Best Destination for Outdoor Enthusiasts (2015)


These 10 winning cities in the category of Best Destination for Outdoor Enthusiasts are hubs for adventure in Mother Nature. Whether you love hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, climbing, camping, snowboarding or a little bit of each, these destinations offer a perfect home base for your adventurous pursuits.

  • Santa Fe

    Santa Fe

    In Santa Fe, residents are hard-pressed to stay indoors with its high altitude that lends itself to deep blue skies, 320 days of sun and clean air. Located in the southern Rocky Mountains in a valley in the Rio Grande, Santa Fe is designed with the outdoors in mind from its Santa Fe River Walk and 22-mile network of trails to the rapids of the Rio Grande, mountain fly fishing and plentiful skiing in an average of 300 inches of snow each year.
    Photo courtesy of

  • Durango, Colo.

    Durango, Colo.

    Step into the Wild West in this southwestern Colorado town set in the San Juan Mountains, once a base for mining silver and gold. Outdoor enthusiasts can hop a ride on the steam-powered 1882 Durango-Silverton Railroad through canyons in the San Juan National Forest, raft down the Animas River, hike the Colorado Trail or go 4 wheeling to old mining towns. Come winter, enjoy all manner of snow sports including dogsled rides, skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating.
    Photo courtesy of Mike Alcott / Durango Area Tourism Office

  • Tahoe, Calif./Nev.

    Tahoe, Calif./Nev.

    Several towns in California and Nevada serve the gorgeous Lake Tahoe area, home of the largest alpine lake on the continent. At the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the lake is just as beautiful as it is adventurous. On the lake’s clear waters, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and fishing are popular options, while on shore head into the mountains to cycle up to seven summits and bike the 72-mile loop around the lake. During winter, snowboarders and skiers pack the slopes.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Rapid City, S.D.

    Rapid City, S.D.

    Explore the Black Hills of South Dakota from Rapid City, a city close to so many famous natural attractions like Mt Rushmore, Dinosaur Park and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Go “rock hounding” within The Hills, one of the top five locations in the U.S. for mineral mining. Hike or bike the country’s oldest mountain range, climb up 3000 feet on the Hills’ roughly 1000 granite spheres or enjoy watersports on the area’s 14 crystal clear manmade lakes.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Islamorada, Fla.

    Islamorada, Fla.

    This set of six islands in the Florida Keys is known as the sportfishing capital of the world for good reason. Reel in sailfish, redfish, tarpon, marlin, kingfish, wahoo and bonefish all within this area where the Gulf Stream flows just 10-20 miles offshore. Located near the Everglades, Islamorada is also ideal for snorkeling or scuba diving local reefs. Landlubbers can hike nature trails within area state parks.
    Photo courtesy of alans1948 / Flickr

  • Bozeman, Mont.

    Bozeman, Mont.

    Bozeman is an outdoorsman’s paradise, surrounded by wilderness within national forests and parks. Though Yellowstone is just 90 minutes away, Bozeman itself offers plenty of adventure. Visitors can go horseback riding into the mountains or on local trails, join in a cattle drive or head into one of many mountain ranges for a hike. After a long day, soak sore muscles in some of the area’s natural hot springs.
    Photo courtesy of Donnie Sexton

  • Asheville, N.C.

    Asheville, N.C.

    Set within the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, N.C., boasts the highest mountain peaks in the Eastern U.S. This makes for quite the outdoor playground for adventure enthusiasts, who can whitewater raft one of several rivers that run through the mountains, cool off in the plethora of waterfalls, or bike the rollercoaster-like hills and hike through seemingly endless mountain trails, offering spectacular vistas especially during fall’s colorful show of leaves.
    Photo courtesy of

  • Bend, Ore.

    Bend, Ore.

    The epitome of a hip mountain town, Bend, Oregon, is located between the Cascade Mountains and desert plateaus of Central Oregon, offering numerous ways to get active in its year-round sunshine. Don’t miss rock climbing at Smith Rock, fly fishing for trout in the many local streams or hiking through volcanic rock formations. Bend offers 51 miles of in-town trails and hundreds of miles of mountain biking, cross country and hiking trails nearby.
    Photo courtesy of Pete Alport/Visit Bend

  • Jackson Hole, Wyo.

    Jackson Hole, Wyo.

    It’s tough to find a city more beautiful than Jackson Hole, with mountains surrounding it on all sides; it’s enough to make anyone want to be outdoors all day. Jackson serves as the gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and the nearby headwaters of the Snake River make it a great water destination with canoeing, kayaking and rafting among popular activities. Skiing is the mainstay every winter, though summer brings opportunities for chuckwagon rides, llama treks and mountain biking and backpacking.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Missoula, Mont.

    Missoula, Mont.

    Nature lovers flock to Missoula because of its fantastic setting in the northern Rocky Mountains, surrounded by seven wilderness areas and at the confluence of three rivers. Known for its blue river trout fishing, Missoula also offers abundant hiking along riverfront trails, numerous parks and trails through forests and state parks. Named a gold level bike-friendly city, there are 20 miles of bike lanes in town or plentiful mountain biking in the nearby wilderness.
    Photo courtesy of Glacier Country Tourism

We asked USA TODAY 10Best readers to vote for their favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts out of a pool of 20 expert-selected nominees. After four weeks of voting, the results are in, and Santa Fe, the New Mexican capital, has taken home top honors.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Destination for Outdoor Enthusiasts are as follows:

  1. Santa Fe
  2. Durango, Colo.
  3. Tahoe, Calif./Nev.
  4. Rapid City, S.D.
  5. Islamorada, Fla.
  6. Bozeman, Mont.
  7. Asheville, N.C.
  8. Bend, Ore.
  9. Jackson Hole, Wyo.
  10. Missoula, Mont.

Additional nominated destinations included Anchorage; Austin; Boise; Boulder, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Juneau, Alaska; Lake Placid, N.Y.; Moab, Utah and Portland, Maine.

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Lyn Mettler (10Best Expert), Larry Bleiberg, Jessie Festa (Epicure & Culture and Jessie on a Journey) and Lydia Schrandt (10Best Editor) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of outdoor adventure travel.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners.


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Lyn Mettler

Lyn Mettler

Lyn Mettler

Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt