The Deschutes River running past Bend, Oregon.

10 Prettiest River Towns In America

The relatively small space that river towns occupy makes up with the large surrounding natural areas, perfect for hiking or biking through, as well as raises their chances of developing some of the best local brewing spots to offer in the country. The list below combines some of the best-known and lesser-frequented river towns in the United States, featuring various atmospheres for each taste, all equally worthy of one’s next visit.

Asheville, North Carolina

Aerial view of the citysape of Asheville.

This hip town sits snuggly in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at the confluence of the Swannanoa and the French Broad rivers, featuring multiple waterfalls along with the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, walk-able from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Citizens of Asheville are lucky in that they have access to French Broad River, Nantahala River, or Nolichucky River for their daily fill of exercise and relaxation. Following a farm-to-table dinner at a local restaurant, they like to visit one of the 18 craft brewery pubs in town, which is the highest number of pubs per capita in the United States.

River running by Asheville.

During daytime, one can stroll in the botanical gardens heading though the Biltmore Village, or visit the unique Asheville Pinball Museum. For watersport enthusiasts, the beautiful French Broad River offers great tubing, complete with a waterfall-front opportunity for a picnic, something even the locals can say no to, after a day’s worth of work. For the art fanatics and romantics, there is the Asheville’s River Arts District, with loads of studios and galleries right on the river banks. At times, it may feel like the town is overrun by tourists, but residents understand why, as many themselves enjoy the small town on the river vibe finding their calling in tech or tourism within.

Bend, Oregon

Bend Oregon
Bend, Oregon along the Deschutes River.

In this sunny, Oregon-based river town, one will find various kinds of terrain, making it an ideal location for adventure-seekers. From the enveloping Cascade Mountains seeded with wild pine forests, the Deschutes River suddenly appears to flow through the high desert town of Bend. Aside from fly-fishing and river rapids, one can engage in biking, camping, hiking, and even skiing in winter at the nearby Mount Bachelor.

The Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon. Editorial credit: Irra /

The 1988 Deschutes Brewery on NW Bond Street is always populous, offering daily tours free of charge, as well as 19 beers on tap with a beer-centric menu, as one of the largest pubs in the United States. The region is also rich with wildlife, culture, art, and natural resources, all on display at the High Desert Museum near Bend.

Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho.

Boise sits on its namesake’s meandering Boise River, in the southwest of Idaho, at the foothills of the Rocky’s. It appears that this extensive town, featuring a bisecting downtown, over 20 parks and pedestrian bridges, as well as 130 miles of singletrack in the nearby Ridge to Rivers trail system, was established for the active. Alive After Five free summer concert series and the farmers market, are also included in the town’s verve. Although known for its instilled conservatism, the college crowd of the Boise State University, home of the Bronco’s, emanates the vitality of youth. The town's prominent theatre presence includes yearly summer plays by the Idaho Shakespeare Festival running since 1977, while in 1990 a 770 seat amphitheater was built right by the water.

Fishing on the Boise River near Boise.

If visiting brewpubs or picnicking by the river doesn’t construe one’s favorite pastime, Boise is ideal for sports aficionados, offering 850 acres of natural areas and parks, as well as over 25 miles of biking and hiking along the river, on which, kayakers, rafters, fishermen, and tubing enthusiasts find their piece of heaven.  On top of that, a $3.6-million paddling playground for kayakers and paddleboarders, with 25-foot long river “waves” is free to test one’s skills, or enjoy the spectacle. 

Davenport, Iowa

Aerial view of Davenport on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Situated in the Scott County of eastern Iowa on the north banks of the Mississippi River, Davenport features an unmistakably prominent sense of history. Home to the Sauk and Mesquakie Indians early in the 19th century, it was acquired by Antoine LeClaire, who, upon the signage of the treaty ending the Black Hawk War in 1832, sold the town to the Colonel George Davenport’s fur trading company. A setting for remarkable events, in 1856, Davenport also opened the first railroad bridge that span the Mississippi River for river and rail opportunities that boomed the town’s status as a trading centre. Another first for Davenport was achieved by D.D. Palmer, having initiated the chiropractic system in 1895, establishing The Palmer College of Chiropractic here.

Centennial Bridge over the Mississippi River in Davenport.

Davenport is the largest town in the company of Bettendorf, Moline, and Rock Island across the river, together known as the urban complex, Quad Cities, with the latter featuring a restored Fort Armstrong, established in 1816, and easily reachable by boat from Davenport. The opportunities for a quality time are well-developed for every taste, from visiting the Credit Island, which was a battlefield in the War of 1812, to enjoying its lush Vander Veer Botanical Park, to a cultural pastime at the Figge Art Museum. 

Durango, Colorado

Durango Colorado
Aerial view of Durango in Colorado.

Everyone in this town appears to celebrate the river culture, from rafters, kayakers, and tubers non-stop sipping beers at one of four local micro-breweries, to fishermen joining in upon a successful day on the waters. The accessible Animas River, flowing parallel to the town’s Main Street, is accommodating to anyone’s ability, from class I to class V, to practice a watersport. The Animas is also completely public within city limits, and is known as the best urban trout fishery in America, according to the locals.

Durango Colorado
Historic steam engine train travels from Durango to Silverton through the San Juan Mountains along the Animas River in Colorado, USA.

The nature and on-land fun has also not been lost on the town with the Weminuche Wilderness, lush meadows, and beautiful aspen groves to be enjoyed for the 300 days of sunshine in Durango. There is no sense of pretence in this hub for the active, with young professionals, athletes, artists, retirees, and 4,000 Fort Lewis College liberal arts students all utilizing the myriad of biking and hiking trails, as well as partaking in backpacking, rock climbing, backcountry skiing, altogether. Although the town’s location might be off-putting, being three hours from the nearest Interstate and four miles from the airport, the Durango’s residents "see it as the center of everything.”

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth, Washington. Editorial credit: Checubus /

Situated two hours from Seattle, in the Chelan County of Washington, Leavenworth, featuring a unique Alps town atmosphere is also accompanied by a mellow-flowing river. At the confluence of the Icicle and Wenatchee rivers, it emanates a European vibe with its Bavarian style buildings, including gingerbread house-like Safeway and McDonalds. The rivers are great for stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing, and rafting.

The Wenatchee River flowing past Leavenworth. Editorial credit: Sveta Imnadze /

After an exhausting day on the water, one can relax in one of the local wineries. The water-access, style of the town’s architecture, as well as a number of local wineries and breweries, offers an activity for anyone’s taste, leaving a lasting impression for all its visitors.

Macon, Georgia

Macon Georgia
Cityscape of Macon, Georgia.

Situated in the Bibb County, the geographic center of Georgia, on the banks of the Ocmulgee River’s fall line, Macon is known for its riverfront walking trails, kayaking opportunities, wildlife sightings, and especially, the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, where locals and tourists can access thousands of years of life in the region. The fertile soil of the surrounding farms grows peaches, pecans, trees, grain, and cotton, while the town has also been functioning as a long-time processing and distributing centre for the surrounding farmland. 

Macon, Georgia
Ocmolgee River in Macon.

The Ocmulgee River has played a leading role in Macon’s historic establishment as a major trading hub. Incorporated in 1823, it served as a Confederate gold depository and was the distribution center for Confederate supplies, munitions factories and was a supply depot. The establishment of the railroad in the early 1840s helped Macon’s economy boom, with the town becoming a prominent point for cotton-shipping in the United States. Its, fascinating history, also includes the Robins Air Force Base, 10 miles (16 km) south, which played a significant part in the Second World War. 

Missoula, Montana

Missoula Montana
View of Missoula from Mount Sentinel.

In the rugged edge of Western Montana where five mountain ranges converge, sits the mid-sized town of Missoula, at the confluence of the Clark Fork, Black Foot and Bitterroot Rivers, making this scenic town with hundreds of well-developed trails an ideal spot for natural, historical and geological explorations. A setting for A River Runs Through It, a novel and later a movie by Missoula-born Normal Maclean, the town is also popular for fly-fishing and whitewater rafting. The Caras Park is the place for families to enjoy their time together, friends to picnic, and couples to come for the summer evening open-air concerts.

 Higgins Street Bridge in Missoula, Montana.

One of the largest bases of forest services in the country is Missoula-based, helping protect the white-tailed deer, bald eagles, ospreys, and the black bears, which can be commonly spotted in the Rocky’s area like this. This environmentally-minded college-town with a progressive mentality also features a prominent cultural scene. The River City Roots Festival in August celebrates artists, musicians and water sport enthusiasts, with art shows, family events, and free downtown stage concerts. In the meantime, craft breweries become a mixing pot of people from all backgrounds. 

Nevada City, California

Nevada City
Fall colors in Nevada City, California.

The laid back and friendly 150-year old town lying on the South Yuba River, Nevada City, has a welcoming vibe with a number opportunities to unwind, including multiple swimming holes, hiking trails, and camping areas. Aside from sun-bathing on the granite gorge in the Sierra foothills, for more active tourists, there is also trout fishing, Class V kayaking, and getting one’s fill of adrenaline with whitewater rafting. From family-friendly sandbars, to nudist beaches and diving off Rush Creek’s granite cliffs, Nevada City basks in its status of a town, where life revolves around the river.

Nevada City, California
Vacationers enjoying a swim in the South Yuba River near Nevada City. Editorial credit: Pascalipatou /

The proximity of the Sugar Bowl 45 minutes away, a singletrack mountain-bike 120-mile trail some 20 minutes into the Tahoe National Forest, as well as five vineyards in the vicinity can further diversify one’s experience in Nevada City. The developed culture scene is comprised of eight annual events, including the acclaimed Wild and Scenic Film Festival, a Mardi Gras parade, and a masquerade ball. On top of July’s art festival where wine, craft cheeses, and local veggies booths replace the city centre traffic, there are featured monthly plays at The Nevada Theater, made famous in 1860s by Mark Twain’s readings.

Tallulah Falls, Georgia

Tallulah Falls
The scenic Tallulah Gorge.

The big water scene of this tiny town that snuggled itself within the Blue Ridge Mountains of the south-most spot of Northeast Georgia starts with the Tallulah River that runs through the rocky Tallulah Gorge chasm. Class V rapids attract the most skilled kayakers and whitewater rafters from the whole country to this lesser known spot during spring and fall, when the dammed section of the river is released into the gorge, from the nearby Lake Tallulah Falls.

Whitewater rafters on the Tallulah River. Editorial credit: JayL /

The town is also popular among those who wish to get away from the big city feel but still see something wondrous. Featuring six waterfalls all located within one mile from each other and offering a drop of some 500 feet, is a wondrous destination for those tired of grey civilization. As a state known for its wine scene, Tallulah Falls has not been lost to the concept due to being remote, making up for its lack in brewing by pouring the red and white drink from the luscious fruits of grape.

River towns, often enveloped by mountain ranges and surrounded by green forests, offer a perfect destination for adventurers. When the downtown is in the river’s vicinity, kayakers and whitewater rafters, have easy access to satisfy their craving, while those that love to bask in the sun on a riverbank, can enjoy some quality time with their loved ones. 


More in Places