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Best Places to Live + Play:  Small Towns
National Geographic Adventure announces this year's top 50 adventure towns, state-by-state.   Text by Dan Koeppel


Wilderness  |  Small Towns  |  Mountains  |  Waterfront  |  Cities  |  Las Vegas 

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Hot Spot:
Spearfish, South Dakota >>

Hot Spot:
Fayetteville, West Virginia >>


Bloomington, Indiana
- Population: 70,642
- Median home price: $150,600
- The radius: When Hoosier native John Mellencamp wrote his ode to a small town, "Little Pink Houses," Bloomington was what he was singing about. An hour south of Indy, it's packed with ethnic restaurants and hip bars. In nearby 200,000-acre (80,937-hectare) Hoosier National Forest, 266 miles (428 kilometers) of mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking trails play out across the rolling hills of southern Indiana.


Iowa City, Iowa
- Population: 63,027
- Median home price: $162,900
- The radius: Smarty-pants Iowa City has more adults with a bachelor's degree (44 percent) than almost any other U.S. town, which average a paltry 27 percent each. Home to the University of Iowa's famed writers' workshop, it has 41 public parks—most equipped with trails and many that overlook the dramatic Iowa River—right in city limits.


Northampton, Massachusetts
- Population: 28,930
- Median home price: $270,408
- The radius: Earnest Northampton combines the cultural breadth of a major metropolis—art galleries, diverse eateries, nightly concerts—with the low-key sensibility of a small borough. In town, the Connecticut River is a laid-back paddle, while the Deerfield upgrades with Class IV rapids. Cyclists choose from hundreds of miles of country roads or head to D.A.R. State Forest, where a five-mile (eight-kilometer) loop tops out with panoramic Berkshires views. 
 

Lynchburg, Virginia
- Population: 68,758
- Median home price: $143,450
- The radius: Though geographically mid-Atlantic, this former home of Thomas Jefferson issues pure southern charm. Lynchburg is surrounded by a hundred-mile (161-kilometer) swath of national forest, rivers, and recreational areas. Summit the nearby Peaks of Otter—Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill—for glimpses of the Blue Ridge Mountains, then hitch a ride along the Bedford Wine Trail, which hits five area vintners.


Marietta, Ohio
- Population: 14,270
- Median home price: $80,800
- The radius: The biggest hamlet in Ohio's Appalachian foothills, bucolic Marietta is set where the winding Ohio meets the Muskingum River. Locals hit the banks for Music on the Levee, a summerlong open-air concert series; in winter the Marietta Brewing Company steps up with live blues and jazz. Paddlers ply the Little Muskingum alongside centuries-old covered bridges, while mountain bikers take to trails in the Wilds, a wildlife conservation park with rhinos, zebras, and giraffes.


Bowling Green, Kentucky
- Population: 52,272
- Median home price: $104,200
- The radius: Sixty miles (97 kilometers) north of Nashville and 115 south of Louisville, Bowling Green is squarely planted in the hilly Green River Valley of southern Kentucky. Pick-it-yourself farms, a restored railroad depot, and parks surround the enclave—all along road-bike loops of up to a hundred miles (161 kilometers). The National Corvette Museum and GM's Corvette plant are a source of town pride (and jobs). An hour north, Mammoth Cave National Park has 367 miles (591 kilometers) of mapped underground passages.


Chatsworth, New Jersey
- Population: 1,364
- Median home price: $257,000
- The radius: Tiny Chatsworth is the unofficial capital of New Jersey's surprising Pine Barrens, a 3,000-square-mile (7,770-square-kilometer) spread of swamp-edged streams, stands of pine and cedar, and—in autumn—tracts of cranberries  (all that, just 37 commutable miles [60 kilometers] east of Philly). The best route is the 50-mile (80-kilometer) Batona Trail; while you're hiking, watch for the diminutive (less than the length of your thumb) Pine Barrens Tree Frog.


Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Population: 36,900
- Median home price: $140,640
- The radius: Billed as "America's First Resort," the town's 147-degree (64-degrees Celsius) thermal baths are protected as Hot Springs National Park, but more civilized dips can be had at the six restored spas in town. Outside city limits canoe, fish, and scout for crystals in the Diamond Lakes, trek the Ouachita Mountains, or do some wrasslin' at the Arkansas Alligator Farm. Little Rock is just 55 miles (89 kilometers) northeast.


Smyrna, Delaware
- Population: 7,413
- Median home price: $82,700
- The radius: Peaceful Smyrna is a hub on the Atlantic Flyway, the eastern seaboard's major migrating bird route. On the Delaware Bay east of town, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge has trails and observation towers to scope out the 15,987-acre (6,470-hectare) swath of tidal salt marshes, timbered swamps, and freshwater pools. Hikers, bikers, and X-C skiers hit the 40-mile (64-kilometer) trail network in Smyrna's Blackbird State Forest.

Wilderness  |  Small Towns  |  Mountains  |  Waterfront  |  Cities  |  Las Vegas 

See All Towns >>

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