America has long been a place of wild unknown lands. Though in modern society that element of untamed environments is no longer a part of our everyday lives, many people have come to enjoy the places that preserve the organic, unrefined landscapes through a variety of outdoor activities. Of all the cities in the US, it can be rare to find places where the most coveted natural environments reside directly next to built ones. A juxtaposition such as this fosters the growth of outdoor communities who both recreate and act to preserve the native land surrounding them. In our opinion, the following cities with this juxtaposition are some of the best in the country.
Anchorage is probably the most extreme outdoor city in the country. The city is Alaska’s biggest metropolitan area. It sits nestled between the Cook inlet and the 250-mile long Chugach mountain range. Directly above the city is one of the gnarliest in-bounds ski terrain in the 50 states at Alyeska resort. Anchorage provides access to some of the four largest mountain ranges in North America: the Chugach, Alaska Range (and sub-ranges- Delta, Hayes, Central Alaska, Kichatna Spires, Tordrillo, Revelation, etc.) the Talkeetna, and the Kenai. It literally has it all, ocean, mountains, pure wild backcountry, and all the conceivable activities that are done within those environments: fishing, wildlife viewing, hunting, backpacking, mountain climbing, the list goes on and on and on.
Alaska is widely known as the Mecca for big mountain skiing. Some classic places being Turnagain, Thompson, and Hatcher pass. Furthermore, Denali national park, home to one of the 7 summits in the world is only a 2.5-hour drive from Anchorage and is a proving ground for many mountaineers.
It is also known for its white water. Whether it’s rafting or kayaking, there’s no place more scenic to do it than the Alaskan backcountry. Ocean kayaking is also immensely popular around the inlets and glaciers that meet the ocean in this area.
Aside from all the extreme ways to have your own “Into the Wild” adventure, Anchorage is home to some great places to eat and drink! Steak houses, seafood, and brewpubs are the name of the game. From outdoor excursions to the freshest salmon and hoppy beer, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast visiting anchorage summer or winter, you won’t want to leave.
As long as you don’t mind cloudy weather and a bit of rain, Seattle is one of the best outdoor-oriented places to live in the lower 48. Three iconic mountain ranges are within hours of the city center: The Olympics, Cascades (volcano range), and the North Cascades. There are endless things to do, places to see, environments to experience, just be wary of mid-summer bug invasions… This goes for Alaska as well. If you’re a climber/skier/mountaineer that needs to live in or near a city, Seattle couldn’t be more perfect. Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain are both within two hours of the city.
Mt. Baker, widely known for its monstrous amount of snowfall each year is 3 hours away (not to mention access to Whistler at around 5 hours). The North Cascades, though not nearly as tall as the Rockies, are just as gnarly and steep and are littered with glaciers. There are endless climbing routes that are quite easy to access. Let’s not forget about Rainier, probably the largest mountain in the lower 48 by mass. Climbing Mount Rainier is a right of passage for many mountaineers. On a sunny day in Seattle, it is the biggest thing in the skyline towering 5,000 feet or more above most surrounding mountains.
Seattle’s culture is another appealing aspect of the city. If you like coffee, music, art, and science you’ll love Seattle. Starbucks literally started there. There are numerous icons of art and architecture that begin to define the essence and feel of the places Seattle creates. Some of these iconic places and structures include Seattle’s Sculpture Garden, the Seattle Public Library, the Experience Music Project, King street station, and the Space Needle built for the 1962 world fair. Finding good places to eat anywhere in the city is not a problem at all, and there are even more great places to get drinks with your friends. A few best district to visit for this would be Bell town and Capitol hill.
Salt Lake City, UT:
Utah is one of the most diverse states in the country and it has some of the most beautiful natural features. From rock climbing Indian Creek to mountain biking through Moab to skiing the Wasatch on quite possibly the best snow in the world, Utah is an epicenter for doing cool shit. The city is tucked up right next to the Wasatch mountains with access to the peaks within 9 miles up Little and big cottonwood canyons.
There are seven ski areas and loads of backcountry gems. SLC is also a 4-hour drive from the Colorado Rockies, the Tetons, and the southern Rockies. It’s pretty much the center of everything for the Rocky Mountains. Rafting, kayaking, backpacking, you name it. It’s close to Salt Lake, and there’s a huge outdoor community taking advantage of it.
From brewpubs to night clubs and concert venues, Salt lake city has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife. Some of the best places to hang out in the city include Red Rock Brewing co, Fiddlers Elbow, and Junior’s Tavern.
Denver is on the eastern side of the Rockies looking over the Colorado Front Range. These behemoths rise 14,000 feet into the skyline behind downtown and make up much of the continental divide. There are countless things to do within a short drive from Denver. The good news is that whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned adrenaline junkie, Denver makes exploring Colorado’s outdoors easy. You will not regret skiing at Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen/Snowmass, Copper, etc. There is also fantastic backcountry terrain below and above treeline (mostly in the spring). Leadville is 3 hours from Denver. At 10,000 feet the town sits amongst huge 14ers and has every mountainous activity imaginable.
When you’re done getting rad in the mountains, you can head into town to catch the Broncos game, or visit one of the startup microbreweries like the Denver Beer Company, or even… go get your dance on at The Church. Yes, that would be a dance club in a former place of worship. Get funky folks.
San Diego, CA:
With such extremely consistent weather, San Diego is a perfect place for those summer activities you just can’t let go of in the winter. Mountain biking and surfing are two of the big ones to do in San Diego. The water says warm throughout the winter and the trails stay dry. Pine Valley, a legendary zone of mountain bike trails, is just 45 minutes from town.
There are several classic surf spots in and around the city including Trestles, Oceanside, Swami’s, Cardiff, Del Mar, Blacks Beach, La Jolla Shores, etc. Add climbing at mission gorge, sea kayaking, cycling, hiking, trail running, cliff jumping, and boating to that list you can pretty much have summer in winter.
But… if you get tired of those summer things, there’s always the drive to Mammoth Mountain. With the best skiing in the southern Sierra and the most beautiful vista of any ski resort in California, it’s a gem among enormous granite peaks. Hard to get any better than that.
In addition to all this outdoor funk, San Diego has an awesome nightlife. Take, for example, False Idol, San Diego’s first hidden, immersive tiki bar! There you can forget the rest of the world and immerse yourself in authentic Polynesian drinks and decor all night long.