Best Places to Live

2012 10 Best Small Towns

The fictional TV town of Mayberry still represents the ideal small town, a tight-knit community with low crime, a slower pace and wholesome fun. For our Top 10 Small Towns list, we set out to uncover the Mayberrys of 2012 – places where life can still be simple, quiet and complete, but with more places for folks to gather than just a barber shop.

We look at towns with 25,000 or fewer residents, then considered median household incomes and home prices, crime rates, unemployment rates, average commutes and distances to large cities. We concluded by examining the cities' amount of lifestyle amenities, such as outdoor activities, restaurants, community events, museums, art galleries and performance venues.

What we found are cities small in population yet big for their quality of life.


"We overlook [small towns] in this country a lot," says Laura Kidder, editorial director at Rand McNally. "If you really want to know America, you have to get off the highway. Get away from the big shopping malls and wander around town. That's really what America is, not the big cities connected by interstates."

Rand McNally recently sponsored the Best of the Road contest where five teams crossed the country and explored small towns. The contestants discovered that small towns let their residents live large.

"Another thing that really separates small towns from big cities is the sense of community and civic pride," Kidder says. "People in small towns have a chance to have a say that you may not have in a larger metro city."

So whether you're looking for a place to stop during your own cross-country voyage or a place to call home, you're bound to whistle a happy tune when you check these places out. Take a look at our picks for the best small towns in America.

Ranking Criteria
Population 25,000 or less
Median household income
Average home price
Unemployment rate
Average commute time
Number of restaurants
  • 10

    Sheridan, WY

    Population: 17,775
    Jeff Adkins

    Visit the Sheridan, WY section of for more info, articles and photos of the city.

    Called the "King of Cowboy Towns," Sheridan, WY, has a royal location halfway between Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore. The city is in the shadows of the Bighorn Mountains and offers a real western feel. Geographically, there's no doubt Sheridan is "out there," but it's a great place to be.

    National preservation groups shower praise on Sheridan's Historic Main Street District with its dozens of unique stores and restaurants. Some of the best maintained parks in the country dot the town, offering residents places to play, gather and relax. Outdoors adventurers stay busy on Sheridan's snowmobile, skiing, horse, hiking and bike trails. The area's more than 10 lakes and streams make for excellent fishing, boating and paddle sports.

    Culturally speaking, Sheridan has a lot of offer. It's home to a pair of theaters staging a variety of performances. A handful of galleries and local craft shops along with public outdoor sculpture installations treat the eyes, and Sheridan also hosts the Big West Arts Festival which is held on the grounds of Sheridan College. Food lovers will find more than 50 restaurants, pubs and bars, according to, which lists LuLu's Cafe and the Mint Bar among the most popular.

    The unemployment rate rarely climbs higher than 4 percent with coal and natural gas the key job creators. Community leaders actively help science and technology based companies grow with initiatives and programs such as the High Tech Business Incubator.  


    Nearest Big City: Billings, MT – 129 miles

    What Else is Here: YMCA, farmers market, nine campgrounds, movie theater and trolleys