Best Cities for Outdoor Enthusiasts


Best Cities for Outdoor Enthusiasts
iStock.com/jacoblund

Summer is in full swing, and what better time to experience the great outdoors and enjoy the beauty of the warmer months. Whether your lifestyle includes hiking, camping, fishing, or simply enjoying the fresh air, we’ve broken down the best cities for outdoor enthusiasts. We analyzed data, including average temperatures, precipitation, air quality, outdoor recreation availability, and access to national parks and forests, to rank 100 cities by key factors which impact a resident’s ability to enjoy mother nature in all her glory. Here’s what we found:

Key takeaways

  • The Western portion of the U.S. prevails with the top cities for outdoor enjoyment
  • Portland, OR is the overall best city for outdoor enthusiasts
  • Las Vegas, NV has the lowest precipitation
  • Honolulu, HI has the best air quality
  • Reno, NV has the highest volume of campgrounds 

The top 10 cities for outdoor enthusiasts

  1. Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon comes out on top as the best city for outdoor enthusiasts. Verdant city parks and urban forests make this Pacific Northwest city a highly sought-after destination for outdoor living. The Willamette River flows through the north of the city, affording residents opportunities for boating, swimming, and fishing. With over 80 miles of trails in Forest Park alone, hiking is a favorite pastime of all who call Portland home. While the city received lower grades for precipitation and average temperatures common for this Northern coastal area, it received straight A’s in categories including national parks, campgrounds, air quality, and recreation areas, indicating significant opportunities for outdoor enjoyment in Portland. 

  1. Sacramento, CA

Sometimes referred to as “the city of trees” for its abundance of urban greenery, Sacramento provides numerous opportunities for residents to enjoy the outdoors. Sacramento received high marks in all categories we analyzed for outdoor recreation, including national parks, campgrounds, and other recreational areas. Additionally, the city sits at the confluence of two rivers, making it accessible for those who enjoy the water. Outdoorsy Sacramento residents enjoy nearby El Dorado National Forest for camping, skiing, and hiking. What held Sacramento from the top position were low grades in air quality and average temperatures. Still, Sacramento is a great place to live if you enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.

  1. Boise, ID

With access to the Boise National Forest and Sawtooth National Forest, living in Boise means outdoor enthusiasts can find fantastic hiking trails and camping opportunities. Boise scored particularly high for the following categories: campgrounds, recreational areas, and National parks and forests. Combined with relatively low precipitation, Boise is an excellent city to for those who love outdoor recreation. Not only are there a plethora of outdoor adventures waiting for Boise residents in the direct vicinity of the city itself, but many unique natural landmarks, including Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and the City of Rocks National Reserve, are only a short day trip away.

  1. Reno, NV

It’s no surprise that Reno, the “biggest little city in the world” made it into the top five best cities for outdoor enthusiasts. Situated along the border of Nevada and California, and just a short drive to Lake Tahoe, you can take advantage of the beautiful scenery and recreational opportunities both in and around Reno. Ranked number one for campgrounds, some of the best options include Davis Creek, Boca Reservoir, and Zephyr Cove. Reno residents can also enjoy areas for outdoor activities without leaving the city, including Rancho San Rafael Park, home to the Wilbur D. May Arboretum & Botanical Garden and the annual Great Reno Balloon Race.

  1. San Francisco, CA

Rounding out the top five best cities for outdoor enthusiasts is San Francisco, California. With high marks for air quality, national parks and forests, and recreational areas, the golden city allows residents a robust outdoor lifestyle. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, the Bay Area is well equipped to cater to any level of outdoor activity. Popular hiking destinations include the San Francisco Bay Trail, Twin Peaks, and Batteries to Bluffs, to name a few. Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the Bay Area’s most historic and well-known national park, encompasses over 80,000 acres of land and allows for a wide range of recreational activities. By sea, outdoor enthusiasts enjoy plenty of options for water activities on Ocean Beach, including boating, surfing, and kiteboarding. With favorable air quality and endless opportunities to live an active lifestyle, San Francisco is an excellent city for outdoor enthusiasts to call home. 

  1. Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City, the capital and most populous city of Utah, is a coveted destination for skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor activities. In fact, Salt Lake is so well known for its ideal winter sports climate that it was home to the 2002 winter Olympics. But outside of winter sports, Salt Lake City is a mountainous retreat outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy year-round, as illustrated by the high grades it received in the campgrounds, national parks, and recreational area categories. The city’s namesake, The Great Salt Lake, is the largest saltwater lake west of the Mississippi, and affords residents opportunities for fishing, hiking, and other outdoor recreational activities. As one of the longest mountain biking trails in Utah, The Union Pacific Rail Trail is an excellent destination for cyclists to enjoy the stunning Utah scenery. However, due to wildfires and drought common in the summer months, Salt Lake City received a low grade for its air quality. 

  1. Fresno, CA 

Located in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Fresno is number seven on our list of best cities for outdoor enthusiasts. Fresno ranks particularly well with access to national parks. When living in Fresno, residents can enjoy numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation in nearby Sierra National Forest, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Yosemite National Park. Additionally, the San Joaquin River, the longest river in central California, provides Fresno residents with access to boating, fishing, and camping. Typical of this region, Fresno has poor air quality with only 28 percent of days presenting good air quality, which negatively impacts its overall rating.

  1. Spokane, WA

West of the Rocky Mountain Foothills you’ll find Spokane, Washington. Named for the river which runs through the city, Spokane is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and boating. In addition to water activities, outdoorsy Spokane residents enjoy hiking in Mt. Spokane State Park and Deep Creek Canyon. Spokane scored consistently well in categories including air quality, precipitation, recreational areas, and national parks, but scored below average in average temperature with 50 degrees as the yearly average. 

  1. Denver, CO

The Mile High City of Denver, Coloarado is widely recognized as an outdoor recreation destination. While Colorado is a landlocked state, Denver’s proximity to the lush Rocky Mountains and sprawling urban parks contribute to a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities, making it a top destination for outdoorsy residents. Popular destinations for outdoor recreation in and around Denver include the Cherry Creek Trail, Red Rocks Park, and of course Rocky Mountain National Park. With a low precipitation rate and an abundance of sunshine, residents can enjoy hitting the trails each weekend. However, low grades for air quality and average temperatures held Denver back from a higher position. Residents are annually plagued by Western fire smoke during the summer fire season, impacting air quality significantly, with 44 percent of days with a good air quality index in a year. Still, there’s a reason why Denver has continually gained new residents each year, and those in search of the great outdoors have found this city extremely favorable.

  1. Albuquerque, NM 

Wrapping up our top 10 best cities for outdoor enthusiasts is Albuquerque, NM. With low precipitation and access to stunning national parks and recreational areas, Albuquerque is a gem in the Southwest. Home to the Sandia Mountains and Cibola National Forest, residents enjoy opportunities for skiing, hiking, camping, and mountain biking. The Rio Grande flows through Albuquerque allowing for both water activities and views of wildlife in the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. While Albuquerque doesn’t have the best air quality or average annual temperatures, this city is an excellent place to live for outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience the vibrant culture of the Southwest. 

Cities ranked by top categories

National parks and forests

  1. Spokane, WA
  2. Sacramento, CA
  3. Portland, OR
  4. Reno, NV
  5. Fresno, CA

The Northwest dominates this category, with Spokane, Sacramento, and Portland topping the list for best cities to experience national parks and forests. Popular National Parks include North Cascades National Park, Redwood National Park, and Mount Hood National Forest. 

Recreational areas

  1. Baltimore, MD
  2. Washington, DC
  3. Albuquerque, NM
  4. Sacramento, CA
  5. Boise, ID

The best cities for other outdoor recreational areas are generally diverse in location. Areas including reservoirs, mountains, trails, historic sites, rivers, hills, monuments, national preserves, gardens, springs, and wilderness were all components of these scores. Baltimore comes out on top, followed by Washington, Albuquerque, Sacramento, and Boise. 

Campgrounds

  1. Reno, NV
  2. Denver, CO
  3. Fresno, CA
  4. Sacramento, CA
  5. Portland, OR

With 80 campgrounds in Reno, you’ll have plenty of options for some desert camping. If you’re looking for more of a temperate climate, Denver has you covered with 55 campgrounds to choose from. Rounding out the top five is Fresno with 51, Sacramento with 43, and Portland with 41. 

Air quality

  1. Honolulu, HI
  2. Norfolk, VA
  3. New Orleans, LA
  4. Orlando, FL
  5. Virginia Beach, VA

With 99.73 percent of days of good air quality, Honolulu is the best location to take in the fresh air (literally). Norfolk, Virginia is not far behind with 96.96 percent, followed by New Orleans with 96.08 percent, Orlando with 94.94 percent, and Virginia Beach with 93.33 percent. 

Average temperature

  1. Miami, FL
  2. Honolulu, HI
  3. Fort, Lauderdale, FL
  4. Phoenix, AZ
  5. St Petersburg, FL

With an average annual temperature of 78.4 degrees, Miami, Florida presents the most favorable temperatures for outdoor lifestyles. Honolulu is not far off with an average annual temperature of 78.2 degrees. 

Precipitation

  1. Las Vegas, NV
  2. Santa Ana, CA
  3. Anaheim, CA
  4. Henderson, NV
  5. Mesa, AZ

Known for its desert climate, it’s not shocking that Las Vegas records the lowest annual precipitation with 3.7 inches. Following Vegas is Santa Ana, CA with 4.25 inches, Anaheim with 4.39 inches, Henderson with 4.84 inches, and Meza with 5.45 inches of precipitation annually.

The worst cities for outdoor lifestyles

  1. Chicago, IL
  2. Fort Lauderdale, FL
  3. Tampa, FL
  4. Houston, TX
  5. San Antonio, TX

With failing grades in temperature, air quality, national parks, and recreation areas, The Windy City of Chicago is the overall worst city for outdoor enthusiasts.

Methodology 

To determine the best cities for outdoor lifestyles we analyzed the top 100 US cities on seven key metrics. These metrics included the following:

  • National Parks and Forests – Recreation.gov
  • Recreation Areas – Recreation.gov
  • Campgrounds – Recreation.gov
  • Average temperature – Multiple national weather services – Year 2019 to Year 2021
  • Precipitation –  Multiple national weather services – Year 2019 to Year 2021
  • Air Quality Index – USA Environmental Protection Agency – Year 2021

Each city received a ranking and a weighted score for each metric. National Parks and Forests accounted for 30 percent of the weighted score. Recreational areas and campgrounds accounted for 20 percent each. Average temperature, precipitation, and air quality each accounted for 10 percent. We then assigned letter grades to each city based on the quintiles for each data point:

  • A = rank higher than 80% of cities
  • B = rank higher than 60% of cities
  • C = rank higher than 40% of cities
  • D = rank higher than 20% of cities
  • F = rank in the bottom 20% of cities

Full data 

How each city ranked in the individual categories

Overall RankingCityTemperaturePrecipitationAir QualityCampgroundsNational Parks and ForestsRecreational Areas
1Portland, ORDCAAAA
2Sacramento, CACADAAA
3Boise, IDDBCAAA
4Reno, NVFADAAB
5San Francisco, CADBACAA
6Salt Lake City, UTDBDAAA
7Fresno, CABAFAAA
8Spokane, WAFBBBAB
9Denver, COFBDABB
10Albuquerque, NMDAFBAA
11Colorado Springs, COFACAAC
12Baltimore, MDDDABCA
13Bakersfield, CABAFAAA
14Seattle, WAFCAABC
15Washington, D.C.CDCACA
16Aurora, COFBDABB
17Oakland, CADBDCAA
18Henderson, NVBAFBAA
19Anchorage, AKFBAACF
20Las Vegas, NVAAFBAA
21San Jose, CACADDAA
22Anaheim, CABBDBBB
23Boston, MAFDADDA
24Santa Ana, CABADBBB
25Providence, RIFDBDDA
26Richmond, VACFAFCA
27Columbus, OHDBCCCB
28Shreveport, LABBACCC
29Newark, NJDFBCDA
30Los Angeles, CABAFAAB
31New York, NYDFADDA
32Orlando, FLABABDD
33Long Beach, CABBFBBC
34Atlanta, GABBDACD
35Lincoln, NEFCADFC
36Akron, OHDCBDCB
37Tucson, AZAAFBBB
38San Diego, CABAFBBC
39Norfolk, VACDAFDC
40Chesapeake, VACDAFDC
41Gilbert, AZAAFCAB
42Mesa, AZAAFCAB
43Virginia Beach, VACFAFDB
44Scottsdale, AZAAFBAB
45El Paso, TXBAFDCB
46Chandler, AZAAFCAB
47Knoxville, TNCFCABD
48Glendale, AZAAFDAB
49Des Moines, IAFCBAFF
50Tulsa, OKCDDBDC
51Irving, TXBCCAFD
52Lexington, KYDFBFBC
53Phoenix, AZAAFDAB
54Pittsburgh, PAFDDDBB
55Plano, TXBCBBFC
56Syracuse, NYFDAFCD
57Dallas, TXBDCBFD
58Urban Honolulu, HIABAFFF
59Omaha, NEDCBDFC
60Rochester, NYFCBFDD
61Durham, NCCDACBF
62Philadelphia, PADDDFDA
63Lubbock, TXCBAFFF
64Arlington, TXBCCAFD
65Wichita, KSDCBDFC
66Minneapolis, MNFCCDFD
67Nashville, TNCFCABD
68Kansas City, MODCCBFC
69Fort Worth, TXBCCBFD
70Greensboro, NCCFBCBF
71Chattanooga, TNCFBBCD
72Memphis,TNBFCCCC
73Baton Rouge, LACFBFDC
74Cleveland, OHDCDDDC
75Buffalo, NYFDBFDF
76Winston Salem, NCCFCCBF
77St. Petersburg, FLADAFDD
78Madison, WIFCCFFD
79Austin, TXACCBFD
80Cincinnati, OHDDDCCC
81Tallahassee, FLBDBCDF
82Louisville, KYCFDDCC
83Charlotte, NCCFCCBF
84Augusta, GABFCBCF
85New Orleans, LAAFAFDD
86St. Louis, MODDDDDC
87Raleigh, NCCDCDCF
88Jacksonville, FLAFBDDD
89Corpus Christi, TXABBDFF
90Oklahoma City, OKCCDFFC
91Milwaukee, WIFCDFDF
92Laredo, TXABCFFF
93Detroit, MIFCFFDD
94Indianapolis, INDDFFCD
95Miami, FLAFBCDF
96San Antonio, TXBBDDFF
97Houston, TXABFFFD
98Tampa, FLAFBFDD
99Fort Lauderdale, FLAFBDDF
100Chicago, ILFDFDFF


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