12 Great Places to Retire in the Mountains

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senior man meditating or doing yoga at a lake in the mountains in retirement
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If you seek a retirement filled with picturesque peaks, rugged outdoor adventures and just enough city-style hustle and bustle to keep you piqued, mountain living might be just right for you.

From the Siskiyous and Sierra out West, to the Adirondacks and Appalachians in the East, and the Rockies and Ozarks in between, you can choose as much activity or well-deserved rest and relaxation as you want. Most mountain communities offer hiking, swimming, biking, skiing, fishing and golf amid spectacularly scenic backdrops. Myriad dining, entertainment, and cultural enrichment opportunities abound.

If you want to work as well as play, you might find tourist attractions and other businesses appreciate your work ethic and skills to not only take care of their guests but also inspire younger workers who might be in their first jobs.

Mountain communities come in many shapes and sizes and fit a variety of budgets. If you’re looking for an altitude adjustment, check these great examples, in order from lowest elevation to highest.

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayetteville, Arkansas
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Location: Ozark Mountains, which mainly run through northern Arkansas and Missouri

Elevation: 1,408 feet

Population: 95,000; 9% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $350,000

Nature, a university and modern commerce keep the historic “Athens of the Ozarks” vibrant.

For outdoors enthusiasts, the designated Bike City and its surrounding area offer hiking, fishing, boating and golf. The 40-mile, mostly paved Razorback Greenway trail connects Kessler Mountain Regional Park in Fayetteville to the city of Bella Vista.

Education doesn’t have to end with retirement. Arkansas residents age 60 and up may enroll tuition-free in University of Arkansas for-credit courses based on space availability. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) on campus offers classes ranging from history to homicides. OLLI members also go on outings including guided hikes.

You could be a fan cheering on home games of Razorbacks football, baseball and basketball teams.

Among sites to tour are the former home of President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, where they were married and lived while he was Arkansas governor, and the Arkansas Air & Military Museum. The Washington County seat also boasts boutique shopping, diverse dining delights, nightlife, live music and fine arts.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Ozarks system medical center is in Fayetteville.

Arkansas doesn’t tax Social Security benefits and excludes from taxes the first $6,000 of income from pensions or IRA distributions.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Location: Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Appalachians

Elevation: 1,453 feet

Population: 3,600; 22% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $616,000

This gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be packed with tourists, but it offers retirees a small-town atmosphere with plenty of events and opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, rafting and even skiing.

Ober Mountain Adventure Park and Ski Area is accessible by an aerial tram based in downtown Gatlinburg or by car. Other attractions include a Ripley’s oddities museum and its Aquarium of the Smokies, the 407-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle observation tower and the scenic Gatlinburg SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America, linking two peaks.

Ten miles down the road is the city of Pigeon Forge, home to entertainer Dolly Parton’s Dollywood amusement park, where you could play or even work.

The LeConte Medical Center is 15 miles away in the Sevier County seat, Sevierville.

Tennessee has no state income tax.

Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid
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Location: Adirondack Mountains

Elevation: 1,880 feet

Population: 2,200; 13% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $390,000

The two-time host village of the Winter Olympics maintains a rustic spirit blended with modernization.

From summer paddling and swimming on Mirror Lake to winter skiing on nearby Whiteface Mountain, the Lake Placid area offers year-round activities.

You can feel the Olympic spirit live on at the Lake Placid Legacy Sites, which include the Olympic Center, where the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey game was played, and you can visit the Olympic Museum, the Olympic Jumping Complex, where you can ride to the top and zipline down, and Mount Van Hoevenberg, home to a state-of-the-art combined skeleton and bobsled track.

The quaint downtown Main Street area offers unique shopping and dining choices, some featuring locally sourced farm-to-table options.

New York state does not tax Social Security retirement benefits; income from retirement accounts or a private pension is deductible up to $20,000.

Spokane, Washington

Houses in Spokane, Washington
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Location: Between the North Cascade Range to its west and the Selkirk Mountains, a subdivision of the Columbia Mountains and considered the northwest Rocky Mountain foothills, to the north and east

Elevation: 1,903 feet

Population: 230,000; 16% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $357,000

Enjoy a four-season climate, dozens of private and public golf courses, touring Broadway shows, hiking, fishing and nearby skiing in this “Lilac City” near the Idaho border.

Spokane boasts the largest urban waterfall in the U.S., where the Spokane River cascades over basalt rock and two dams as it winds through the 100-acre downtown Riverfront Park, a former railyard redeveloped for the 1974 World’s Fair and now a venue for theater, concerts, activities, sightseeing and more.

Just nine miles north of downtown, the river flows through Riverside State Park, which offers opportunities for horseback riding, rock climbing and hiking.

Two universities, Washington State and Gonzaga, infuse the city with vitality, especially for Zags basketball fans.

Two medical schools and the presence of a Veterans Affairs hospital indicate an abundance of doctors and other health care professionals.

Washington has no state income tax.

Ashland, Oregon

Ashland Public Library
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Location: At the base of the Siskiyou Mountains, a subrange of the Klamath Mountains in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon, and the Cascade range

Elevation: 1,959 feet

Population: 22,000; 27% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $490,000

Nestled on skiable Mount Ashland, peaking at 7,532 feet, Ashland buzzes with cultural activities spurred mainly by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, featuring plays by The Bard and beyond. Fine dining opportunities abound in its walkable downtown.

Ashland is the gateway to hiking trails, bikeways, fishing and other outdoor fun. Right off downtown is the 100-acre Lithia Park, where you can play pickleball, swim or roam a Japanese tea garden. If you want to rejuvenate with a good soak in mineral-rich natural hot springs, several spas are nearby, including Jackson Wellsprings and Lithia Springs Resort.

Ashland is home to Southern Oregon University, where the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers relaxed classes including theater, writing, art, hiking, history, investing and more for members age 50 and up. Residents 65 or older may audit many regular SOU classes tuition-free.

Oregon doesn’t tax Social Security income but does tax other retirement distributions. However, the state has no sales tax.

Asheville, North Carolina

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachians

Elevation: 2,129 feet

Population: 94,000; 20% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $456,000

You can taste all four seasons while skipping the bother of winter blizzards and scorching of summer heat in this adventure lover’s paradise. Outdoor activities include hiking, biking, kayaking and paddle boarding on north-flowing French Broad River, which is believed to be one of the world’s oldest rivers one of the few that flow north.

You can also explore the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate and Gardens, known as America’s largest residence, and the 10-acre Botanical Gardens of Asheville.

Enhance your mountain spirit, health and active living by participating in the Asheville-Buncombe Senior Games and SilverArts, which celebrate older athletes and artists in a weeks-long spring festival of sports and arts competitions. Further your learning at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Carolina’s Asheville campus.

You could even get nostalgic pulling plungers and pressing flippers while playing vintage pinball machines and classic video games at the Asheville Pinball Museum.

North Carolina doesn’t tax Social Security income but does other retirement income.

Grand Junction, Colorado

Grand Junction, Colorado
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Location: Colorado Western Slope, the area of the Rocky Mountains west of the Continental Divide

Elevation: 4,649 feet

Population: 67,000; 19% age 65 and up

Median home listing price: $400,000

Sitting at the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, the Western Slope’s largest city boasts a small-town feel with big-city culture and shopping. Year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts include four golf courses and a Riverfront Trail system for walkers, cyclists and bird watchers. Scenic vistas such as Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-topped mountain, and the Colorado National Monument, a National Park Service gem of vast plateaus and sheer-walled red-rock canyons.

Grand Junction’s tree-lined downtown includes sidewalk cafes, shops and the free “Art on the Corner” exhibit of more than 100 sculptures. The restored Avalon Theater is a venue for nationally acclaimed entertainers, films and local theater productions.

The closest skiing is Powderhorn Mountain Resort, about 40 miles away.

For state income tax purposes, Colorado excludes Social Security, pension, IRA and annuity income up to $20,000 per year for retirees age 55 through 64, and $24,000 (or all the Social Security income if higher) for those age 65 and over.

Bozeman, Montana

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Location: Gallatin Valley, near six ranges of mountains: the Absaroka, Gallatin, Bridger, Crazy, Madison Range, Spanish Peaks and Tobacco Root

Elevation: 4,803 feet

Population: 55,000; 10% age 65 and up

Median home listing price: $798,000

One of the nation’s fastest growing small cities, the home of Montana State University offers retirees an active, outdoor lifestyle including golf, fly fishing, hiking, biking trails, rock climbing, skiing and hunting.

Every doorstep is a trailhead in the “Main Street to the Mountains” 100-mile community trail system used by commuters, runners, bikers, birdwatchers and stargazers, says the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

The area features MSU’s Museum of the Rockies, the American Computer & Robotics Museum and an art museum. An Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at MSU offers members a variety of courses, workshops and tours.

Although Bozeman has been branded as Boz Angeles due to its growth, popularity and rising housing prices, realty agents say retirees have plenty of options, including over-55 communities.

Montana does tax retirement income but has no general state sales tax.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs
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Location: Pikes Peak region of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains

Elevation: 6,326 feet

Population: 484,000; 14% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $350,000

Rugged Western life, scenic beauty and metropolitan finesse blend in Olympic City USA, home to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center and Peterson Space Force Base. The U.S. Air Force Academy is just outside town.

You can take the historid Cog Railway or drive to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak and see the view that inspired the song “America the Beautiful.” Plenty of fishing is available on the mountain’s North Slope Recreation Area.

At the admission-free Garden of the Gods, see towering red sandstone formations that have stood for millions of years. You can tour by car or enjoy hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, jeep tours and horseback riding.

Downtown Colorado Springs is where you will find art galleries and concert and theater venues. Among area museums are Pioneers Museum and Peterson Air & Space Museum.

For state income tax purposes, Colorado excludes Social Security, pension, IRA and annuity income up to $20,000 per year for retirees age 55 through 64, and $24,000 (or all the Social Security income if higher) for those age 65 and over.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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Location: South end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, part of the Southern Rocky Mountains

Elevation: 6,765 feet

Population: 87,000; 24% age 65 and up

Median home listing price: $599,000

There’s an art to living in New Mexico’s capital, which calls itself “The City Different.” Santa Fe is home to 250 art galleries, 20 museums and a summer opera. The art scene ranges from traditional to contemporary. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is the single largest repository of the American modernist artist’s work in the world; the Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return, opened in 2016, features over 70 rooms of immersive art.

The area is high enough for skiing — Ski Santa Fe, with a base elevation of 10,350 feet, is about 15 miles from downtown — and southern enough for outdoor adventures year round. You can go hiking, biking, white water river rafting, horseback riding and fly-fishing. Ride refurbished historic railcars on the entertainment-filled, scenic Sky Railway roundtrip to the small town of Lamy.

A cluster of eight pueblos, historic settlements of the region’s Pueblo tribes, are a 15- to 75-minute drive north. Most are open to the public on Feast Days, although due to COVID-19 restrictions you should call and verify that beforehand.

The city’s five senior centers help older adults stay active and live independently within their communities.

New Mexico no longer taxes Social Security benefits.

Incline Village, Nevada

Incline Village, Nevada
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Location: North shore of Lake Tahoe in the northern Sierra Nevada.

Elevation: 6,769 feet

Population: 9,500; 22% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $930,000

With residents-only beaches along cobalt-blue Lake Tahoe, two community-owned golf courses and a ski area with spectacular lake and mountain views, this village named for a former logging tramway built in 1868 can keep you fascinated around the clock all year-round.

You can even roll a pair of dice in this paradise at the waterfront Hyatt hotel-casino.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival presents theatrical, dance and concert productions under the stars on an outdoors lakeshore stage at adjacent Sand Harbor State Park.

Dining-out options include casual bistro-style restaurants and long-standing fine dining establishments, some on the shore, others with lake and mountain views.

You can hike to the 10,772-foot summit of Mount Rose, which is also home to a ski area and is part of the extensive Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. There’s also a community hospital and plenty of doctors if you overdo it.

Although notoriously known as “Income Village” with its billionaire’s row and lakeshore mansions costing in the tens of millions, realty agents say the mountain retreat has homes for all budgets.

Nevada has no state income tax.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Sunset in Flagstaff Arizona
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Location: The San Francisco Peaks of north-central Arizona

Elevation: 6,821 feet

Population: 77,000; 8.5% age 65 and up

Median sold-home price: $612,000

At the edge of sweet-smelling Ponderosa Pine forest and the Colorado Plateau, this college town offers four seasons of outdoors activities as well as science, culture and history.

Coconino National Forest surrounds the Flagstaff area, and includes the famous red rock area of Sedona, an hour south.

Skiing is a half-hour north at Arizona Snowbowl, on the western slope of Mount Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet. There’s a free shuttle from Flagstaff. You can play golf at a half-dozen nearby courses. Get your kicks exploring remnants of Route 66, the old Chicago-Los Angeles roadway immortalized in song (which mentions Flagstaff) and on TV.

Look down into the Grand Canyon from the South Rim visitors center, about 90 minutes away. Or look up and explore the universe at Lowell Observatory, where astronomers discovered Pluto.

Northern Arizona University in the heart of the city connects seniors to volunteer opportunities and offers public events including free summer seminars and senior-discounted symphony concerts.

Arizona exempts Social Security benefits from state income taxes.