Golfing in North Carolina? Windsurfing off the coast of Oregon? How about hiking in Arizona? With such a wide variety of natural landscapes in the United States, nature lovers may have a hard time deciding which area is worthy of their time.
On this list are thirty great small towns for nature lovers. They vary dramatically. While some are known for their beaches, others are known for their forests, prairies, or mountain ranges. Some of these towns are best-known for plentiful hunting opportunities, while others attract mountain bikers, or surfers, or serious hikers. But these thirty small towns do have one very important thing in common: they are all known for the stunning natural landscapes that make for great outdoor experiences and adventures.
1. Pinehurst, North Carolina
Nestled into the pine barrens of North Carolina, the aptly named Pinehurst is a beautiful planned resort community that is sure to appeal to those who like sophisticated, resort-like outdoor activities, particularly golf. Pinehurst is home to a world-renowned golf course, and gets plenty of attention throughout the year from the golf community. When you’re not golfing, the town also offers plenty of outdoor shopping and dining options. Interestingly, much of the beautiful community was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same designer responsible for Central Park, and therefore retains much of the historic charm one can find in the big New York City park.
2. Traverse City, Michigan
Whether spring, summer, winter, or fall, there are plenty of activities for the nature lover in Traverse City, Michigan. In winter, Traverse City sees its share of snow, making it a great destination for skiers of any skill level. Love the snow, but not a skier? Snowshoe along the beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes! In warmer weather, enjoy the plentiful opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, playing on the Dunes, and swimming in the lake. Finally, Traverse City is the perfect place to relax with a day of wine tasting in the up-and-coming wine region.
3. Vero Beach, Florida
Though Vero Beach, Florida is often overshadowed by its much larger neighbors, this little town on Florida’s Atlantic Coast is a great option for any nature lover. Those looking to just enjoy the warm weather of the Sunshine State aren’t likely to be disappointed by Vero Beach’s many pristine, white-sand beaches. Runners and walkers often choose to run right there on the water, while kayakers and boaters enjoy the variety of inlets and bays. Nearby the beach is a popular course where golfers are sure to enjoy a few morning swings.
4. Eureka, California
Eureka is a small, centralized town located on the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. Like much of the northern part of the state, Eureka is a hop, skimp, and jump away from both the ocean and mountains, making it a great location for nature lovers of all persuasions. Though the Pacific tends to be a bit chilly near Eureka, surfing and boating are both popular water sports. For something a little dryer, head to any of the nearby forest areas for a hike or bike amongst California’s famous redwood trees. Finally, one can’t leave Eureka without a walk to see some of the beautiful Victorian architecture for which the town is known.
5. Walla Walla, Washington
Walla Walla is a fun little town located on the Pacific coast of Washington state. These days, it is best known as an up-and-coming wine region, so a day or two spent tasting wines in the lushly landscaped Walla Walla Valley is a must. The town is also surrounded by mountains, rivers, and hiking and biking trails, so an exciting trip outdoors is always beckoning in Walla Walla. Finally, Walla Walla has one of the most pedestrian-friendly downtowns in the nation, making it a great place to explore on foot.
6. Bangor, Maine
Maine is easily one of the best states for nature lovers, and the town of Bangor has an endless list of outdoor adventure opportunities. Most notably, Bangor offers easy access to Acadia National Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the nation. Hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, and camping in Bangor often means doing so with moose, deer, eagles, and other amazing wildlife. Make the most of the incredible landscapes with adventures like skydiving, rock climbing on the pink granite cliffs of Acadia, or surfing at sandy beaches. Those with diving certificates can even dive underwater for a unique glimpse of those famous Maine lobsters!
7. Fairhope, Alabama
Fairhope, Alabama isn’t usually on the list of major Southern destinations, but nature lovers looking for a little bit of everything aren’t likely to be disappointed by the small coastal town. Fairhope is a mere hop, skip, and jump away from Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, so boaters and water lovers have easy access to a variety of beautiful beaches. Those looking for a relaxing hike will love the 6,000-acre Weeks Bay Nature Preserve, where beautiful nature is complemented by ecosystem educational programs and a variety of wildlife that includes snakes, birds, turtles, and amphibians.
8. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Fun and artsy Santa Fe, New Mexico has long attracted nature lovers due to the fact that it’s a mere twenty miles from the beautiful 12,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This lush wilderness has something to offer nature lovers in any season. In summer and other warm months, hikers can enjoy any of the numerous and diverse trails, many of which lead to stunning views of Santa Fe and the surrounding valley. Fishing, camping, golfing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and river rafting are also popular outdoor options. In the winter, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are one of the most popular destinations for skiers and snowshoers.
9. Sheridan, Wyoming
Nature lovers who like to hunt, fish, and hike will be hard-pressed to find a small town better than Sheridan, Wyoming. Sheridan has become an increasingly popular destination for West Coasters looking for a little one-on-one time with nature. Sheridan is especially well-known for its hunting and wide variety of game, which includes everything from prairie grouse and antelope, to elk and mule deer, to bears and turkeys. Fishermen can enjoy the same kind of variety in the Tongue River Reservoir and the multiple nearby Alpine lakes.
10. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Steamboat Springs is one of the best towns for outdoor adventures in all of outdoors-obsessed Colorado. One must-do is a soak in the hot springs for which the town was named. After you’re really relaxed, scenic Fish Creek Falls is the perfect choice for mountain biking or hiking. In winter, skiers and snowshoers can choose between Steamboat Ski Resort and Howelsen Hill, both of which are continuously used by more than 90 Winter Olympians. On summer nights, the Strings Music Festival makes for the perfect excuse to relax outdoors with a picnic dinner. Also taking place during the summer is the more than 100-year old rodeo. Finally, consider a hot air balloon ride to really take in all of the surrounding beauty that Steamboat Springs has to offer.
11. Sedona, Arizona
With very few rainy days per year, Sedona, Arizona is a nature lover’s paradise. Sedona is surrounded by its characteristic red rocks, making it an obvious choice for prime hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and mountain climbing. It is one of the most spectacular places in the world to experience a hot air balloon ride, though those who prefer to stay closer to ground-level are sure to love kayaking down the Verde River or swimming in Oak Creek. Finally, Sedona is centrally located and an easy jaunt to Phoenix and the Grand Canyon.
12. Pocatello, Idaho
Despite being home to Idaho State University, Pocatello is a small town that caters to nature lovers. Thanks to Pocatello’s location at the intersection of Interstates 15 and 86, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are both within easy access, as are Salt Lake City and Boise. In Pocatello itself, Caribou National Forest is a top spot for deer and elk hunting, while a myriad of reservoirs — including American Falls, Devils Creek, Soda Springs, Glendale, and Chesterfield — are popular choices for hikers, boaters, and fishermen in the warmer months, and ice fishermen in the winter.
13. Fairbanks, Alaska
For more than a hundred years, nature lovers having been heading up to Alaska in search of once-in-a-lifetime adventures and truly untouched nature. Due to its small size and pristine landscapes, Fairbanks is the perfect place to spend time outdoors. Not surprisingly, Fairbanks has a plenty of opportunity for viewing wildlife, fishing, hunting, camping, and rafting. But many people make the trek to Alaska for the more unique activities. While in Fairbanks, try your hand at dog mushing, get a bird’s eye view of nature on a hot air balloon or flight tour, and spend an evening viewing the Aurora.
14. Ely, Minnesota
With its small town feel and largely unspoiled natural landscape, it’s no wonder nature lovers flock to Ely, Minnesota. Unlike many adventure destinations in the far north, Ely’s outdoor experiences are available year round. Summertime is the perfect time to explore Superior National Forest by mountain biking or hiking. Hike as far as the Secret-Black Stone Overlook, and the views of the small lakes and glacier-carved ridges are sure to take your breath away. More than 5,000 lakes, rivers, and streams make Ely a great choice for rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. In the winter, popular outdoor activities include snowshoeing and ice fishing.
15. North Conway, New Hampshire
One may not usually associate New Hampshire with mountain sports, but it turns out that North Conway, New Hampshire is one of the best places on the entire east coast for climbing. Mountain climbers looking for a challenge head straight to nearby Mount Washington, a 6,288-foot peak infamous for its unpredictable weather. Another popular spot for hikers and swimmers is Echo Lake State Park. The Saco River can’t be beat for kayaking. In winter months, head back to Mount Washington for skiing and ice climbing.
16. Durango, Colorado
Durango, Colorado offers just about anything a nature lover can ask for. The nearby Rockies make for a world-class setting for hiking, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and ice climbing. Even closer are the San Juan Mountains and the Mesa Verde National Park. Thanks to an elevation of 6,500 feet, most people head to Durango for the mountain sports, which are many and include canoeing, rafting, and kayaking through canyons; climbing the sandstone at East Animas; or biking in the tire tracks of the Mountain Bike World Championships. For the really adventurous, the Colorado Trail is a blast to hike and bike, and stretches 500 miles from Denver to Durango.
17. Boone, North Carolina
Boone is one of the few east coast towns with both a small population and a high elevation. Situated at 3,332 feet above sea level, Boone is home to parks, rivers, and mountains that are sure to please any nature lover. After all, the town was named after one of America’s most famous outdoorsy types: Daniel Boone. Head to Pisgah National Forest for mountain biking, rock climbing, and hiking. For canoeing and rafting, you can’t go wrong choosing between Nolichucky River and French Broad River. In the winter, make the short drive to Banner Elk or Blowing Rock for some of the best skiing available in the South.
18. Bend, Oregon
Though one of the larger towns on this list, Bend, Oregon has retained its small town feel through its rapid population growth of recent years, and continues to be a mecca for nature lovers and outdoorsy types. Explore the Deschutes River via raft, canoe, or kayak, then take a climb or hike up Smith Rock. Black Butte is a great spot for mountain biking, while Deschutes National Forest can’t be beat for pristine hiking trails. Bend sits at an elevation of 3,635 feet, making it just as attractive a winter destination; choose Mount Bachelor or Tumalo Mountain for skiing or snowshoeing.
19. Portland, Maine
With its spectacular made-for-adventure landscapes, Portland, Maine makes for a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of real life. To relax, do like the Portlanders and head to Pophman Beach, where only the sunbathing is better than the swimming and diving. For a little more action, grab a canoe or kayak and head to the tranquil waters of Casco Bay, Beaver Pond, Haskell Pond, Highland Lake, or Presumpscot River Reservoir. Whitewater paddling options are numerous, too. In the winter, a myriad of local slopes are great for skiing, and conveniently vary in difficulty to accommodate skiers of all skill levels. Mountain biking, hiking, and climbing can all be achieved on Bradbury Mountain, while hiking from lighthouse to lighthouse around Cape Elizabeth makes for a truly unique experience.
20. Paia, Hawaii
One of the least touristy towns on the Hawaiian island of Maui, tiny Paia is truly a hidden gem. Paia is located right on the beach, which makes it a mecca for water sports. Surfing and paddle boarding are popular, as they are all over the Hawaiian islands, but it is windsurfing that has become Paia’s signature sport. Grab a board and get out on the water, and you may spot local celebrity Laird Hamilton, a regular to Paia and her beaches.
21. Lake Tahoe, CalNeva
Straddling the border between California and Nevada, beautiful Lake Tahoe has long been a year-round escape for land-locked Nevadans and those living in the San Francisco Bay Area. For bigger hotels, casinos, and the more commercial ski resorts, head to South Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side. But to get closer to nature, you can’t beat the California side. Choose any of Tahoe’s camp grounds, then enjoy the many nearby beaches, including Meeks Bay, Sand Harbor, and King’s Beach. Hiking opportunities are numerous, one of the best of which is the hike up to Angora Lake.
22. Moab, Utah
Residents of Moab, Utah take their city’s role as a nature lover’s paradise so seriously that one of the most popular town activities is trail maintenance. Enjoy their hard work by grabbing your mountain bike or best hiking shoes and hitting the trails. Millions of acres of public lands surround Moab, including Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Kayaking, canoeing, and river running are also popular outdoor activities. However you choose to spend your time outdoors in Moab, you’ll be in good company. World class athletes, including countless Olympians, enjoy Moab regularly.
23. Hood River, Oregon
Hood River, Oregon has become the unofficial surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing capital of the continental United States. Go straight to the water if you’re a pro, or link up with any of the many surfing instructors in the area in order to take full advantage of Hood River’s reputation. Not into surfing? With Mount Hood, Mirror Lake, and the Columbia River Gorge all nearby, Hood River offers plenty of other activities for nature lovers, including hiking, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, and just about anything else that tickles your nature loving fancy.
24. Waimea/Kamuela, Big Island, Hawaii
Travel anywhere in the Hawaiian islands and you aren’t likely to spend a whole lot of time indoors, but Waimea, known also as Kamuela, is a unique little town on the Big Island with stunning vistas, hidden waterfalls, and black-sand beaches. Waimea is best known for its rodeos and horseback riding, making it the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely ride through the Hawaiian landscape. Golfing, ziplining, snorkeling, and scuba diving are other popular activities. But best of all is the hiking, the prime spots for which include the Waipi’o Valley and the Pololu Valley. For a truly unique experience, choose a trail that will take you to one of the area’s many hidden waterfalls.
25. Lander, Wyoming
Lander, Wyoming is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School, where nature lovers can actually get academic credit for spending time outdoors. For those who aren’t quite ready to hit the books, Lander is a popular destination for summer time mountain sports. Grab your bike and head to Johnny Behind the Rocks, where you can mountain bike from waterfall to waterfall and cool off in lakes. Wild Iris and Popo Agie Falls are great places to climb, while the trail between Dickinson Park and Lizard Head Plateau is well-known to serious backpackers and campers.
26. Bozeman, Montana
Probably one of the best-known towns in Montana, Bozeman is the home of Montana State University, and all of those students didn’t choose to attend Montana for the skyscrapers and concrete! Bozeman is a premiere destination for nature lovers, with the additional bonus of art and culture. The town’s popular outdoor symphony concerts and Shakespeare in the Park performances make for a great excuse to spend even more time outside. For those who need something a little more active, Bozeman has ample opportunities for everything from hiking and camping, to mountain biking and fishing.
27. Roseau, Minnesota
Roseau, Minnesota has a long history as an adventure town. In fact, this town of just under 3,000 people was the birthplace of snowmobiling and Polaris Industries. Needless to say, winter activities in tiny Roseau are hard to beat (the town is also one of the most actively involved hockey towns in the country). In warmer months, wildlife enthusiasts and hikers head to Red River Valley, where tamarack bogs, prairie grasslands, and sandy pine forests make for a wide variety of natural landscapes and experiences. Most of the town and the county is open access State parkland, and hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, ATV riding, horseback riding, snowmobiling, berry picking, hiking, and cross-country skiing are all popular outdoor activities for which Roseau is especially well known.
28. Rawlins, Wyoming
There are few places as naturally beautiful as Wyoming, and the small town of Rawlins is located in the midst of the peaceful prairie lands that has captivated nature lovers for generations. Though Rawlins does not have the plethora of mountains and rivers that grace other Wyoming towns of this size, it’s hard to beat Rawlins as a hunting destination. It is one of the few places in the U.S. where elk, antelope, and mule deer roam together. In fact, these species are so prevalent, natives of Rawlins can often hunt right from their back porch. For those not so interested in hunting, Rawlins is appealingly close to a slew of reservoirs, as well as the fishing and rafting in the North Platte River.
29. Carbondale, Colorado
When a town’s main industry is its outdoor tourism, as is the case with Carbondale, Colorado, you know it’s a great place for nature lovers. Carbondale is a skier’s mecca in the winter and a hiker’s paradise in the summer months, but there is certainly more to Carbondale than those two activities. Carbondale is a mere stone’s throw from the Frying Pan, Roaring Fork, Colorado, and Crystal rivers, making it a prime location for fishermen and anglers. The best public-land hunting in the world is right outside of Carbondale’s borders, with elk being the prime target of choice. Despite its popularity, Carbondale retains a small-town, intimate feel, making it the perfect location for a nature lover to spend some relaxing time outdoors.
30. Pierre, South Dakota
In the fall, any visitor to Pierre, South Dakota will have a hard time walking into any hotel, restaurant, or shop that doesn’t have a “Welcome Hunters” sign fixed to its window. While hunting is a big industry in South Dakota, and especially in Pierre, it is not the only outdoor activity for which the small town is known. Pierre is home to Big Sioux Recreation Area, where nature lovers have access to extensive trails, kayaking and canoeing on the Big Sioux River, and camping and snowmobiling areas. Fishermen will also have a hard time choosing between James River, Big Sioux River, or the Missouri River.
Posted April 2016