Welcome to Your New Backyard

Want instant access to the Big Outdoors—trails, rivers, wild shores, just minutes from home—without compromising your livelihood? Then check out these ten towns on the verge of paradise, where you don't have to ditch it all to have it all.

Camden Harbor, Maine     Photo: Walter Bibikow

Early this summer, demographers coined a new word for the kind of town you can now find outside metropolitan areas all across America: a "boomburb." Surely you've been to one. They have 100,000 to 400,000 residents; no downtown; auto-centric development, strip malls, and subdivisions; and double-digit population growth. If you enjoy such surroundings, you're in luck. The nation now has 53 boomburbs, plus hundreds of smaller copycats. When you're in one, you could be virtually anywhere. Undoubtedly some developer has co-opted that name: "Welcome to Virtually Anywhere—Gracious Living Close to Golf—Financing Available."

Thanks, but no thanks. We all know that a town and its people can do much better than that. Take the ten best outdoorsy communities we found, explored, and scrutinized—places where the miles of singletrack far exceed the miles of six-lane beltway, where you can stroll or pedal to the farmers market, where the arts scene doesn't stop at the multiplex, where you don't have to count the number of garages from the corner to tell which house is yours.
Our formula is simple. First, each place offers close access to a mother lode of usable outdoors, so that a paddle, a hike, a few wave sets, or a bump run after work is not just possible but routine. Each one also provides some realistic hope of making a living (enough to support a family), and a healthy supply of sub-millionaire housing. Some of our towns are classic meccas, some relatively uncelebrated burgs, but all are places that haven't bulldozed their character and don't intend to. Places that no one could mistake for Anywhere.

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