They beckon from nearly every corner of the country, from grand rivers and awesome mountains, from the Great Plains and a misty farm valley and a venerable whaling harbor, and what never fails to charm us is that each one follows its own, unhurried clock, saving up stories to tell and making time to talk.
They are America’s Best Small Towns to visit, and for this we’ve singled out communities for particular strengths in history, music, visual arts, learning, food, theater and science.
20. The Dalles, OR
Portland, Oregon may get all the attention with its bustling food scene and often mocked residents, but just 80 miles east, perched on the Columbia River Gorge, sits The Dalles, a vibrant community well worth exploring.
One of the most appealing features of The Dalles is the astounding natural beauty that surrounds it: from orchards to forests to high deserts, The Dalles offers a taste of all of Oregon’s natural beauty. Less than an hour by car from The Dalles is Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon. Or, explore over 271 acres of the Columbia River Gorge at the Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena, situated on a plateau overlooking the Columbia River.
Though The Dalles is set in a magnificent natural setting, human history plays an equally important role in the life of the town. Called “The End of the Oregon Trail,” The Dalles offers a number of historic sites for those interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest.
Visit Rock Fort Camp, where Lewis and Clark camped on both legs of their historic journey. Or check out the Rorick House, the oldest house in The Dalles, built by a noncommissioned officer from the U.S. Army post. There’s also Pioneer Cemetery, which has 228 graves, some of which go back to the 1860s.
Downtown The Dalles is marked by eight murals that tell the history of the area. Visit The Dalles Chamber of Commerce to score keys to the “talking boxes” next to each mural, which describe the murals story as recorded by historians, Native Americans or the artists themselves.