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Escape to One of These Mountain Destinations

There is nothing like staring at a colossal land mass reaching thousands of feet into the sky to give a person perspective. For many travelers, mountain landscapes are some of the most amazing sights in North America.

Visitors can take on the mountains with ski adventures in Telluride, Colorado, or sit back to contemplate nature’s magnificence with gondola rides in Banff, Alberta, Canada. Many group tours build in free time so participants can choose whether to relax, hike to an overlook, ride on horseback or paddle a canoe.

These six towns offer abundant nature-themed outings and also include urban entertainment, such as local restaurants in Whitefish, Montana; shopping in North Conway, New Hampshire; cultural experiences in Fairbanks, Alaska; and art havens in Taos, New Mexico. Between the cathartic nature fix and group-friendly activities, these mountain destinations will keep groups entertained for days.

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Guests visiting Banff, Alberta, remain in a constant state of wonder. The picturesque Canadian Rockies jut straight out of the earth in all directions from downtown.

Far from an overcrowded tourist trap, this mountain town attracts both nature lovers and herds of elk out for a morning stroll. The town sits within the Banff National Park and has a population of 8,000 people.

Groups love exploring the turquoise waters of Moraine Lake by canoe, the frozen glaciers of Columbia Icefield by all-terrain vehicle and the naturally colorful Banff Upper Hot Springs by taking a rejuvenating dip in the soothing waters of Canada’s highest-elevation hot springs. Whitewater rafting in the area ranges from peaceful floats to rip-roaring adventures for adrenaline seekers.

Though small, the town stays lively with restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries and museums. The Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar sources pure water from six glaciers in the Rocky Mountains and offers award-winning spirits for groups to sample.

For thrills: In addition to plentiful skiing routes, the adventurous can ascend Mount Norquay on a via ferrata, a system of iron ladders, cables and a suspension bridge to help mountain-climbing newbies up the jaw-dropping peak.

For relaxation:  Groups can immerse themselves in 360 degrees of mountain splendor on the Banff Gondola. An eight-minute ride takes passengers to the summit of 7,500-foot Sulphur Mountain for a boardwalk trail, an interpretive center and a boardwalk.

www.banfflakelouise.com

Whitefish, Montana

A former logging and railroad town that once sought to tame the West now helps preserve it as a launch point for exploring nearby Glacier National Park. Whitefish is surrounded by unspoiled mountain scenery so dramatic that promoters dubbed the area “Little Switzerland.”

Operators based in Whitefish can lead groups on any type of excursion into the mountainous beauty nearby with custom snowcat rides, boat cruises, scenic lift rides and rafting on Flathead River. Visitors looking for an easy hike can opt for the half-mile Walk of the Cedars, which is an accessible boardwalk trail past a waterfall and ancient cedar trees.

Once the summer heat melts the snow off the park’s famous Going to the Sun Road, most visitors take a drive along this scenic route. Groups can take the Red Bus Tours for an informative outing in the park’s iconic 1930s vehicles.

Whitefish has begun to win numerous culinary accolades for its range of top-quality cuisine, which includes such options as sushi and elk tacos. Two breweries, a craft distillery, shopping, art galleries and two theater companies can also easily complement a mountain getaway tour.

For thrills:  Groups can traverse the remote mountains by dogsled on a ride with Winter Woods Tours and Guides. Whitefish Bike Retreat offers another exciting winter activity with specialized Fatboy fat bikes designed to ride over snow.

For relaxation:  During winter, visitors can snuggle up under warm blankets while draft horses pull them through the snowy mountain scenery. Hot chocolate, homemade cookies and a dinner ensure an all-around cozy experience.

www.explorewhitefish.com

Telluride, Colorado

Once a knockabout mining town that attracted outlaws like Butch Cassidy, Telluride now attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its chic resort-town vibe. Deep in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains, the Victorian-era town whisks visitors onto the mountain slopes with gondola rides that rise to over 12,500 feet.

Winter fills the town with ski enthusiasts, since Telluride was recently ranked the No. 1 ski resort in North America by readers of Condé Nast Traveler. However, the town draws guests year-round for its plentiful amenities and gorgeous scenery.

Groups can witness the immensity of the San Juan Mountains on the nearby San Juan Skyway. Called the Road to the Sky, the historic byway loops through 11 towns, two national forests and offers plenty of photo ops.

For a Wild West experience, visitors can saddle up with several companies for a horseback ride, a chuck-wagon dinner and an overnight trip. More sophisticated experiences take place at Telluride’s thriving art scene, which includes First Thursday Art Walks.

For thrills:  If a simple ride down Colorado slopes doesn’t satisfy, Telluride offers helicopter skiing for the daring. In summer, thrill-seekers can opt for hang gliding and a guided off-road driving tour.

For relaxation: Mountain Village draws guests year-round for its cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants. Groups can wander through the shopping complex or ride the nearby scenic gondola for breathtaking views.

www.visittelluride.com

North Conway, New Hampshire

Waterfalls, mountain brooks and forest glens await around every corner along the 100-mile White Mountain Trail Scenic Byway Loop. After a day spent scanning the woods for moose and other natural wonders, guests can retire to the storybook village of North Conway for a quintessential New England town experience.

Tucked into the Mount Washington Valley in the White Mountains, the resort town sits just east of White Mountains National Forest. Groups can opt for a scenic driving tour, a hike, a dogsled ride, a canoe ride or a fall foliage tour in autumn with the scenery blazing in color.

North Conway offers two rail routes: The Conway Scenic Railroad offers a view of the valleys, and the Mount Washington Cog Railway climbs a mountain peak. The Conway Scenic Railroad presents an upscale experience with onboard dining.

North Conway abounds in shopping opportunities, with 200 tax-free outlets, boutiques and shops throughout the valley. Visitors enjoy strolling through the historic town’s center past a white-steepled church, an 1870s train station and an old-fashioned general store.

For thrills:  North Conway is 30 minutes from 13 ski resorts that range from beginner to expert. The ski heritage here dates to the 1930s’ before the prominence of the Western resorts.

For relaxation: Those who don’t wish to risk a broken limb on the ski slopes can learn about the fascinating skiing heritage of the town at the New England Ski Museum.

www.mtwashingtonvalley.org

Taos, New Mexico

To embrace the local culture of Taos, New Mexico, guests should first slow down. Taos embodies a leisurely paced culture known as Taos Time, which visitors are often eager to embrace.

Groups can enjoy a laid-back tour of the ancient, high-desert city at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for a harmonious blend of nature and art. The 20th century led to an explosion of Taos art, when artists and writers attracted to the Native American and Hispanic culture and the inspiring natural surroundings flocked to the village. The Southwestern art colony mixes modern art, cultural art and historical pieces at various galleries and museums.

Taos serves as an easy conduit to mountain-related activities, including popular whitewater rafting trips for rafters of all levels on the Rio Grande River. Accessible hikes are also nearby, including the 2.2-mile West Rim Trail, with spectacular views and sightings of wildlife such as bighorn sheep. In the winter, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and skiing are the most popular group excursions.

Fall draws leaf peepers to the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway for an 83-mile loop through gorges, valleys, national forests and charming villages. The byway begins and ends in Taos.

For thrills:  Groups can trust a sure-footed llama to carry them through New Mexico’s unspoiled wilderness during a llama trekking adventure.

For relaxation: A scenic chairlift ride at Taos Ski Valley allows guests to breathe in the alpine air and landscapes as they ascend a mountain for uninhibited views.

www.taos.org

Fairbanks, Alaska

North America’s highest peak, 39 species of mammals and more than 100 species of birds thrive in central Alaska’s wild Denali National Park. The park’s remote location requires that guests looking for more cultural amenities stay in Fairbanks for their mountain getaway.

Two hours from the park, Fairbanks is also near the northern Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, the scenic Alaska-Canada Highway and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Groups can board the Alaska Railroad, “Backbone of the Last Frontier,” to travel to Denali in style.

The second-most-populous town in Alaska, Fairbanks houses numerous museums, such as the artifact-filled University of Alaska Museum of the North. Groups can also spend an evening at the historic Palace Theatre, enjoy an Alaska salmon bake or pan for gold with Gold Daughters.

For thrills: Fairbanks Snowmobile Tours take groups on a one- or two-hour trek through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

For relaxation: For a relaxing excursion, groups can take a sightseeing cruise on the riverboat Discover. The ship cruises along the Chena River with guides who tell local stories along the way.

www.explorefairbanks.com

Eliza Myers

Eliza Myers has worked for The Group Travel Leader since 2007. She is the online editor and associate editor for Select Traveler.

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