The Cheapest (and Most Expensive) Places to Buy a Home Near a National Park
Buy your own slice of paradise at these surprisingly affordable locations—and drool over the listings far out of reach
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My wife, Dee, and I were driving through West Virginia last fall when we decided to do a quick detour to New River Gorge National Park. Maybe a mile or so from the park entrance, I glimpsed a ramshackle home with a collapsing roof and a faded “For Sale” sign in the front yard. A few shingles and a fresh coat of paint, and that house would be as good as new, I thought. I was sure all the raccoons and opossums most assuredly living in the house now would make for great roommates. After that initial chuckle, I began to think in earnest how cool it would be to have a national park as your backyard.
Soon enough, those initial daydreams had me fantasy-scrolling through real-estate listings for weeks afterward. With more and more employers allowing remote work, why not migrate somewhere where you can have million-dollar views, even if you don’t have a million-dollar budget?
“The pandemic and subsequent rise in remote work has had a number of major impacts on the nation’s real estate landscape,” Orphe Divounguy, Zillow’s senior economist, told me. “It unlocked many peoples’ ability to live where they want, and not necessarily within a reasonable daily commute to an urban job center. It’s encouraged people to move to affordable areas where their dollar goes further, and stimulated demand for outdoor living space.”
So where’s the cheapest—and by contrast, the most expensive—place you can buy a home near a national park? Although my wife isn’t letting me call the movers quite yet, I did look into what it might cost to relocate to one of these spots. This list, based on Zillow.com data, uses average home prices for counties contiguous to the national parks. (Basically, within a relatively short bike ride to the park.)
The Cheapest Places to Buy
1. New River Gorge
It wasn’t a shock to see New River Gorge at the top of the list, but I was amazed that the average cost of a house on the edges of the park is about a third less than the second-cheapest park option. According to Zillow’s research, it’s possible to buy homes in the surrounding Summers and Fayette counties for $90,827 and $94,633, respectively. The gateway town of Fayetteville—which calls itself the “coolest small town in America”—will have you scratching your head to come up with more creative euphemisms than quaint.
Who should move here: Love whitewater rafting? The upper and lower New River boasts some of the best rapids in the nation. There’s plenty of great hiking, biking, and rock climbing as well. In short, it’s a dirtbag’s paradise, with costs to match.
What you can expect for your money: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the house I’d seen weeks earlier that sent me down this rabbit hole, but this 1,400-square foot, four-bedroom, one-bath ranch was selling for $99,900, just a bit over the area average. Don’t despair if that’s still out of your price range. It’s also not unusual to find small, fixer-upper homes for about half the price.
The gateway to Voyageurs is Koochiching County, where a house will set you back an average of $145,484. About 10,000 people already call International Falls and the surrounding area home. But if you’re planning to move here, be sure to set aside enough money to buy a boat and a good parka. During the warmer months, life revolves around Kabetogama and Rainy Lakes, and in the winter, International Falls earns its nickname as “the Icebox of the Nation,” when the average temperature dips below freezing for nearly a third of the year.
Who should move here: People who love water, quiet, and the bitter, bitter cold.
What you can expect for your money: This nearly 2,000 square-foot, three-bedroom, one-bath ranch is selling for $144,000.
3. Mammoth Cave
While buying a home in Edmonson County—average cost: $149,580—won’t give you an amazing view of Mammoth Cave National Park’s namesake attraction, the park does offer 80 miles of trails above ground, as well as some great biking and fishing options. Fairly close to Bowling Green, Kentucky, the county sits about 90 miles away from both Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee.
Who should move here: Spelunkers likely won’t be able to freely roam the nearly 400 miles of caves underneath the surface, but the surrounding bluegrass country and other opportunities for adventure should make up for it.
What you can expect for your money: This 1,100 square foot, three-bedroom, two-bath ranch will set you back $155,000.
4. Great Smoky Mountains
The areas surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park are a study in contrasts. You have Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which answers the age-old question “what would Las Vegas look like if it were driven by fudge shops instead of gambling?” You also have Cocke County, Tennessee, which is much, much quieter and surrounded by an ocean of green space. Just a bit over $170,000 will buy you an average home here, although that number may be slightly skewed by the amount of so-called “unimproved land” available close to the park boundaries.
Who should move here: Adventurers who don’t mind crowds. You can’t deny Great Smoky Mountains’ immense natural beauty, but you may have to search for solitude in the nation’s most heavily visited national park. Luckily, if you tire of all the people, nearby Cherokee National Forest offers a respite.
What you can expect for your money: This 1,250 square-foot A-Frame house sits so close to the national park you might be asked for your America the Beautiful pass before walking into your backyard. Stripped down almost to the studs, the house is currently on the market for $145,000.
The Most Expensive Places to Buy
1. Grand Teton and Yellowstone
The scarcity of private land—less than three percent of Teton County’s 2.7 million acres is privately owned, according to local realtor Latham Jenkins—makes it the most expensive gateway community in the county, with the average home near Grand Teton National Park costing $1.69 million. By comparison, Gallatin County—five hours away, located to the north of Yellowstone, and the fifth-most expensive spot on this list—is a relative steal at $668,894, a full million dollars cheaper.
If you don’t have an extra million to spend on a house, there may be another way. Jenkins says Teton County sometimes offers deed-restricted properties for people working full-time in the county and making 80 to 120 percent of the median family income. One such home sold for $320,781 in November 2022.
Who can afford to move here: Powerball winners, billionaires who just bought a cowboy hat and their first pair of hiking boots
What you can expect for your money: $1.5 million will get you a condo in Jackson Hole or you could spend $1.7 million on this 2,000 square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bath cabin on 4.8 acres of land. For about the price of a two-acre lot in Teton County ($550,000), you can buy this 2,520 square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bath cabin in Gallatin County’s West Yellowstone.
“Who wants to live next to a swamp?” I asked myself before I quickly remembered how close Everglades National Park is to the Florida Keys and Miami. That explains why the average home price in Monroe County is $1.03 million. Given the snowballing effects of climate change, this area may not be the wisest place to relocate long term, unless, of course, you don’t mind snorkeling to the mailbox in your old age.
Who can afford to move here: Fan-boat aficionados, alligator wrestlers with trust funds, Jimmy Buffett
What you can expect for your money: You can buy a $1,664 square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath home with a four-car garage and private boat ramp for $928,000. Too rich for your blood? Here’s a 1,100 square-foot double-wide mobile home for a mere $340,000.
Technically, the Channel Islands would be considered the third-most expensive spot, given its relative proximity to one of the most densely populated and priciest zip codes in the nation. But since you can’t even see the actual islands from that coastline, I’m moving Pinnacles up one spot.
Considered by many to be California’s most underrated national park, Pinnacles is a volcanic wonderland with miles of great hiking. Average home prices for San Benito and Monterey Counties are $830,658 and $810,729, respectively. The most expensive homes in these two counties are actually on or near the coast, so properties nearer to the park can be considered a relative bargain.
Who can afford to move here: Tech execs who don’t mind a long commute
What you can expect for your money: This 2,408 square-foot, five-bedroom home just west of Pinnacles can be yours for $649,000, well under the local average.
4. Rocky Mountain
I didn’t expect to see Rocky Mountain National Park this high on the list—average home prices are $764,804 in Boulder County and $740,515 in Grand—but it makes sense. This is one of the most stunning places on earth, with world-class biking, hiking, skiing, and more in every direction, not just the park.
Who can afford to move here: Unfortunately not this freelance writer
What you can expect for your money: A stone’s throw away from Grand Lake on the park’s border, this 1,277 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath ranch is on the market for $734,000.