Best Towns 2010

How We Derive Our List
Our rankings are based on the performance of hundreds of towns in various socio-economic and outdoors-related categories. Socio-economic subcategories, which make up 40 percent of the overall score, include population percent growth since 2000, median household income, median home value, cost of living, unemployment rate, population density, mean commute time and amenities. Outdoors-related subcategories, which combine to account for 60 percent of the overall score, include the gun-friendliness of each town's state, huntable and fishable species nearby, proximity to public land and waters, and the potential for taking a trophy-caliber animal or fish nearby. Click here for the complete data >> Photo by Tyler Stableford
And the Winner Is…Rapid City, SD
On the Mount Rushmore of great towns for hunters and fishermen, Rapid City, South Dakota, belongs in George Washington's preeminent spot. With the 2.3-million-acre Black Hills National Forest serving as the city's very own sporting playground, locals enjoy hunting whitetails, mule deer, elk, Merriam's turkeys, mountain lions and bighorn sheep among the National Forest's stands of ponderosa pines, rimrock formations and open fields. Drive to the north and east of Rapid, and you enter South Dakota's famed grasslands and croplands, home to pronghorns and legendary populations of upland birds, including prairie chickens, sharptail grouse and, of course, pheasants. Add to that tremendous opportunities for prairie dog shooting in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and waterfowling on and around nearby reservoirs, and Rapid City has something for every hunter. Pactola Reservoir and Sheridan and Deerfield lakes in the Black Hills hold lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, yellow perch, bluegills and northern pike. Scenic mountain streams, including Rapid, Boxelder, Spring, Battle and Spearfish creeks, are home to browns, 'bows and brookies. The Monument State's second most populous city (65,491 people) enjoys a mild climate, given its latitude and elevation (average annual maximum temperature of 59.4 degrees), sees just 16.6 inches of precipitation a year and has a year-round 63 percent chance of sunshine. All this adds up to more time to enjoy the bounty of hunting and fishing opportunities that the greater Rapid City area has to offer. Why It's Number 1
In addition to its proximity to some of the best and most varied hunting and fishing in the nation, Rapid City excels in several of the socio-economic categories we considered when calculating our rankings. It's a Boom Town
Rapid City's population has increased nearly 10 percent since 2000. This signifies that the city is heading in the right direction in terms of development and available amenities. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Rapid City enjoys a relatively low unemployment rate (4.8%), as does South Dakota as a whole (4.8%), when compared with the national rate (9.7% as of this writing). Vibrant industries, including the military and health care, can be credited for that. Bang for Your Buck
While not at the top of the list for median household income, median home value and cost of living index, Rapid is no slouch in those categories. The median household income is $41,786; its median home value is $150,600; and the cost of living index rating, according to city-data.com, is 83.8 (the national average is 100). Photo by Mitch Kezar / Windigoimages.com
Rounding Out the Top 10
The rest of this year's top 10 list includes several familiar names from past rankings, as well as these newcomers. Kanab, UT
Once upon a time, Kanab was known as "Little Hollywood," because the town and its surrounding area were used as the set in many classic Westerns, including Stagecoach and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Those visually stunning canyons and buttes that once played host to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are home to robust populations of elk, mule deer, antelope, black bears, turkeys, bobcats and mountain lions. Meanwhile, anglers enjoy backcountry trout fishing in the surrounding picturesque mountain streams and lakes. ( Left: Bryce Canyon National Park, near Kanab ) 2 Pocatello, ID
3 Page, AZ
4 Lewiston, ID
5 Kanab, UT
6 Bend, OR
7 Mountain Home, AR
8 Saratoga, WY
9 Rawlins, WY
10 Pierre, SD Photo by John Hafner
Bend, OR
Outdoorsmen who call Bend home enjoy an embarrassment of sporting riches. Year-round blue ribbon trout and steelhead fishing in the Deschutes, Metolius, Fall and Crooked rivers makes Bend a trout-bum mecca. Just outside of town, the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests are home to bighorn sheep, blacktail deer, mule deer, elk and pronghorns. ( Left: The Deschutes River, outside of Bend ) Saratoga, WY
The motto of this charming little town (3.6 square miles, 1,759 people) in south-central Wyoming's lush Platte River Valley is, "Where the Trout Leap in Main Street." Indeed, the North Platte River runs right through town, and the surrounding area boasts more than 100 miles of freestone-creek trout fishing. Game species in Carbon County include moose, elk, antelope, mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, blue grouse, wild turkeys, mountain lions and black bears. 2 Pocatello, ID
3 Page, AZ
4 Lewiston, ID
5 Kanab, UT
6 Bend, OR
7 Mountain Home, AR
8 Saratoga, WY
9 Rawlins, WY
10 Pierre, SD Photo by Scott Spiker
Whitetail Wondertowns
From the mesquite thickets of South Texas to the hardwood stands of the Upper Midwest and agricultural fields of America's Heartland, these 20 towns are defined by their whitetail hunting culture. Phillips, WI
Located in the heart of Wisconsin's Northwoods, Phillips offers whitetail hunters easy access to the 90,000-acre Flambeau River State Forest and the 857,000-acre Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Like many towns in the Northwoods, Phillips was founded during the lumber boom of the late 19th century. Those piney clusters and stands of hardwoods, which lured treemen and provided the area with an economic boost more than a hundred years ago, today draw hunters to some of the finest whitetail hunting anywhere in the upper Midwest. Uvalde, TX
You have to love any city whose Chamber of Commerce's website includes an entire section devoted to the region's hunting, including a ranch and outfitter directory and a link to a weekly hunting report. They know that chasing big bucks in South Texas means making big bucks, and in Uvalde there's no shame in that. Kirksville, MO
Combining a mix of row-crop ag fields and stands of hardwood timber, north-central Missouri features some of the best whitetail habitat in the entire country. A constellation of five conservation areas, all within a short drive of this town of roughly 17,000 people, offers a combined total of more than 12,000 acres of public land on which to chase whitetails. Adair County, of which Kirksville is the seat, consistently produces both Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young trophies.
City Overall Ranking
Alexandria, MN 110
Ashtabula, OH 151
Bartlesville, OK 71
Del Rio, TX 117
Easton, MD 37
Escanaba, MI 177
Glasgow, MT 34
Great Bend, KS 147
Keokuk, IA 119
Kingsville, TX 165
Kirksville, MO 122
Lebanon, MO 103
Nebraska City, NE 96
Orofino, ID 90
Petoskey, MI 89
Phillips, WI 31
Quincy, IL 135
Sandpoint, ID 28
Uvalde, TX 108
Valentine, NE 104
Photo by Judd Cooney / Windigoimages.com
Best Towns for Kids
These seven towns earned a score of 9 or 10 (10 being highest) from great-schools.org, which evaluates towns' public schools based on their performance on standardized tests. Los Alamos, NM
As the location of the Los Alamos National Lab, the town of Los Alamos is home to some of the country's most brilliant minds--and their equally brilliant offspring. Los Alamos is located smack in the middle of the Santa Fe National Forest. Cumberland, ME
Just 15 minutes from the city of Portland, Cumberland is a picturesque coastal New England town of just over 7,500 people. Casco Bay's saltwater fishing and Sebago Lake's legendary salmon, bass and trout fisheries are at the town's doorstep.
School's Score City Overall Ranking
10 Los Alamos, NM 118
10 Evergreen, CO 84
10 Cumberland, ME 86
9 Kenai, AK 32
9 Camden, ME 97
9 Rolla, MO 157
9 Cornwall, NY 193
Photo by David J. Sams / Windigoimages.com
Remote Possibilities
These 10 towns have population densities of fewer than 300 people per square mile. Cooper Landing, AK
Situated along the Sterling Highway and on the banks of the Kenai River, inside a triangle created by the cities of Anchorage (two and a half hours to the north), Seward (two hours east and south) and Kenai (an hour and a half to the west), Cooper Landing is in a world of its own. With a population of just 349 people and a population density of 6 people per square mile, there's plenty of room to roam for the denizens of The Landing. ( Left: Kenai Lake, outside of Cooper Landing )
Population/sq. mi. City Overall Ranking
6 Cooper Landing, AK 20
10 Old Harbor, AK 77
45 Butte, MT 40
119 Presque Isle, ME 115
218 Charlestown, RI 124
259 Kenai, AK 32
270 Kanab, UT 5
288 Poteau, OK 156
290 Cumberland, ME 86
299 Mammoth Lakes, CA 143
Photo by Kent Fredricksson / Alaskastock.com
Best Towns in Which to Retire
Say Good-Bye to the daily GrinD in one of these 10 towns, all of which boast great weather year-round. Prescott, AZ
Tucked away in the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona, Prescott is a city of about 45,000 people (with a median age of 47.8), large enough to offer all the necessary amenities, yet not so large that it lacks a sense of community. It enjoys a mild, four-season climate, but without the intense heat of southern Arizona or the immense snowfalls seen at higher elevations. Several lakes and ponds in and around the town offer bass, trout, panfish and catfish. The Prescott and Tonto national forests, which surround Prescott, feature elk, mule deer, Coues whitetails and quail.
City Overall Ranking
Gulf Shores, AL 72
Hilo, HI 179
Kingsville, TX 165
Lake Worth, FL 199
Naples, FL 132
Page, AZ 3
Panama City, FL 133
Prescott, AZ 81
Uvalde, TX 108
Wilmington, NC 157
Photo by Corey Rich / Auroraphotos.com
Top Trout Towns
If it's salmonids that get your juices flowing, check out these towns. They offer the best opportunities for trout, salmon and steelhead. Bozeman, MT
The Big Hole. The Bighorn. The Gallatin. The Missouri. The Yellowstone. The Madison. The Stillwater. The Springs Creeks. The list of legendary trout waters available to Bozeman anglers is staggering. Trout fishing here is a year-round endeavor, and these are technical rivers and streams with educated fish. Serious trout anglers only need apply. Knoxville, TN
When folks discuss the perfect towns for trout bums, talk usually turns to sleepy little Rocky Mountain hamlets that sit at the confluence of two or three blue ribbon streams. But east of the Mississippi, that conversation needs to include Knoxville. Home to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is not quaint, but it's within a short drive of more than 1,000 miles of fishable trout waters in the Smoky Mountains and eastern Tennessee.
City Overall Ranking
Bozeman, MT 57
Carbondale, CO 36
Cooper Landing, AK 20
Eugene, OR 55
Grants Pass, OR 195
Hailey, ID 73
Kenai, AK 32
Knoxville, TN 198
Manistee, MI 127
Marquette, MI 13
Maupin, OR 63
Mountain Home, AR 7
Oswego, NY 138
Pocatello, ID 2
Port Angeles, WA 106
Redding, CA 137
Salmon, ID 99
Tillamook, OR 92
Truckee, CA 194
Winthrop, WA 85
Photo by Peter Essick / Auroraphotos.com
For the Birds
These towns are well known for their upland bird or waterfowl hunting--or both. Jamestown, ND
While South Dakota deservedly gets much of the collective attention of pheasant hunters every fall, its sister state to the north doesn't receive nearly the respect it deserves. And given its location in the middle of the Prairie Pothole Region, Jamestown not only hosts tremendous upland hunting, but is a hot spot for waterfowlers as well. Stuttgart, AR
No town in the U.S. is as synonymous with duck hunting at Stuttgart. Its flooded timber and rice fields have long been magnets for Mississippi Flyway mallards, earning it the title "The Rice and Duck Capital of the World." Stuttgart is also home to Mack's Prairie Wings, the legendary sporting-goods store and waterfowl emporium, and the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce lists more than 40 waterfowl-related businesses (guides, outfitters, etc.) as members
City Overall Ranking
Aberdeen, SD 155
Ashtabula, OH 151
Bismarck, ND 11
Elk City, OK 184
Grand Island, NE 145
Grand Marais, MN 14
Jamestown, ND 113
Mitchell, SD 142
Moses Lake, WA 57
Naples, FL 132
Pierre, SD 10
Rochester, MN 12
Scottsbluff, NE 175
Stuttgart, AR 185
Tillamook, OR 92
Photo by Mitch Kezar / Windigoimages.com
Big-Game Heavens
Elk and mule deer and antelope, oh my! These towns, primarily in the intermountain West, boast an awesome variety of huntable big-game species. Vernal, UT
Residents of the northeastern Utah town of Vernal enjoy the good fortune of being surrounded by millions upon millions of acres of ecologically diverse national forest land. The Ashley National Forest (which includes the breathtaking Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area) comprises 1.3 million acres just outside of town, while the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to the west and north encompasses more than 2 million acres. The forests are home to a veritable zoo of big-game species, including bighorn sheep, moose, elk, antelope, mule deer, bears, mountain goats and mountain lions. Lander, WY
With the Wind River Range providing a dramatic background west of town and high-desert plains unfurling to the east, Lander is sandwiched between two ideal big-game habitats. Every fall, Landerites venture into the Winds in search of elk, moose, black bears, cougars and bighorn sheep. Mule deer and antelope are plentiful in the plains. Trinidad, CO
A plethora of state and national wildlife areas, including the 30,000-acre Bosque del Oso (Colorado's largest wildlife area), makes Trinidad a prime destination for big-game nuts. Like Lander, Trinidad is backed by a breathtaking mountain landscape to the west (in this case, the stunning Sangre de Cristos) and expansive grasslands to the east. Elk, mule deer, antelope, bighorns, bears and cats are all plentiful in the Trinidad area.
City Overall Ranking
Casper, WY 78
Cody, WY 15
Dillon, MT 100
Driggs, ID 121
Durango, CO 111
Ely, NV 129
Fairbanks, AK 45
Flagstaff, AZ 86
Glendive, MT 24
Gunnison, CO 153
Idaho Falls, ID 29
Kanab, UT 5
Lander, WY 17
Lewiston, ID 4
Livingston, MT 76
Rawlins, WY 9
Reserve, NM 135
Rifle, CO 48
Trinidad, CO 43
Vernal, UT 51
Photo by Dusansmetana.com
Bass Capitals
Whether you love largemouths, salivate over smallmouths or are a sucker for stripers, you'll find your perfect bass town on this list. Burlington, VT
Burlington sits on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, which, outside of the Northeast, is not widely recognized for its bass fishing. However, it has been a popular stop on the professional bass circuit for years. Holding both smallmouth and largemouth bass, Champlain is 120 miles long, 10 miles wide and 400 feet deep. In other words, you'll never run out of water to explore in search of lunkers. Lufkin, TX
The Lone Star State has no shortage of legendary bass lakes, and Lufkin is within a two-hour drive of a pair of them. Lake Sam Rayburn (114,500 acres) is just outside of town, and Toledo Bend Reservoir (181,600 acres) straddles the Texas-Louisiana border 60 miles to the east. Both are best known for their largemouths, but Rayburn holds good white bass and Toledo Bend offers great striper fishing. Rogers, AR
Arguably the finest freshwater striped-bass fishery in the country sits just outside of Rogers. Beaver Lake, an impoundment of the White River situated in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas, has given up several 40-plus-pound fish over the years (the lake record is 57 pounds) and features stellar white-bass, hybrid-striper, largemouth and smallmouth fishing, too.
City Overall Ranking
Burlington, VT 162
Cleveland, TN 171
Del Rio, TX 117
Erie, PA 82
Heber Springs, AR 16
John Day, OR 62
Klamath Falls, OR 49
Lufkin, TX 80
New Bern, NC 116
Oswego, NY 138
Paducah, KY 167
Page, AZ 3
Port Clinton, OH 93
Presque Isle, ME 115
Redding, CA 137
Rogers, AR 47
Seneca, SC 59
Springfield, MO 178
Tuscaloosa, AL 188
Wichita Falls, TX 150
Photo by Soc Clay / Windigoimages.com
Go Coastal
If salty air, sandy beaches and killer saltwater fishing are what you seek, give these 15 towns a look. Jamestown, RI
No matter where you live in Rhode Island, you're never far from the water, and that's especially true in Jamestown, which is situated on Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay. The summer and fall striped-bass migrations get top billing from local anglers, but all of the northern Atlantic's fishing is easily accessible. And if you don't own a boat, there is no shortage of charters available for hire.
City Overall Ranking
Beaufort, SC 126
Cambria, CA 170
Camden, ME 97
Charlestown, RI 124
Deale, MD 175
Gulf Shores, AL 72
Hilo, HI 179
Jamestown, RI 192
Kenai, AK 32
Lake Worth, FL 199
Morehead City, NC 164
Naples, FL 132
Panama City, FL 133
Pascagoula, MS 149
Port Angeles, WA 106
Photo by Ruben Perez
Click on "Enlarge Photo" to see the chart in its full size. Click here for the complete data >> Top 200 Towns for Outdoorsmen
1 Rapid City, SD
2 Pocatello, ID
3 Page, AZ
4 Lewiston, ID
5 Kanab, UT
6 Bend, OR
7 Mountain Home, AR
8 Saratoga, WY
9 Rawlins, WY
10 Pierre, SD
11 Bismarck, ND
12 Rochester, MN
13 Marquette, MI
14 Grand Marais, MN
15 Cody, WY
16 Heber Springs, AR
17 Lander, WY
18 Sheridan, WY
19 Sioux Falls, SD
20 Cooper Landing, AK
21 Granby, CO
22 Devils Lake, ND
23 Bemidji, MN
24 Glendive, MT
25 Roseau, MN
26 Kodiak, AK
27 Ashland, WI
28 Sandpoint, ID
29 Idaho Falls, ID
30 Williston, ND
31 Phillips, WI
32 Kenai, AK
33 Colorado Springs, CO
34 Glasgow, MT
35 Boonville, MO
36 Carbondale, CO
37 Easton, MD
38 Helena, MT
39 Richfield, UT
40 Montrose, CO (tie)
40 Butte, MT (tie)
42 Chamberlain, SD
43 Trinidad, CO
44 Superior, WI
45 Fairbanks, AK
46 Prairie du Chien, WI
47 Rogers, AR
48 Rifle, CO
49 Klamath Falls, OR
50 Belle Fourche, SD
51 Vernal, UT
52 Ruidoso, NM (tie)
52 Logan, UT (tie)
54 Heber, UT
55 Eugene, OR
56 Cedar City, UT
57 Bozeman, MT (tie)
57 Moses Lake, WA (tie)
59 Seneca, SC
60 Lewistown, MT
61 Kalispell, MT
62 John Day, OR
63 Maupin, OR
64 Show Low, AZ
65 Missoula, MT
66 Fort Collins, CO
67 Rhinelander, WI
68 Craig, CO
69 Coeur d'Alene, ID
70 Broadus, MT
71 Bartlesville, OK
72 Gulf Shores, AL
73 Hailey, ID (tie)
73 Mobridge, SD (tie)
75 Medford, OR
76 Livingston, MT
77 Old Harbor, AK
78 Payette, ID (tie)
78 Casper, WY (tie)
80 Lufkin, TX
81 Prescott, AZ
82 Hood River, OR (tie)
82 Erie, PA (tie)
84 Evergreen, CO
85 Winthrop, WA
86 Flagstaff, AZ (tie)
86 Cumberland, ME (tie)
88 Ogallala, NE
89 Petoskey, MI
90 Orofino, ID
91 Grand Junction, CO
92 Tillamook, OR
93 Port Clinton, OH
94 Gillette, WY
95 Saratoga Springs, NY
96 Nebraska City, NE
97 Camden, ME
98 Red Wing, MN
99 Salmon, ID
100 Dillon, MT
101 Joseph, OR
102 Miles City, MT
103 Lebanon, MO
104 Valentine, NE
105 Clear Lake, IA
106 Port Angeles, WA
107 Newport, WA
108 Uvalde, TX
109 Virginia, MN
110 Alexandria, MN
111 Durango, CO
112 Green Bay, WI
113 Jamestown, ND
114 Hayden, CO
115 Presque Isle, ME
116 New Bern, NC
117 Del Rio, TX
118 Los Alamos, NM
119 Keokuk, IA
120 Duluth, MN
121 Driggs, ID
122 Kirksville, MO
123 Rexburg, ID
124 Kearney, NE (tie)
124 Charlestown, RI (tie)
126 Beaufort, SC
127 Manistee, MI
128 Helena, AR
129 Ely, NV
130 Spearfish, SD
131 Wolfeboro, NH
132 Naples, FL
133 Panama City, FL
134 Dickinson, ND
135 Quincy, IL (tie)
135 Reserve, NM (tie)
137 Redding, CA
138 Oswego, NY
139 Kingman, AZ
140 Saranac Lake, NY
141 Toccoa, GA
142 Mitchell, SD
143 Mammoth Lakes, CA
144 Lake Charles, LA
145 Grand Island, NE
146 Susanville, CA
147 Great Bend, KS (tie)
147 Huntsville, TX (tie)
149 Pascagoula, MS
150 Wichita Falls, TX
151 Ashtabula, OH
152 Atchison, KS
153 Gunnison, CO
154 Redmond, OR
155 Aberdeen, SD
156 Poteau, OK
157 Rolla, MO (tie)
157 Wilmington, NC (tie)
159 Stevens Point, WI
160 Vicksburg, MS (tie)
160 Baker City, OR (tie)
162 Burlington, VT
163 Shelton, WA
164 Morehead City, NC
165 Kingsville, TX
166 Green River, WY
167 Paducah, KY
168 Greenville, MS
169 Weed, CA
170 Cambria, CA
171 Cleveland, TN
172 Corbin, KY
173 Madison, IN (tie)
173 Spencer, IA (tie)
175 Deale, MD (tie)
175 Scottsbluff, NE (tie)
177 Escanaba, MI
178 Springfield, MO
179 Hilo, HI
180 Yreka, CA
181 Raton, NM (tie)
181 Niagara Falls, NY (tie)
183 Princeton, KY
184 Elk City, OK
185 Stuttgart, AR (tie)
185 Houma, LA (tie)
187 Dodge City, KS
188 Tuscaloosa, AL
189 Enid, OK
190 Marshall, MN
191 Dalton, GA
192 Jamestown, RI
193 Cornwall, NY
194 Truckee, CA
195 Junction City, KS (tie)
195 Grants Pass, OR (tie)
195 Price, UT (tie)
198 Knoxville, TN
199 Lake Worth, FL
200 Waynesboro, VA