American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

The bright lights and swinging night life of the big city is fine for some but others will appreciate the subtle pleasures of small town living

Many RVers get caught up in visiting large cities and popular tourist destinations. Overlooked by many, small towns are easier to navigate and often provide the greatest insights into local culture. Here, life is lived at a slower pace and locals are happy to engage visitors.

During 20+ years of living the snowbird lifestyle, we’ve visited 25 states and camped at hundreds of RV parks and campgrounds. Here are 10 of our favorite small towns in America. Each town earned its spot for individual reasons. We hope you enjoy it!

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad (1832). During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot was closed in 1963. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador City, California

One of California’s smallest incorporated burghs, Amador City has a lot to offer. The original mining-era buildings are now home to unique shops including Victorian clothing, custom quilts, locally handmade gifts, a kitchen store, shops offering unique house and garden items, garden art, and antiques and books from the Gold Rush Era. You will also find wine tasting, an old-fashioned soda fountain and lunch counter, an artisan bakery, and gourmet lunches and dinners. The Imperial Hotel (from 1878) affords visitors an opportunity to stay the night and enjoy Amador City’s Gold Country small-town way of life.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montpelier, Vermont

Montpelier, the smallest capital in America with a population under 8,000 people, is a charming historic town with the largest urban historic district in Vermont. The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background. Montpelier is a walking city. The heart of the downtown is three blocks from the State House. Downtown Montpelier is a vibrant center of interesting, independently owned shops and restaurants.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival (November), more boats than folks and laid back innkeepers, shopkeepers, chefs, and townspeople. You will see where tons of tobacco were loaded into ships to sail back to Europe and the Famous Mitchell map is displayed at the visitor center located in the James Mills Scottish Factor Store.

Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nappanee, Indiana

Many of the towns in Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is lovely Nappanee, a bustling community of woodworking shops that has been dubbed one of America’s “Top 10 Small Towns”. Nappanee is home to numerous woodworking shops, restaurants, antique stores, and Amish Acres, a restored 80-acre Old Order Amish farmstead. The historic complex consists of 18 restored buildings including the quaint farmhouse, a pair of log cabins, a smokehouse, and an enormous barn-turned restaurant where meals are served family-style with seating for 500.

Related: Experience the Past in the Present along the Amish Country Byway

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka

Wetumpka, Alabama

The name is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of Wetumpka dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceeding across the Bridge to the largely residential west side discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

The year was 1969, and Helen, Georgia, once a thriving lumber town, had fallen into decline. Jobs were scarce and the desolated main street did little to attract the attention of new investors and residents. Just when things were at their bleakest, three local businessmen hatched a scheme to renovate the business district to inject new energy into the town. They called on a local artist who recast the town in a new alpine light and within months many of the old buildings had new German-inspired facades that began to inspire the imagination of tourists. Almost 50 years later, Helen is the third most visited town in the state of Georgia, and yet this little piece of Bavaria in Appalachia is home to little more than 500 residents.

Altavista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Altavista, Virginia

A relatively young town by Virginia standards, Altavista was founded in 1905 by the Lane brothers. In 1912 the Lane family opened a box plant, today known for its cedar chests and furniture. Steeped in railroad history, the town is part of the Virginia Railway Heritage Trail and the state’s Historical Railway Trail. Housed in the 1901 Queen Anne Victorian home of Revolutionary War soldier Col. Charles Lynch, the Avoca Museum features Native American artifacts and Civil War items. An arboretum, an antique log cabin, and a Lynch family cemetery are on the grounds. Guided tours of the restored African-American cemetery located about 50 feet from the former plantation house are available.

Red Rock Canyon between Panguitch and Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options. Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown, Kentucky

Georgetown keeps its small-town feel with a Victorian-style downtown. The town prides itself as the possible home of bourbon, and though not all may agree with that claim, you can still enjoy that heritage by sampling locally crafted spirits. At Georgetown’s Toyota manufacturing plant take a tram tour and see a car constructed from the ground up. If horses are your preferred form of transportation, you’ll enjoy Old Friends Farm, a thoroughbred retirement facility that’s home to 100 retired horse racing champions.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Towns along the Gold Rush Trail: Amador City & Sutter Creek

Gold! The cry went up from Sutter’s Mill and brought tens of thousands stampeding into California from the four corners of the world.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has impacted RV travel right now. As RVers, travel is our way of life and, if you’re like us, you’re feeling the frustration of being limited to one location without the freedom to travel. 2020 is certainly presenting new challenges and now, more than ever, we realize that the freedom to travel is something we can’t take for granted. Now is a great time to start thinking of places you’d like to go—especially bucket-list destinations.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back to the Gold Rush era on Highway 49 where charming mining towns dot the route, surrounded by the panoramic vistas and bubbling streams of the western Sierra Nevada foothills

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 changed the course of California’s and the nation’s history. Although most of the mining camps faded after the mines closed, tourism has brought some of them back to life. 

Amador City

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of California’s smallest incorporated cities, with a population of just over 200 residents, Amador City is a little city with a lot to offer.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original mining-era buildings are now home to unique shops including Victorian clothing, custom quilts, local handmade gifts, a kitchen store, shops offering unique house and garden items, garden art, and antiques and books from the Gold Rush Era. You will also find wine tasting, an old fashioned soda fountain and lunch counter, an artisan bakery, and gourmet lunches and dinners. 

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Imperial Hotel (from 1878) affords visitors an opportunity to stay the night and enjoy Amador City’s Gold Country small town way of life.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It all started several hundred yards upstream from today’s town site. Jose Marie Amador, a wealthy California rancher, mined along this nameless creek in 1848-1849. There, gold outcroppings were discovered on both sides of the creek. The Original or Little Amador Mine and the Spring Hill Mine were probably the county’s first gold mines. Soon, the creek, the town, and a new county carried Amador’s name.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the “easy” gold was mined out on the upper part of the creek, mining and encampments gradually moved to South Amadore where French Gulch flows into the creek. This is the current site of Amador City. Founded in 1853, the Keystone Mine was the city’s most famous gold mine and a major reason for the town’s growth. It reached a depth of 2,680 feet and before closing in 1942 produced an estimated $24 million in gold.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone’s early years were plagued with production and ownership problems; luckily, a rich new vein was discovered in 1866, enabling the mine to yield a monthly gold production average of $40,000, making the Keystone one of the most lucrative California mines. In those days there were an estimated four to six thousand residents in Amador City.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador City’s oldest structure, built around 1855, is the center portion of the Amador Hotel. Up Main Street is the stone Fleehart Building (now the Whitney Museum) was the Wells Fargo Building and dates from the 1860s.

Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town takes its name from the creek, and the creek takes its name from John A. Sutter. Sutter owned the saw mill in Coloma where the first Mother Lode gold was found in 1848. Unable to stop the tide of gold-seekers flowing over and destroying his lands, Sutter decided to follow the call of gold, trying in vain to recoup what the Gold Rush had taken from him. He arrived where Sutter Creek is currently located in 1848, and upon finding a likely spot, began mining along the creek.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small settlement began to grow, centered around a cloth tent where the miners met on rainy Sundays. The place eventually took the name of its most prominent citizen, and was called Sutter’s Creek, Sutter, Sutterville, and finally, plain old Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Sutter wasn’t a miner, and many of the other miners in the area didn’t much approve of his using servants to dig for gold. He left the area a short while later, returning with his men to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento. Sutter would never mine again.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sutter Creek achieved prominence as the supply center for the many mines that circled the town. It was hard rock mining more than placer mining that helped the town to boom. Mines owned by Alvinza Hayward (the Gold Country’s first millionaire), Hetty Green (at one time the country’s richest woman), and Leland Stanford (at one time California’s governor and the founder of Stanford University) included the Union Mine (later renamed the Lincoln Mine) and the Old Eureka Mine. Sutter Creek remained a full- fledged mining town, boasting some of the best producing deep rock mines in the Mother Lode.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the town’s locals mine the visitors who come from around the world, drawn by both history and small town hospitality.

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer