- ADVERTISEMENT -
Published: September 2008Best Places to Live: Where to Live and Play Now!
Photo: Parked bike

Next Great Adventure Towns: Rockies

The next great adventure towns aren't just the best base camps for outdoor pursuits, they're smart investments.

Text by Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville
Photograph by Woods Wheatcroft
1. Missoula, Montana
Outpost to a Bigger Sky
>>Photo Gallery: Top 12 Cities Weekend Scouting Reports >>
Alex Gallego, 41, owner of Missoula Bicycle Works
Why I made the jump: "My wife is a geographer, and when she took a position here at the University of Montana in 2000, I tagged along. She’d had several different offers, but when we came to Missoula for her interview, we immediately fell in love with the town. It’s surrounded by mountains, trails are everywhere, and the outdoors are completely open to you. Since we were moving from Boulder, we wanted to go to a place where people were equally fanatical about the outdoors, and here, we’ve found it. Everyone’s focused on protecting what we’ve got."
How I found a job: "I used to be a high school teacher and figured I’d find work here doing the same. But after I arrived, I met a guy at a dinner party who was looking to sell his bike shop. I saw a lot of growth potential and decided to buy it. Other than my family, cycling is easily my biggest passion, so I thought this would be a fun project."
Favorite trail: "Just about anything in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is a blast. It’s right out my back door."
Population: 64,081
Median home price: $256,742

2. Lander, Wyoming
Hot Bargain
Stetsons meet Birkenstocks here at the foot of the glacier-pocked Wind River range, less than four hours from Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Belay next to ranch hands and NOLSies (who work at the National Outdoor Leadership School headquarters) below the dolomite and granite walls in Sinks Canyon or bike along the Popo Agie River’s ever growing greenway. In winter, the 108-inch average snowfall draws folks to the new (and expanding) Beaver Creek Nordic Ski Area.
Population: 7,047
Median home price: $165,000

3. Idaho Falls, Idaho
Big-box stores and cookie-cutter housing developments may give Idaho Falls that "everywhere USA" vibe, but no other major metro area is as well situated alongside the legendary trout waters of the South Fork of the Snake River. If you’re fished out, swap your waders for hiking boots and venture into Yellowstone and Grand Teton, both less than a hundred miles away. Best of all, you can keep your day job: Idaho Falls recently landed sixth on a national survey of the best cities for job seekers.
Population: 56,722
Median home price: $224,800

4. Silver City, New Mexico
Best for: Hikers
Quaint, friendly, and affordable, southwestern New Mexico’s Silver City is what Santa Fe was before trustafarians took over. Hike or bike seven miles of rocky trails in the rolling Boston Hills, a reclaimed historic mining area overlooking town. Or hook up with the nearby Continental Divide Trail ascending the Pinos Altos Mountains in 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest.
Population: 9,992
Median home price: $234,450

5. Ogden, Utah
If there’s a Disneyland for adrenalized adults, it’s Ogden: The mountain town has man-made thrills galore. Weber River whitewater park offers Class II and III rapids (slightly wilder than the Pirates of the Caribbean ride), and a 43-acre water ski park just opened downtown. The real highlight, though, is the new 148,000-square-foot Salomon Center, housing a 55-foot climbing wall, a vertical skydiving wind tunnel, and a flowboarding area that lets you surf a foam wave glazed by a three-inch layer of fast-rushing water. Not that Ogden needs artificial excitement. Within minutes of downtown, you can ascend Mount Ogden to 170,000 acres of parkland. And from 46th Street, the Beus Canyon trail leads to Snowbasin Ski Resort, site of the downhill, combined, and super-G events in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Like-minded co-workers are easy to find too; more than a dozen outdoor gear companies have moved their headquarters here in recent years. Or hop on the new commuter rail for more options in Salt Lake City, an hour north.
Population: 197,000
Median home price: $183,000

6. Carbondale, Colorado
A Power Player Breaks Out
Carbondale’s urban expats take their city’s name as a literal eco-challenge. In the morning, commuters line the bike paths on their way to a growing pack of local environmental companies, like Solar Energy International, Greenspot, and Inpower Systems, and the new rec center and police and fire departments are all solar powered. The occasional cattle drive still passes down Main Street, but it’s clear that the town’s ranching days are long gone. While still partly in the shadow of Aspen, 30 miles up the road, it’s forging its own identity as a self-sustained base for Patagonia-clad Ph.D.’s happy to stay close to home in the White River National Forest—all beneath the 12,000-foot twin peaks of Mount Sopris. For the full perspective on Carbondale, mountain bike or hike up Red Hill to Mushroom Rock, a precipice with views of downtown and the Roaring Fork Valley. On the water, the Colorado Rocky Mountain School has been organizing the Crystal River Kayak Races every spring for the past 44 years, giving weekend warriors the rare chance to race against the handful of world-class whitewater paddlers who live in the area. More serious foam surges on the nearby Roaring Fork, which is now connected to Carbondale by the Rio Grande paved bike path—yet another carbon-free option to do the locals proud.
Population: 5,881
Median home price: $712,000

7. Prescott, Arizona
Folks have flocked to Prescott recently (the population has grown 27.3 percent since 2000), but the city is working to protect what drew everyone here in the first place: access to the pine-capped mountains, granite cliffs, and alpine lakes around town.
Population: 43,217
Median home price: $226,000

8. Reno, Nevada
Reno and Tahoe are making a serious joint bid for the 2018 Olympics, but the smaller sister city has enough chops to merit consideration in its own right. Parked next to the aspen-fringed Mount Rose Wilderness, Reno has a wealth of hospitality jobs, a refurbished downtown, and a new $1.5 million whitewater park—all reasons enough to stick around.
Population: 259,856
Median home price: $316,900

9. Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Weekend Retreat
Deep within the 2.5-million-acre San Juan National Forest, this Rockies outpost shares much of the same terrain as Durango, 45 minutes east—with fewer crowds. So chances are good you’ll find room in the new Pagosa Hut and Trail System, a 36-mile network of backcountry paths. Bonus: Pagosa averages 300 sunny days a year.
Population: 1,684
Median home price: $346,800

10. Red Lodge, Montana
Set beside Yellowstone National Park in the wooded Beartooth Mountain foothills, Red Lodge is the toned-down Jackson alternative—complete with a smaller (and less intimidating) ski resort on its 9,416-foot signature peak. The town’s epic 71-mile Peaks to Prairie triathlon every April shows outsiders what they’re missing.
Population: 2,455
Median home price: $290,760

11. Tucson, Arizona
Best for: Cyclists
Thanks to an aggressive transportation program, this Sonoran Desert oasis is quickly becoming the Amsterdam of Arizona, with more than 500 miles of pedal-pusher routes linking 128 city parks. Meanwhile, the Coronado National Forest on the edge of town encompasses 9,100-foot Mount Lemmon: a ski destination in winter (with more than ten feet of snow annually) and a rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking magnet in summer.
Population: 547,546
Median home price: $201,000

12. Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Green Address
Apparently Pike National Forest—a million-acre spread of sky-piercing peaks and mythic fly-fishing waters—wasn’t enough green space for Colorado Springers. So in 1997 the city created a conservation program that has preserved 5,575 more acres. The newest tract is rugged Red Rock Canyon—already a local climbing favorite.
Population: 384,876
Median home price: $259,629

13. Hailey, Idaho
Hailey is only a 14-mile drive (or kick-and-glide on the Wood River XC Trails) to Sun Valley, but there’s nothing Gucci or Prada about this Mayberry town in the two-million-acre Sawtooth National Forest. Locals volunteer at the 395-foot ski hill—serviced by a rope tow and platter lift—and opt to work out on the area’s vast Nordic trail network instead of in the posh health clubs up the road.
Population: 7,751
Median home price: $757,000

Next Page: Western Towns >>
email a friend iconprinter friendly icon   |   
Join the discussion

National Geographic Adventure is pleased to provide this opportunity for you to share your comments about this article. Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Recent Comments
  • That was inspiring, This looks like a great list, i will have to do some further reasearch on some …
  • What about Boulder? I mean Colorado, but Boulder Utah also has to beat out Silver City and Reno...
  • Salt Lake City is actually an hour south of Ogden.
  • Salt Lake City is actually an hour south of Ogden.
Read All »