Hitting the open road in hopes of finding something new is one of the best reasons for a great American road trip. It’s living for the moment, turning down a Two Lane country road, and discovering a town with an allure all its own. We’ve introduced you to some unique small towns in these pages, like Columbia, pictured above, but now we’re going to some places even smaller – tiny but mighty!
Ride along with us as we take you to five communities with fewer than a thousand people but still guaranteed to pique your curiosity for your summer vacation itinerary or upcoming weekend plans.
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas
Fun Fact: They have the oldest operating courthouse west of the Mississippi
Tucked into the Flint Hills of the Breadbasket of America, Cottonwood Falls, Kansas is paved with cobblestone streets and populated with little bespoke businesses. The best way to make the most of your time here is to walk over to the local historical society for a custom tour of the town. The most notable piece of architecture you’ll see is the 1873 limestone courthouse at the end of Main Street, honored to be on the National Register. And if you’re as interested in Mother Nature as you are in Lady Justice, grab some bait and find a sweet spot on the 109-acre Chase State fishing lake just outside town or drive over to the Tall Grass Prairie National Park to watch the bison roam!
Fun Fact: Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon here in 1939
Watch out for the wild burros! They run free ’round this Old West town. These friendly little donkeys, once used for mining labor, were set free back in the 1920s after a fire shut down the mines for good. But they weren’t unemployed for long – they’re now the official Oatman Welcome Committee. When you arrive, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported onto the set of How The West Was Won, which happens to have been filmed here! The 135 citizens of the town make their living selling handmade goods to travelers on Route 66. A must-see is the Oatman Hotel. Built in 1902, it’s the only two-story adobe structure in Mohave County and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Write your name on a dollar bill and tape it to the hotel’s restaurant wall while you wait for your homemade chili and fried bread to be served. Take in the magnificent sights of the Black Mountains and feel the freedom of the open range.
New Market, Maryland
Fun Fact: This town is known as the “Antiques Capital of Maryland”
By 1818, New Market was a fundamental part of the western trade route because of its location near the National Turnpike, one of the well-traveled highways in early America. That meant there was a lot of dealing and trading going on between travelers. The bustling traffic of 200 years ago has quieted down a bit these days, but the people of New Market are still doing some picking of their own. Their curated treasures tempt visitors to the town’s EIGHT antique shops. Antiques and crabcakes? We’ll start packing! And one more thing: if you’ve never experienced a white mid-Atlantic winter, plan your visit during the town’s 200-year-old “Christmas In New Market” festival!
Fun Fact: There’s a telephone museum here dating back to the days before direct-dial systems
Named after the river that flows through it, Blackwater, Missouri is a Two Lane town that’s been pretty much under the radar, but we predict that’s about to change thanks to the determination of the community! Established in 1887, the town recently went through a Main Street revival process, (add comma) breathing new life into the buildings downtown. While you window shop, drop into the Iron Horse Hotel and Restaurant. Decorated with period furnishings, ornate wood, and ironwork, this place will transport you to days gone by. Take your kids to the 1907 brick building on the corner where inside you’ll find the Mid-Missouri Museum of Independent Telephone Pioneers. Go ahead and show them what communication was like before texting and Facetime.
Saluda, North Carolina
Fun Fact: They have the oldest grocery store in the state
If you love trains, family-owned businesses, and mountains, head to Saluda! Located about an hour outside Asheville, it’s the only town in western North Carolina that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The railway history here dates back to 1878 when the steepest railway grade in America was built here. The Saluda Historic Depot even has a 19th-century caboose on display! Stop into Thompson’s, the oldest grocery store in the state, or drop by M.A. Pace, family-owned since 1889, for picnic supplies before heading to Pearson Falls to hike and cool off in the mist.
We’d love to hear about the really small towns in your corner of the map. Tell us about them in the comments below so we can learn more about them and maybe even feature them in our next small town blog.