5 Surprising Places to Live in the U.S. If You Love National Parks

published Jun 20, 2019
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As a hiking and plant lover, I’m pretty sure nature is the one great unifier. Every time I finish up a trip to a national or state park, or even a local trail, I think about how great it would be to live close by and enjoy it year-round. So naturally, I go home, log on to Realtor.com, and get searching.

You know what I’ve found? There are a great deal of real estate agents in these areas that specialize in helping nature lovers like me fulfill their dreams. The benefits of making such a move are real: people living near protected areas like national parks tend to be healthier and wealthier, according to a 2019 Oregon State University study.

For those looking to set down some solidified roots and take advantage of the health benefits, I spoke with some of these real estate agents to get a sense of your options (beyond a tent, of course). Did you know that near the Grand Canyon, there are currently 258 homes listed in a 20-mile radius? If Lassen Volcanic National Park in California is more your speed, not to worry—there are currently 525 homes available, too! Here, five places to buy homes near national parks, as recommended by real estate experts.

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If you love Yellowstone, consider Bozeman, Montana

Yellowstone is one of the most well-known and visited national parks in the U.S., with more than four million visitors per year—and growing. And because it stretches across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, there are many options for prospective homebuyers to explore.

Bozeman, Montana is a charming city just a 90-minute drive from the park’s Western entrance. The fourth largest city in Big Sky Country, Bozeman has a population of just under 50,000, with a median household income of $49,000 and high percentages of workers in manufacturing, agriculture, and health care.   

One of the most promising aspects of living in Bozeman may be the daily commute. According to the U.S. Census, the average resident spends only 14 minutes in transit each way. At $310,800, the median home value for the area is higher than the rest of Montana state ($237,500). The median household income is slightly lower, too: $49,217 for Bozeman, compared to Montana’s $50,801.

Currently, there are 958 homes for sale in the city, which means you have a chance to make your dreams a reality.

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If you love Yosemite, consider Mariposa, California

Yosemite is popular with climbers attempting the Half Dome and El Capitan. But what about those who’d rather keep their feet on solid ground and grow roots near these majestic mountains?

In Mariposa County—comprised of about 17,000 residents—the median household income is approximately $51,000, with major employers including CKC Laboratories and Pacific Gas & Electric. Homes are relatively inexpensive: A median home value of $239,700 in the area, compared to California’s $548,000.

Realtor Cathie Jensen at Realty Concepts focuses on East Madera and Mariposa Counties, and primarily works with buyers from the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Recently, she’s seen pre-retirement buyers interested in vacation homes that can also bring in extra income as short-term rentals.

Though the area is beautiful, buying a home there requires a little bit more thought: Though the mortgages aren’t too pricey, the fire insurance can be. Jensen warns prospective buyers that it can cost up to $5,000 and $6,000 per year, depending on your location.

“People aren’t in a hurry to buy here—they know what they want, but the more they visit with me, the more they understand the terrain and the aspects of homeownership here,” she says. “No one really has to move here, they want to move here.”

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If you love Shenandoah, consider Augusta County, Virginia

If there’s one way to describe Augusta County’s housing market, it’s affordable. The median home value, according to Zillow, is only $212,500—lower than the national median home value ($226,800). You can find a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for under $200,000!

And it’s in a pretty good position, too. Augusta County is just a 45-minute drive to Shenandoah National Park‘s 516 miles of hiking trails, four campgrounds, and 1,046 native plants. On a good traffic day, you can also make it to D.C. in under three hours.

Augusta County’s 75,457 residents live in small towns, like Craigsville, and Census-designated places, such as Weyers Cave. 78 percent of residents are homeowners, according to the U.S. Census. Major employers include the Augusta Medical Center, Hershey, and Target, and the median household income for the County is just shy of $60,000.

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If you love the Great Smoky Mountains, consider Farragut, Tennessee

Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most-visited of all 59 national parks. 11.4 million nature lovers made the trek in 2018. Holding claim to over 522,000 acres and 850 miles of hiking trails—including parts of the Appalachian Trail—it’s no wonder that people want to post up nearby.

Dana Moser, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based realtor of 14 years, has seen tons of nature lovers, runners, hikers, and cyclists move close to the mountains. A large portion of her clients are retirees taking advantage of good tax rates and great view.

Moser mentions Oak Ridge National Laboratory—a subsidiary of the Department of Energy—as one of the major employers in the area. There’s also the University of Tennessee—Knoxville, and Denso Manufacturing. It has a high median household income ($108,171) and median home value ($377,300), too.

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If you love Everglades, consider Broward County, Florida

The Everglades are one of the most expansive national parks, spanning over one million acres and three counties. One of them is Broward County, which is also the most populated option on this list, with more than 1.9 million residents. Options include bigger cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines, and town like Dania Beach and Cooper City, and smaller Census-designated places like Boulevard Gardens.

Brother-and-sister realty team Jeff Booker and Joy Carter have been selling homes in the area for more than three decades. Their love of the Everglades shows in and out of the business. Booker says one of the biggest selling points is the plethora of nearby activities and area diversity.

“It is so easy to go to so many places in less than an hour or two hours,” Booker says. “Camping out there with nature, enjoying the beautiful breezes […] All these things are based around the water of the Everglades, it just depends on what your love is.”

Big employers in Broward County include the public school system, Memorial Healthcare, and various arms of the hospitality industry. The median income is nearly $55,000, and the median home value is $264,600.

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