The Best Cities for National Park Lovers

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The Best Cities for National Park Lovers

Want to live in a big city but have the outdoors in your backyard? Move to one of these places.

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This month is the 100th anniversary of the United States National Park Service (NPS). The park service was enacted so that natural spaces would be preserved and protected for years to come, giving Americans places to explore the outdoors and get away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives.

With more than 300 million visitors last year, the national parks have never been more popular. But what if you don’t want to just visit once or twice in a lifetime and instead want to live with a national park in your backyard?

In honor of the National Park Centennial, Redfin found the top major American cities offering the best of both worlds: big-city living with quick and easy access to the great outdoors.

Redfin data scientists looked at U.S. cities with populations of at least 400,000, and ranked them according to the number of national parks reachable in under a three-hour drive.

Here is the full top 10 ranking, and read on for additional details, including insights from local Redfin agents:

Rank City Parks Within 3 Hours Travel Time
1 Fresno, CA Kings Canyon 1 hour 3 mins
Yosemite 1 hour 16 mins
Sequoia 1 hour 20 mins
Pinnacles  2 hours 24 mins
2 Seattle, WA Mount Rainier 1 hour 41 mins
North Cascades 2 hours 3 mins
Olympic 2 hours 9 mins
3 Sacramento, CA Yosemite 2 hours 37 mins
Lassen Volcanic 2 hours 48 mins
Pinnacles 2 hours 48 mins
4 Miami, FL Biscayne 48 mins
Everglades 57 mins
5 El Paso, TX Guadalupe Mountains 1 hour 43 mins
Carlsbad Caverns 2 hours 15 mins
6 Charlotte, NC Congaree 1 hour 43 mins
Great Smoky Mountains 2 hours 42 mins
7 Las Vegas, NV Zion 2 hours 31 mins
Death Valley 2 hours 9 mins
8 Portland, OR Mount Rainier 2 hours 24 mins
Olympic 2 hours 50 mins
9 Colorado Springs, CO Rocky Mountain 2 hours 33 mins
Great Sand Dunes 2 hours 42 mins
10 Tucson, AZ Saguaro 26 mins
11 Washington, D.C. Shenandoah 1 hour 20 mins
12 San Jose, CA Pinnacles  1 hour 26 mins
13 Denver, CO Rocky Mountain 1 hour 34 mins
14 Phoenix, AZ Saguaro  1 hour 46 mins
15 Mesa, AZ Saguaro  1 hour 46 mins
16 Baltimore, MD Shenandoah 1 hour 51 mins
17 Columbus, OH Cuyahoga Valley 1 hour 54 mins
18 Oakland, CA  Pinnacles  2 hours 10 mins
19 San Francisco, CA Pinnacles  2 hours 12 mins
20 Los Angeles, CA  Joshua Tree 2 hours 28 mins

1. Fresno, CA

Median Home Sale Price: $226,000

In a little over just one hour, you can drive to four different national parks from the city of Fresno: Yosemite, Pinnacles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Those four parks had a combined 5.9 million visitors in 2015, according to the NPS.

“Often one of the first questions I am asked when meeting new clients moving to Fresno is, ‘How far is Yosemite?’” said Marti Cook, Redfin real estate agent in Fresno. “When I tell them it’s about an hour away they beam with excitement. Not only do Fresno residents enjoy all of the modern amenities of our urban areas without the notoriously high prices of other California cities, they have four major National Parks right in their backyard. You can close your laptop at 5 o’clock on Friday and be snuggled next to a campfire in time to watch the sunset.”

2. Seattle, WA

Median Home Sale Price: $575,000

The Pacific Northwest has long been known as an outdoor lover’s paradise, and with access to three national parks in under three hours, you might understand why. Olympic National Park, which you can get to from downtown Seattle in just over two hours, was the country’s 7th most-visited park in 2015.

“Seattle is one of a kind, and nature enthusiasts flock here because you’re within driving distance of an ocean, rain forest, desert and mountains. There’s really something for everyone,” said Daniel Burton, a Redfin real estate agent in Seattle. “Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Park are great for hiking, rock climbing or even just relaxing in nature. Tubing down rivers, kayaking and boating opportunities are also abundant in the area. Seattle has so many excellent spots for camping that you’ll find many people leaving the city limits on a Friday with their cars packed full of gear for a weekend getaway.”

North Cascades1000
North Cascades National Park. Image via stevelenzphoto/iStock

3. Sacramento, CA

Median Home Sale Price: $275,000

Yosemite, the 4th most-visited national park last year, is just two-and-a-half hours from Sacramento and is an especially popular destination for climbers who want to scale El Capitan or hikers who want to traverse up the iconic Half Dome.

“Sacramento seems to be a magnet for the adventurous type,” said Gabe Mannie, a Redfin real estate agent in Sacramento. “We are surrounded by lakes and rivers where locals love to boat, kayak, fish and swim. Lake Tahoe is also just around the corner, which is one more reason why the outdoorsy-type is drawn to Sactown. And then of course there is Lassen, where adventure-seekers hike, camp, go horseback riding and take in many of the park’s unique volcanic features.”

Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park. Image via Bartfett/iStock

4. Miami, FL

Median Home Sale Price: $260,000

“National parks not only protect America’s unique wildlife and stunning landscapes, they also provide important economic, cultural, social and health benefits,” said Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado. “As Mayor, I am pleased to know that Miami was named as one of the 10 best cities to live in if you want to be near a national park.”

The Everglades drew more than 1 million visitors last year hoping to catch sight of an alligator or one of the thousands of other animals inhabiting the swamps. Biscayne National Park received about half those visitors, but is just a short boat ride from the shores of downtown Miami.

“Water activities are huge in Miami, so my Redfin clients love that they can purchase a downtown condo and live an ultra-urban lifestyle from nine to five, and then take the boat out to Biscayne National Park in just a few minutes,” said Jessica Johnson, a Redfin real estate agent in Miami. “Miami lives up to its reputation of being a lively, fast-paced city, but most people don’t realize that it’s also incredibly easy to get out of the hustle and bustle and relax.”

5. El Paso, TX

Median Home List Price: $161,000

El Paso made our list for its quick access to Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. According to the NPS, Carlsbad Caverns received nearly 500,000 visitors in 2015.

“I’ve lived in El Paso all my life and have definitely seen more of a focus on outdoor activities recently,”   said Maggie Garcia, a Redfin real estate agent in El Paso. “There is a lot of hiking and bicycling here on the weekends year-round since our weather is so warm and sunny. It’s easy to get to either the Guadalupe Mountains National Park for a quick hike, or into Carlsbad Caverns to see the notorious bats.”

6. Charlotte, NC

Median Home Sale Price: $220,000

Charlotte is just under three hours from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was by far the most visited park last year. The park received 10.7 million visitors, which accounts for nearly 15 percent of all national park visits in 2015.

“Western North Carolina is all Great Smoky Mountains and it’s absolutely beautiful,” said Julie McGee, a Redfin real estate agent in Charlotte. “People take long weekends to get outside the city limits and hike the trails, check out the waterfalls and spend time relaxing on the greenways. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States, and there are tons of stops for people to jump out of the car and explore nature.”

7. Las Vegas, NV

Median Home Sale Price: $210,000

Once they’ve gotten their fair share of gambling and flashy entertainment, many tourists head two-and-a-half hours northeast to Zion National Park, which was the 6th most-visited park last year with 3.6 million visitors.

“Las Vegas is often overlooked as a destination for hiking and biking, but we’re among the best in the nation,” said Amanda Barron, a Redfin real estate agent in Las Vegas. “Red Rock Canyon is within the city limits and often times people will bike there before work. It also one of the best areas for rock climbers in the United States, and a hiker’s paradise. It’s less than a three-hour drive to Zion and Death Valley, so people can take a couple days to camp or just make a it a day trip and sleep in their own beds.”

Late afternoon sunlight coming through, Virgin river, the Narrows, Zion national park, Utah, USA.
Zion National Park. marvt1965/iStock

8. Portland, OR

Median Home Sale Price: $399,000

Portland residents may have to cross the Washington state line to get there, but they still have easy access to two national parks by car: Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.

“Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park are both ideal weekend getaways,” said Matthew Brennan, a Redfin real estate in Portland. “It’s not uncommon for people to take a Friday or Monday off and do a long weekend. If you head over to Olympic National Park, the rainforest is absolutely gorgeous, and there are some amazing overlooks like Devil’s Ridge. The fact that you can be there within three hours is great. The drive is just enough time to decompress, and then once you get there, you can totally unwind.”

 

Sun sets in Pacific Ocean,at Buby Beach, in Washington State.
Olympic National Park. Image via tonda/iStock

9. Colorado Springs, CO

Median Home Sale Price: $234,000

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the largest (358 square miles) and most-visited national parks in the U.S., with over 4 million visitors last year.

“Colorado Springs is at the base of the Rocky Mountains, so it doesn’t take much effort for people to get to amazing hiking trails and find breathtaking views,” said Kevin Kudrna, a Redfin real estate agent in Colorado Springs. “A lot of locals take a day trip to the Great Sand Dunes for hiking, backpacking and even sandboarding and sand sledding. Colorado Springs is regularly at the top of lists for the healthiest and fittest cities, and I would attribute this to our proximity to so many great natural landmarks and national parks.”

“Our extensive parks system and abundance of open space are significant factors in the city’s many recent accolades for livability,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “In addition to the city’s robust parks system, its proximity to the mountains, bike-friendly infrastructure and 300 days of sunshine add to Colorado Springs’ lure, making it an attractive option for tourists, cyclists, young professionals, businesses and families.”

10. Tucson, AZ

Median Home Sale Price: $187,000

Located just outside the city limits, Saguaro National Park offers Tucson residents a chance to get out into nature in the time it takes many people to get to the office in the morning.

“Having access to spaces to hike and bike is huge for Tucson home buyers; we’re a really active city,” said Sara Fischer, a Redfin real estate agent in Tucson. “Locals love to go out to Saguaro National Park and check out all of the cacti. The park is especially popular for the few days each year when the Saguaros are in bloom.”

Method and Data

National Park boundaries came from the University of New Mexico and city boundaries came from Redfin. Driving times are from Google.

For each city with a population over 400,000, we buffered the city boundary by 200 miles and collected all of the National Parks within the buffer. Then for each city and national park that were returned, we used the Google Directions API to get estimated driving times for the morning of Saturday, July 20. Then we kept the city and National Park pairs that had an estimated driving time under three hours.

The rankings come from first sorting the resulting table by the total count of National Parks in under three hours of driving, and then by sorting by the total drive time to break any ties.

Note: This report was updated on Aug. 9, 2016, to reflect a data error discovered in our source material that incorrectly excluded Pinnacles National Park from the review.

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