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The 20 Most Livable Towns and Cities in America

The past year showed us all that having access to the outdoors is essential for our health and well-being. It also magnified the inequities inherent in that access. For 2021’s Best Towns package, we chose 13 of the country’s most diverse places and evaluated them according to the factors that matter today: sustainability, affordability, and outdoor equity. Here are the cities of tomorrow.

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In the two decades since we began ­running our annual list of the best places to live, our goal has always been to surprise you. We’ve found little-known towns that were on the verge (yes, there was a time when Bend, Oregon, held that distinction) and helped you see enduring outdoor hot spots in a novel light. We’ve focused on new adventure draws and ­emerging ­craft-beer scenes. We’ve made our selections by committee, by submission, and by executive decision fiat. This time, we’re ­taking a different approach.

As Americans struggled with challenges brought on by COVID-19, nature became an antidote. “During the pandemic, the wealthy fled urban areas for country homes, while suburbanites spread out in backyards and visited nearby parks,” says Ronda Chapman, equity director at the Trust for Public Land (TPL). “In too many cities, however, residents without shaded, tree-lined streets and close-to-home public green ­spaces found it much more challenging to get outside.” This made us ask: How do our most diverse cities fare when it comes to important factors like green infrastructure and outdoor access?

We looked through a few different lenses. First we examined 2020 demographic data from personal-finance website WalletHub, representing the ­socioeconomic and cultural diversity of cities across the U.S. Of course, how diverse a place is doesn’t predict how inclusive it is. So we dug deeper, with on-the-ground reporting about how these cities are getting more people of color outside—and how they’re falling short.

Next up: the sustainability lens. There’s no separating outdoor from green equity. Creating safe and reachable parks is as much an access issue as it is an ecological one. Advancing clean-energy legislation that doesn’t just benefit white communities promotes environmental justice and supports our climate future. We looked at how the most multicultural cities compare with a recent report from WalletHub that rated the 100 most ­populated places ­according to their green policy and investment. Those that scored the highest made it to our second tier. Then we factored in affordability—and the pandemic-fueled changes to the housing market—by only selecting cities with a median home price of less than $600,000.

“We’ve often said that the pandemic has been an amplifier of inequities that were already there,” says José González, founder of the outreach and advocacy organization Latino Outdoors. “If we take old redlining maps and overlay them with COVID-19 numbers, with lack of park access, with other failing health components, you see a very strong correlation.”

Solving structural inequities is a matter of redesigning these maps, says González. While we’re seeing signs of this in recent legislation and renewed efforts from local stewards and nonprofits, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There also needs to be increased emphasis on making these outdoor spaces more culturally inclusive. “There might be a great trail system that’s reachable from the city, but if I go and get this feeling of this is not for you, then that is a barrier. Each of us has a responsibility to change the narrative surrounding who is welcome in the outdoors,” González says. —Erin Riley

Our Rating Metrics

Diversity: A 2021 report from personal-finance site WalletHub ranked the 501 most populated cities based on the diversity of their socioeconomic, cultural, household, and re­ligious makeup. The rankings drew on 13 specific metrics, including educational attain­­ment and languages spoken. On the scorecards we include for each city, we provide that city’s WalletHub ranking.

Sustainability: A 2019 WalletHub report ranked the 100 most popu­lated cities according to in­vestment in green initiatives. It used 28 metrics, including air quality and the ability to get to work using public trans­portation. Again, on our scorecard, we give the WalletHub ranking.

Affordability: Median home prices are based on projections through May 2021 provided by the real estate website Zillow.

Outdoor Equity: In addition to our own reporting, we used data from a 2021 Trust for Public Land report on the percentage of each city that consists of parkland, along with the percentage of residents of color who live within a ten-minute walk of a park.

Meet Our Newest Outside+ Members

To get a better sense of what outdoor access looks like in these cities, we tapped a local expert in each to provide some intel. From new parks to greater state-level investment, our experts shared highlights of their favorite places and what improvements they’re seeing—or not. As community leaders who are actively helping more underrepresented groups get into nature, we’re excited to welcome them to Outside+, a growing community of adventurers who believe in the unifying potential of the outdoors.

Wylie Street in Cabbagetown
Wylie Street in Cabbagetown (Andrew Hetherington)
Atlanta scorecard

Atlanta, Georgia

If you haven’t been to the South’s largest city in a few years, you might not recognize it. From the expansion of the Atlanta BeltLine, which will soon be a 33-mile path that connects 45 neighborhoods in the heart of the city, to a $5 million investment in 20 more miles of protected bike lanes, this bustling metropolis is banking hard on livability and open space.

And that’s just the start of one of the largest urban green initiatives in the country. The 280-acre Westside Park will open this October, eclipsing Atlanta’s central Piedmont Park by some 100 acres. Along with the soon-to-expand, 2.4-mile Proctor Creek Greenway that intersects Westside Park, local nonprofits recently completed construction of the Westside BeltLine Connector Trail, which connects the park to 11 neighborhoods.

On the densely populated southwestern edge, the city purchased nearly 13 acres in 2020, not far from the 135-acre Cascade Springs Nature Preserve. This new swath will bring parkland to the predominantly Black areas of Cascade, East Point, and Greenbriar, part of mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s campaign commitment that every neighborhood planning unit in the city have its own park. (Recent data from the TPL shows that minority communities have access to 49 percent less park space per capita than residents in neighborhoods that are majority white.) All this upcoming development comes on the heels of the completion of the state’s first purpose-built singletrack, Southside Park.

In response to a shortage of affordable housing driven in part by an influx of out-of-staters lured by the growing financial-­technology industry, the city plans to create grant programs to keep legacy residents in their BeltLine-adjacent homes. While other cities in the region focus on frenzied growth, Atlanta ­continues to prioritize longtime communities. —Muriel Vega

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Tammy Shakur, Outdoor Guide

Tammy Shakur
(Photo: Andrew Hetherington)

“Atlanta is actively investing in getting more people outside. After a catastrophic flood in 2002 in the Vine City neighborhood, the Trust for Public Land partnered with the city, local outdoor organizers, and community leaders to construct 16-acre Cook Park as a way to foster community. Since opening in June, it’s been a gathering place for this underserved area.”

Charlotte scorecard
Downtown Charlotte
Downtown Charlotte (Cliford Mervil)

Charlotte, North Carolina

No offense to Utahns, but Park City should be a great adventure town. Look at those natural assets. But Charlotte? Charlotte isn’t even in the mountains. It’s a banking center in North Carolina’s Piedmont. Yet the Queen City is rapidly evolving into a hot spot for adventure, thanks to growing greenways.

The heart of the city’s outdoor community is the Whitewater Center, a 1,300-acre recreation area along the Catawba River, which has plans to expand its acreage this year. In addition to rafting opportunities for all levels, the Center also has climbing, hiking, and mountain-biking options.

And while Charlotte isn’t known for an abundance of greenspace, that will change when the 606-acre Mountain Creek Park opens this fall with 18 miles of new ­hiking and biking trails. A greenway master plan years in the making aims to build 30 more miles of trails by 2023, including the missing pieces of the Cross Charlotte Trail, a 26-mile route that runs from South Carolina through the city center to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

But the town’s sustainability initiatives go beyond new parks and greenways. Charlotte aims to be a living laboratory for the circular economy, which involves gradually stepping away from the reliance on nonrenewable resources. First up is a public-private partnership to create an innovation center that showcases closed-loop recycling systems, and a revamped program that rewards participants who use recycled goods to develop new products. —G.A.

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Eric Supil, Executive Director of Trips for Kids Charlotte

Eric Supil
(Photo: Eric Supil)

“This town is full of people looking to get outside. We serve as that first outdoor experience and help people get out of their comfort zone.”

Downtown Saint Paul
Downtown Saint Paul (YinYang/Getty)
Saint Paul scorecard

Saint Paul, Minnesota

With 26 miles of Mississippi River waterfront, the thriving state capital has always had beautiful bones, with distinct neighborhoods and ample greenspace. But its first Black mayor, Melvin Carter, is making impressive strides in building a city that, in his words, “works for all of us.” Increased investment in equitable and dispersed parks, immigrant and refugee resources, and outdoor programming for adults and youth of color are making it easier for everyone to get outside.

In May, the TPL ranked Saint Paul second nationwide, giving the city high marks for accessibility and greenery. To that end, Saint Paul’s in-progress Highland Bridge neighborhood, a mixed-use development on 135 acres along the river, will feature 55 acres of public land when it’s completed in the next decade.

A year ago, the Parks and Recreation Department introduced programming both for and led by residents of color, from winter ice fishing on Como Lake to Latino family hiking outings where only Spanish is spoken. In April, the department’s Decompressing while BIPOC was a popular recurring event that invited people to gather at a park along the river and be in nature.

In partnership with the Great Plains Institute, Saint Paul developed a Climate Action and Resilience Plan, which was adopted by the city council in December 2019. It focuses on achieving carbon neutrality in operations by 2030. To wit: the new Highland Bridge development will be 100 percent carbon-free, powered by hydroelectric sources.

For decades, Saint Paul has played the role of humble sibling to Minneapolis. But this laid-back little city has finally hit its stride and in many ways is outpacing its bigger, blingier twin. —Stephanie Pearson

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Asha Shoffner, Saint Paul Coordinator of Environmental and Outdoor Education

Asha Shoffner
(Photo: Russ Stark)

“The BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities Facebook page went from 100 members in June 2020 to more than 1,000 today. It’s a great way to find folks to recreate with that you know aren’t going to question your presence.”

Albuquerque scorecard
Albuquerque (Brad Trone)

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nestled in the plains just be­yond the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque has long been a gateway to the treasures of northern New Mexico. But the abundant hiking and horseback riding in Cibola National Forest, world-class skiing at Taos Ski Valley, and blue-chip trout fishing in the Rio Grande have been largely inaccessible to many of the city’s residents. It ranks only 40th in outdoor access among America’s hundred largest cities—in a state where nearly half the land, some 35 million acres, is public.

City and state governments are well into new efforts to remedy that. About a year before the pandemic, New Mexico’s ­Economic Development Department established an Outdoor Recreation Division (ORD) in order to advance its recreation economy (which, at more than ­$2 billion, has grown faster than the state GDP overall) and to help underserved youth gain wider access to the outdoors via the Outdoor Equity Fund. The fund prioritizes low-income communities—important for a city whose poverty rate is 60 percent higher than the national average—and in 2020 awarded more than a quarter-million dollars to recipients, including nonprofits and grassroots organizations in Albuquerque.

For 2021, the fund’s budget has more than tripled—enough to get some 30,000 young New Mexicans outside. The ORD’s current infrastructure fund also includes some $300,000 to improve 42 miles of the Rio Grande Trail that run through the heart of Albuquerque. Moreover, the city has doubled down on conservation, electing its first sustainability officer and establishing aggressive goals, which include reducing energy usage by 65 percent in the next four years and powering municipal operations solely with renewable energy by 2030. Before, Burqueños were largely on their own. With these efforts, the city and state are moving closer to bringing the outside to everyone. —Murat Oztaskin

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Laura Flores, Program Director for Latino Outdoors

Laura Flores
(Photo: Robin Arellano)

“The first phase of the Every Kid, Every Way, Every Day initiative involved establishing a task force to advance the use of outdoor classrooms and organizing an outdoor-learning week in late September for thousands of students across the state.”

Skyline behind the Schuylkill River Boardwalk
Skyline behind the Schuylkill River Boardwalk (Jon Lovette/Getty)
Philadelphia scorecard

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia might have a reputation for being an industrial city full of rowdy sports fans who exclusively eat cheesesteaks, but those who only see the grit are missing all the green. The quantity of space devoted to parks and recreation is impressive. Not only was the city designed to draw residents outdoors as far back as the 17th century, but it continues to build on that legacy. Two miles northwest of City Hall along the Schuylkill River’s banks, 2,050-acre Fairmount Park is a conservation triumph, established in the 1800s to protect the city’s primary water source. It’s composed of hardwood forest, serpentine creeks, and more than 50 miles of trails.

According to the TPL, 95 percent of residents live within a ten-minute walk of a park. In 2020, visits to those spaces spiked more than 50 percent, and it isn’t slowing down. Nor is investment in the city’s future as an outdoor hub. More than 40 community organizations are working to complete the Circuit Trails, a sprawling multi-use system stretching from downtown Philadelphia into surrounding counties that’s now more than 350 miles long, and will be 800 miles when it’s finished. This year in South Philly, the 350-acre FDR Park, designed by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, will get $4.5 million for a welcome center that ­­will offer equipment rentals; future financing will go toward preserving the park’s wetlands and increasing accessibility.

The city is also on its way to a carbon-free future. Its Climate Action Playbook includes the goal of 100 percent clean energy for municipal operations by 2030, and complete neutrality by 2050. —Kate Morgan

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Jamie R. Gauthier, Philadelphia City Council Member

“We have an annual summer program that closes designated streets to traffic to create opportunities for children to play and foster community among neighbors.”

Chicago scorecard
Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan (Mike Killion)

Chicago, Illinois

With Lake Michigan at its doorstep and more than 8,800 acres of green­space, Chicago is well provisioned for outdoor recreation, especially if you’re an urban cyclist. Over 300 miles of bike lanes give the Windy City plenty of two-wheel cred, although unmet promises for new paths have irked residents for decades. That’s finally about to change.

This spring, mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a five-year, $37 million plan for dedicated bike lanes. The initiative’s latest feat, the Navy Pier Flyover project, connects the north and south legs of Chicago’s famed Lakefront Trail and routes cyclists and pedestrians above and away from road traffic, connecting 18 miles.

According to 2020 analysis by U.S. News & World Report, Chicago is the Midwest’s most diverse large city, and its park sys­tem is widely accessible. But bike trails are a different story. In Cook County, which includes Chicago and its suburbs, less than 50 percent of Black and 45 percent of Latino residents live within a mile and a half of a bike trail. The county is preparing its own bike-infrastructure plan to change that. Trail extensions for greater accessibility in underserved communities and safety improvements, such as off-street trails, are part of the plan, which is slated for completion in spring 2022.

In the meantime, these communities are not waiting. Streets Calling Bike Club, a group for Black Chicagoans that formed last year, draws hundreds to meetups and introduces young people to cycling through after-school programs. ­­—Stephanie Vermillion

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Christine Meissner, Chicago Leader for Outdoor Afro

Christine Meissner
(Photo: Christine Meissner)

“In February, when we got 21 inches of snow, we utilized the Chicago Park District’s gear-lending library to borrow snowshoes for a winter hike at the Skokie Lagoons. It was a great success—most participants had never been snowshoeing before.”

Jacksonville scorecard
A creek near Jacksonville
A creek near Jacksonville (Courtesy Visit Jacksonville)

Jacksonville, Florida

Over the past decade, Jacksonville experienced one of the largest increases in new residents of any U.S. city, an influx driven by that perennial American quest for more space, a mellow climate, low taxes, a robust job market, and miles of beaches. In a place once lauded for having the most parkland of any metropolis its size, access has changed as a result of that population growth; while 15 percent of Jacksonville is parkland, just 35 percent of residents are within a ten-minute walk of those areas.

But the city is working on changing that. It’s developing the Emerald Trail, a 30-mile biking and walking system that will also link 14 of Jacksonville’s neighborhoods to urban creeks. The first phase, which connects the historic downtown area of Brooklyn with the 4.8-mile S-Line Urban Greenway, is set to be completed later this year.

The city continues to add to its public-land acreage. In November 2020, the 7 Creeks Recreation Area, located in the city’s underserved Northside neighborhood, opened with 5,600 acres, seven parks and preserves, and 30 miles of trails. Despite its fast growth, Jacksonville is actively working to regain its reputation as a parks capital. —Kristin Braswell

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Daryl Joseph, Jacksonville Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services

“Jacksonville is the country’s largest city by area. Much of that land is untouched nature. We’re working hard to make that accessible to all of the city’s neighborhoods.”

Aurora Reservoir
Aurora Reservoir (Benjamin Rasmussen)
Aurora scorecard

Aurora, Colorado

Aurora was once written off as a sprawling Denver suburb with a mostly white and aging population­­, but this vast expanse of plains ten miles east of the capital ­has emerged as the state’s most multicultural city.

Aurora lacks a backdrop of majestic, snowcapped peaks but has a unique, eastern Colorado beauty. You won’t find a traditional downtown, but there are 8,000 acres of open space, 103 miles of trails, and the white sand and clear water of Aurora Reservoir, which gives landlocked residents a beach fix and access to windsurfing, scuba diving, and paddleboarding.

Those outdoor riches are complemented by diversity that nearly rivals New York City. Aurora is approaching a majority-minority status, with a vibrant culinary scene that includes Burmese, Laotian, and a James Beard–nominated food hall to fuel active endeavors. —Jen Murphy

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Javi Perez (left), Co-Owner of the Cheluna Craft Brewery in Aurora

Javi Perez
(Photo: Benjamin Rasmussen)

“We host a run club every Tuesday night, and from the brewery you can quickly reach Bluff Lake Nature Center and run miles of trails surrounded by greenery and wildlife.”

North Las Vegas scorecard
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Jon Glassberg/Louder Than 11)

North Las Vegas, Nevada

While many people think relocating to Las Vegas is tantamount to moving to Disney’s Epcot Center, it’s actually one of the most livable areas in the country. A slew of new arrivals—attracted by the city’s low cost of living, nominal property taxes, and proximity to public lands—has led to a pandemic-fueled boom. You’ll see plenty of Don’t California on My Nevada T-shirts around town, as fleeing Golden Staters have instigated skyrocketing housing prices and created a short supply of real estate south and west of the Strip. But less than ten miles north, the smaller hub of North Las Vegas is expanding to meet the demand.

The city sits at the northern edge of Las Vegas Valley, a hot spot of outdoor recreation, from hiking the Valley of Fire and kayaking the Colorado River to climbing at nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, 18 miles west. North Las Vegas has more than two dozen urban parks already, and as of 2019, it began building a network of more than 70 miles of trails to connect them. Its residents, 47 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American, all live within two miles of a park.

While master-planned communities are under construction, which will keep the supply of affordable housing high, those who come here for nature will be happy to know that they’re not buying into suburban sprawl. Most of the state—48 million acres—is federal land and can’t be developed. And thanks to a bipartisan bill now making its way through Congress, more than two million acres will likely receive wilderness designation, including a 51,000-acre expansion of the Red Rock area. After all, a real estate boom is great, but a billion-year-old desert landscape is (we hope) forever. —Andrea Bennett

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Jerry Handren, Author of Mojave Limestone

“The west and northwest areas of Las Vegas, around the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, have long attracted the best climbers in the world. But there’s a great deal of unclimbed rock all around the city, with new routes popping up all the time.”

Ghent Historic District, Norfolk
Ghent Historic District, Norfolk (ferrantraite/iStock)
Norfolk scorecard

Norfolk, Virginia

Norfolk is one of the fastest-growing midsize cities in the country. But its location near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, where the James and Elizabeth Rivers meet, has made it one of the most at-risk: the area is bearing more of the brunt of rising sea levels than any other region on the eastern seaboard. To combat this, civic leaders are turning to natural solutions to address flooding.

At the center of these plans is the routinely overflowing Elizabeth River, which threatens low-lying areas, such as the historically Black Chesterfield Heights and Grandy Village neighborhoods. The solution: green spaces capable of absorbing water. The Ohio Creek Watershed Project will include a restored tidal creek, as well as wetlands, trails, and a sports field, when it’s completed in 2023. It will be connected to downtown by the 10.5-mile Elizabeth River Trail, a multi-use urban path. —Leah Small

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Keisha Bachelor, Founder of Cyclique

Keisha Bachelor
(Photo: Keisha Bachelor)

“Riding around Norfolk, you just see bodies of water and greenery. We have our fair share of commuting trails, but many paths are centered on connecting residents to serene spaces.”

Tulsa scorecard
Centennial Park, Tulsa
Centennial Park, Tulsa (Susan Vineyard/iStock)

Tulsa, Oklahoma

As young workers search for more affordable living, over 900 of them have been wooed by Tulsa Remote, a program that pays people $10,000 to live and work in the city for a year. As of last fall, 97 percent ended up staying.

With good reason. At Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, a multimillion-dollar improvement project is in the planning stages and will restore ecology, enhance trails, maximize access, and keep hundreds of acres wild. Later this year, the 918 Trails Network will link 12 paths that trace 100 miles through six city parks, making it possible to bike all the way from the town of Skiatook in the north to underserved neighborhoods like Springdale and South Peoria.

Of the cities on our list, Tulsa ranked the most resilient to climate change, thanks largely to flood-control efforts from the mid-eighties that created detention ponds to hold water after severe storms. These measures were bolstered last July when Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act, allocating $133.5 million toward improving a 20-mile-long levee system along the Arkansas River, further buttressing the city. —Matt Kirouac

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Michelle Brown-Burdex, Program Coordinator at Greenwood Cultural Center

Gathering Place, a 66-acre riverfront park, is such an advantage for our community because it’s so accessible. I’d like to see similar examples replicated in north Tulsa, where it’s desperately needed.”

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento (Cayce Clifford)
Sacramento scorecard

Sacramento, California

As skyrocketing home prices turn people away from many California cities, Sacramento stands apart as a relative real estate bargain. Sure, the state capital doesn’t have the outdoor cachet of smaller regional destinations like Auburn or Nevada City, but its location near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers (the latter is hugged by a 32-mile parkway) makes for easy-access recreation.

Local stewards and nonprofits are working hard on the accessibility of these spaces. The city plans to connect its 450 miles of hiking and biking trails to create a regional network of 800 miles spanning five neighboring counties. In the past few years, local groups have mobilized to protect existing infrastructure. During the pandemic, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates donated more than 100 bikes to essential workers, and the group has repaired some 4,000 bikes free of charge since its founding. The Folsom Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition added 30 miles to Hidden Falls Trail, a popular—and often overrun—hiking and biking destination.

Although the city’s population increased by 411,000 between 2005 and 2016, per capita emissions fell 26 percent. In 2017, Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary, selected Sacramento to implement its Green City zero-emission vehicle plan, a significant step toward the city’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2045.

The plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions and the number of single-­occupant cars on the road, has led to partnerships with several car-sharing services, including Gig, the largest free-floating EV-sharing company in the U.S., and Envoy, which sets aside 73 percent of its EV fleet for use in disadvantaged communities, with stations in these areas. —Katie Rodriguez

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Christa Lindsey, Outdoor Guide

Christa Lindsey
(Photo: Christa Lindsey)

“The American River Parkway is the heart of recreation in the city. You don’t need a car to get there. In many neighborhoods, you can walk out your door and within ten minutes be on a bike trail that will take you there.”

The Colorado River
The Colorado River (Grexsys/Getty)
Austin scorecard

Austin, Texas

Austin doesn’t need to prove its outdoor credibility: 19 state parks, 313 city parks, and over 17,000 acres of greenspace have long made it the adventure capital of Texas. But when it comes to the equity and accessibility of these spaces, Austin has some work to do—38 percent of inner-city residents don’t live within walking distance of a park.

In 2020, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) spent $47.8 million to, among other things, upgrade 15 existing parks to make them ADA compliant. The city’s commitment to accessibility also included drafting a plan for 330-acre John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park—named after the first Mexican-American man on the city council—which will be located in a historically underserved area of East Austin. PARD’s Equity Group, established in 2020, has ramped up its initiatives, most recently hiring a program manager.

Austin has also strived to be more intersectional when it comes to its sustainability policies. Last fall the city updated its Climate Equity Plan to focus on community-wide input, and introduced local advisory groups to comment on topics like energy, transportation, and access to nature. In addition to increasing Austin’s electric-vehicle usage to 40 percent and making 25 percent of existing buildings—along with all newly constructed ones—net-zero operational-carbon structures by 2030, the updated plan will help create more green jobs, protect more natural areas, and give communities of color a voice in policy-making. —Alex Temblador

Outside+ Member Spotlight

Tanya Walker, Owner of Black Women Who Kayak

Tanya Walker
(Photo: Tanya Walker)

“Austin was pure country when I was growing up—the outdoors consisted only of your immediate surroundings. Today some of the city’s best adventures are accessible from most neighborhoods by bike and public transit.”

Towns on the Rise

Newburgh, New York
(Photo: DenisTangneyJr/iStock)

Newburgh, ­New York

Population: 34,293

Newburgh was once dubbed the murder capital of New York, and while the small city on the Hudson River still has its challenges, a wave of investment from New York City transplants is driving a revival. A citywide trend is transforming vacant lots into parks and historic buildings into restaurants, boutique hotels, and artist studios. An event space called Lodger hosts dinners and art shows in a former undertaker’s ­office; Wireworks is a new coworking hub and artist studio in a renovated factory; and Graft Cider ages brews in an old textile plant. The town is also near the region’s best adventures. Stewart State Forest’s 20-plus miles of singletrack are just west of town, the multi-pitch trad routes of the Shawangunk Mountains (a.k.a. the Gunks) are 30 minutes north, and the Hudson River offers paddling galore only steps from downtown. —G.A.

A scenic landscape of the New River Gorge.
(Photo: John_Brueske/iStock)

Fayetteville, West Virginia

Population: 2,806

The state recently began an initiative that pays ­remote workers $12,000 to move to certain towns—and also covers a year’s worth of outdoor recreation. The smart ones will skip the perks and head straight for Fayetteville. Sitting on the edge of our newest national park, New River Gorge, with a footprint not much bigger than its small town square, Fayetteville has two world-class rivers in its backyard, the New and the Gauley, as well as more than 3,000 sport and trad routes on sand­stone cliffs, paddling on nearby Summersville Lake, and a growing network of mountain-bike trails that starts on the edge of downtown. —G.A.

Old Fort, North Carolina

Population: 1,004

Old Fort, surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest and located at the base of the Black Mountains, emptied out when manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas beginning in the eighties. Now some of those buildings are humming with life again. In 2019, Kitsbow Cycling Apparel renovated a former hosiery factory and moved its operations there. Last year, apparel and gear brand Triple Aught Design made the same move to town. Other warehouses are being turned into breweries, coffee shops, and CrossFit gyms. And the great outdoors is just minutes away. The tallest mountains in the East rise above 6,000-plus feet starting from the edge of downtown, offering gravel grinds, road climbs, trophy-trout waters, and ridgetop hiking and backpacking. A new 42-mile multipurpose trail system is in the works, and recreation gems like Kitsuma and Catawba Falls await. —G.A.

Kalispell, Montana
(Photo: miroslav_1/iStock)

Kalispell, Montana

Population: 24,565

Located in the middle of the Flathead Valley, about 30 miles southwest of Glacier National Park, Kalispell has been the region’s agricultural and industrial hub for decades, but several new projects are shifting to tourism and sustainability. The city recently broke ground on the Kalispell Parkline, replacing old railroad tracks to develop a two-mile-long linear park and multi-use trail. The industrial businesses that used to occupy the town’s center have moved to the outskirts, making room for stores, restaurants, and multi-family housing. The city wants to keep Kalispell ­affordable for locals who have called it home for generations. —G.A.

Ely, Nevada

Population: 5,000

This out-of-the-way place, located at the eastern end of Highway 50 an hour northwest of Great Basin National Park, has a thriving mountain-bike scene that’s only getting better. To add to the 50 miles of existing singletrack that starts at the edge of downtown, the local trail club and tourism bureau are building 51 more miles: a 30-mile stretch south to 10,936-foot Ward Mountain, and a 21-mile system north to the Garnet Hill Recreation Area, a rockhounding site. Both projects, funded by a grant from the International Mountain Biking Association, are expected to be completed in a few years. —G.A.

Mount Saddleback
(Photo: zrfphoto/iStock)

Rangeley, Maine

Population: 1,047

A lot of locals left Rangeley, 120 miles north of Portland, six years ago, when the Saddleback Mountain ski resort closed. Those who stuck around focused on diversifying the area’s outdoor draws and capitalizing on its location along the shores of 6,000-acre Rangeley Lake. Locals opened a brewery and bike shop, and in December 2020, Saddleback Mountain reopened under new ownership. It now has a lift system that serves a 440-acre area with 2,000 feet of vertical drop and numerous fat-bike trails. If that’s not enough, Sugarloaf, the largest ski resort in the East, is located just 29 miles away and has a 450-acre expansion in the works. —G.A.

Desert Hot Springs
(Photo: Jared Quentin/iStock)

Desert Hot Springs, California

Population: 28,878

Desert Hot Springs has always been about relaxa­tion, thanks to numerous mineral-water pools that dot the parched landscape. Recently, it has leaned into another natural form of leisure: ­marijuana. The historic spa town, 100 miles east of Los Angeles, was the first in California to legalize cultivation. The ­decision saved it from bankruptcy by generating a viable tax base, and in December the town council voted to lean further into cannabis tourism by legalizing the sale and consumption of weed at entertainment venues and hotels. As for the great outdoors, Desert Hot Springs sits just south of both Sand to Snow National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park, and the brand-new, ­12-mile Long Canyon Trail connects less-frequented areas within the two sites. —G.A.

From September/October 2021 Lead Photos: Cayce Clifford; Andrew Hetherington; Brad Trone