The best places to live are those that mix a life surrounded by the great outdoors with a great community. Many of the places that offer endless opportunities outdoors do not have the support of vibrant communities, and many great communities are far from the great outdoors – the places on this list offer the best of both worlds. These are smart, cultural places that center around outdoor recreation – consider seeking them out on your next road trip… or even for a travel assignment if you consider yourself lucky.
The ol’ Colorado standard. Set just West of Denver, some consider Boulder America’s Biggest Mountain Town. Boulder is inhabited by a huge number of the world’s elites in skiing, rock climbing, cycling, and triathlon. Boulder is close enough to almost any-kind of outdoor recreation you could crave while also having a large enough community to find the creature comforts you need just outside your door.
Boulder’s outdoor community centers around the Flatirons – a series of 5 jagged peaks jutting out of the ground. The peaks are around 8,000 ft from sea level, of course town itself is a mile high. The bigger mountains are less than an hour away in Rocky Mountain National Park and there are 14,000 foot peaks nearby in almost any direction. For entertainment, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is close by and brings in some of the biggest names in music to play concerts each summer. The venue is highly unique – the amphitheatre is open air, naturally formed, and set within several large crags of red rock. If you need the big city, Denver is only bout 45 minutes away.
I recently visited Bend, and it blew me away. Bend is surrounded by huge (HUGE) mountains. Mt Hood looms in the distance at over 11,000 feet (7,707 ft of prominence from the surrounding land). Mt Hood is home to six separate ski areas including year-round skiing on glaciers (available limited time only, while supplies last). While Mt Hood is the pinnacle of outdoor activities in the area, Mt Bachelor is closer and more accessible to Bend – it offers much of the same recreation on a slightly smaller scale. Many of the mountains in the area are volcanic and, therefor, dramatic in their look – steep slopes that standout from much of the surrounding high-desert.
Second to the impressiveness of the mountains, is the very impressive local beer selection… I’ve never seen so many different beers in my life. Breweries abound – many brands you’ve heard of, many you haven’t. But beer isn’t all that Bend makes. If the end of our society came today, Bend would go on. These people are self-sufficient in making everything. Coffee, bread, gluten-free dairy-free bread, locally-sourced everything, local clothes companies, Hydroflask water bottles – you name it, Bend makes it. I definitely see the appeal of Bend.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
I’ve never been to Tahoe (hence no photo), but I hear it’s awesome. Suddenly, I have about half-a-dozen friends living around Lake Tahoe. I personally equate Tahoe with skiing – there are 12 ski resorts in the area with Squaw Valley and Heavenly being the two biggest. But Tahoe, being a huge lake, offers many summer-time opportunities that other mountain communities don’t have. Boating, wind surfing, and everything else you can do with miles of open water. But Tahoe’s greatest strength might be its location and ease of access to everywhere else. Heading West, you’ll end up in Sacramento, wine country, and San Francisco. East will send you into Nevada with quick access to Reno and Carson City. South shoots you straight into the Sierra Nevadas and with a few hours of driving, Yosemite Park. If you’re spending time in Nevada or Northern California, make sure your next ski trip or summer lake trip includes Tahoe.
Montana, The Big Sky State
I don’t know how they’ve done it, but the sky is truly bigger in Montana. I have rarely seen landscapes as majestic as your average commute in Montana. My only experience with Montana was a roadtrip that entered in the south through Yellowstone and exited North to Canada through Glacier National Park – every single mile between felt like I was still in a national park. We stopped at Chico Hot Springs, just outside Yellowstone, and enjoyed their massive outdoor pool fed by natural hot spring water – the stars at night were perhaps the most I’ve ever seen (on account of the sky being so big). In the past, the hot springs were a spa for the sick in the early 1900’s. I couldn’t help but think that there is something special about that place and that the water does indeed have to be healing. We stopped into Bozeman for a quick meal while on the road and found it to be a fun, happening college-town. Other small cities in Montana have their own unique personality and have a lot to offer as well – Missoula, Billings, and Whitefish all offer outdoor recreation in the wilderness that stretches out in every direction. Get to Montana where the Wild West is alive and well – you will not be disappointed.