SmartAsset Study 2022: Best Places for Outdoor Enthusiasts to Live and Work
Outdoor activities can add up quickly when you factor in gear, gear, and clothing. For example, an average bike costs over $300, with some bikes costing thousands of dollars depending on make and model. Likewise, skiing is a particularly expensive outdoor activity, with most annual ski passes costing nearly $1,000. Other outdoor activities like hiking are cheaper. An annual US National Parks Pass is only $80.
Given these costs, participation in outdoor activities not only depends on easy access to outdoor recreation areas, but also on disposable income. In this study, we identified the best spots for outdoor enthusiasts, considering livability, occupation, and access to the outdoors. For details on our data sources and how we compile all of the information to create our final rankings, see the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s third study of the best places to live and work for outdoor enthusiasts. View the previous version here.
Access to parklands is a hallmark of the top 10 cities. On average, parklands make up 24% of cities in the top 10. This compares to just 7% in the bottom 10 cities. The cities with the highest percentage of parklands are Anchorage, Alaska (84%), Fremont, California (49%), and Chesapeake, Virginia (41%).
Median income in nine of the top 10 cities increased by more than 14% over five years. Among the top 10 cities, Tampa, Florida has the largest five-year change at 25%. Of all 96 cities we look at, another Florida city (Miami, ranked 19th) has the largest five-year change in income at 48%.
Cities in Florida and Virginia dominate the top 10. Three Florida cities (St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Orlando) rank in the top 6, while three Virginia cities (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Arlington) round out the top 10 over a five-year period. Cities in Virginia also do well because of their low unemployment rate and high air quality.
1. St. Petersburg, FL
For the second year in a row, St. Petersburg, Florida takes the top spot. This city ranks in the top 15 cities in four metrics. It has the 5th lowest unemployment rate as of March 2022 (2.4%), 13th lowest daily average air pollution PM2.5 (7.5), and 14th highest parkland percentage (17.64%). In addition, Florida has the third largest outdoor recreation economy after Hawaii and California.
2. Madison, WI
Madison, Wisconsin retains its place as the second best place for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work this year. In terms of employment, Madison has the third lowest unemployment rate as of March 2022 (2.3%). Just over a tenth of commuters come to work by bike or on foot (fourth best). And for individuals looking to maximize their time in nature, Madison boasts the 10th highest concentration of national parks and campgrounds (1.47 per 100,000 people).
3. Anchorage, AK
Anchorage, Alaska’s outdoor recreation access is unsurpassed when compared to the other 95 cities in this study. Anchorage ranks first in terms of how much of the city is designated as parkland (84.17%, which is more than 30% more than any other city) and how many nature parks and campgrounds (nearly 5 per 100,000 people ) available. Alaska also has the second-largest state outdoor recreation economy (with revenue from outdoor recreation businesses accounting for 3.2% of its economy) and the second-highest state and national park coverage (9.10%).
This city of around 255,000 people is made up of almost 27% parkland, which ranks sixth. For outdoor enthusiasts looking for a more stable employment climate, Scottsdale, Arizona is one of the cities with a lower unemployment rate. In fact, as of March 2022, the unemployment rate is 2.4%, which is the fifth lowest among the cities in our study. Paying a down payment on a home in the city is also easier than most, with its down payment-to-income ratio being the third-best at 0.34.
5. Tampa, FL
Tampa, Florida, performs best on employment-related metrics, boasting the 12th lowest unemployment rate as of March 2022 (2.5%) and the 19th highest five-year change in median household income (25.21%). In addition, state and national parks cover approximately 6.63% of Florida, the sixth highest ratio of any 50 states.
6. Orlando, FL
Although Orlando, Florida is known for its many theme parks, it’s also a great option for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work in. The March 2022 unemployment rate (2.5%) ranks twelfth in Tampa, FL, and median household income increased 23.17% from 2015-2020. Additionally, Orlando air quality remains at safe levels. Orlando’s average daily particulate matter level is 5.4, which is the second lowest of any city analyzed in this study.
7. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota has the third-lowest unemployment rate as of March 2022 (2.3%). In this city, just over a tenth of commuters walk or bike to work, which ranks ninth best. For recreation, Minneapolis has the 20th highest percentage of parklands (which make up almost 15% of the city). At the state level, outdoor recreation accounts for 2.2% of the economy (ranking fifth out of all 50 states).
8. Virginia Beach, Virginia
About 16% of Virginia Beach, Virginia is designated as parkland, which is the 16th highest rate of any of the 96 cities we tracked. There are also four nature parks and campgrounds in this city, or a rate of 0.89 per 100,000 residents. In addition, Virginia Beach’s air quality is high, as the average daily particulate matter pollution is 6.7 (ranked 8th best).
9. Chesapeake, Va
The second Virginia city in the top 10 is Chesapeake. Almost 41% of the city is parkland, which is the third highest value for this metric. The city offers three nature parks and one campsite (which equates to approximately 1.24 per 100,000 inhabitants, which ranks 14th highest). Finally, Chesapeake ranks in the top 25 cities for two metrics we track, quality of life and employment (deposits-to-earnings ratio at 0.70 and unemployment rate at 2.7% as of March 2022).
10. Arlington, Va
Arlington, Virginia rounds out our list of the top 10 cities for outdoor enthusiasts. For those in the home buying market, the down payment to income ratio in our study is best at 0.30. Arlington also has the lowest unemployment rate as of March 2022 (2.0%), and commuters who walk or bike to work make up 6.5% of the workforce.
data and methodology
To find the best cities for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work in, we compared 96 of the largest US cities using the following metrics:
Quality of life and employment indicators
Deposit to income ratio. Data is from Zillow and the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-Year American Community Survey. Zillow dates are as of March 2022.
Five-year change in median household income. Data is from the 1-year and 2020 5-year Census Bureau American Community Surveys.
Unemployment rate March 2022. The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Percentage of commuters who walk or bike to work. Data is from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-Year American Community Survey.
Nature parks and campsites per 100,000 inhabitants. Data is from the Census Bureau’s 2020 County Business Patterns Survey.
air pollution. This is the average daily fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Data is from the 2022 County Health Rankings.
Percentage of city that is parkland. Data is from the Trust for Public Land’s 2021 Acreage & Park System Highlights Report.
State outdoor leisure economy. This measures revenue from outdoor recreation businesses (like fishing and RVing) as a percentage of all government revenue. Data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and is for 2020.
Reporting on states and national parks. The data comes from PlaygroundEquipment.com.
First, we ranked each city in each metric. We then averaged the ranking, giving each metric an equal weight, except for the two state-level metrics (National and State Park Coverage and State Outdoor Recreation Economy — each of which we assigned a half weight). We ranked the cities based on these averages. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Financial tips for outdoor enthusiasts
Raise money for your outdoor fun. Life’s essential expenses can take a toll on your wallet, but you can mitigate the impact by budgeting and making sure you have funds to devote to your leisure excursions. Our budget calculator can give you a clear picture of your current spending while showing you where reducing excess spending can maximize your savings.
Move with confidence. Some cities are better than others for meeting your outdoor needs, but moving to a new city or home can be daunting. SmartAsset offers free tools to get a feel for how much you can spend on a home, to understand what your closing costs might be, and how much to expect in property taxes.
Get your finances on track. A financial advisor can help you manage and get the most out of your money, which could mean less financial stress for you. SmartAsset’s free tool puts you in touch with up to three financial advisors operating in your area and you can interview your matching advisors for free to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, start now.
Questions about our study? Contact [email protected]
Credit: © iStock/RyanJLane
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