A Life Outside
5 Outdoor Towns Doing It Right
It doesn’t matter whether you live in a small rural outpost or a huge urban metropolis, every place has opportunities for getting outdoors. But when it comes to the outdoors as a way of life, some towns just do it better.
From a mountain biking Mecca with trails at its center, to an urban haven that’s putting seeds before cement, there are locations right across the U.S. whose attitudes to backyard adventure beat the rest. Here are five of the best outdoor towns and cities that have time outside as a top priority.
Made famous as the birthplace of Walmart, Bentonville is quickly gaining notoriety for another reason: its expansive network of world-class mountain bike trails. First devised as a recruitment tool for the retail giant’s headquarters, Bentonville’s trails date back to 2006 when the Walton family donated the first piece of land to be developed for riding. Cue a decade of action from a whole host of volunteers and community groups, and the town now boasts one of the finest, most thoughtfully planned networks of mountain bike trails anywhere in the U.S.
Slaughter Pen—that first patch of donated land—is the section closest to town, and features almost 20 miles of trails just a two-minute ride from Bentonville’s center. Further out of town there’s the Back 40, a trail area with more than 2,000 meters of total descent and some truly mind-blowing lines. But it’s not just off-road nuts that get their outdoor fix here. Hiking trails are abundant, and the Crystal Bridges Trail connects downtown Bentonville and its namesake museum, passing public art, sculptures, and the Compton Gardens on the way. The city also has a number of trails that connect to main streets, parks, and neighborhoods so pedestrians don’t have to walk on the roadside.
North Conway, New Hampshire
While most people associate the West with alpine pursuits, the East Coast has its fair share of mountainous playgrounds, and North Conway is one of the best outdoor towns here. With easy access to the White Mountains—including Mt. Washington, the Northeast’s highest peak—there’s more than enough elevation gain to make for challenging trails. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail, climbing the many routes in the surrounding mountains, and canoeing on the Androscoggin River are just some of the pursuits enjoyed by locals. Come winter, you can ski Tuckerman Ravine, a rite of passage for East Coast skiers which has lines featuring sustained pitches of 60 degrees. And thanks to the town’s small size—just 2,300 people—the 700,000 acres of North Conway’s protected land is the ideal place to escape the crowds and plot your next adventure.
Situated in Northern California’s Yolo County and home to University of California – Davis, this small college town has a long reputation for putting outside space first. In 1936, the university established a 100-acre arboretum. This 24-hour outdoor sanctuary is complete with gardens, rare plant collections, and a waterway that’s said to be frequented by herons and kingfishers.
The town has since adopted various measures to protect its open spaces, including their innovative “Measure O,” a type of tax that’s used exclusively to acquire and maintain open space areas. Davis also has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters of any city in the U.S., and an impressive network of bike paths and cycleways to accommodate them. But perhaps most impressive of all is the town’s greenbelt—a near-continuous stretch of parks, paths, and trails that covers over sixty miles. It’s so vast that the City of Davis now provides a greenbelt map to help people navigate this incredible urban maze of open space.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Yes—Vegas. About as unnatural as it gets. However, cast your eyes beyond the bright neon glow and there’s a sea of spectacular scenery just waiting to be explored. And in terms of quick-and-easy access to incredible adventure terrain, Vegas is (almost) unrivalled. Red Rock Canyon is just a 20-minute drive west of town and offers hiking, cycling, and rock climbing within its nearly 200,000-acre expanse. To the east, Lake Mead offers miles of beautiful waterside trails. And just a two-hour drive away lies Zion National Park, a place that’s regularly cited as one of the best hiking and climbing spots in the country.
Close to the New Mexico border and surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, Durango offers a peaceful hideaway in the hills—and one of the best outdoor towns to visit if you’re looking for big landscapes and even bigger thrills. First founded in the Gold Rush era of the 1880s, its historic town center still features relics of the Wild West, like a saloon inside a hotel that doubles as a living history museum.
But you’re here for the outdoors, which is Durango’s real draw today. Thirteen of Colorado’s 54 ‘fourteeners’ (peaks higher than 14,000 feet) can be found in the surrounding San Juan Mountains, and the East Animas sandstone climbing area is only a couple of miles out of town. Most exciting of all is the Colorado Trail, a 567-mile hiking and cycling route that runs from Durango all the way to Denver, taking in some of the most spectacular sections of the Rockies along the way. And if you’d rather row than ride, the Animas River cuts right through the town.