Outdoor activities can add up quickly when you consider equipment, gear and apparel. For instance, the average bicycle costs upwards of $300, with some bikes costing thousands of dollars, depending on make and model. Similarly, skiing is a particularly expensive outdoor activity, with most annual ski passes costing nearly $1,000. Other outdoor activities, such as hiking, are more affordable. An annual pass to the U.S. National Parks costs just $80.
Given these costs, taking part in outdoor activities depends on not only ease of access to outdoor recreation areas, but also disposable income. In this study, we determined the best places for outdoor enthusiasts, accounting for livability, employment and outdoor access. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, read the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s third study on the best places for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work. Check out the previous version here.
- Parkland access is a hallmark of the top 10 cities. On average, parkland makes up 24% of the cities in the top 10. Comparatively, that figure is just 7% for the bottom 10 cities. The cities with the highest percentages of parkland are Anchorage, Alaska (84%), Fremont, California (49%) and Chesapeake, Virginia (41%).
- Median income in nine of the top 10 cities increased more than 14% over a five-year period. Across the top 10 cities, Tampa, Florida boasts the largest five-year change, at 25%. Across all 96 cities we considered, another Florida city (Miami, ranking 19th) has the largest overall five-year change in income, at 48%.
- Florida and Virginia cities dominate the top 10. Three Florida cities (St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando) rank in the top six, while three Virginia cities (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Arlington) round out the top 10. The Florida cities have low recent unemployment rates along with large income increases over a five-year period. The Virginia cities also rank well for their low unemployment rates along with high air quality.
1. St. Petersburg, FL
For the second year in a row, St. Petersburg, Florida claims the top spot. This city ranks in the top 15 cities for four metrics. It has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate for March 2022 (2.4%), the 13th-best air quality (with an average daily particulate matter, or PM2.5, of 7.5) and 14th-highest percentage of parkland (17.64%). Additionally, Florida has the third-largest outdoor recreation economy, behind Hawaii and California.
2. Madison, WI
Madison, Wisconsin retains its place as the second-best place for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work this year. In terms of employment, Madison boasts the third-lowest March 2022 unemployment rate (2.3%). A little over one-tenth of commuters in this city bike or walk to work (ranking fourth-best). And for individuals looking to maximize their time in nature, Madison offers the 10th-highest concentration of nature parks and campgrounds (1.47 for every 100,000 residents).
3. Anchorage, AK
Anchorage, Alaska’s outdoor recreation access is unmatched when compared with the other 95 cities included in this study. Anchorage ranks first for how much of the city is designated parkland (84.17%, which is more than 30% higher than any other city) and the number of nature parks and campgrounds (nearly 5 for every 100,000 residents). Alaska also has the second-largest state outdoor recreation economy (with revenue from outdoor recreation businesses making up 3.2% of its economy) and second-highest state and national park coverage (9.10%).
4. Scottsdale, AZ
This city of roughly 255,000 people is made up of almost 27% parkland, which ranks sixth-best. For outdoor enthusiasts looking for a more stable employment climate, Scottsdale, Arizona is one of the cities with a lower unemployment rate. In fact, as of March 2022, the unemployment rate is 2.4%, which is the fifth-lowest across the cities in our study. Making a down payment on a home in the city is also easier than most others. We found that its down payment-to-income ratio ranks third-best, at 0.34.
5. Tampa, FL
Tampa, Florida ranks best in employment-related metrics offering the 12th-lowest March 2022 unemployment rate (2.5%) and the 19th-highest five-year change in median household income (25.21%). Moreover, state and national parks cover roughly 6.63% of Florida, the sixth-highest rate across all 50 states.
6. Orlando, FL
Although known for its many theme parks, Orlando, Florida is also a great option for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work. The March 2022 unemployment rate (2.5%) ties Tampa, FL as the 12th-lowest and the median household income increased by 23.17%, from 2015 to 2020. Additionally, air quality in Orlando remains at safe levels. Orlando’s average daily particulate matter is 5.4, which is the second-lowest of all the cities analyzed in this study.
7. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis, Minnesota boasts the third-lowest March 2022 unemployment rate (2.3%). In this city, a little over one-tenth of the commuters walk or bike to work, which ranks ninth-best. For recreation, Minneapolis has the 20th-highest percentage of parkland (making up nearly 15% of the city). On a state-level, outdoor recreation accounts 2.2% of the economy (ranking fifth-best across all 50 states).
8. Virginia Beach, VA
Roughly 16% of Virginia Beach, Virginia is designated parkland, which is the 16th-highest rate out of all 96 cities we considered. There are also four nature parks and campgrounds available in this city, or a rate of 0.89 per 100,000 residents. Additionally, air quality in Virginia Beach is high, as its average daily particulate matter is 6.7 (ranking eighth-best).
9. Chesapeake, VA
The second Virginia city in the top 10 is Chesapeake. Almost 41% of the city is parkland, which is the third-highest rate for this metric. The city offers three nature parks and campground (which works out to roughly 1.24 for every 100,000 residents, ranking 14th-highest). Finally, Chesapeake ranks in the top 25 cities for two livability and employment metrics we considered (down payment-to-income ratio, at 0.70, and March 2022 unemployment rate, at 2.7%).
10. Arlington, VA
Arlington, Virginia rounds out our list of the top 10 cities for outdoor enthusiasts. For those in the home buying market, the down payment-to-income ratio is best in our study, at 0.30. Arlington also has the lowest March 2022 unemployment rate (2.0%) and commuters who walk or bike to work make up 6.5% of the workforce.
Data and Methodology
To find the best cities for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work, we compared 96 of the largest U.S. cities across the following metrics:
Livability and Employment Metrics
- Down payment-to-income ratio. Data comes from Zillow and the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-Year American Community Survey. Zillow data is as of March 2022.
- Five-year change in median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2015 1-Year and 2020 5-Year American Community Surveys.
- March 2022 unemployment rate. Data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Percentage of commuters who walk or bike to work. Data is from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-Year American Community Survey.
- Nature parks and campgrounds per 100,000 residents. Data is from the Census Bureau’s 2020 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Air pollution. This is the average daily particulate matter (PM2.5). Data is from the 2022 County Health Rankings.
- Percentage of the city that is parkland. Data is from the 2021 Acreage & Park System Highlights Report from the Trust for Public Land.
- State outdoor recreation economy. This measures revenue from outdoor recreation businesses (like fishing and RVing) as a percentage of all state revenue. Data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and is for 2020.
- State and national park coverage. Data is from PlaygroundEquipment.com.
First, we ranked each city in each metric. We then found the average ranking, with each metric given an equal weight except for the two state-level metrics (national and state park coverage and state outdoor recreation economy – to which we assigned a half weight each). We ranked the cities based on these averages. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Finance Tips for Outdoor Enthusiasts
- Carve out funds for your outdoor fun. Life’s essential expenses can strain your wallet, but you can temper the impact with budgeting and make sure you have funds to dedicate to your recreational escapes. Our budget calculator can give you a clear picture of your current spending while showing you where cutting back on excess expenses can maximize your savings.
- Relocate with confidence. Some cities are better suited than others to meet your outdoor needs, but moving to a new city or home can be daunting. SmartAsset offers free tools to get a sense for how much you can afford to spend on a home, to understand what your closing costs could be and how much to expect to pay in property taxes.
- Put your finances on the right path. A financial advisor can help you manage and make the most of your money, which could mean less financial stress for you. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Questions about our study? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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