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Great Adventures

Hit the great outdoors and escape with these destinations

Traveling may double as an opportunity to relax and rejuvenate if one chooses the right locale. Small but cozy towns that still offer great attractions, dining opportunities and a chance to revive in nature may be just what the doctor ordered if you’re looking to escape the harried life, even if only for a few days. 

Here are adorable towns where life may run slower but the adventure remains, perfect getaways for an autumn trip.

Great Adventures

Ojai, California

It only takes 90 minutes to leave Los Angeles and enter paradise. The charming arts community of Ojai, pronounced O-Hi, is an oasis of tranquility. It’s no wonder the 1939 film “The Lost Horizon” was made here, but most will remember the town from 2010’s “Easy A” with Emma Stone.

The name means “The Nest” in the Chumash language, a tribe that once inhabited the gentle valley inside the Topatopa Mountains. The location is so ideal, folks pause at sunset to watch the “pink moment” settle among the mountains.

Because Ojai attracts artists, there are numerous art galleries with annual artistic events and film festivals. Restaurants, bed and breakfasts, resorts with decadent spas fill the small town and events happen regularly, such as concerts, film screenings and guided outdoors activities. 

Where to stay: Travel+Leisure named Ojai Valley Inn one of the “Best Hotels in the World” and it’s easy to see why. The resort sits on 220 acres with a variety of experiences, including numerous pools, seven dining outlets and a 31,000-square-foot spa.

Enjoy: Boccali’s family owned roadside garden-to-table restaurant has been serving the Ojai valley since 1986.

Don’t miss: Browse Bart’s Books’ thousands of used and new books while getting a tan. The store is known as the world’s largest outdoor bookstore.


Great Adventures

Jasper, Arkansas

It’s a straight shot up Interstate 40 past Little Rock to reach the Ozark mountains. Get off the main drag on to Scenic Route 7, however, and a peace descends. 

Route 7 ascends from the flat farmlands at the Louisiana border to the sweeping Ozarks near the Missouri state line. The curvy road popular with motorcyclists gains altitude the farther north one travels. Once past Little Rock, drivers will pass the “Grand Canyon of the Ozarks” and enter the region where flows the Buffalo National River, America’s first river to be designated such a title.

A sweet town to pause and savor mountain life is Jasper, with its courthouse square, antique shops and restaurants. Outdoors enthusiasts wanting to enjoy the Buffalo may also use Jasper as a home base, for whitewater, paddling, fishing and hiking are just a few miles north.

Where to stay: Rooms, suites and a cabin are available at the historic Arkansas House in downtown Jasper and the property overlooks the Little Buffalo River.

Enjoy: The legendary Ozark Café has been serving up home cooking for more than 100 years. Check out the walls of photos.

Don’t miss: The annual Buffalo River Elk Festival held in June celebrates the reintroduction of Eastern elk to the region. Newton County is known as the Elk Capital of Arkansas.


Great Adventures

Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee

Nashville entrepreneur and preservationist Aubrey Preston — who founded the American Music Triangle and restored the historic RCA Studio A on Nashville’s Music Row — moved to the historic and remote village of Leiper’s Fork in 1991, a sweet hamlet outside of Nashville.

“We fell in love with what a cool place it was,” he recalled. “I thought, I have to tell people about this.”

Preston worked to bring Leiper’s Fork to life, enticing numerous country music stars to the peaceful village that’s both a decent drive to Nashville and close to the Natchez Trace. The cozy town of adorable vacation rentals, boutique shops, art studios and galleries and restaurants still retains that country feel in what is now touted by tourism and Preston as Tennessee’s “Big Back Yard.” 

“People come to Nashville for country music and say, ‘Where’s the country?’” Preston said. “And now we pull out a map and say, ‘It’s the Big Back Yard.’”

Where to stay: The 1939 Picker’s Cottage that’s been superbly restored and decorated. It’s a quick walk to town, but off the main road enough to offer a peaceful stay.

Enjoy: Start with RedByrd for coffee, Leiper’s Fork Distillery for a nightcap.

Don’t miss: Locals and visitors alike enjoy Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant for its open mic night for you’ll never know who will show up to perform on its stage.


Great Adventures

Dahlonega, Georgia

Deer hunter Benjamin Parks tripped over a rock in the northeast Georgia mountains and found a nugget connected to one of the largest gold deposits east of the Mississippi River. The 1828 find initiated a gold rush and started the town of Dahlonega, once a haven for Cherokee.  

Today, visitors may learn about the Georgia Gold Rush at the Dahlonega Gold Museum inside the Old Lumpkin County Courthouse, including that it’s Dahlonega’s gold gracing the Georgia State Capitol dome. Every fall, the town celebrates this history with the Gold Rush Days Festival, this year on Oct. 15-16.

Surrounding the courthouse in the historic district is a quaint collection of boutiques, spas, antique shops and restaurants. In addition to the picturesque town, there are numerous wineries, scenic drives, waterfalls and other outdoor fun in the surrounding countryside. 

Where to stay: Nature and privacy is what visitors find at The Mountain Top Lodge bed and breakfast hotel, retreat and wedding venue on 15 acres that’s only six minutes from the town. Stay Dahlonega rentals puts visitors in nature, from treehouse nooks to houses sleeping 10 by a waterfall.

Enjoy: Family-style food and atmosphere is what The Smith House is all about — and there’s even a gold mine shaft lying beneath the building. 

Don’t Miss: Every year the town hosts a postcard-style Old Fashioned Christmas, which is why two holiday-themed Hallmark movies were filmed here.


Great Adventures

Manitou Springs, Colorado

It’s a short drive from Colorado Springs, about 75 miles from Denver, to reach the eclectic village of Manitou Springs at the base of Pikes Peak. It’s a town of coffin races, castles and the annual October “Skeleton Craze,” where residents and businesses try to outdo each other decorating skeletons.

The town dates to Native Americans visiting for the hot and bubbly magnesium- and iron-rich waters which later European settlers hoped the springs would cure what ailed them. Today, visitors can sip the water straight from fountains throughout town and SunWater Spa lets bathers seep in the town’s famous hot springs on decks overlooking the Rocky Mountains. 

But that’s only one reason to visit this cozy mountain town. There’s the Art Center, the old-fashioned Penny Arcade, Pikes Peak Cog Railroad and much more.

“I loved the stroll through the old downtown, along the river at times, for the silver and crystal hippy apothecary, the chocolate and small shops,” said Sharon Connors, a longtime Louisiana resident who now resides in Denver. “And also stopping for coffee and a pastry with a possible costumed skeleton in the window display.”

Where to stay: The Cliff House marries Victorian history with modern amenities.

Enjoy: The proximity to Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds.

Don’t miss: Visitors may don hats for High Tea at the Miramont Castle Restaurant but don’t worry if you don’t have one, they offer a hat rack full of options.


Great Adventures

Hendersonville, North Carolina

A pedestrian-friendly Main Street with a host of offerings runs through this small mountain town just outside Asheville. The Mast General Store sells everything anyone could imagine owning and the Henderson County Heritage Museum rests inside the picturesque historic courthouse. And for something truly unique, there’s the Appalachian Pinball Museum, where a small fee lets you play vintage and video games for hours inside an old movie theater. The town caters to tourists so naturally there are also several top restaurants to choose from.

A quick drive up a long, winding road takes visitors to Jump Off Rock in Laurel Park where views of several states can be seen on a clear day from the 3,000-foot-high perch. Longer drives take visitors to numerous wineries. It’s believed that the warm days and cool nights of this stretch of North Carolina mountains make for ideal grape-growing conditions.

Where to stay: Owner Selena Einwechter leaves no stone unturned at her exquisite Bed and Breakfast on Tiffany Hill, the South’s first B&B to be part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection.

Enjoy: Bold Rock Mills River Cidery produces a delicious flight of cider flavors with 70 percent produced in Hendersonville. Special events and music are held on site.

Don’t Miss: Take in a play at Flat Rock Theatre, the state theater of North Carolina. Arrive early and visit the home of Carl Sandburg across the street at the Carl Sandburg Home National Park Service site.


Great Adventures

Talkeetna, Alaska

A square and a few blocks make up the small hamlet of Talkeetna, the town that inspired the TV series “Northern Exposure.” Talkeetna’s quirky like the show’s fictional Cicely with shops selling everything from homemade medicinal remedies to Alaskan food products at the Alaska Birch Syrup & Wild Harvest Shop. 

Talkeetna’s also popular with the cruise set, who bring in busloads of tourists to and from nearby Denali National Park. Since North American’s largest mountain is only visible about 30 percent of the time, a stay in Talkeetna ups the odds, for the town faces the south side of the mountain. The western town’s also a jumping-off point for those who wish to scale Denali or view the Alaska Range by helicopter or small plane. 

Where to stay: Most of the cruise tourists stay at the Talkeetna Alaskan Resort with its views of Denali but accommodations run the gamut. Cheryl Smith, whose son is mayor of Hope, Alaska, recently visited Talkeetna and set up shop at the campground in the middle of town.  

Enjoy: “There is a great little food truck that serves a spinach bread,” Smith offered. “The Mountain High Pizza Pie had good pizza and we enjoyed Denali Brewpub, especially the Denali Raspberry Wheat!”

Don’t miss: During warm weather months, take to the waters with Talkeetna River Guides. Talkeetna sits at the confluence of the Susitna, the Chulitna and the Talkeetna. In the winter months, enjoy snowshoeing, dog sledding and snowmobiling on what Alaskans call a snow machine.

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