Roanoke, Va.

“We are fortunate to be surrounded by mountains on all sides,” says James Revercomb, owner of Roanoke Mountain Adventures. “If you don’t have time to drive 30 minutes for a morning session, there are trail systems within the city limits. You can ride downtown and be on singletrack in 15 minutes. Then there’s the Roanoke River Gorge or Carvin’s Cove. There’s a lot of close access for everyday stuff.” Revercomb lived in Jackson Hole for three years before returning to start Roanoke Mountain Adventures. “It’s certainly changed for the better,” he says of his hometown. “A lot of locals have known about the outdoor scene. We are seeing it do a lot for the city. It’s affordable and it’s livable. I spent a lot of time outdoors growing up, but I never realized how much we have close by. There’s this great variety.”

Roanoke, Virginia, USA downtown skyline at dusk.

Bryson City, N.C.

Graham County EMT Hamilton Boxberger spent six summers working in Bryson City as a raft guide and wilderness counselor. When he wasn’t paddling down the upper Nantahala, he was bouldering behind the train tracks, swimming in Lake Fontana, or riding singletrack at Tsali State Park. “There’s a ton of stuff to do,” Boxberger says. “It depended on what I was feeling. I really enjoyed the river or being out hiking. Deep Creek is my favorite place to run. Downtown Bryson City is a cool place to hang out. They’ve got quite a lot to offer.” The Road to Nowhere a spooky tunnel northwest of town remains one of Boxberger’s best haunts.  “There’s a lot of hiking into the Smokies from there. I don’t think people realize that’s a trailhead. It’s good access.”

Knoxville, Tenn.

Legacy Parks Director Carol Evans can churn 25 miles on her bike, go for a paddle on the Tennessee River, and still arrive home on time for dinner. “You can do it all from the heart of the city,” says Evans. “It allows you to not reserve your play time to the weekend. You can get out everyday.” As Knoxville’s popularity grows, more urban trail systems are popping up, including purpose-built singletrack with trailside amenities. “We’re seeing the restaurants spring up where the trails are. The city is working on making connections, connecting the urban with the wilderness. Market Square has about 12 restaurants and is pet friendly.” In Knoxville’s surrounding areas, options for recreation grow exponentially. “You can drive 10 miles to House Mountain, the highest point in the county. There’s also Seven Islands State Birding Park and Big South Fork National River. An hour south are the Smokies and TVA lakes. We are surrounded by a lot of state and national parks, which is pretty unique for a city.”

ravine and sunbeams shining through branches of trees


Johnson City, Tenn.

When whitewater boater and fly fisherman Matt Whitson was just 23 years old he opened his own outfitters.  After two years of business, he says, “It’s going pretty well. I saw an opportunity here in my hometown. An outdoor shop was something the area needed.” With the Appalachian Trail just 15 minutes away and easy access to the Nolichucky Gorge, Watauga Gorge, the South Holston River, Whitson says Johnson City is fast becoming an adventure hub. “It’s grown quite a bit the past five years. There’s a little bit for everybody down here.” One of the most exciting developments is Tannery Knobs, a state-of-the-art mountain bike park located close to the downtown.

Slade, K.Y. 

The Red River Gorge and its climbing community are the backbone of Slade’s outdoor scene. That, however, doesn’t mean Slade is a one-trick pony. River trips, swimming holes, jumping rocks, caverns, fishing, waterfalls, and friendly people make Slade a dynamic town. Danielle Braden, who helps run her family’s river guiding outfit Red River Adventure, says Creation Falls is a must see. “It’s absolutely beautiful. A lot of people go there and propose to their girlfriends.” Climbing dirtbags hang at Torrent Falls Outfitters and Miguel’s Pizza, where you can order a pie, buy gear, or rent a cabin all at the same site.  “It’s grown but it keeps its small-business charm,” says Braden. “It has hidden jewels. It has this rustic charm. It’s really about the people.”

State College, P.A.

The home of Penn State University is young, vibrant, and increasingly crusty. You can ski, road bike, mountain bike, fish, hike, or boulder, and be back on time for the Nittany Lions’ kickoff on Saturday. Grant Corman, manager at The Bicycle Shop, says he’s been watching State College grow as an outdoor community. “The thing about Pennsylvania is our quality and lengthy seasons. We have Rothrock State Forest four miles away with over 100 miles of singletrack. We’ve got tons of public land that is at our disposal, a few areas with bouldering options, world-class fly fishing, lakes for kayaking. There’s four microbreweries in town and others nearby, and a distiller.”  Last year Corman cycled through the winter, and if the snow comes the local ski resort is a good practice slope for Seven Springs or Blue Mountain.