Top 200 Towns

After looking through the top 10 towns, you'll be able to view the full list of the 200 towns AND submit your own town for possible inclusion on next year's list! As the country continues to sweat through its worst financial crisis in 80 years, a lot of Americans, including outdoorsmen, are taking this opportunity to start fresh in a new location. If you count yourself among these ranks, and are thinking about pulling up stakes and settling down in a new town that provides a generally higher quality of life, you've come to the right place. We've done all the legwork in determining the top U.S. towns for folks who love the outdoors but don't want to sacrifice things like decent homes and schools, good-paying jobs and everyday amenities. In our second-annual survey of the best towns for hunters and fishermen, we've taken these factors into greater consideration in calculating the final scores. The towns you'll read about on the following pages offer affordable housing, low unemployment rates and the potential to earn a decent living, all within a short drive of first-rate hunting and fishing. Download the Excel spreadsheet here to see how we calculated our top 200 cities!
#10 Carbondale, CO OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A Huntable Species: A Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A- Gun Laws: A Just south of I-70, Carbondale is overrun by skiers in the winter months and hikers the rest of the year, but tourism dollars are the lifeblood of this central-Colorado town. It also has the highest cost of living of our top-10 towns. But local anglers benefit greatly from its proximity to the Frying Pan, Roaring Fork, Colorado and Crystal rivers. The fact that the best public-land elk hunting in the world is right outside of town is just icing on the outdoors cake. The town's location on the Western Slope means sunny days, even in winter, and weekdays are reserved for the locals. For all its reputation as a destination playground, Carbondale has an intimate feel and is the kind of place where residents know one another, as well as the secret spots just outside of town where they can hunt and fish in solitude. By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 6,106/+14.8% Median Home Price $323,147 Median Household Income $58,780 Unemployment 1.2% carbondale.com
#9 Rochester, MN OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A Huntable Species: A- Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: B+ Gun Laws: A- Known to the rest of the world as the home of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester is better known to sportsmen as a Canada goose hunting mecca. In fact, it is Silver Lake--a warm-water impoundment built by Charles and Horace Mayo in the 1930s--that draws resident and migrating honkers through fall and winter. Goose hunting isn't the only game in town. Rochester is located near the "Driftless Area," a swath of hills and dales that was left unbladed by retreating glaciers and is home to trophy whitetails, turkeys, ruffed grouse and stellar brook trout fishing. The confluence of the Zumbro River and Silver Creek near the city's center means fishing for walleyes and smallmouth bass is never more than a cast away. By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 99,121/+13.4% Median Home Price $163,400 Median Household Income $55,686 Unemployment 4.2% rochestercvb.org
#8 Pierre, SD OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A- Huntable Species: A- Public-Land Access: A+ Trophy Potential: B+ Gun Laws: A- Like Bismarck, Pierre enjoys a stable economy as the capital of arguably the most hunter-friendly state in the country. During fall, you can't swing a dead pheasant in Pierre without hitting a "Welcome Hunters" sign outside a bar, hotel or restaurant. Blaze-orange caps, vests and jackets are part of a standard-issue uniform in this community that is to hunting what Vail is to skiing. "The best part about Pierre is that there's always something to do," says Cody Warne, a bird- and deer-hunting outfitter whose family first settled here in 1904. "You go from fishing for walleyes in the spring to salmon and smallmouths in the summer. Then, before you know it, it's time for pheasants, followed by awesome waterfowling. Sometime in there you try to squeeze in some deer hunting." By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 14,032/+0.6% Median Home Price $136,948 Median Household Income $49,951 Unemployment 3.1% pierre.org
#7 Sheridan, WY OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A- Huntable Species: A Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A- Gun Laws: A The rising cost of living in Sheridan is a point of constant consternation for the locals, as East and West Coasters flock to this paradise of the Rocky Mountain West. Nonetheless, no one seems to complain about the hunting bounty, which includes prairie grouse and antelope on the plains surrounding town, and bears, elk and mule deer in the Big Horn Mountains. Whitetails and turkeys are found along the Tongue River just outside of Sheridan. Alpine lakes, picturesque trout streams and the nearby Tongue River Reservoir provide ample angling opportunities. The upside to all the growth that Sheridan has experienced in the past decade is abundant retail opportunities, a strong economy and amenities that range from a small college to live theater and music. By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 16,179/+3.2% Median Home Price $158,634 Median Household Income $42,466 Unemployment 4.6% sheridanwyoming.org
#6 Bismarck, ND OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A Huntable Species: A- Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: B+ Gun Laws: A North Dakota's capital is also the capital of the prairie-pothole region. When hunting dogs here aren't retrieving ducks and geese, they're flushing up pheasants, sharptails and Huns. Fishing in the Missouri River's reservoirs--Sakakawea to the north of town, Oahe to the south--fluctuates with the water level, but there's always something biting, whether it's walleyes, smallmouths, northern pike or perch. Salmon can be had in the tailwaters below the main-stem dams. North Dakota's whitetails are beginning to gain a reputation for both numbers and quality, and residents have abundant mule deer, elk and even bighorn sheep hunting within just an hour or two of Bismarck. By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 59,503/+5.5% Median Home Price $141,284 Median Household Income $49,563 Unemployment 3.2% bismarckmandancvb.com
#5 Pocatello, ID OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A- Huntable Species: A+ Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A- Gun Laws: A Home to Idaho State University, Pocatello is the rare college town with a true outdoors vibe. It has all the cultural amenities you'd expect in a college town, but with a neighborly small-town feel--the sort of place where fly shops share space with bookstores and bakeries. Pocatello's location at the intersection of Interstates 15 and 86 gives residents easy access to the natural wonder of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, and the big-city offerings of Salt Lake City and Boise. Public hunting land surrounds Pocatello. The Caribou National Forest to the east hosts awesome mule deer and elk hunting, and BLM land southwest of town is a top spot for prairie grouse. The nearby Fort Hall Indian Reservation, as well as public refuges along the Snake River to the west, is home to incredible waterfowling. A constellation of reservoirs--American Falls, Devils Creek, Soda Springs, Glendale and Chesterfield--provide local boaters, and icefishermen in
winter, with stillwater fishing for everything from perch to overfed rainbows. The tailwater below the American Falls dam is the easternmost water in the country in which to find white sturgeon. By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 54,572/+4.9% Median Home Price $122,262 Median Household Income $41,523 Unemployment 6.7% pocatelloidaho.com
#3 (tie) Rawlins, WY OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A- Huntable Species: A Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A- Gun Laws: A Straddling the Continental Divide, Rawlins is located in the heart of some of the Intermountain West's best big-game hunting. Residents of this blue-collar town chase antelope, mule deer and elk out their back doors; moose and sheep are within a short drive. Rawlins isn't blessed with rivers running through it, like many of the Western towns in our Top 10, but the nearby North Platte River, including the famed Miracle Mile, keeps the fly guys busy, while a slew of reservoirs--High Savery, Seminoe, Alcova and Pathfinder--hold trophy walleyes and trout. Deer and elk tags in some areas around Rawlins are distributed as general permits; there is no draw. Therefore, Rawlins is where Wyomingites in the know come to hunt. "We have guys who come all the way down from Jackson Hole to hunt elk," says Gene Carrico, a native of Rawlins and owner of Out West Safaris outfitters. "We rank number one or two in the number of elk, antelope and mule deer taken every year, and none of the other number ones or twos have all three species." In a lot of Western towns, a good portion of the population lives on homesteads and ranches on the outskirts. Not so in Rawlins. "We all live right in town--there's not much private land surrounding Rawlins," says Carrico. "Once you go over the hill, you're hunting." By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 8,485/-0.6% Median Home Price $123,854 Median Household Income $49,483 Unemployment 5.4% rawlins-wyoming.com
#3 (tie) Idaho Falls, ID OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A- Huntable Species: A+ Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A- Gun Laws: A Idaho Falls straddles the Upper Snake River and is located in one of the most game-rich areas of the country. Species that call the Greater Yellowstone Region home include elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, antelope, mountain lions, black bears and bison. As if that wasn't enough, upland and waterfowl opportunities are not to be overlooked, either. Legendary blue ribbon trout streams--including the Henry's Fork, the South Fork of the Snake, the Beaverhead, the Madison, Silver Creek and the Big Hole--abound in the area, providing anglers with a different river to float or wade nearly every day of the week. It makes perfect sense that this city is home to Hyde, whose drift boats can be seen floating down just about any Western river that holds a trout. Idaho Falls is a fast-growing town, but its residents maintain that it still has a small-town feel. "Most of us who live here either grew up in a small town or lived here in Idaho Falls when it was a lot smaller, so it's really got that friendly feel to it," says Bud Robinson, who has operated Down Wind Archery in Idaho Falls for the past 13 years. When the town's hunters tire of the modest crowds, they can be pounding boot leather in no time. "You go thirty to forty-five minutes from town in two or three different directions, and you're right into some of the best elk and mule deer hunting in the country," says Robinson. "And you can choose between the high desert to the west and the mountains to the east. The hunting opportunities around Idaho Falls are just about limitless." By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 53,279/+3% Median Home Price $142,505 Median Household Income $49,486 Unemployment 5.6% idahofallschamber.com
#2 Marquette, MI OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A Huntable Species: A Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A- Gun Laws: B+ Another repeat Top-10 finisher from last year, Marquette jumped five spots from number 7 in our 2008 list. Located on the banks of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula's northern shore, Marquette is the ultimate Great Lakes town. Outdoorsmen are blessed with abundant year-round activities, including awesome steelhead and salmon runs; phenomenal smallmouth, walleye and muskie fishing; great grouse gunning; and a whitetail-hunting culture that is second to none. Public access to grouse and woodcock, deer, ducks and turkeys is near at hand on the spacious Hiawatha and Ottawa national forests. Marquette, a major shipping port, is the de facto capital of the U.P., and is home to Northern Michigan University, a maritime museum and an interna-tional airport. Captain Brad Petzke, who runs Rivers North Guide Service in Marquette, grew up in lower Michigan and spent three years in Colorado, where he lived every trout bum's dream. But it wasn't enough to keep him away from his beloved Michigan. "The thing that brought me to Marquette was the diversity of fish here," Petzke says. "Steelhead, native brookies, brown trout, Pacific salmon and a world-class Atlantic salmon fishery at the eastern end of the U.P. It's hard to get sick of any one species." Marquette is home to many folks of Finnish heritage. "Fishermen who come here from elsewhere in the country can't believe how friendly everyone is," says Petzke. "The locals are pretty tight-lipped about the locations of their hunting and fishing spots, but they'll go out of their way to lend a helping hand." By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000 20,780/+5.5% Median Home Price $142,199 Median Household Income $39,811 Unemployment 6.2% marquettecountry.org
#1 Lewiston, ID OL REPORT CARD Fishable Species: A Huntable Species: A+ Public-Land Access: A Trophy Potential: A Gun Laws: A Last year's second-place finisher in our inaugural Top Towns list reigns as 2009's undisputed champion of the best towns in America for outdoorsmen. The city, named for Corps of Discovery explorer Meriwether Lewis (Lewiston's sister city, Clarkston, Washington, is just across the Snake River), is situated at the bottom of Hells Canyon where the Snake joins the Clearwater River on its way to the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. Lewiston's location provides its residents with access to world-class fishing and hunting, as well as to the economy and industry of the Pacific Coast and Asia. As an added perk, Lewiston is located in what is known as the region's Banana Belt, providing mild weather for year-round activities. A moniker like "The Gateway to Hells Canyon" might not sound very inviting to an outsider, but Lewistonians relish their town's proximity to North America's deepest river gorge. Its waters hold smallmouth bass, channel catfish, salmon, steelhead and prehistoric white sturgeon that grow to 10 feet long. The area is home to all sorts of game, including whitetails and mule deer, turkeys, elk, black bears and mountain lions. Mountain goats and bighorn rams are chased by a handful of lucky hunters each fall. Upland hunting for pheasants and chukar along the gorge's steep cliffs is legendary, and come fall, many locals pack both a shotgun and a fly rod when they head to the canyon for a true cast-and-blast adventure. By the Numbers Population/% Growth Since 2000
31,794/+1.9% Median Home Price
$175,021 Median Household Income
$43,425 Unemployment
4.5% lewistonchamber.org TO SEE THE FULL LIST OF 200 PLACES, CLICK HERE! HAVE A GREAT TOWN? SUBMIT IT HERE TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE LIST IN 2010
Ready for more? TO SEE THE FULL LIST OF 200 PLACES, CLICK HERE! HAVE A GREAT TOWN? SUBMIT IT HERE FOR CONSIDERATION IN THE 2010 LIST

Affordable, thriving and perfectly wild towns in America. Outdoor Life presents the 2nd Annual Top 200 Towns for Sportsmen.