Pillard, co-president of Phoenicia Business Association. “It’s nice that a younger generation has been catching on to the Catskills, but everybody is always welcome.”
Like nearby Woodstock, Phoenicia is a Catskills artist community, and local artists open their doors every July for the Phoenicia Art Studio Tour.
Several public and private campgrounds are located nearby, and the area is a hiking haven, Pillard said. During the fall, drivers and hikers looking for fall foliage flock to the area.
The community follows the banks of Esopus Creek, where the pristine water makes it a premier fly-fishing destination, and Catskill Mountain Angler leads groups on guided fishing trips. The creek also makes Phoenicia “the tubing capital of America,” he said. Local outfitters such as Town Tinker Tube Rental and F-S Tube Rental rent out tubes and drive visitors to the put-in spot, where everyone floats down the river to their starting point.
In the winter, skiing is popular at two nearby ski resorts: Belleayre Mountain Ski Center and Hunter Mountain. Hunter Mountain also offers festivals, concerts, hiking, disc golf and fly-fishing.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico, sometimes struggles with a misunderstanding about its geography. People hear the word “Mexico” or envision a Southwestern setting and immediately think the city is located in the desert. Make no mistake: Santa Fe is a mountain town.
“They think it will be too hot to come out in June, or they think it will be some kind of Floridian experience if they came out in December,” said John Feins, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe. “Some people have no idea about how mountainous and how green and how gorgeous it is.”
At 7,200 feet, the city is the nation’s highest-elevation state capital and is nestled in the southern Rocky Mountains in the Sangre de Cristo subrange. Ski Santa Fe is located in the adjacent Santa Fe National Forest just 15 miles northeast of the iconic downtown plaza.
Surrounded by that kind of nature, opportunities for groups to enjoy it are nearly limitless. Some tour operators, including Outspires, Walkabouts and Santa Fe Mountain Adventures, lead visitors on custom tours that can be tailored to any interest: hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and more.
People “are definitely into hitting the Rio Grande, and the settings are dramatic,” Feins said. White-water rafting is popular seasonally, and several outfitters, such as Kokopelli Rafting Adventures and New Mexico River Adventures, can take groups onto the river.
Santa Fe Jeep Tours and 4×4 By Fun take groups into the wilderness on four-wheeling trails, and nearby ranches, including Bishop’s Lodge and Broken Saddle Riding Co., offer horseback riding.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge may be known as a tourist town where visitors can tour a wax museum, take in a lumberjack show or stop by Dollywood, but the city is a mountain town that serves as a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The park includes more than half a million acres and is home to Clingmans Dome and Mount LeConte, the second- and third-highest peaks in the park, respectively. Although Clingmans Dome can’t be seen from Pigeon Forge, the town offers several opportunities, some unexpected, to enjoy views of Mount LeConte, said Tom Adkinson, spokesman for the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism.
The 200-foot-tall skywheel at the Island at Pigeon Forge “is a spectacular way to see Mount LeConte,” he said, and the Wonders of Flight attraction takes passengers 500 feet up in the air. The Hollywood Wax Museum also has an observation deck overlooking the mountains.
But to enjoy the mountains, receptive operators in town are great with step-on guide services for touring the park, Adkinson said, and the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism can provide narrators and guides for motorcoach groups.
With more than 800 miles of trails in the park, groups can enjoy a range of hikes. The Sugarlands Visitor Center, which was recently renovated, “has a great museum and has a fantastic film about the park and is the best way to start,” Adkinson said.
Jackson, Wyoming, serves as a gateway for thousands of visitors to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and is a hugely popular ski destination in the winter.
Snake River runs just outside Jackson, and its tributary Flat Creek runs through town. Several outfitters can take groups on rafting trips on the Snake River, either on adrenaline-pumping rapids or on calmer sections that deliver views of wilderness and wildlife, including eagles, said Kate Foster, communications manager for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.
For an entirely different type of rafting trip, Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures takes groups on river floats on 17-foot and 20-foot wooden boats. Owner AJ DeRosa and his guides lead trips to the company’s tepee camp, where guests can have enjoy appetizers, cocktails and dinner.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, about 12 miles northwest of town, isn’t only for snow sports; the resort has been developing its mountain bike trails over the past several years, Foster said. Groups can rent mountain bikes, sign up for mountain biking lessons and take guided tours.
Snow King ski area, which sits on the southern edge of the city, has also been building up its summer offerings to offset its winter sports. On Saturdays in June, visitors can ride the chairlift and get a free beer, and “the views are just crazy,” Foster said. The resort is also building a mountain coaster and a zip-line course that will open later this summer.