For many people, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and kayaking are activities they're only lucky enough to enjoy on vacation, maybe a few weekends a year. But for the lucky dwellers of outdoor meccas, adventure sports are right in their backyards. These people, who range from weekend warriors to career outdoor experts, live in communities that cater to the outdoorsy type.
What's it like to live in an outdoorsman's paradise? Well, it depends on your version of paradise. Which would you prefer -- the hustle and bustle of the city with a nearby river for canoeing, or a sleepy town where you can fly-fish in the summer and ski in the winter?
These spots appeal to locals and tourists alike. Their adventure sports attract those getting away from the daily grind and those looking for new home. Residents of outdoorsy hotspots have careers in just about anything -- they may be doctors, lawyers, politicians or executives in nearby metropolitan areas, or they may work at the local ski shop.
The best outdoorsy towns offer a range of activities for all seasons. Hotspots for winter snow-skiing may also be close to the best rivers and lakes for summer canoeing, kayaking, wakeboarding, fishing and sailing. The best spots also must be affordable for a wide range of people -- from service industry employees to business executives who retreat to their outdoorsy abodes after long days at the office.
These 10 outdoor spots range from towns with populations under 3,000 to major metropolitan areas, from remote lake villages in North America to mountainous landscapes in Central Europe. Which spots suit your taste?
Ely, Minnesota combines the perks of small-town living with some of the finest outdoorsy adventure experiences the U.S. has to offer. Ely's landscape is largely unspoiled, which attracts outdoors enthusiasts. With a population of only about 4,000, Ely is a popular spot for canoeing, biking, fishing, hiking and snowshoeing.
One of the best things about Ely's outdoor adventure experiences is that they're available year-round. Temperatures dip into the teens in the winter, but in July it's a warm 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). Spring temperatures are in the 60s (10 degrees C), and fall weather in the 50s (15 degrees C) is perfect to check out Ely's beautiful foliage. In the winter, you can ice fish on a frozen lake; in the summer you can paddle through the same lake. Home to more than 5,000 lakes, rivers, and streams, Ely is a waterman's paradise. Miner Lake and Shagwa Lake offer great sites for canoeing and fishing.
Although most famous for its lakes, Ely is also home to bike and hiking trails in the Superior National Forest, and the view from the Secret-Black Stone Overlook is breathtaking -- you'll spy glacier-carved ridges, small lakes and remnants of glaciers.
In the midst of all of this outdoor adventure, the town is small enough that when you and your family head to the local store, the clerks will know you by name.
Additionally, Ely boasts a number of fine dining restaurants and shopping experiences. And, the median house price is $145,000, so living in Ely definitely won't break the bank.
Southern Bohemia, Czech Republic
If you're looking for a spot in the great outdoors that has been relatively unexplored by most hikers, you should head to the southern Bohemia in the Czech Republic. What was once closed off by the Iron Curtain is now a prime location for hiking.
Because the Czechoslovakian government had closed off this stretch of land between Austria and the Czech border, much of the land in this area has been left untouched by urban expansion. The hills full of trees that stretch across Southern Bohemia remain undisturbed, and the hiking and biking trails in the area present some of the most beautiful, undisturbed scenery in Europe. The topography of the area is truly storybook. You can hike through densely wooded forests that open into beautiful farmland and charming hillside villages. The Vltava River and its tributaries wind through these picturesque meadows and hills. But don't think you'll be completely isolated in the middle of nowhere. If you want to experience some of the best of European culture, Prague and Vienna are short train rides away.
Since tourists haven't quite discovered this beautiful area South of Prague, the cost of living is minimal compared to other areas in Europe. There are a number of small towns in this area of the Czech Republic that are ideal for hikers. Accessible by train, Slovenice is a quiet, small town near the castle of Landsteijn, where you can take a 15-mile (24-km) hike that ends in Nova Bystriice. Other beautiful, historic towns in the area include Jindrichuv Hradec, Trebo and Ceský Krumlov. Ceske Budejovice, along the Vltava River, is home to several trail-side restaurants where you can sample a variety of Czech fair, such as goulash, dumplings, pork and Czech beer. All of these towns are within a day's hike of each other.
If you're an avid hiker, you might want to consider making this area home. Hiking is one of the most popular activities for Czechs, and they have the trails to prove it. The Czech Republic boasts over 24,000 miles (38,624 km) of marked trails [source: Farley]. The Czech Hiking Club, founded in 1889, maintains many of these trails, installing color coded trail markers to guide hikers through this gorgeous landscape.
When you think of Washington, D.C., outdoor adventure might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But many Washington insiders head outside to areas around the nation's capital to blow off steam and take a break from politicking.
Washington, with population of about a half a million people and a median home price in the half-million dollar range, has lots of opportunities for residents looking to experience some of the most popular outdoor adventure activities. Washington is known for its wet, hot summers and moderately cold winters, so a number of seasonal outdoor activities are available. The Potomac River provides the perfect setting for sailing, canoeing, kayaking and rowing. Also, nearby Great Falls, Virginia and George Washington State Forest to the west provide excellent terrain for mountain biking and hiking. The Shenandoah National Park is a great place for camping and backpacking.
If you want to stay closer to the Beltway, head to Georgetown for some leisurely biking or take a rafting class on parts of the Potomac at Great Falls Park. You can then climb the rocks that overlook the park. Rock Creek Park is an excellent setting for biking, hiking, roller-skating, and horseback riding, all within the city limits.
North Conway, N.H.
Though many Americans turn west for the best mountain climbing landscapes, North Conway, N.H. stands out as one of the best places to climb on the East Coast. Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast at 6,288 feet (1,916 m), is located here, along with some infamously unpredictable weather. In fact, the highest wind gust ever recorded -- 231 mph (371 kph) -- breezed through Mount Washington on April 12, 1994 [source: MWO].
If you're a mountain climbing enthusiast, North Conway could be a nice home for you. The Appalachian Trail crosses Mount Washington's summit. Hiking, ice climbing, kayaking and rock climbing are popular activities in this area of North Conway. The Tuckerman Ravine Trail, a popular hiking spot, is about 4 miles (6.4 km) long with an elevation of over 4,000 feet (1,219 m). In the winter, the Tuckerman Ravine is a hotspot for skiing, featuring 45-degree slopes. When you're not hiking the trails or skiing the slopes, you can paddle your canoe down the Androscoggin River.
North Conway is located in the heart of the Mount Washington Valley and is home to more than 700,000 acres of protected land. With a population of about 2,000 people and a median home price at just under $200,000, it has a small-town feel with a big adventure quotient.
Durango, Colo., 340 miles (547 km) southwest of Denver, offers pretty much everything an outdoors lover could ask for in a hometown. The Rockies provide an ideal setting for hiking, skiing, mountain biking and ice climbing. Due to the landscape and strong Native American influences in the area, the lowlands around Durango will remind you of the American Southwest. Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, Durango is 35 miles (56 km) from Mesa Verde National Park, where you can check out the ruins of the Anasazai, an ancient Pueblo people who built apartment-like homes featuring kivas -- underground rooms used for religious ceremonies.
You're likely to become an outdoor expert if you live in Durango. With an elevation of about 6,500 feet (1,981 m), mountain sports and hiking are perfectly suited for Durango's terrain. You can canoe, raft or kayak through canyons, or climb on the sandstone at East Animas. With the Animas River running right through the downtown area, Durango is indeed an outdoor mecca; the inaugural Mountain Bike World Championship was held here in 1990. You can also hike or bike on the Colorado Trail, stretching 500 miles (804 km) from Denver to Durango. This trail features mountain ranges that rise to over 13,000 feet (3,962 m), and it's easy to access from the town, right in the backyard of beautiful Durango.
While many other western outdoorsy hotspots have grown tremendously in recent years, causing suburban sprawl, Durango's population of 15,000 hasn't changed much in the last 10 years. However, new condominium developments might bring about an increase in population. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Since the median home price is at about the half-million mark, this development will introduce more affordable housing, an important factor for those working in outdoor industries.
One of the best things about Boone, N.C., is that while the rest of the American South is sweltering hot in the summer months, the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround this town keep things pretty cool, even in July and August. In Boone, temperatures top at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) in the summer and fall to the 20s (minus 6 degrees Celsius) in the winter. At 3,332 feet (1,015 m), Boone has one of the highest elevations of any town of its population of 15,000, on the East Coast.
Named for Daniel Boone -- who you might say was one of America's first outdoorsy types -- Boone is host to parks, rivers and mountains that offer almost every outdoor activity imaginable. Boone, about 100 miles (161 km) north of Asheville, offers four seasons of adventure-packed activities.
At Pisgah National Forest, you can enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing and hiking. Additionally, the Nolichucky and French Broad Rivers provide the perfect setting for rafting and canoeing. Nearby Banner Elk and Blowing Rock are two of the South's skiing meccas in the winter months. You can take a drive down the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway and mountain bike or hike at Grandfather Mountain. And, Boone is also home to Appalachian State University, so you won't miss out on cultural and enrichment activities for the whole family.
Costa Brava, Spain
If you're a beach lover who enjoys a laid-back European lifestyle -- the obligatory siesta, taking an invigorating hike through the trails of a beautiful coastal town -- Costa Brava, Spain is the place for you. You can lunch in a quiet fishing village and then head to the nature preserve Cap de Creus to hike through coastal mountain ranges.
At the top of these mountains, you can see Cadaques, a village famous as Salvador Dali's home, and it's still home to many artists. The area is the perfect place for creative people who also enjoy the outdoors. You've got culture and landscape, mountains and tranquility. Many nature-loving, outdoor adventurers call the towns and villages around Cost Brava home.
Costa Brava not only has the perfect landscape for mountain adventures, but it's set right on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. After hiking or mountain biking, you can take your canoe or kayak out to sea for a truly well-rounded outdoors experience. And, the French border is within driving distance, if you want to expand your European experience.
Although Bend, Ore., is experiencing rapid growth, the town is definitely not crowded. With a population of almost 80,000, Bend has pretty much everything that a lover of the great outdoors could ask for in a hometown.
With an elevation of 3,635 feet (1,108 m), Bend is great for mountain adventure sports. Black Butte offers a prime spot for mountain biking. Looking for great hiking? Check out the Deschutes National Forest. In the winter, Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain are great places to hit the ski slopes.
Homes in Bend are in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. If you like fun in the sun, Bend's your place; Bend averages 300 days of sunshine each year [source: City of Bend]. Temperatures in Bend range from 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1 to 10 degrees Celsius) in the winter and 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (26 to 32 degrees Celsius) in the summer. The only thing missing from Bend is the ocean, but if you're craving some waves, the beach is only about a four hour drive away.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Bright lights, casinos, celebrities and over-the-top shows are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of Las Vegas, Nev. But this city of about a half a million people is also a central location for outdoor adventures.
With a median home price of about $300,000, Vegas is home to those who love the fast paced life of Sin City and the tranquil landscape that surrounds it. You can climb on Red Rock Canyon's famous pink sandstone at the Cloud Tower in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Zion National Park, one of the best locations in the U.S. for climbing and hiking, is about a two hour drive away. You can bike on the ridges of Bootleg Canyon to observe the many types of wildlife that call this area home -- coyotes, owls, lizards and bighorn sheep.
If winter sports are more your style, head to Mount Charleston for skiing or snowboarding. If you're interesting in water sports, the Colorado River boasts some great rapids for rafting. And for some peaceful canoeing, paddle around Lake Mead in its bluest of blue waters.
With a population of just around 70,000 people, Portland residents balance urban hipness with a streak of rugged adventure. With homes in the $200,000 range, this middle-class town allows its residents to live the work-hard/play-hard lifestyle.
To escape the hustle and bustle of urban life, Portlanders head to the beach at Pophman for some rest and relaxation. If you like water sports like canoeing and kayaking, head to Casco Bay to paddle tranquil waters.
Water bodies such as Beaver Pond, Haskell Pond, Highland Lake and Presumpscot River Reservoir, all within a 10 minute drive of Portland, are great spots for canoeing and kayaking. Peak's Island is an ideal place to kick back and relax while enjoying the beautiful Maine landscape. There are numerous places nearby to go whitewater paddling, including the Royal River, Saco River and Crooked River, all about 20 miles (32 km) from downtown Portland. If skiing is your scene, head to Lost Valley, 24 miles (38.6 km) away with slopes dropping 240 feet (73 m), or Shawnee Park, 35 miles (56.3 km) away with 1300 feet (396 m) vertical drops.
Nearby Bradbury Mountain offers great spots for mountain biking, hiking, and climbing. For a laid-back afternoon, bike or walk along the trails to check out the lighthouses that dot the coast around Cape Elizabeth. You can take a variety of outdoor courses, ranging from fly-fishing to kayaking, at L.L. Bean Discovery School to beef up your skills.
Las Vegas alternatives abound for the adventurous traveler. Learn about 10 Las Vegas alternatives that combine gambling with some local flavor.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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- City of Bend. http://www.ci.bend.or.us
- Colorado Mountain Vacations: Durango, Colorado. http://www.durango.org/
- Colorado Trail. http://www.coloradotrail.org
- Durango Mountain Bike Camp. http://www.bike-camp.com
- Durango River Trippers. http://www.durangorivertrippers.com
- Ely, Minnesota. http://www.elyminnesota.com
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