10 affordable mountain towns for retirement

These mountain towns feature majestic peaks and reasonable housing costs.

  • By Rachel Hartman and Emily Brandon,
  • U.S. News & World Report
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If you love scenic views and outdoor activities like hiking or skiing, it may seem ideal to retire in a mountain area.

While there are plenty of options that cater to visitors, you’ll find amenities for the older crowd, too. “Many mountain towns offer a sense of community that retirees can appreciate, with opportunities to engage in social activities and events,” says Chad Brinkle, owner and founder of High Country Off-Road in Lexington, North Carolina.

As you look, consider the cost of living, as certain places are less pricey than others. They might be located in or near the mountains, making it easy to access and enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Some of the most affordable retirement mountain towns include:

  • Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas.
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • Boise, Idaho.
  • Spokane, Washington.
  • Reno, Nevada.
  • Las Vegas.

Asheville, North Carolina

If you love the arts, you may find inspiration in this North Carolina mountain town. “There are many museums, art galleries, and places to see live music,” Brinkle says. A variety of restaurants, breweries and shops offer a wide selection for many tastes.

“Asheville boasts stunning natural scenery, including the Blue Ridge Mountains and the French Broad River, which provide opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, fishing and kayaking,” Brinkle adds.

Notably, Asheville is a popular retirement spot, and more than a quarter of the population is age 60 or older. A house with a mortgage costs a median of $1,584 per month, and the median monthly rent is $1,152.

Knoxville, Tennessee

If you’re longing to be close to a range, Knoxville is located about an hour's drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking and mountain biking are popular activities in Knoxville's Urban Wilderness, and the city has more than 112 miles of greenway trails. Knoxville is also a college town, and the University of Tennessee Medical Center provides health care services to the community.

As you look for housing, you may find costs that are lower than other ski destinations. Homeowners with a mortgage pay a median of $1,165 in monthly housing costs, while renters pay a median of $938 per month. Dividends and interest are the only types of income Tennessee taxes, and low-income seniors are exempt.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Located near the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga offers residents a chance to go hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. The top of Lookout Mountain is just a 15-minute drive from downtown. At the same time, Chattanooga has many urban pleasures, including cozy coffee shops, annual festivals and an array of public art. There are historical sites in the area to visit, too. It costs a median of $1,294 per month to own a home with a mortgage in Chattanooga and $958 monthly to rent.

Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville is located in the Tennessee River Valley near several mountains and large hills. Monte Sano Mountain, or mountain of health, can be explored via Monte Sano State Park, which has an admission fee of just $2 for seniors age 62 and older. For those who want to continue to work in retirement, Huntsville has a wide variety of interesting job opportunities and a highly educated population thanks to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Residents also have access to plenty of outdoor pursuits, including hiking in nearby parks, some of which feature waterfalls along the trails. If you decide to retire in Huntsville, you’ll find that the cost of living is below the national average. The median cost to own a home is $1,344 per month, and renters pay a median of $912 monthly.

Fayetteville, Arkansas

If you have a lifelong love of learning, this mountain town might be right for you. Fayetteville has an educational vibe, and Arkansas residents age 60 and older can take classes tuition-free at the University of Arkansas. Students and residents also have access to a complimentary bus service.

You can join other retirees to explore the Ozark National Forest or Devil's Den State Park. The low housing costs make it easy to relocate to this picturesque and lively city. Homeowners with a mortgage pay a median of $1,586 per month to live in Fayetteville, and the median rent is $869 monthly.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Between Pikes Peak, Seven Falls and the Garden of the Gods Park, you'll never lack scenery in this Rocky Mountain city. The high elevation and abundant fresh air make Colorado Springs the ideal spot for athletes to train at the U.S. Olympic Complex, located near the heart of the city.

The economy is driven by several military bases in the area. Housing costs a median of $1,702 per month for homeowners with a mortgage and $1,300 among renters. If you move from a larger city, you’ll likely find that your expenditures on home maintenance and repairs drop. “Other expenses such as groceries and health care may also be lower,” Tyler Seeger, managing director of Retirement Being, says.

Boise, Idaho

Idaho's state capital city combines city amenities with convenient access to outdoor activities. The nearest ski area, Bogus Basin, is just 16 miles from downtown Boise. You can also go snowmobiling, ice skating or snowshoeing nearby.

The more than 2.5 million-acre Boise National Forest includes 500+ trails and the towering 10,000-foot peak of Trinity Mountain. Slightly farther afield is the Sawtooth National Forest, which has jagged peaks, high alpine lakes and diverse terrain that allows for hiking and fishing in the summer and skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. A home in Boise costs a median of $1,455 per month, but that drops to $1,103 monthly for renters.

Spokane, Washington

Skiing and snowboarding are popular winter activities in Spokane, and there are five ski resorts within a 2-hour drive from downtown. Mount Spokane State Park has more than 100 miles of trails in the Selkirk Mountains that allow for snowshoeing and snowmobiling in the winter and hiking and biking in the summer. While there are plenty of snow-related activities in the area, Spokane features all four seasons during the year.

This inland Washington city near the border with Idaho has a far lower cost of living than pricey Seattle. Housing costs a median of $1,417 monthly for a home with a mortgage or $956 in monthly rent. The area also features plenty of new homes and retirement communities.

Reno, Nevada

Located in western Nevada near the border with California, Reno is a popular area for casinos and nightlife. From the city, it takes less than an hour by car to get to Lake Tahoe ski resorts. The median cost of homeownership is Reno is $1,812 per month for a home with a mortgage. The median rent is $1,213 per month.

As you search for a community in the area, consider what you want to be close to.

“Like any dream home, there are trade-offs and obstacles you’ll want to consider first,” says Dallas Waldon, co-founder of Land Boss, who specializes in the Reno area and works with individuals who want to retire to a cabin in the mountains.

In Reno, the taxes and costs of living are lower than those in California. However, you may have to drive farther for certain services. If you want to work, you could look for a part-time position, as some Bay Area tech companies have facilities in Reno.

Las Vegas

Many visitors head to Las Vegas to experience the casinos and shows. As a retiree, your budget may benefit from the housing costs, which are $1,630 among homeowners with mortgages and $1,219 for renters.

“Las Vegas is a bustling city that may not be appealing to all retirees,” Seeger says. “The summers can be incredibly hot, and the nightlife may be too lively for some.”

For outdoors lovers, Las Vegas is surrounded by mountains. Some of the nearby peaks are situated in Sheep Mountain Range to the north. Southeast of this range you’ll find the Las Vegas Range, and to the east of the city are the twin peaks of Frenchman Mountain and Sunrise Mountain. The River Mountains sit to the southeast of Frenchman Mountain, and the Spring Mountains are west of the Las Vegas Valley.

Before heading to the mountains for retirement, think through conditions in every season.

In cold regions, “You aren’t living in Florida or San Diego with mild weather year-round,” Waldon says. “Most homes are purchased in the spring or summer, so it’s easy to forget that you’ll have to endure below-freezing temperatures in the winter.”

Keep in mind that you may have to purchase equipment to clear the snow or hire a service during certain months.

Still, if you visited mountains during vacations when you were working, moving to such terrain might be a natural fit. You could invite others to visit you there and take in the scenery. If snow activities appeal to you, the mountains could be the perfect spot to relax and spend your retirement.

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