The Northern US, or the "Union," designated as such during the Civil War, consists of 20 states. These stunning states, many of which border Canada to the north, also have dozens of charming towns that draw citizens and tourists throughout the year. With most northern states experiencing a humid, continental climate, with cold, snowy winters, there are plenty of year-round activities for residents and visitors alike to enjoy. These Northern towns offer a simpler way of life with their magnificent views of lakes, national parks, and even picturesque beaches.
Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania
If you want to avoid the crowds that love to swarm big cities, the tiny town of Eagles Mere in Pennsylvania will soothe your soul. Here you will find fewer than 200 permanent residents sharing the stunning footbridge or waving at you while hovering at the edge of the breathtaking Eagles Mere Lake. Less than half an hour away is the Worlds End State Park, where seven mountain ranges meet, and the Ricketts Glen State Park, where wild waterfalls have splashed the rocks for hundreds of years.
After you have explored the national parks and the scenic views that Eagles Mere offers, it is time to retire for the night in the historic Eagles Mere Inn. Overlooking the lake for a hundred years, the inn saw royalty come and go and became a refuge for those seeking respite from ongoing pandemics and the stifling heat of the nearby cities. Today, it is the only hotel in Eagles Mere that has retained its original blueprint, with only the most necessary updates done over the years.
Indiana is no stranger to charming towns, including the picturesque Aurora and the historical Madison. English, which lies between two creeks, is home to fewer than 700 residents and one of the smallest seats in Indiana. It is also one of the most beautiful places in the Northern United States. Established in 1839 as Hartford, the town received its current name in 1884 when they named it after the politician William Hayden English.
Over the years, the inhabitants dwindled because of recurring flooding, but in 2023 nearly 700 permanent families have settled on higher ground. You can visit the Hemlock Cliffs in the Hoosier National Forest or go camping between the evergreen trees. The nearby Potts Creek Rockshelter Archeological Site was once inhabited by native tribes and is waiting for you to explore.
Jud, North Dakota
Jud is perhaps not the most inspiring name for a town, and with only 72 residents, this town does not seem to be worth glancing at. However, the first mural you see as you drive into the tiny place is only one of many, and as curiosity drives you to explore further, you will soon see that the murals make the town unique.
Nearly every building in Jud, North Dakota sports a painted mural, including most houses and the other handful of old-fashioned buildings. Jud is also home to one of the oldest grocery stores in the state, Dagen’s Grocery, which dates to 1905. Since then, it has served as a hotel and convenience store, as well as a post office. It is still operating today and is a National Historic Treasure.
Saugatuck lies a mere 12 miles from Holland, Michigan, and received the distinction of Best Beach Town in 2021. It is easy to see why the sleepy little hamlet is the best beach town. It offers expansive views over the ocean from just about every angle and wine or beer that suits every taste.
Here you can also visit an array of art galleries, ride the dunes, and take a trip on the oldest chain ferry still operating in the US. You can also climb the 302 steps up the dune in Mount Baldhead Park to gaze out over the magnificent Saugatuck Harbor. Between the various holiday seasons, Saugatuck is home to only 900 residents who love the small-town charm, great coffee, and fantastic ice cream available all year round.
Woodstock is well known for its immaculately preserved Federal buildings and was once voted the prettiest town in America. This charming little village has everything your heart desires, from a fascinating glimpse into history to mouthwatering breakfasts to the best of what nature has to offer. Three bridges in Woodstock date back hundreds of years, including the Taftsville Covered Bridge built in 1836. You can take a stroll along the gardens of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Historical site and visit the mansion in the center of it all.
Then there is Mount Tom which, after a 45-minute hike, offers some of the most amazing views of the entire town. Also, if you have no issues with heights, you should not miss out on the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. Here you can amble along the boardwalk built among the treetops and take in the view of the Ottauquechee River 65 feet below. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, there is also a giant spider web for visitors to climb while peeking down at the forest floor.
If you are a fan of classical literature, Wamego, Kansas is a must-visit location on your Northern United States travel itinerary. Get swept away by fantastic musicals at the Columbian Theatre before traveling along Dorothy’s yellow brick road to the OZ Museum. You will know you have arrived at the museum when you see the four flying monkeys hovering around the sign outside the building. Inside, you will find ruby slippers, a mischievous Tin Man, a shy lion, and the Wicked Witch instructing yet another flying monkey.
Wamego is not all about technicolor and green cities. The town also boasts the Wamego City Park, which includes a museum and a Dutch mill dating to 1879. If you want to explore outdoor Wamego, several biking trails pass historic homes, ranches, and stunning hill-covered landscapes.
Bentonsport has cemented its place in the history books as one of the most important stops for Des Moines River steamers. This small town in Iowa was once known as the Ross Settlement before it received a name change to honor local senator Thomas Hart Benton. Even though Bentonsport has had its fair share of tragedy over the years, mainly in the form of severe flooding, it was recently named one of the most charming towns in America. Here you will find antiques for your collection, gifts for that special someone, and a wide variety of fudge to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Within the town limits, there is the Indian Artifact Museum where intricately carved wooden artifacts are on display, as well as ancient arrowheads from times gone by. Take a leisurely walk to the Bentonsport Iron Truss Bridge which opened in 1883. It is the oldest and longest bridge of its kind still stretched over the Des Moines River and still bears the marks of the 1903 flood.
Lake Placid, New York
Lake Placid in New York State won’t give you the nightmares that the town’s namesake horror movie might. It will, however, provide you with a new appreciation for the outdoors after skiing or ice climbing here. Lake Placid last hosted the Winter Olympics in 1980, and some of the sites used are still open for visitors to explore, including the bobsled run and Whiteface Mountain where you can test your snowboarding skills.
The Lake Placid Olympic Museum highlights the stories of triumph that emerged from the Olympics, with footage and photographs that captured each victorious moment. The town lies in the Adirondacks, where you can visit the High Falls Gorge with its four waterfalls and glass walkways.
At Mirror Lake on the edge of Lake Placid visitors can enjoy canoeing and paddle boarding in the summer. When the lake freezes in winter, it becomes the ultimate pond hockey destination. During the winter season, you can book a sleigh ride for yourself and your other half. Listen to the sleigh bells tinkle as the beautiful horses gallop towards John Brown Farm where you can drink a mug of hot chocolate to warm up.
Nebraska experiences intense thunderstorms that sometimes spawn deadly tornadoes. The little town of Valentine is not spared from these natural phenomena, but fortunately, it does not happen all the time. Even if you are not a storm chaser, there are plenty of sights to behold in Valentine, including the Cowboy Trail, Smith Falls State Park, and the Niobrara Valley Vineyards.
If you are looking for a darker thrill, you should visit the Cherry County Museum where you might just run into the ghost of a poisoned clarinetist. The state of Nebraska once formed part of a prehistoric sea, and as a result, Valentine sits in the Sandhills, which is the largest collection of dunes in the Western Hemisphere.
Littleton, New Hampshire
Littleton in New Hampshire is the quintessential American town. Here you can eat in a diner that has been in business since the early 1930s. Enjoy a beer crafted by the well-known Schilling Beer Company, and visit the beloved Pollyanna statue that stands grinning in downtown New Hampshire. Main Street, also known as the best main street in the state, is where you will find the longest candy counter in the world inside Chutters Candy Store and an amazing collection of souvenirs.
The Littleton Diner’s pancakes are the last word in pancakes, and for a little showbiz entertainment, there is the Littleton Opera House where you can enjoy live shows and opera. If you want to include a quirky stop during your visit to Littleton, the Eli Wallace Horse Cemetery is the way to go. Yes, it is a pet cemetery, but not the creepy kind you are probably imagining it to be. Instead, it is a fitting tribute to the three horses owned by Eli Wallace.
There is a lot more to Maine than being the home of the king of horror. Maine has the distinction of having the most trees in all of the US and is famous for its delicious lobster. Maine is the largest out of all the New England states and boasts unforgettable small-town landscapes. At the edge of Moosehead Lake is the wonderful town of Greenville. The lake is mostly used for boating and fishing, but you will also see people heading out toward the middle of the water to get to Mount Kineo.
Other than the views from the top of Kineo, you can also admire the water from Lily Bay State Park or hike up Burnt Jacket Mountain on the eastern shore of the lake. In the town itself, you will find antique shops, the Currier Aviation Museum, as well as Northwoods Outfitters for all your outdoor adventure needs. There are even moose in Greenville, so keep your eyes peeled for these majestic giants.
As life in the city keeps hurtling towards bigger and better technologies, it is good to know that there are hundreds of small towns in the US where you can take a break from the hustle, sit back, and enjoy the simpler things in life. So, when you start planning your next vacation, keep some of these small towns in mind while you are jotting down potential destinations to explore. Your stressed-out self will thank you for it.