Access to Nature Is off the Charts in These Four Towns
Discover places where even by Western standards, residents REALLY love the outdoors—and want everyone to have the chance to get out into nature.
Steamboat Springs, CO
This quintessential indie-Western ski town in northern Colorado is well-situated when it comes to outdoor accessibility: It’s bordered by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, and boasts two downhill and several Nordic ski areas, plus miles of biking and hiking trails. But the town is dedicated to ensuring its surrounding natural beauty is available and accessible to all citizens. Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports helps individuals with disabilities discover the outdoors, overcome health challenges, and develop independence in nature. Environmental education organization Yampatika conducts free hikes and nature walks, and the town-owned Howelsen Hill offers Ski Free Sundays. The town is seven years into a $5.1 million, 10-year initiative to build trails in and around the city, including underpasses and pedestrian crossings aimed at improving access to paved and unpaved trails. Most impressively, the Ski Town U.S.A. Initiative offers every Steamboat Springs School District second grader the opportunity to learn to ski or ride at no cost. Students are provided transportation, equipment rentals, and instruction in the afternoons during January and February. By removing physical and monetary barriers and teaching citizens to enjoy and preserve natural resources early in life, Steamboat Springs takes natural beauty and makes it a natural right.
In Sisters, love for the outdoors is fostered at an early age. Multiple outdoor education courses are offered in middle and high school, and eighth graders can apply to enter ECoS, an adventure-based, outdoor-focused science community using activities like caving, rock climbing, forestry, and backpacking to explore the natural world.
Rocky Mountain Adaptive in Canmore ensures that people with mental and physical disabilities have access to nature through single-day lessons and multi-week programs for both locals and tourists.
In 2019, Bellingham’s new Waypoint Park and public beach (the public’s first access to the downtown shoreline in 100 years) became one of four in the nation to receive a Best Restored Beach award by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.