While the majority of America’s growth is concentrated in large metropolitan areas, a new trend is emerging in smaller cities. Some people are moving out of major cities in search of lower prices and a higher quality of life. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, half a million people moved out of New York City between 2012 and 2017, and a continuing millennial trend is causing increased migration rates to small and mid-sized cities.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that the outdoor recreation industry accounts for 2 percent of the U.S. GDP, putting it on par with heavyweight sectors like agriculture, legal services, and oil and gas extraction. It also found that the outdoor industry is growing at 3.8 percent, faster than the entire American economy. Put all these trends together, and you’ll see a demand for mid-sized, growth-oriented American cities that maintain a connection with nature and the outdoors.
Life is too short to be spent indoors—or stuck in traffic. If you’re curious as to what opportunities are out there, we have the list for you. Read on to get the details of the top outdoorsy towns hiring in 2019, and leave the smog in your rearview mirror.
The Asheville metropolitan area has grown every year for the past 40 years and currently counts just under half a million residents. A recent darling of millennial media, the city has earned a host of disposable nicknames, from “The Paris of the South,” to “Beer City” to “The Weirdest City in the U.S.”
What is not a fad, however, is the city’s $17.3 billion local economy, which is driven by manufacturing, tourism, and healthcare. Job growth since last year is at a modest 1.8 percent and the unemployment levels remain below the national average.
Outdoor opportunities are plentiful. Hugged by the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, citizens of Asheville have easy access to trails, camping facilities, and local wildlife. There is also whitewater rafting on the French Broad River, hiking to waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and mountain biking in DuPont State Forest. If you’re really looking for fresh air, you can even go hot air ballooning over the mountains.
Nicknamed “The Loveliest Village on the Plains,” Auburn has begun attracting a sizable amount of attention lately. The city has experienced 3.2 percent job growth in the last year, and more than 18 percent since 2012. Manufacturing jobs have seen the most significant increase, expanding 22 percent.
Despite its small population of 161,900, Auburn has managed to attract industrial firms from Germany and South Korea. What’s more, Auburn University’s new engineering program is primed to serve major manufacturers like General Electric.
Famous for its fanatical devotion to football, there are plenty of other ways to get outside in Auburn: river rafting, golfing, hiking, biking, and camping. The nearby Chewacla State Park includes a 26-acre lake, swimming area, camping facilities, and trails for both hiking and mountain biking. Further afoot, Auburnites can check out the 2,800 acre Cheaha State Park, which includes Cheaha Mountain—the highest point in the state—and the Pinhoti Trail system.
Named by Forbes as the best city in America for job growth, and in the top ten for best small cities for businesses and careers, Bend’s population of 187,000 punches well above its weight. It has seen 3.9 percent job growth over the last year, largely fueled by the tourism and healthcare industries.
The allure is so strong that some people working in the Bay Area have decided to relocate to Bend due to the lower cost of living, improved quality of life, and nearly unlimited amounts of outdoor activities.
Located near the Cascade Mountain Range, along the Deschutes River, Bend repeatedly shows up on lists for best adventure towns in the U.S., with opportunities for spelunking, fishing, tubing, rock climbing, camping, and most anything else you might imagine. You can hike up Pilot Butte, cycle the Three Sisters Scenic Bikeway, ski or snowboard Mount Bachelor, or bungee jump into Crooked River Gorge. With more than 270 miles of mountain bike trails, you can pedal your way across everything from beginner runs to lava fields.
As one of the top in-migration regions in the United States, Boise has seen an electric 4.1 percent growth in job count in the last year and 20 percent since 2012. Construction, health, information, manufacturing, and business sectors have all seen significant gains, while unemployment levels are some of the lowest in the country at 2.2 percent.
With a population of 712,000 residents, Boise is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., and it is not looking to slow down any time soon. The city is a regional hub for jazz and theater, so there is plenty to do both inside and outside the Boise city limits.
In town, the Boise River Greenbelt offers fresh air and a large urban green space. Just a short drive away you have Lucky Peak Lake and State Park, the Snake River, and Shafer Butte. Whether you’re looking for cycling, trail running, camping, fishing, rafting, paddling, or just some fresh air, you can find it around Boise.
Right next door to Greeley is Fort Collins. Though it is of similar size to Greeley—about 350,000 people—Fort Collins is predominantly college-aged, whereas Greeley skews more towards pensioners.
That youthful trend carries over into the job market, as Fort Collins has become something of a tech hub. Hewlett-Packard, Intel, AMD, and other high-tech companies have moved in, aided by Colorado State University’s research facilities. Clean energy, bioscience, and agri-tech are all on the rise as well. Fort Collins has seen its job count grow 2.9 percent over the previous year, and 18 percent since 2012. With only 2.7 percent unemployment, there is still plenty of hiring demand.
Living in Fort Collins means that you get access to all of the state and national parks and forests that you would in Greeley—in fact, you would even be a little closer—and you would be spoiled for choice when it came to weekends and day trips in the outdoors.
Located about 50 miles north of Denver, the small town of Greeley is starting to make its way onto the larger map. Its job count grew by almost 5 percent over the last year, adding more than 100,000 jobs, largely due to the uptick in oil- and gas-related work, as well as construction, hospitality, health, and recreation. The low cost of living and low unemployment—2.8 percent—have allowed the population to grow in recent years, but at just around 300,000 people, there is still a relaxed and easy going vibe.
Living in Greeley means you could feasibly visit an entirely new area full of epic nature every month without ever repeating yourself. The city is close to the Rocky Mountain National Park and more than a handful of other national forests. Skiing, rafting, hiking, camping, fishing, and biking make this area not just good for recreational vacations, but a healthy and active place to call home.
With a metropolitan area that holds half a million people, Fayetteville is growing at one of the fastest rates in the country. A lot of that is due to it being the home of WalMart’s headquarters, as well as the nearby Tyson Foods, both of which drive the local economy. Job count has grown by 3.1 percent in the last year, and more than 20 percent since 2012, most of which has occurred in professional, business, and financial service sectors.
The city is the recipient of significant charitable investment from the Walton Family Foundation, which is apparent in the extensive bike trails that lead from downtown to the residential areas and even reach some 26 miles up to the glittering Crystal Bridges Museum—another Walton-funded creation.
Rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and camping activities are plentiful in the area. Weekend trips to the Ozark Mountains are within reach, but plenty of nature is to be found closer to home in the Buffalo River.
Larger than the other cities on this list, Minneapolis-St. Paul is actually two cities, also known as the Twin Cities. As the primary business center between Chicago and Seattle, the Twin Cities maintain a healthy sense of industry, but also an impressively low 2.1 percent unemployment rate.
While the job count has grown by only 1.8 percent in the last year, it is on an upward trend. Despite its size, the Twin Cities have been likened to an East Coast town due to the late-Victorian architecture and cozy neighborhoods you won’t find in many major U.S. cities.
Outdoor options abound as Minnesota contains almost 12,000 lakes, each over ten acres in size. Camping, fishing, birding, biking—it’s all there. The Twin Cities themselves are home to more than 50 parks and reserves, with 340 miles of trails in the greater area.
Situated on a tundra, winter here can be downright arctic by California or Florida standards, but it brings with it ice fishing, sledding, ice skating, and cross-country skiing. Nearby Buck Hill offers 15 skiing and snowboarding runs, 11 lifts, and one of the best powder-making systems in the Midwest.
Provo has had some stunning growth. The city’s job count has risen by 4.4 percent in the last year and 35 percent in the last ten. The information and business sectors have both grown by more than one-third since 2012, and overall unemployment is hovering at around 2.5 percent, which is well below the national average.
With a population just over 600,000, Provo is still considered mid-sized, has plenty of room left to expand, and leaves plenty of room to breathe. The state has a lot to offer the nature-inclined and Provo is no exception. Located near the Wasatch Mountains, locals have more than enough to explore.
Provo Canyon, Cascade Springs, Deer Creek State Park, Payson Lakes, and Provo River are just a few of the outdoor areas one can reach with ease from Provo proper for hiking, camping, and fishing. In winter, world-class skiing and snowboarding options are available all over the state.
With a population of under half a million, the “Biggest Little City in the World” got a major upgrade when Tesla’s gigabit-1 battery factory was announced in 2014. So far, it has provided Reno with 4,000 jobs, and it is expected to support a total of 10,000 when complete.
Once known as the much smaller sister city to Las Vegas, Reno has rebranded itself in its own image and reaped the rewards of higher wages, more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employment opportunities, and job growth of 5 percent in the last year.
The manufacturing industry in Reno has grown by 30 percent since 2015, and the information, business, and professional services have seen upticks in growth a well. Nearby Lake Tahoe offers just about everything one could want from nature: hiking, biking, sailing, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing, and more. In the cooler months, the area becomes a winter wonderland, with world-class snowboarding and skiing opportunities just across the road from each other. At an elevation of 6,225 feet, you’ll be guaranteed some fresh air.
Our methodology includes the triangulation of unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), population numbers from the Census Bureau, and city-specific job growth figures at Forbes. From this data, we came up with a list of cities that meet most or all of the following criteria: