This college town provides a mix of culture (live music, arts festivals, and watering holes) and nature. The French Broad river flows right through the town, and you can also hop right on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
An old railroad and livestock town, it now features arts and crafts galleries, atmospheric diners, and eccentric lodging options. Wild is a description that applies to the entire region, but the main draw lies an hour down Highway 385 in Big Bend National Park for desert exploration and climbing.
Outdoors shops, pizza joints, and pub life collide in the tiny village center, surrounded by parks, forest, and the sprawling SUMO campus. It’s a quick drive from Monarch, one of the state’s best under-the-radar ski areas, and when the snow melts it pumps up the Arkansas, giving paddling and rafting options for the whole family.
There are almost limitless camping and hiking options along the entire Arkansas from Saliva to Buena Vista. Whether you’re gearing up for some epic fly-fishing or a trek through El Dorado National Forest, Truckee has everything you’ll need in a base of operations.
Sadly, a push to open sulfide mining operations near Boundary Waters could put the wilderness area at risk. If such companies are allowed to open mines, pollution from sulfuric acid, mercury and toxic metals could contaminate the lakes and rivers that flow into the Boundary Waters.
This could have deep impacts on water quality, harming wildlife and fish in this wilderness area that, so many Americans fought so hard to preserve. On the western slopes of the small, granite Sandra Mountain range hikers may spy numerous birds of prey like raptors, golden eagles and various hawks.
Four fourteeners are in the long and narrow Sanger de Cristo Wilderness, including the most challenging Crest one Needle. Large aspen stands visible today are a result of heavy fires purposely set in the early 1900s to clear pasture land, expose minerals, and produce charcoal.
Great Sand Dunes National Preserve is offers skiing in winter, splashing in sandy creeks in spring, and dark starry skies year-round. Six insects protected here are found nowhere else on Earth, including the beautiful Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle.
The area held religious significance to early Spanish settlers, thus the meaning of its name: “Blood of Christ”. To access the heart of the area, visitor must drive the highest paved road on the continent, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
Forests of fir and hemlock trees greet visitors in the rugged, glacier-carved North Cascades, less than 50 miles from Seattle. This wilderness area boasts over 700 mountain lakes, including Enchantment, Mason, Melania, Snoqualmie and more.
One of the most popular outdoor destinations in its state, Alpine Lakes contains part of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as Cashmere Crags, one of the best rock-climbing locales in the West. The area is named for its three major volcanoes, and includes other geologic features like Rock Mesa, Collier Cone, and Japan Crater as well as lava flows and tubes.
The headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Which Creek invite brook and rainbow trout for fishers and hikers can trek a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. On the northern side of Mount Hood is an area just south of the Columbia River Gorge and near enough to Portland that it attracts many visitors.
Mossy cliffs, forested plateaus and meadow ridges offer views of wildlife and majestic scenes of the Cascade Range. Running along the crest of the Sierra Nevada's is a wilderness filled with snow-capped granite peaks and expansive meadows.
The John Muir Wilderness was designated 50 years ago and is named after the revered advocate for wild lands. It has the largest contiguous area above 10,000 feet in the continental U.S. Wildlife includes marmots, pikes, Clark's nutcrackers, Golden Trout and black bears.
In the 80s it was renamed after Angel Adams, the famous photographer of the Sierra Nevada and a former council member of the Wilderness Society. East of Angel Adams’ Ritter Range is the most visited section: the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, which contains Devils Postpile National Monument.
In forests of aspen, conifers, oak and maple visitors may spy Rocky Mountain goats, mule deer, elk and moose. Close to the greater Salt Lake City area, High Unitas is “loved to death” by hoards of avid rock climbers, fall hunters and hikers on Kings Peak.
The Quinta Mountains, named for the Intact natives, are the highest peaks in the state and home to cougars, black bears, bighorn sheep, river otters and 75% of Utah's bird species. “The Grand Canyon of North Carolina” is one of the most scenic river gorges in the eastern U.S. Its rough terrain prevented clear-cutting, so it remains one of only a few old growth forests in the Blue Ridge Mountains range.
Visitors are drawn to rock climbing at Jonas Ridge, scenic viewing at Linville Falls as well as backpacking, hunting and fishing. Those seeking more solitude are advised to explore the southern half of the wilderness or the rough northern section around Brush Ridge.
Strewn with streams, its West Fork of Pigeon River runs to Cold Mountain, the namesake of a novel and film set during the Civil War. Granite Peak, Montana's tallest, towers over the vast Bear tooth Plateau and alpine lakes are small but plentiful.
The neighboring Baroda mountain range, named for what the Crow Indians called themselves, has dense forests and expansive meadows with trout-rich streams. It extends to the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, offering over 700 miles of trails for ultimate backpacking adventures.
We picked places that offer opportunities to view abundant wildlife, and vistas of undeveloped land that inspire. And we still applied our critical review of livability, which means these are cities which have a great mix of affordability, climate, amenities and health resources.
The huge slate of outdoor activities in and around Boulder will please serious and recreational nature lovers alike. In the early 1970s Boulder officials approved the first of several local sales tax hikes to buy land for parks.
The economy is diverse and strong: Unemployment is only 5.9 percent (September 2011), and the workforce includes a lot of self-employed professionals. The University of Colorado at Boulder (enrollment 32,400) and Front Range Community College (15,300) welcome students of all ages.
Boulder is the top-ranked metro in the country for the proportion of adults with a four-year college degree but is also a nexus for alternatives in spirituality, education and medicine. The heart of town is Pearl Street, a four-block pedestrian mall lined with cafés, bars, boutiques and more.
Boulder is extremely bicycle friendly, with abundant bike lanes and paths, and mass transit is wonderful. The county has several municipal public recreation centers with pools, basketball courts, extensive weight rooms and more.
Also, Cabrillo College (enrollment: 14,000) has a Lifelong Learning Institute for students aged 55 and older. The rugged Santa Cruz Mountains hide smaller towns like Ben Lomond (6,234).
To the east is the San Lorenzo River Valley, which was logged in the 19th century but retains its sequoia trees, as well as Big Basin Redwoods State Park. To the south is Watsonville (51,199) and a flat, uber-fertile agricultural region famed for its strawberries and winter vegetables.
The school's arts division is especially active; Shakespeare Santa Cruz, an internationally renowned theater company, mounts productions in summer and during the holiday season. There's also an annual festival honoring Charles Dickens, and an endowment that supports programs in the arts and culture of India.
Traffic gets bad on winding canyon roads, and a lot of people here have long work commutes, although public transportation and carpooling are popular. Santa Cruz has been honored as a bicycle friendly community, and there are dozens of mountain biking trails, including an eight-mile loop through redwoods at the Forest of Nicene Marks State Park.
Santa Cruz has a high concentration of general practice physicians, but not many specialists and a very low number of hospital beds per capita. Forget outer space: For Americans, Alaska has long embodied the final frontier, a big, untamed world of vast landscapes, towering mountains and lots of bears.
That's a fair portrait of the state overall but Anchorage, while surrounded by national and state parks and located near one of the world's richest fisheries, harbors enough urban conveniences and culture to complement the natural bounty and make Alaska's capital city an attractive retirement locale. You can bring a picnic lunch to Eagle River Nature Center, 40 minutes from downtown Anchorage in Church State Park, with trails (hiking, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing) ranging from three to 25 miles, guided walks, a cozy visitor's center and docents to answer questions.
Or take a tour on the Alaska railroad around Turn again Arm, where the dramatic backdrop of the Church Mountains and Cook Inlet make this one of the most scenic routes in the U.S. The fairly compact downtown offers a decent range of restaurants, from sushi and fine dining to pizza, microbreweries and the expected saloon fare.
Home prices are slightly higher than the national average: a typical house here will cost you about $275,000. Endless desert and real cowboys are just two features that help Tucson keep that Old West feeling alive.
Just an hour's drive north of Mexico, Tucson is set in a tight bowl of mountains making it cooler than some other desert areas, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Much of the mountainous area around the city is protected as public land, and the terrain harbors hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails for all skill levels.
Lemon Ski Valley, pasted to the upper flanks of the eponymous 9,000-foot peak just northeast of town. The center of Tucson still has vestiges of an Old West feel, especially the neighborhood around Hotel Congress, where bank robber John Dillinger holed up in the 1930s.
The front desk still uses the original switchboard (from 1919) to call guest rooms and a music club added in 1985 hosts all manner of acts. Even Tucsonians who are well north of college age can take a class at the university's Other Lifelong Learning Institute.
For culture, the Arizona Theater Company heads a long list of troupes in town. On the downside, property crime rates are high in part due to offenses linked to drugs.
Huge amounts of illicit drugs from Mexico and points south pass through Tucson. Among Honolulu's 138 miles of coastline, Waikiki is most famous, with masses sunbathing, surfing (novice to intermediate), paddling outrigger canoes, swimming and enjoying life.
Southeast of the city is Panama Bay Nature Preserve, a recently restored top snorkeling spot. Honolulu is also good for walking: the neighborhoods are divided by ridges, which keeps them feeling small, and local officials follow the Complete Streets school of urban design.
This is a literate metro, ranking 22nd of the 69 largest U.S. cities in a study that looked at the concentration of booksellers, education, Internet activity, public libraries, newspapers and local magazines. Still, despite heavily used mass transit and high rates of carpooling, walking and bicycling to work, traffic congestion is bad because a lot of roads are twisting, two-lane affairs.
Catch the oldest American symphony orchestra west of the Rocky Mountains or visit museums that house major collections of Asian, Islamic and contemporary art. Sea air may not cure all, but it certainly lowers stress levels, especially in concert with all else Portland, Maine has on offer.
Do your retirement visions include seaside walks, harbor-side dining and proximity to top-shelf hiking, boating and skiing, all within a hip, green, amenity-rich city? From Commercial Street you can sit on a bench inhaling salty air and watching birds wheel over islands in Cisco Bay.
The downtown also includes historic brick neighborhoods, a year-round farmer's market and thriving indie businesses like Longfellow Books. In 2009, Portland was named America's Most Livable City by Forbes magazine for its income growth, cultural scene and lack of crime.
It has won accolades as an historic destination, a green city, a top spot for outdoor recreation and a haven for creative people. Portland's cost of living is quite high but so is the median household income, and there isn't much of a problem here with housing foreclosure.
As a regional financial center and large port, Portland offers a robust job market. The abundance of outlet malls coaxes more money from the tourists, which puts more sales tax revenue into local government.
Flooding is a risk on the rivers and creeks flowing into Cisco Bay, and the winter can bring nasty Nor'Easters and the occasional paralyzing ice storm. Spotless air and lots of room to play are two reasons Minnesotans rank high in health.
Numerous lakes within a two-hour drive offer fishing, trails, small beaches and boat ramps. And not much further afield is the vast wilderness of Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters canoe area.
Then everyone else heard about it, which fueled Missoula's rapid transformation from a quiet mountain town into a hip tourism and second-home epicenter. A lot of tourists come because Missoula is roughly in the middle of the Golden Triangle of fly-fishing, defined by Glacier and Yellowstone national parks to the north and south, and Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains to the west.
Not surprisingly, Missoula's economy, long driven by the University of Montana (enrollment 13,300), is now soundly rooted in tourism. The city boasts dozens of restaurants, bars, breweries and coffee houses including Italian, Thai, sushi, Mexican and vegetarian-friendly eateries.
The downtown shopping district includes an array of boutiques, galleries, clothing, home decor and outdoor gear stores. Much of the culture here is nature inspired: The International Wildlife Film Festival, held annually at the historic Wilma Theater, is a major event.
A lot of people walk or bike to work in Missoula, and the city has been honored as a bicycle friendly community for maintaining over 100 miles of trails, many of which lead into the surrounding mountain wildness. The boundaries of the 2 million-acre Solo National Forest are just outside of town, one of several huge swaths of public land nearby.
Naples is the embodiment of the Florida retirement dream: Pleasant winters, beaches galore, most golf holes per resident in the U.S. and tanned, wealthy retirees noshing away in sidewalk cafés and fine restaurants. The center also hosts entertainment of a mainstream sort (recent performers have included Paul Anna, Tom Jones and a traveling production of Legally Blonde) that reflects the area's older, wealthy demographic: Over 42 percent of residents are over age 65.
You've seen the photo: person at home, office or café, gazing out over open water with snowy peak in distant background. Answer: Seattle, blessed by cozy proximity to Puget Sound, two huge lakes (Washington and Sammamish), and the northern Cascade Mountains.
The area consistently wins accolades for its air and water quality and progressive waste management. City parks are abundant, many along Seattle's 140 miles of waterfront, with an embarrassment of play space for hikers, joggers, cyclists and kayaks.
In 2008, Seattle voters approved $17.8 billion for a 15-year public transport improvement, and a property tax increase of $145 million for parks and open space. Or you pop into waterfront restaurants on the piers on Elliot Bay and browse a huge selection of shops downtown, all walking distance to the Space Needle, Seattle Science Center and much more.
The city has a plethora of working theatrical companies, and lots of interesting venues including the renovated Moore Theater, built in 1907. Jimi Hendrix grew up here, and the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame built in his name features a spectrum of exhibits.
Winter rain can sock the region in for days on end, and property and violent crime rates are well above the national average.