Can a city slicker with a camping addiction ever really have it all? In our Best Cities for Outdoor Lovers, we set out to find urban places that offered the best of the nature nearby. We ranked cities based on their access to green spaces, percentage of the population that is at least moderately physically active, and their proximity to camp sites, ski resorts, and golf courses, with the most weight given to green space access and physical fitness. Limited to one place per state.—Michaela Ross
Although Anchorage has more green-space access than any other city on our “Outdoor Lovers” list, for several months of the year residents count on those spaces to be blanketed in white. Nearby ski resorts offer majestic views of snow-capped mountains, including the stratovolcano Mount Spurr just across the Cook Inlet’s waters. Within the city’s boundaries lies Chugach State Park, the third largest state park in the U.S., encompassing more than half a million acres with 200+ miles of year-round trails, 50 glaciers, and plenty of wildlife to observe. Residents come here for more than ample opportunities to bike, hike, camp, and snowmobile.
Minneapolis may be known for its serious lineup of winter sports options—the city offers easy access to 10 ski resorts—but when summertime hits, you can find people out enjoying the scenic waterfronts too. The majestic Mississippi River cuts through the middle of the city flanked by miles of parks and green space. And in the state of 10,000 lakes, Minneapolis’s “Chain of Lakes” park connects five of the city’s most picturesque with a network of trails. It’s here that residents enjoy calm beaches, live music, boating, biking, jogging, and other sports.
The city of Mesa, Arizona – also on MONEY’s 2015 list of Best Big Cities – is only miles from the urban amenities of Phoenix, but its eastern border hugs thousands of acres of national parks and the Sonoran Desert wilderness. Touting one of most diverse ecosystems of plants and animals of any desert in the world, the Mesa area is great for hikers, cyclists, horseback riders and kayakers looking to explore. Within city limits, residents can also enjoy Mesa’s unique series of urban fishing lakes, which are regularly stocked for recreational fishers, as well as over 200 golf courses nearby.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Nestled at the base of Pikes Peak, one of the tallest mountains in the Rockies, Colorado Springs is surrounded by national forests offering endless rock climbing, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking. And nearby 120-story-deep Royal Gorge canyon has all the world-class whitewater rafting an adventurer’s heart could desire. For scenic hikes with striking views, look no further than the Garden of the God’s National Natural Landmark at sunset, when its towering rock formations turn shades of red and purple. Residents don’t hibernate when the snow starts flying either: almost a dozen ski resorts nearby offer world-class slopes for any skill set.
If folks who live in Anaheim ever tire of the entertainment options inside Disneyland, the city has more than enough outdoor activities to keep them busy. Wedged between thousands of acres of state parks with 42 miles of sunny beaches just down the road, it’s no wonder residents are more physically active than national averages. And with ideal SoCal weather, virtually any day is a great day for boating, whale and dolphin watching, swimming, kayaking or teeing off at one of almost 300 golf courses on California’s “Golf Coast.”