Escape the crowds in tourist towns with a visit to one of these secluded getaways

When you think about Southwest summer getaways, where does your mind go? Moab, Telluride, Taos and Flagstaff are all popular destinations, but become extremely busy and overrun as the busy summer months approach. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, we suggest escaping to one of these four small towns, where the trails are less crowded and the views are awe-inspiring.

Downhill mountain biker in Angel Fire, New Mexico
Load up the bikes and head to Angel Fire for some of the best downhill riding New Mexico has to offer.Terrance Siemon

Angel Fire, New Mexico (elevation: 8,406’; population: 1,089)

Make a getaway to the southern region of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to revel in fresh mountain air. Located 24 miles east of Taos, Angel Fire is the perfect escape for hikers and a target for avid mountain bikers.

The hiking trails around Angel Fire provide a little something for all ability levels. For a nice day hike, the Oesta Vista Trail is a 4.6-mile loop that offers views of Wheeler Peak — New Mexico’s highest mountain at an elevation of 13,159 feet. If you’re looking for a solid fastpacking or backpacking route, check out the South Boundary Trail that takes you from Angel Fire to Taos. We recommend tackling this 21.4-mile, point-to-point trail as a shuttle and parking a return vehicle at the end. This trail is also open to mountain biking and dogs.

While the hiking is great in this northern New Mexico area, what Angel Fire is ultimately known for is the Angel Fire Resort Bike Park. With 2,000-plus vertical feet and 60-plus miles of terrain accessible via chairlift, the Angel Fire Bike Park offers trails for mountain bikers of all skill levels, from riders working on their downhill game to professional downhill racers. Whether you’re looking for buffed-out berms, smooth singletrack, rocky drops or jump lines, this is the place to improve and perfect your trail flow.

Gunnison Butte and the Green River near Green River, Utah
Gunnison Butte towers over the Green River below. This formation serves as a prominent landmark that the river take-out at Swasey’s Beach is near.Tiona Eversole

Green River, Utah (elevation: 4,078’; population: 940)

As outdoor enthusiasts funnel into Moab for endless mountain bike trails, 4×4 roads and Arches National Park, Green River lands only 50 miles to the northeast and provides the perfect weekend getaway.

If you’re heading west on Interstate 70, Green River is the first stop on your way to several stunning areas including Capitol Reef National Park, Goblin Valley State Park and the San Rafael Swell. Here you have unlimited options for daily activities, from hiking around hoodoos and through slot canyons to mountain biking or bikepacking on dusty trails and dirt roads.

And then, of course, you have the namesake of the town — Green River. The section of the river north of town serves as a nice, 9-mile day float as well as the takeout for the multi-day Desolation and Gray canyons (Deso Gray) raft trip, making the area around Green River a popular spot for river trippers. The white sands of Swasey’s Beach along the Green River signal the end of a river trip as you meander through crumbling canyon walls.

Pro tip: If you’re floating the Green River Daily, snag a campsite alongside Swasey’s Beach and leave your mountain bike behind to use as a fun alternative to a vehicle shuttle.

Welcome to South Fork, Colorado sign
Signs welcome you into South Fork on both sides of the small town on U.S. Highway 160.Tiona Eversole

South Fork, Colorado (elevation: 8,209’; population: 356)

Coming in as the smallest town on our list, South Fork is nestled up against the Rio Grande National Forest at the base of Wolf Creek Pass. To the east, the mountains give way to the vast San Luis Valley — home to several hot springs including Joyful Journey and Valley View, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

In the summertime, South Fork tends to serve as a pit stop for travelers making their way across U.S. Highway 160, but there’s so much more to do in this quaint town than fill up on gas and snacks.

The Rio Grande River flows right through town. This gentle and wide section of the river makes for a relaxing, scenic raft trip. The Gold Medal waters provide some of the best fishing in the area as well. Spend the day by boat, on shore or wading in the cool waters in search of rainbows and browns.

Head up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, where the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) intersects and makes its way into the rugged Weminuche Wilderness. For a nice day hike on the CDT, we recommend checking out the 4.8-mile, out-and-back to Alberta Peak, which offers stunning views of the surrounding area. Plus, it’s kind of cool to see what Wolf Creek Ski Area looks like when it isn’t buried in snow.

And if you find yourself on this side of the Continental Divide come August, the Rhythms on the Rio music festival takes place on the banks of the Rio Grande and provides a stellar lineup of rock, bluegrass and folk artists.

Williams, Arizona  (elevation: 6,765’; population: 3,158)

A true Western town, Williams is located on Historic Route 66 and is known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.”

Located 70 miles from the South Rim, the Grand Canyon can be reached by car via State Route 64, or by train on the Grand Canyon Railway for a scenic and interesting trip with a rich history.

The Grand Canyon, of course, is full of adventures and activities. From the South Rim, you can access an abundance of trails including the Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail and the Hermit Trail. However, both the Coconino and Kaibab national forests around Williams offer hiking, mountain biking, camping and fishing. And if you’re looking to do a little rock climbing, we recommend checking out Paradise Forks. The basaltic rock along the Mogollon Rim offers more intermediate and advanced trad climbing routes, but you will find a couple bolted sport climbs.