Sep 14, 2020 at 7:14 am #3676007
Just curious to hear some thoughts from others on this: What is the best city/area to live for access to year-long hiking and backpacking?? Why is your city the best (or why not)?!
Now, for my personal preferences to be a little more specific. I have a long-term goal of moving out west. I dream of waking up in the wee hours of the morning, driving 30 minutes to the trailhead, getting in a nice sunrise hike, and being back home by breakfast or lunch. I want to be able to go on weekenders that are within a 4-8 hr drive. And I want enough variety to not get bored with the local trails. I would love to take some winter trips too. I would welcome seasons and snow, but don’t think I’d enjoy bone-chilling temps for months on end (but feel free to sway attempt to sway me otherwise). And I want to be able to take my kids frequently on a whim.
I currently live in central Florida, and “backpacking” locally is really walking 45 minutes in the oak/pine/palm conservation area to a primitive campsite, which you can only do a few weeks out of the year when it’s cold enough unless you want to slather yourself in greasy bug spray and sweat your a** off. Like thru hiked the AT in a day sweat.
My work has offices in SLC and Denver, so those are the obvious ones, but I’d be interested in the suburbs/fringe cities too. My main 4 states of interest are UT, WY, CO, and ID, but feel free to share!
*** Started a new post here based on previous commenter feedback… I already edited the old one once so I didn’t know how to change the forum location :) ***Sep 14, 2020 at 8:36 am #3676021Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
A few questions:
1. How much snow do you think is a lot of snow?
2. Does cost of housing/living play a role in your decision?
3. What about close to an airport?
4. What about diversity/culture/art?
Given that you live in Florida, you might want to aim somewhere with slightly more moderate weather conditions: Flagstaff, Grand Junction, Santa Fe. etc. Lots of mountains there, too, within minutes, no hours.
Given that you live in Florida, the change in humidity will be a BIG shock to you in the West.Sep 14, 2020 at 9:04 am #3676026Ben H.BPL Member
@bzhayesLocale: No. Alabama
You mentioned UT, WY, CO, and ID. Are you prepared to winter backpack in those locales. You certainly are not year round hiking in those locales. Maybe skiing/snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the summer. When I lived in California, there was somewhere to go year round that had perfect hiking/backpacking weather but it wasn’t all close by. With LA traffic, none of it was close driving time…..Sep 14, 2020 at 10:03 am #3676033
I really don’t need this to be specifically tailored to me. Moreso I just wanted to facilitate some discussion around best locales for our outdoor addiction! But maybe then I shouldn’t have included all of the specific information about me :)
I’d consider a lot of snow as having snow for 3-4 months solid. I haven’t done any winter hiking (with snow) since I was young, I would most certainly consider snowshoeing into a nice camp spot, or taking up cross-country skiing if climate/area was well suited for it. I’m originally from New Jersey, so I know cold (ok… chilly?). Not sure that I truly know frigid though… But if I can hike locally for half the year, and then drive a few hours to something with more suitable hiking conditions, sure.
Cost is always a factor. Close to airport is nice. Diversity, culture art… sure. All of that or none of that. I don’t need to live in a super artsy/progressive area, nor am I necessarily against it. Traffic? I mean who actually likes sitting in traffic?
I think I would welcome the change in humidity… except maybe for the assumed adjustment period with frequent dry cracked hands and lips. Hasn’t bothered me much on a few other multiweek trips out west. Frequent chapstick use if it meant living in/near the mountains? Heck yes.Sep 14, 2020 at 12:13 pm #3676057Luke SchmidtBPL Member
There is no free lunch so decide what your priorities are. I tend to favor big trips over walking for an afternoon so that would factor in for me. I’d prefer big wilderness 2 hours away over a short hike 30 minutes away.
I lived in Virginia once close to the AT. I did backpacking trips in January. It was great, except that I ran out of new places to go within a reasonable driving distance. And summer backpacking was a challenge. Doable at high elevations but not as fun. So I probably didn’t do more hiking there then I did in other areas that theoretically had less backpacking.
West Texas was actually great when I was a teacher. I’d go backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains in winter. In summer I used my vacation to go to the Northern Rockies.
Anywhere from Colorado on up is going to have snow from roughly late October to May. You can stretch things a bit by driving to Utah or exploring lower elevation areas. But there will be a non hiking season if you go far enough north and/or high enough.
New Mexico might be a compromise. I feel like I could explore all their mountain wilderness areas in a season but lots of winter options. And for bigger trips you are close to Colorado and Wyoming.
I moved to Alaska for my job but I love it. I do enough adventures in the summer that I’m okay slowing down in the winter.Sep 14, 2020 at 12:39 pm #3676061Andrew BBPL Member
Washington State is worth considering. I live in Seattle, where traffic is getting pretty rough, but in places like Bellingham or smaller towns around Puget Sound, you have good access to the North Cascades and the Olympics. Winters are quite mild, but skiing is still good. You also can benefit from the ocean – kayaking, sailing, beach hikes etc.
That said, if I were starting from scratch I dream of moving to Scotland, Colorado, or maybe New Zealand!Sep 14, 2020 at 12:49 pm #3676063W I S N E R !BPL Member
I love how California never comes up! Don’t bother coming. And if you were thinking about leaving, I say go for it. Besides, I hear that Montana residents are just craving more transplants taking up parking spots at their trailheads and applying for elk tags ; )
Once everyone leaves to Californicate OR, WA, UT, CO, MT, NV…it’ll be an even more amazing place to live. I’m sticking it out.
I truly, truly enjoy being able to go spearfishing in the morning and hike beside a stream in an oak-lined canyon on the same afternoon. Or surf all day Saturday and rock climb in the high desert on Sunday. Or be in the High Sierra for an overnight in October. And all of this finished off with authentic cuisine from any culture you can imagine at the end of the day. Sorry UT, your desert skies are big and your mountains are gorgeous but your fish tacos and ramen are…well… ; )
Now if the fires would just stop burning and I could breathe through all this smoke….Sep 14, 2020 at 1:51 pm #3676072Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
Right on Craig! There are 49 other states, choose one.Sep 14, 2020 at 2:29 pm #3676079David ThomasBPL Member
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
(Having been in every state 6+ times), I found “year-round” hiking and backpacking easiest when I lived in the East Bay of the SF area. There’s a fabulous system of trails from Richmond down to Castro Valley, 50 km in one direction and lots of parallel and side trails as well. It’s a jewel of a resource for hikers and (although expensive) a house or rental near the ridge would let you walk 5 minutes to a trailhead and then hike for 1 or 10 or 20 hours straight. In any month of the year (except, perhaps, September 2020 with the horrid air quality). But it’s never too hot, too cold, or has snowed to prevent you from hiking.
For backpacking in the summer, you’re 3-4 hours from world-class terrain and trails in the Sierra Nevada. Year round, Point Reyes, Big Sur, Big Basin, and Lost Coast are 2 to 4 hours away. In the winter you can find some warmth in Pinnacles, Death Valley or the Mohave Desert.
Within your 8-hour travel radius, you’ve got Lassen, Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Death Valley NPs, Lava Beds NM. Peak bagging on Half Dome, Whitney, Shasta, Lassen.
Skiing (Alpine and Nordic) to the north, northeast, east, and southeast, 3-4 hours away.
When I lived in Seattle, the “big stuff” (alpine skiing, big mountains) where closer by 2 hours, but the nearest substantial day hike (5-10-15 miles) was much further away than in the Bay Area.
Here in Kenai, Alaska, moose and beaches and spruce forest are right out my door, but short days and cold weather make it tedious to get out some weeks in the winter. Serious mountains and backpacking are an hour away and truly remote wilderness (like so NO one, and they’ll never find your bones) are an hour drive and then just taking a turn off any established trail.
I go back to visit and stay in my childhood home in Castro Valley and love getting up early, walking 9 blocks to a back gate of Lake Chabot Regional Park, walking 9 miles around the lake, seeing bobcats, foxes, rabbits, eagles and all manner of water fowl, getting back, taking my shower and then starting my day.Sep 14, 2020 at 3:06 pm #3676085GarrettBPL Member
If being outdoors was the main objective, then SLC would be my choice by a large margin.Sep 14, 2020 at 3:32 pm #3676091Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
To David’s point, we have a grand total of NINE national parks in California alone, and from the East Bay you may well be within 8 hours of more: Great Basin, Crater Lake…
But of course Alaska have nearly as many—and far larger—national parks. But I hear the winters are colder.Sep 14, 2020 at 4:18 pm #3676096HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
The middle of New Mexico would be ideal if backpacking were the only criteria. I’d say Denver as there’s plenty of flights to other places to base a backpacking trip out of … chiefly Phoenix and Los Angeles w/ REI (w/perhaps other gear stores) if needing canister fuel.Sep 14, 2020 at 5:40 pm #3676102ArthurBPL Member
The obvious solution. Two homes with different seasons.Sep 14, 2020 at 5:58 pm #3676103David ThomasBPL Member
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
(in Alaska) “the winters are colder”.
And darker. And it’s three plane rides to get anywhere. And it’s hell to find decent Mexican food. Or Caribbean or real Italian or French or Ethiopian or Korean or Mongolian. But for some reason we’re okay on Indian and pretty good for Thai.
But, yeah, 17 National Park units, half of them each the size of Massachusetts and collectively over half of the nation’s NP area.Sep 14, 2020 at 7:32 pm #3676123jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
As David knows by now, I live a five minutes drive from Tilden park, located in the East S.f. Bay, which is part of that 50 plus kilometer system he mentions. I could walk there in thirty minutes but I prefer the trails in the park to the neighborhood streets, so I drive. It really is a fine resource and available year around, except in fire–ermm, smoke!– season.
But it’s not ‘wilderness’. Almost though! Birds especially are wonderful. And there’s plenty of wildlife. And a good mixture of oak and pine and eucalyptus and grasslands. Best of all maybe is that there are rolling hills with thousand foot gains everywhere. And lots of views.
But the east bay really is a good launching point to all sorts of ‘real’ outdoor adventures; many of which are world class, as David mentions. and then…the wine country is its own thing.Sep 14, 2020 at 10:42 pm #3676146Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
+1 to what Wisner said.
And some out migration might help mitigate the overly high (if not obscene) cost of housing in California.
CheersSep 15, 2020 at 12:03 am #3676151Luke SchmidtBPL Member
Different approach here.
Christian you have a little girl if I recall. That might change the priorities a bit.
1. At some point you want to take your girl out. Little kids don’t tend to like long commutes. So you want parks close to home for kiddo. Like 15 minutes probably. Big scenic trips are not necessarily (or easy). Short day trips to rocks or creeks will work with short attention spans.
2. With family responsibilities I don’t know how much hiking time you’ll get. For a single guy/gal a 2-3 hour commute might be no big deal. But that’s adding 4-6 hours away from the family plus whatever hiking time you have. So you want adult hiking that isn’t a super long drive. And multiple day hikes or overnight hikes will be more useful than a huge wilderness where you can get lost for two weeks. So you want accessible wilderness (i.e. not my corner of Alaska, Dave is on the Kenai which is a bit more developed. It might actually work there if you’re okay with winter).
I don’t know where all that leaves you location wise but I assume it would eliminate a lot of otherwise descent places. You’d probably to live on the mountain side of Denver or SLC if you went that direction. Probably doable but something to research first.
Dave C has some thoughts on this general subject on his blog. He seems to be doing well raising a family in Helena, Montana.
If going west doesn’t work I’d consider the southern Appalachians. There are lots of towns close to the AT and a variety of state parks etc. And they aren’t all tourist areas so the cost of living might be better by comparison. You can hike all year there if you really want to. I’ve taken warm weekends in January and camped with a 40 degree bag. Another time I went into Greyson Highlands after a snowstorm over spring break, it felt like a western trip. Super beautiful with snow on the balds and low temps.Sep 16, 2020 at 4:06 am #3676313
Wow. Definitely appreciate all the response. Great feedback!
David: when people say SF is expensive… wow. I just looked at current listings for the heck of it. Exorbitant is a gross understatement. I love the idea of being close to so many parks, but idk if CA is for us (you’re welcome, WISNER!). And Alaska? Only in my wildest dreams… My two backpacking partners have been a few times and they rave about it. They are a bit older than I am, and they really enjoy off the beaten path solitude. And I’m sure there’s nothing but that in Alaska outside “big” cities. And food? Well, specifically, I live in Orlando, so there are a lot of decent food options. I may not know how spoiled I am with that unless I move to somewhere that isn’t such a melting pot of cultures. Guess we’ll see! But, I do love me some tacos.
Arthur: two homes may be a more long term goal. Definitely can’t afford that now :) In due time. A game plan at the moment is to either buy a cheap RV, renovate it, and stay in a few different places for 1-2 months at a time over, let’s say, a 5 year period, and then hone in. Or just rent a place for 2 months. And now with the pandemic, I’m still working at home after 6 months. There definitely seems to be a shift towards working remotely for obvious reasons, although who knows if that will last. But, just in practicality, being ~1-2 hours to one of my companies offices and also an airport would make things easier for sure.
And Luke: Yup! Two little girls now. I’m trying to get them started young :) When it cools down, I plan on taking my oldest (3.5 yrs old) on a daddy-daughter trip for a local overnighter when it gets MUCH colder. Today it’s a high of 90 w/ 97% humidity and has been rainy as ever for the last two weeks. Gotta love hurricane season (said no one ever). Even made her her first backpack just a few weeks ago! And you make an obvious (and great) point about accessibility. And research is practically my middle name. I can spend hours researching stuff that doesn’t matter as long as it interests me lol. TBH, North GA is another option, but I really haven’t been up there too much. Definitely have the seasons and leaves changing, and some snow (right?). It’s been on the table for discussion, but I haven’t given much thought to VA or NC. My family owns 800+ acres in WV that we use for hunting… but that’s what I associate it with, not hiking necessarily.
Almost all our family lives on the east coast, so I’d probably make periodic visits back to FL throughout the year. But I sure am trying to plant the seed now about us moving, and attempting to convince them to join us!Sep 16, 2020 at 9:59 am #3676343John “Jay” MennaBPL Member
>I plan on taking my oldest (3.5 yrs old) on a daddy-daughter trip for a local overnighter when it gets MUCH colder.
The best single night of sleep I ever had was when my 3 year old somehow managed to crawl into my sleeping bag with me. Hes 24 now. Grab hold of those moment!Sep 16, 2020 at 10:22 am #3676348Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
Emigrate to the UK and join me in the Lake District!
There can be few places in the world with such varied walking and climbing in such a manageable area. The geology remarkable, the views heart-stopping, and fells are far more rugged and fun than their modest height would suggest.
I have literally dozens of world-class outings within an hour or so of my front door. Plus easy access to the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District. There can’t be many places in the world that offer so much to the walker and scrambler.
OK – not the most undiscovered area in the world. But walk at dawn or at dusk or in poor weather or off-piste and you can still have it to yourself…Sep 16, 2020 at 7:31 pm #3676439Brad RogersBPL Member
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
I’ve thought about this as well, though it’s a moot point for me as my wife would never move, but I think perhaps Santa Fe or Flagstaff might be good choices.
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