COVID-19 sparked seismic shifts in how Americans live, and one change that’s still going strong today is the itch to ditch those languishing gym memberships and hop on a bike, go on a hike, or otherwise embrace the great outdoors. For real.
A record-high number of individuals (53%) participated in outdoor recreational activities in 2021 largely due to necessity, according to a recent Outdoor Industry Association survey. Not only do open-air spaces sport lower COVID-19 transmission rates, but they also carry psychological benefits many realized they needed dearly. It was only a matter of time before this new wave of outdoor enthusiasts started dreaming of settling down in more natural surroundings 24/7. We narrowed our rankings to places within a four-hour drive of a national park, and picked just one metro per state to ensure geographic diversity. (Metros include the main city and surrounding towns, suburbs, and smaller urban areas.) The results prove it’s entirely possible for mere mortals with regular-sized paychecks to purchase property in an outdoor paradise—they just have to meander a bit off the beaten track.