It’s always a dilemma: Should we vacation on the beach, or in the mountains? For many retirees, the same dilemma may present itself when considering desirable retirement destinations. Beach communities are easy to locate; simply look at a map, find the coastlines, and start doing research. But where are the best retirement spots in the mountains?
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina, offers the best of many worlds. This growing city has a population approaching 100,000; the downtown cityscape boasts several high-rises, with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. Architecture is a major drawing point to Asheville; the Biltmore Mansion outside the city has long been a tourist attraction, but the revitalized downtown area contains many fine examples of Art Deco and other architectural styles. Some downtown residential areas, with hilly streets, new-age boutiques and art galleries, an eclectic ambiance, and the constant presence of street performers, draw comparison with San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district of the late 1960s. And, with its proximity to the Appalachians, Asheville is a great base for exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains and, a bit farther west, Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
Average sales prices for home in Asheville are under $100,000, though homes in the historic districts and cost considerably more. As with any city of this size, you should explore the neighborhoods and talk with a few realtors. In general, prices in western North Carolina are inexpensive.
Sandpoint, Idaho, is a small town in the northern Idaho panhandle; the population is less than 10,000, but the larger towns of Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) and Spokane (Washington) are an easy drive to the south. Because Sandpoint is located on the very large Lake Pend Oreille, retirees can enjoy both snow skiing and water skiing, swimming and snowmobiling. Although primarily a resort and retirement town, Sandpoint has several local industries (headquartering a women’s apparel retailer and a national salad dressing manufacturer), and hosts the annual Lake Dance International Film Festival, one of the largest film festivals in the northwestern United States.
Median home prices in the Sandpoint area approach $200,000; the town has been frequently cited as an attractive destination for retirees, driving prices up. If you like this part of the country, it may be worth taking an extended vacation here and exploring the area; home prices in surrounding communities will be cheaper.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is a large city of 400,000, but the mountains are apparent from anywhere in the city; Pike’s Peak, one of Colorado’s tallest peaks, soars over the city just to the west. Hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and nearly any alpine activity you might wish to engage in is a short drive away. Nontraditional activities including hot-air ballooning, rafting, and railroading via cog railway to the summit of Pike’s Peak.
There are several universities in Colorado City, including Colorado College in the center of town and the U.S. Air Force Academy just north of the city. Focus on the Family, an evangelical “para church” founded by James Dobson in 1977, is also headquartered here. The city is old, founded in 1871, and the compact downtown area has several historic buildings, but the city sprawls to the north and east, offering several options for purchasing a home. The median sales prices for homes is $170,000, but with a broad range of neighborhoods and home types, there’s something for every budget.
Redding, California, is dominated by the 14,161-foot Mt. Shasta near the city, and the Sacramento River which runs through the center of downtown. There are plenty of opportunities for fishing, climbing, and hiking; Lassen Volcanic National Park is also nearby. This northern California city was incorporated in 1887 and grew initially from mineral extraction, then lumber. More recently, there has been an influx of retirees from the San Francisco Bay area; the current population stands at 90,000. Redding is very affordable; home sales prices average $160,000. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit; winters are cold but accumulating snow is uncommon.
Blacksburg, Virginia, is located in the Appalachians, between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny ranges. This small city of 40,000 is very close to the Appalachian Trail, which winds through a dozen states from Georgia to Maine; options for backpacking obviously are endless. Blacksburg is also very much a college town, home to Virginia Tech University, the largest university in the state. The town’s tallest building is a residence hall on the Virginia Tech campus. Median home prices are about $200,000.
Another dynamic community that combines water with mountains is Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. Burlington is located on Lake Champlain, which offers boating, kayaking, fishing, and other water activities. The Adirondack Mountains are west of the lake, in New York State; Vermont’s Green Mountains are to the east. Both offer numerous hiking and skiing opportunities. The 273-mile Long Trail, entirely within the state of Vermont, follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Canadian border in the north to the Massachusetts border in the south (and corresponds with the Appalachian Trail over the southern third of the trail). The Long Trail claims to be the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States; you can sample sections of the trail during long weekends, or spend several weeks one summer hiking the trail from end to end.
Burlington is a lively city with many cultural activities; the University of Vermont is located here. The city’s population is 40,000, but the metropolitan area has closer 200,000 people. Burlington’s mayor through most of the 1980s was Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist (though not a member of a socialist party); currently, Sanders is the junior U.S. Senator from Vermont.
There are plenty of choices for mountain communities in the United States both along the Appalachians in the east, and the bigger ranges of the west. Do your research, take a few extended vacations, and you’ll find the retirement spot that’s ideal for you.