It’s not like the more densely populated, heavily forested eastern states or the farm country in the heartland are completely devoid of recreational opportunities, but the pull of the outdoors is undeniably stronger in the American West. With its towering mountains, red rocks, raging rivers, and overall drier climate, the West is filled with places to enchant outdoor lovers.
Among the dozens of Western cities with tremendous outdoor settings at their doorsteps, five cities stand out: Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland and Reno. A brief rundown of each city’s key outdoor assets follows.
Denver’s “Mile High” nickname should be the first clue that its environment defines the city. With the exception of open spaces like the Bluff Lake Nature Center in the northeastern Stapleton neighborhood, the city proper is almost completely built out, but the city’s suburbs and the Rocky Mountain foothills just beyond them are chock-full of world-class parks and trail systems.
Spread over four counties, the city’s Denver Mountain Parks are a classic example of municipal foresight. In the early 20th century, the fledgling city purchased thousands of acres of Rocky Mountain lands to its south and west for its residents’ enjoyment.
Salt Lake City, Utah
While Denver technically sits on the High Plains at the eastern edge of the Rockies, Salt Lake City lies on the eastern side of the rugged Great Basin, the country’s starkest and most sparsely populated region. But with the Great Salt Lake and beautiful Wasatch Mountains to the east, Salt Lake City offers a wealth of outdoor recreation.
Surrounded on two sides by mountains, the Salt Lake City region is peppered with world-class ski resorts that receive hundreds of inches of light, fluffy snow each year. Somewhat surprisingly, the lakes and rivers in the nearby high mountain valleys are world-class repositories of freshwater fish as well.
Visible from almost anywhere in the city, Mount Rainier is Seattle’s best-known natural landmark and a major selling point for outdoor enthusiasts who relocate there. With its elevation over 14,400 feet and multiple glaciers it is a dominant feature.
But Mt. Rainier is just the start of things in the Seattle Area. Both the volcanic Cascades and the rugged Olympic Range attract expert mountaineers, backpackers, and ice climbers, but there’s plenty to do for less-serious Seattle outdoorsmen too.
The city is practically surrounded by water with Puget Sound to the west, which provides great fishing and sailing with dozens of island. Lake Washington, a large body of freshwater just east of the city, is a rich fishery and a boater’s paradise during the warm months.
With a moist, mild climate ideal for growing roses, Portland’s International Rose Test Garden is a laid-back, refined alternative to the windsurfing and boating in the Columbia Gorge nearby to the city’s east. The city is loaded with bridges crossing the Willamette River and the Columbia River, one of America’s largest rivers, just to the north.
Like Seattle, Portland is nearby by the Cascade Range and offers the same slate of mountaineering opportunities as its sister city to the north. Tryon Creek State Natural Area, within the city limits, is big enough to get lost in and accessible from central Portland via public transportation. And ocean beaches are only about an hour away!
Nestled in the mild Truckee Meadows region at the base of the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains, Reno is better known for its casinos and dry climate but it is also a short drive from some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.
Lake Tahoe, a sportsman’s paradise, lies less than an hour to the southwest, and a handful of major Sierra ski resorts are not much further away. Mount Rose, the “local” ski area with nearly 10,000 foot top elevation, is just 25 minutes from Reno’s airport.