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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| July 4, 2018
Retirement may afford you the perfect time to gain some perspective in life—and what better place to do it than in the mountains? On top of the scenic views, higher altitudes also give you cooler weather and less humidity. And America's mountain majesties can be found in many locations all over the country.
We pinpointed the best place to retire in each state, taking into account living costs, safety, median incomes and poverty rates for retirement-age residents, as well as residents' sense of well-being and the availability of recreational and health care facilities. Of our 50 picks, these 20 retirement spots across the U.S. offer the added benefit of nearby peaks and valleys to explore.
The list is ordered alphabetically by state. See "How We Picked the Best Places to Retire" at the end of the list for details on our data sources and methodology.
Courtesy Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Share of population 65+: 13.7% (U.S.: 14.5%)
Cost of Living: 4.7% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,469 (U.S.: $53,799)
Community Score: 63.3 (U.S.: 61.9)
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly
As one of the 10 Cheapest States Where You'll Want to Retire, the Heart of Dixie boasts many great spots for affordable living. And Huntsville, in northern Alabama, is one of the best. It offers all the low-cost, low-tax advantages as the rest of the state, but adds more generous incomes among retirement-age residents. The average household income for 65+ households in Alabama is $44,934.
Home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the Redstone Arsenal and the Huntsville campus of the University of Alabama, the city offers a robust economy and a highly educated population. There are plenty of cultural attractions, from a sculpture trail to a symphony orchestra, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation (think bass fishing). You can take in the views and enjoy 20 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of biking trails at Monte Sano (meaning "Mountain of Health" in Spanish) State Park nearby. The mountain has an elevation of 1,621 feet.
Share of population 65+: 9.1%
Cost of Living: 28.4% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $62,651
Community Score: 62.1
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Most Tax Friendly
Older folks don't seem too interested in facing the Last Frontier in retirement. Only 9.1% of the entire state's population is age 65 and up compared with 14.5% of the whole U.S. But if you crave adventure—and don't mind long winters and vast swaths of wilderness—it pays to live in Alaska. Literally. A state fund fueled by oil wealth gives all permanent residents an annual dividend. In 2017, the payment was $1,100 per person.
And residents could certainly use the extra cash. Living costs throughout Alaska are significantly higher than is typical across the continental U.S. But Anchorage is the least expensive metro area in the state. Plus, being the largest city in Alaska, it offers more amenities including numerous theaters, museums and shopping centers, on top of all the outdoor recreation you'd expect. The Chugach State Park alone offers 155 peaks—ranging from Flattop Mountain with an elevation of 3,245 feet to Mount Marcus Baker at 13,094 feet—with endless opportunities for hiking and ice climbing. It also has an abundance of health care facilities, more than 43 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Population: 4.5 million
Share of population 65+: 14.2%
Cost of Living: 5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,414
Community Score: 62.5
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Mixed
Undoubtedly, many of you have considered the Grand Canyon State for its retiree-friendly climate and beautiful natural scenery. Unfortunately, the financial setting is not quite as picturesque: Average living costs in Arizona are above the national average while median incomes for seniors are 10.8% below average at $47,973. Phoenix, though, offers a pocket of affordability, plus typically higher incomes.
And being the capital city, you can find plenty of attractions to keep you busy—world-class restaurants, professional sports teams and an array of museums, theaters and other cultural attractions. Of course, outdoor enthusiasts have more than enough to enjoy, too: The Phoenix Mountains Preserve alone, including Piestewa Peak (2,608 feet) and Camelback Mountain (2,707 feet), offers many hiking and biking trails just 20 minutes from downtown. And you can find even more to explore in nearby Scottsdale, Glendale and Tempe.
Share of population 65+: 12.1%
Cost of Living: 10.6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $49,168
Community Score: 66.3
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
The metro area of Fayetteville, which includes Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, offers low costs but plenty of attractions. The surrounding Ozark Mountains afford residents outdoor recreation and natural wonder to enjoy while the downtown area, home to the University of Arkansas, provides restaurants, shops and a lively music and arts scene, including the Walton Arts Center.
Locals seem happy with what they have at their fingertips. Fayetteville ranks 11th for community well-being on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index with residents reporting high levels of liking where they live, feeling safe and having pride in their community.
Population: 3.3 million
Share of population 65+: 12.7%
Cost of Living: 46.1% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $62,681
Community Score: 64.3
Part of the San Diego metro area, Carlsbad (city population: 115,330) offers a small-city feel with easy access to big-city amenities. It has a vibrant cultural community, ocean-side living and sunny climate. Plus, there are 25 parks, nearly 50 miles of hiking trails and a full calendar of artsy offerings, including Foreign Film Friday and free summer concerts. Part of the Rancho La Costa Preserve, Denk Tank Mountain is the highest point in Carlsbad. And you can choose among a host of retirement communities with ocean views.
Of course, you have to be able to afford it. Like much of California, which sports the second-highest living costs in the country behind only Hawaii, the cost of living is steep. For example, the median home value in the U.S. is $184,700; in California, it's $409,300; and in Carlsbad, it's $674,400. The taxes also weigh heavily on your wallet.
Population: 2.8 million
Share of population 65+: 11.6%
Cost of Living: 12.0% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $60,235
Community Score: 63.4
The Mile High City is an obvious choice for mountain lovers. Denver offers 14,000 acres of parks nearby in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with ample opportunity for hiking, biking and exploring. No wonder the local senior population is well known for being health and active, part of why the Milken Institute, a think tank, ranked the metro area the 12th best big city for successful aging.
Other strengths of the area include high employment and economic stability, as well as quality infrastructure, with well-funded transit for older adults, highly rated nursing homes and ample continuing care. Indeed, the Denver metro area is home to more than 25 health care facilities per 1,000 seniors, compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 17.6%
Cost of Living: 45.8% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $57,916
Community Score: n/a
Hawaii is well known for its beautiful beaches, enviable climate and high prices. If you're hoping to retire in paradise, you can do so more affordably on the Big Island compared with Oahu, home of capital city Honolulu, where retiree living costs are 88.0% above the U.S. average. The median home value in Hilo is $298,500—still pricey, to be sure, compared with the U.S. median of $184,700, but much more reasonable than the $602,700, median in Honolulu.
And the local lifestyle is still priceless. The colonial town's mood is quiet and calm, but its location on the eastern coast of the island and near active volcano Mauna Loa offers plenty of opportunities for adventure. You can explore rainforests and waterfalls, as well as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In the downtown and waterfront areas, enjoy galleries, shops, restaurants and museums, including the Imiloa Astronomy Center.
Share of population 65+: 12.9%
Cost of Living: 7.5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $42,795
Boise is a great college town for retirees. Boise State University provides plenty of intellectual stimulation to help keep an aging mind sharp. Its Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts hosts symphony concerts, dance performances and Broadway shows. You can also take classes at the school through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; membership costs $70 for a year.
Off campus, you can walk, run or bike the more than 20 miles of paved trails of the Boise River Greenbelt. Other outdoor activities to enjoy around the area include kayaking, boating, fly-fishing, golfing and skiing, to name a few. The Boise Mountains includes Two Point Mountain, the highest point in the range at an elevation of 10,124 feet.
Share of population 65+: 20.9%
Cost of Living: 9.9% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $56,465
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
New England is notoriously expensive, but Pittsfield offers a small pocket of relative affordability—more reasonably priced than Boston, where living costs are 48.2% above the U.S. average. Housing is notably affordable: The median home value in the city located in the western part of the state is $170,900, compared with $341,000 for all of Massachusetts and $423,300 for Boston proper.
Leaf peeping in the fall may be enough to draw you to the Berkshires, a range of the Appalachian Mountains. But you have plenty to enjoy all year round, including excellent sites for camping, fishing, hiking and skiing. Nearby, enjoy musical performances at the Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There’s world-class art at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCa, for short) in North Adams.
Share of population 65+: 11.2%
Cost of Living: 0.4% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $47,969
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
If you've ever dreamed of retiring to the mountains, here's your chance. Bozeman is in southern Montana, nestled in the Gallatin Valley and surrounded by majestic ranges and national forests. Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks sit due south of Bozeman. The geography means you have to be comfortable hiking, mountain biking, skiing and backcountry exploring your way through retirement. Hunting and fishing are also popular local activities.
But don't expect total isolation. Montana State University's Bozeman campus is home to about 15,000 students. Exuberant co-eds might not be the neighbors you pictured in your mountain-view retirement destination, but you may enjoy the dining, culture and entertainment options that come with a college town.
Share of population 65+: 14.7%
Cost of Living: 6.8% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $57,630
Community Score: 61.2
Whether or not you like to gamble, retiring to Reno can make you feel like you've hit the jackpot. Boasting a small-town feel with big-city amenities, the locale proclaims itself "The Biggest Little City in the World." And it backs up the claim, offering a downtown full of restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries and music venues, on top of its well-known casinos.
Outdoor enthusiasts also win. The nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range and Lake Tahoe provide ample opportunities for hiking, biking and boating in warm weather, and skiing in winter. You’ll be in good company. Gardnerville Ranchos, a small Nevada town near Lake Tahoe, is home to a surprising number of millionaires who share the same resorts and marinas.
Share of population 65+: 13.9%
Cost of Living: 15.0% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $56,636
The Manchester metro area, including Nashua, may come with relatively high living costs, but the above-average household incomes help make them manageable. The Granite State's rock-solid tax advantages help, too. It’s a big reason why we recently ranked New Hampshire the ninth best for retirement.
Plenty of amenities make the area appealing to retirees. You can find a nice selection of restaurants in town and plenty of outdoor recreation to enjoy, including nearby snowshoeing, hiking, skiing and just taking in the scenic mountain views. The Uncanoonuc Mountains are two small peaks, each with an elevation of about 1,320 feet, located about 10 miles west of the city. And when you need a big-city escape—the city population of Manchester is just 111,196, after all—Boston is only an hour away.
Share of population 65+: 19.8%
Cost of Living: 16.9% above the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $56,879
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Least Tax Friendly
Sunny Santa Fe would be nice for your retirement. The city is close to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which provide a great site for hiking and biking for the majority of the year. In winter, ski slopes are within a half-hour drive. And indoor entertainment abounds, with 250 art galleries, 12 museums and a downtown full of shops and restaurants.
Affordability may be the area's dark cloud. The median home value is $259,700, much higher than the state's median of $161,600 and the nation's median of $184,700. Retirees might not even get much of a break on taxes—Social Security benefits are subject to state tax, which contributed to making New Mexico one of our worst states for retirement.
*Provided by Sperling's Best Places.
Population: 2.4 million
Share of population 65+: 13.2%
Cost of Living: 29.3% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $53,063
Portland is such a great place to retire that it rises above the high cost of living and the Beaver State's unfriendly tax situation, levying one of the highest top state income tax rates in the U.S.. As an original participant in the World Health Organization's Global Age-Friendly Cities Project, Portland is committed to satisfying the needs of its older residents. In the early stages of its action plan, the Age-Friendly Portland Advisory Council—with members from AARP Oregon, nonprofit Elders in Action and Portland State University's Institute on Aging—has held discussions about intergenerational activities and programs, ways for businesses to engage with older adults and developing age-friendly housing.
And you can already enjoy the pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, such as the popular Pearl District, as well as the public transit system, which costs only $1 a ride for those age 65 and older. For natural diversions, you don't have to go far. In the city, you can stroll Forest Park or hike extinct volcano Mount Tabor. Mount Hood and the ocean are also nearby.
Share of population 65+: 7.2%
Cost of Living: 1.9% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $59,020
Community Score: 64.7
The Beehive State, 10th in our 2018 rankings of the best states for retirement, is a sweet spot for active retirees. And Provo, with mountain peaks within the city limits and Utah Lake on its doorstep, is particularly buzz-worthy. Brigham Young University offers intellectual stimulation to complement the physical activity.
Another feather in its cap: The Milken Institute rates Provo as the best large city for successful aging, noting the area's vibrant economy and safety, as well as the population's healthy lifestyles and high levels of volunteering among older adults. It also has an abundance of health care facilities, more than 33 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 13.5%
Cost of Living: 20.7% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $51,483
Community Score: 64.2
This small mountain city on the shores of Lake Champlain is a picturesque setting for tree-hugging retirees. Outdoor recreation is plentiful with miles of hiking and biking paths, nearby beaches where you can swim, kayak or paddleboard in the warmer months, and numerous skiing options in the area. An eco-friendly vibe permeates the town, from the businesses bolstering the city's economy, such as household-products maker Seventh Generation, to the local food movement feeding the neighborhood.
But being green isn't easy on your wallet. Taxes and living costs are high. The median home value is $218,900 in the Green Mountain State and $264,300 in Burlington. A private room in a metro area nursing home costs an annual median of $118,260, compared with $97,455 for the U.S. At least you can save money on academic pursuits. The University of Vermont will cover tuition costs for state residents age 65 and older who wish to take a class, even if it's for credit.
Share of population 65+: 17.4%
Average Income for Households 65+: $38,973
Community Score: 67.1
Take a hike. Really. Retiring in the City of Seven Hills, nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking the James River, outdoorsy types can hike, jog and bike the more than 18 miles of urban trails on the city's 300-acre greenway. And if that's not enough activity for you, Smith Mountain Lake, Wintergreen ski resort and the Appalachian Trail are all within an hour's drive. It's no wonder residents award it some of the top marks in the country for community well-being, reporting high feelings of safety and community pride.
Low living costs are attractive, in general, but in particular as you age. A private room in a Lynchburg nursing home typically costs $83,950 a year, according to Genworth, compared with a whopping $97,455 a year for the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 11.7%
Cost of Living: 3.0% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $57,179
Community Score: 65.1
This metro area includes Richland and Pasco, all together dubbed the Tri-Cities of Washington State and all qualifying as great retirement destinations. The low cost of living is particularly attractive thanks to above-average incomes among retirement-age residents.
Whether you're partial to exploring the great outdoors or focusing on wine country, you have plenty of options—you don't even have to choose one over the other. You can enjoy boating and fishing on the Columbia, Yakima and Snake Rivers, and hiking or biking on the 23-mile Sacagawea Trail. Mount Rainier National Park is about 150 miles away, but you can find plenty of peaks, including Badger Mountain, Candy Mountain and Jump Off Joe Butte, nearby. There are also more than 200 wineries within a 50-mile radius, offering beautiful views and many wines to sample.
Share of population 65+: 12.5%
Cost of Living: 4.5% below the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,428
West Virginia University offers a number of benefits to retirees in Morgantown. Residents 65 and up can take WVU courses at a discount. Or if you're 50 or older, you can join the local chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Membership gets you access to interest groups, trips, social gatherings and program classes, including local and international history, music, computers and yoga. To be a full member for a year costs $100.
The university also helps boost local health care services with its many medical facilities, including the Eye Institute, Heart Institute and Ruby Memorial Hospital. The Milken Institute actually credits the area's large pool of doctors, orthopedic surgeons and excellent nurses for contributing to Morgantown's high ranking (18th) among small metro areas. Health care is also relatively affordable, at 8.3% below the national average.
Share of population 65+: 14.1%
Cost of Living: 0.4% below the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $46,399
Loner types should love the Cowboy State. It has a population of fewer than 580,000—that's just six people per square mile. (By comparison, the country's smallest state in size, Rhode Island, hosts more than a million people, with more than 1,000 people per square mile.) Even the capital city is relatively small, with just 63,000 or so residents.
The lack of crowds doesn't leave you a lack of activities. You have plenty of outdoor diversions, such as miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding; fishing and boating; and birding and other wildlife viewing. Rocky Mountain National Park and Denver are about 100 miles away, but even closer, you can hike and bike the Pole Mountain and Vedauwoo (meaning "earth-born") areas in Medicine Bow National Forest and Curt Gowdy State Park. Train aficionados can enjoy the area's railroad history and displays of locomotives, including the world's largest steam engine (also retired). Another big local attraction: Every summer since 1897, Cheyenne hosts the world's largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration, Frontier Days, now a 10-day event.
To pinpoint one great retirement destination in each state, we weighed a number of factors: