12 Towns in Rural America Worth Detouring For

Plot a course along country roads and break up your stateside road trip with a visit to one of these 12 rural American towns

Promising breathtaking natural beauty and captivating histories, these bite-sized American towns make for the perfect weekend escape or road-trip pit stop. Venturing from the New England coast to a New Age mountain retreat, we've found the best places to escape the big city and get some low-key R&R.

12 rural American towns to add to your road-trip route



Framed by the cinematic Cascade Range, this Bavarian-style town is all charm. Visit during the holiday season, when twinkling lights are strung across Leavenworth's streets. Explore the snow-laden valleys on a horse-drawn sleigh ride or visit the Nutcracker Museum, where some 9,000 figurines make for especially festive entertainment. Book a stay in a LOGE Riverside cabin, overlooking the Wenatchee River, and feast on warm s'mores over the fire in one of its cosy outdoor community spaces. Oktoberfest is one of the town's key calendar dates, but Leavenworth wine country and the hiking trails threaded across the Pacific Northwest have year-round appeal.

Eureka Springs


Nestled in a deep valley, with gingerbread architecture giving way to a Victorian-era downtown, Eureka Springs is the turf of leather-clad bikers, hippies and Arkansas' most progressive LGBTQ+ policies. Experience the town's nightlife at a drag show hosted by the legendary Blaze Duvall at Eureka Live, or, for a different kind of pilgrimage, visit the state's two famed Christian landmarks: the 20m Christ of the Ozarks and Thorncrown Chapel. The entire area is on the National Register of Historic Places, so chain stores are banned. We recommend visiting Studio 34, a local art gallery reflecting the quirky and fun local attitude. Stay at the 1890s-built New Orleans Hotel, where timeless elegance meets southern hospitality. Relax in the natural springs that give the town its name or enjoy a zipline adventure through the Ozark Mountain forest.



A jewel on the Pacific Coast Highway, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a haven for creatives: Doris Day and Bing Crosby lived here, as did Brad and Jen, and Clint Eastwood is a former mayor. Flaxen sands, salt-sprayed cliffs and wispy cypress trees typical of the Monterey Peninsula are just a short walk from whimsical cottages and the independent boutiques and cafés of Ocean Avenue. Step into the Cottage of Sweets, a traditional British-style confectionery shop, and tour the authentically restored 18th-century Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo, a National Historic Landmark. Vagabond's House Inn is a warm and inviting boutique B&B that dates from the 1920s, decked out in English Tudor style. The city may be small but its calendar is big on events - the annual Carmel Bach Festival is a local favourite.



"Small town, big life" is Ketchum's motto. At the heart of Idaho's Sun Valley, it's a nirvana for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its hiking trails, whitewater rafting, hot springs and world-class ski runs. Yet nature isn't the only USP. Ernest Hemingway worked and died here - literary boffins should book room 228 (formerly suite 206) at the Sun Valley Resort, where the author completed For Whom the Bell Tolls. Get your culture fix at the Sun Valley Museum of Art, or admire high-altitude flora at Sawtooth Botanical Garden. Light pollution is strictly controlled in Ketchum, so, come nightfall, gaze skyward for stellar views of the Milky Way.



An 1880s water stop, this unassuming small city in the Chihuahuan Desert hit the headlines when artist Donald Judd moved here in 1971. Today, Marfa is a place of gas stations-turned-galleries, crystal-filled corner shops and laundromats serving lattes. For breakfast, grab a bite at Aster Marfa - the eggs benedict is legendary. Tour The Chinati Foundation's outdoor and indoor art installations - at sunrise is best - before driving along Highway 90 for Scandinavian duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset's famed Prada Marfa installation. Time your visit to coincide with the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love for good tunes, great art, camping, sandlot baseball and stargazing.



Step into a bygone era in this Midwestern town set on the banks of the Mississippi River, where trolley cars cruise down the six-block Main Street, gliding past 19th-century buildings that house small galleries, antique stores and independent boutiques. Lunch at local hotspot Fried Green Tomatoes, then walk it off with a stroll along the Galena River Trail, before poking around historical sites such as the home of Civil War hero and former US president Ulysses S. Grant. For meticulously handcrafted spirits, visit Blaum Bros Distilling Co, which was founded by two brothers. Stay at the Farmers Guest House, a homey B&B in an 1867-built house serving up farm-to-fork dishes in uniquely styled rooms.



If you loved The Proposal as much as we did, you've probably heard of this remote fishing settlement (although filming actually took place in Rockport, Massachusetts). Only accessible by air or sea, Sitka is prime territory for off-grid pursuits such as wildlife safaris, kayaking, hiking up the dormant volcano of Mount Edgecumbe and spotting totem poles in Sitka National Historic Park. Visitors may spy a few onion-shaped domes, too; the city of New Archangel, as Sitka was formerly known, served as the capital of Russian America until 1867. We recommend basing yourself at Dove Island Lodge, where each cabin is built with rich Alaskan yellow cedar and blessed with panoramic views of the wild Sitka Sound seascape.



Gazing over the Atlantic, this delightful New England village has a rich seafaring past and present. It's home to the US's leading maritime museum, centuries-old docks and an aquarium housing some of North America's only beluga whales - during Mystic's Holiday Boat Parade, even Santa arrives by tugboat. Stay at the central Spicer Mansion, a refined Victorian inn with sea views and a fine-dining restaurant. Some of Connecticut's best state beaches, including Misquamicut and Watch Hill, are within a 30-minute drive, too. Fans of the silver screen should stop by Mystic Pizza, the setting of the eponymous 1988 film starring Julia Roberts.



This small town, located between Yellowstone National Park and the jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons, isn't just for cowboys. With the best of the great outdoors on its doorstep - hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, paddling, fishing, wildlife spotting - and a mighty cultural offering - you'll spot a Warhol at the National Museum of Wildlife Art - plus a renowned dining scene, this town is a real crowd-pleaser. Come autumn, make tracks for the luxurious Rustic Inn, home to a full-service spa, outdoor pool, hot tub and sauna.



Watched over by Mount Mansfield, which, at 1,340m, is Vermont's highest peak, this quintessential New England town is known as the "Ski Capital of the East" thanks to its pristine, powder-dusted slopes. Stowe offers endless opportunities for dining, shopping and getting back to nature. Hiking, biking and canoeing are on tap year-round, but perhaps best enjoyed in autumn, when hickory, maple and birch trees paint the mountainside amber. Don't miss the Austrian-style Trapp Family Lodge, a chalet owned by the same von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame. Sweet tooth? Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory is in nearby Waterbury. We recommend an extra scoop of Phish Food for the road.

Taos Pueblo

New Mexico

Home to the Tiwa tribe for more than a millennium, this otherworldly Unesco World Heritage site is one of the oldest continually occupied places in the US. While much of the historic architecture and culture remains, the town is today a thriving artistic colony. Pueblo communities welcome visitors to experience their traditions. Take a guided tour of the historic pueblo, a collection of adobe structures dating back to 1000 AD. Tucked in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, its red-rock canyons and sapphire desert skies backdropped by snow-capped peaks have inspired painters, sculptors and writers since the late-19th century. Vistas along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway are nothing short of spectacular. Bed down in a vintage RV at Hotel Luna Mystica and drift off to sleep under locally made blankets in the wide-open desert.


North Carolina

The small town of Cashiers nestles in the valleys below the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home to the Nantahala National Forest, the area has some magnificent falls and mountain trails to explore. We're checking in at The Wells Hotel, a quaint, cabin-style offering, then grabbing a cold beer at Whiteside Brewing Company, next door, and enjoying the mountain air in nearby Sawyer Park. Chat with the baristas at Bucks Coffee Café while they whip you up a dreamy lavender iced latte, or visit Slab Town Pizza for a slice of its bestselling The Duke, topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ricotta and mozzarella. A visit to Cashiers wouldn't be complete without a hike up Whiteside Mountain or exploring Panthertown Valley, either. Often called the "Yosemite of the East", the landscape is dotted with gorges, cliffs and waterfalls.

This article was updated 28 November 2022. It contains affiliate links, which means SUITCASE may earn a small commission if you click through and book.

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