The Best Places to Live Near the Mountains

Embrace the mountain life.

Life in the mountains has appeal for a variety of reasons — you may enjoy the natural beauty, work as a ski instructor or park ranger or simply like the idea of hitting the hiking trails or ski slopes whenever you’re not in the office. Fortunately, you have plenty of options to choose from if you’re looking for a place to live near the mountains that also offers benefits like affordability, a strong job market and a short commute to work. We looked at the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. that make up the U.S. News Best Places to Live ranking, and compiled the top-ranking spots that offer easy access to mountain trails. Read on for the 10 best places to live near the mountains.

Honorable mentions

For this list, we looked at places that offer access to popular mountain roads or trails within 25 miles of a primary city. A few places didn’t quite make the list due to their distance from the mountains, namely Seattle and Portland, Oregon, though residents of both places don’t hesitate to make the slightly longer drive out of town for day hikes and camping opportunities. Plus, Seattle’s and Portland’s skylines have major mountains in the distance — Mount Rainier is visible from Seattle, and Mount Hood can be seen from Portland.

Additionally, three places didn’t quite make the cut based on where they fall in the Best Places to Live in 2021-2022 ranking, but they offer easy access to hiking trails and other activities. Honolulu is home to the Diamond Head crater and is located at the base of peaks like Konahuanui and Tantalus. Springfield, Missouri, has a few rolling hills within its city limits, but is a part of the Ozark Mountains region and is known as the Queen City of the Ozarks. Spokane, Washington, is located a short drive from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and is just 20 miles from the Antoine Peak Conservation Area.

Hickory, North Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 52
Metro Population: 366,678
Median Home Price: $161,000
Average Annual Salary: $41,840

Located in the Catawba Valley of North Carolina, Hickory is a part of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The closest popular hiking trails in Hickory range from easy to moderate, with longer and more complex hiking trails just a short drive deeper into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The iconic blue hues of the mountains are visible in the distance from higher points in the metro area, and residents benefit from a low cost of living. The cost of living in Hickory requires just 19.71% of the area’s median household income to cover rent or mortgage payments, property taxes and utilities.

Asheville, North Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 48
Metro Population: 454,351
Median Home Price: $278,750
Average Annual Salary: $44,830

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is known for its active arts community and breathtaking views of the mountains. From Asheville, you will find easy access to multiple points on the Appalachian Trail and other hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. Whether they’re drawn to the access to the outdoors or to the handmade, personal touch of art galleries and farm-to-table restaurants throughout the metro area, plenty of people are choosing Asheville as their new hometown. The Asheville metro area’s population grew by 5% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Knoxville, Tennessee

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 41
Metro Population: 853,337
Median Home Price: $295,544
Average Annual Salary: $45,450

While Knoxville itself is a fairly level metro area, popular trails for House Mountain begin just 15 miles outside of town, and the Great Smoky Mountains are just 35 miles from the center of the city. The mountain influence in Knoxville is strong, with the local minor league baseball team dubbed the Tennessee Smokies. As with many Southern metro areas with fewer than 1 million residents, Knoxville has a low cost of living. Residents spend 20.95% of the median household income on housing expenses.

Greenville, South Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 38
Metro Population: 895,942
Median Home Price: $268,463
Average Annual Salary: $44,860

Another spot for idyllic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville has easy access to trails with overlooks, waterfalls and lake destinations. Within Greenville County, there are three state parks that offer hiking, water sports and camping, among other activities. If you’re looking to move to the area for work and leave mountain excursions to evenings and weekends, GE, Michelin, Proterra and the Greenville Health System are major employers in the metro area. Greenville residents spend 20.52% of the area’s median household income on housing costs.

Salt Lake City

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 23
Metro Population: 2,480,709
Median Home Price: $458,230
Average Annual Salary: $50,103

If Salt Lake City doesn’t come to mind when you consider major metro areas near the mountains, there’s something missing from your search. Located in the Salt Lake Valley, Salt Lake City is surrounded by the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. Ski resorts are located within a 30-minute drive of the city, and even more are within a one-hour drive. There are dozens of hiking trails that begin in the city or are easily accessible by car for a day hike, bike or climb. In the Best Places to Live ranking, Salt Lake City receives high marks for the overall happiness of its residents, based on the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, steady job market and short average morning commute.

Fort Collins, Colorado

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 17
Metro Population: 344,786
Median Home Price: $462,481
Average Annual Salary: $53,230

Situated against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins offers easy access to trails, streams and lakes that dot the area’s rising terrain from town, and it’s just 35 miles to Rocky Mountain National Park. As a smaller metro area with a lower cost of living than many other places in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain settings, Fort Collins is seeing its population grow quickly as people move to the area for work and to be close to the outdoors. The Fort Collins metro area’s population grew by 8.2% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Denver

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 14
Metro Population: 2,892,066
Median Home Price: $557,273
Average Annual Salary: $61,540

While its elevation gives it the nickname the Mile High City, Denver is situated on the flat ground of the Front Range, with the Rocky Mountains to the west and plains to the east. But plenty of people choose to live in Denver because it’s a major metro area with a strong job market with easy access to everything the mountains offer. It’s just 12 miles to the city of Golden, an old mining town next to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the starting point for many popular hiking, biking and running trails that Denver residents take advantage of frequently.

Boise, Idaho

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 710,743
Median Home Price: $221,475
Average Annual Salary: $47,170

Much of the Boise metro area is set on flat land, but the Boise foothills on the northeastern side of the city make for good views to the east, and even better views from the peaks looking back at the city. Many trails for hiking, mountain biking and trail running begin in the city or just outside of it, and it’s just a short drive to get to the Boise National Forest or Sawtooth National Forest for more expansive outdoor options. With a population of less than 750,000 people, Boise isn’t anywhere close to the most populous metro area on this list, but it’s growing quickly. Boise’s population grew by 7.6% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 723,498
Median Home Price: $455,371
Average Annual Salary: $52,360

Colorado Springs is at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, and the city itself has an elevation over 6,000 feet. Plenty of mountain trails and parks are accessible within the city of Colorado Springs, and it’s also the home of Garden of the Gods, a picturesque and extensive rock formation with Pike’s Peak visible in the background. Access to outdoor activities including hiking, camping and skiing or snowboarding is a big reason people move to or want to move to Colorado Springs. Tied with Honolulu, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Colorado Springs is the No. 1 most desirable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., based on a SurveyMonkey survey of 3,600 U.S. residents asking where they’d like to live, given the choice.

Boulder, Colorado

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 1
Metro Population: 322,510
Median Home Price: $528,833
Average Annual Salary: $67,160

Nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is the ideal spot for many people who want to live near the mountains without sacrificing job opportunities, making it the top spot on this list and No. 1 on our overall Best Places to Live ranking. Technology, aerospace and higher education are major industries in Boulder that lend to the high average annual salary of $67,160. Dozens of trails within the city offer plenty of hiking opportunities for all experience levels. Many of these trails are located in Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks, which is publicly owned land focused on land preservation and maintaining public space for outdoor enjoyment.

The 10 best places to live near the mountains in the U.S. are:

— Boulder, Colorado.

— Colorado Springs, Colorado.

— Boise, Idaho.

— Denver.

— Fort Collins, Colorado.

— Salt Lake City.

— Greenville, South Carolina.

— Knoxville, Tennessee.

— Asheville, North Carolina.

— Hickory, North Carolina.

More from U.S. News

The 25 Best Places for Young Professionals to Live

The Best Places to Live By the Beach in the U.S.

The 10 Best Places to Live in California This Year

The Best Places to Live Near the Mountains originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 10/20/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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