Retirees who love the outdoors get more than just enjoyment out of hiking, bird-watching, and kayaking. They also get exercise that improves their quality of life.
"As we age, we stop doing things that used to be fun, like partying all night and other carnal pleasures. So we have to find other things that are fun, and competition is so much fun," says Ruth Heidrich, author of A Race for Life. At 73, Heidrich spends up to three hours a day swimming, running, and biking. She recently won a 10K in her age group (she was the only competitor) and has finished six Ironman triathlons.
To help other retirees find outdoor havens, U.S. News drilled into our Best Places to Retire database and came up with a top 10 list, which includes the watersport-friendly Hilo, Hawaii, not far from Heidrich's home in Honolulu. (If you disagree with our list, feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments below. For a photo gallery of the cities, click here.)
Many of the picks are located near national and state parks. Winchester, Va., for example, is near Shenandoah National Park. Bill Jones, 84, and his wife chose to live in Winchester partly because of its proximity to the park, where Jones volunteers to maintain trails and camps with his grandchildren. The retired chemist and World War II veteran also volunteers with local groups dedicated to cleaning up local streams and helped establish a walking trail that highlights native plants.
Seniors age 62 and over are eligible for a $10 lifetime pass to national parks. The pass provides free access for the holder and three accompanying adults. Many parks also welcome volunteers to staff information desks, serve as campground hosts, and monitor trails, as Jones does.
Bob Kuhns, 65, enjoyed volunteering at the information desk at Shenandoah National Park so much that he now works as a seasonal staff member. He lives inside the park for part of the year alongside younger workers and also serves as a volunteer photographer of the park's trails and events. "It's a lifetime dream," the former IBM employee says. He first visited the park back in 1956. He can remember wanting to be a ranger even then. "I love helping people be happy in the park," Kuhns says.
Further south, hiking paths, waterfalls, and caves at Rickwood Caverns are a short drive from Center Point, Ala. Visitors can get close to stalactite and stalagmite formations while looking at fossils inside the caverns, or take a leisurely stroll around one of the hiking trails.
Juneau, Alaska, provides a jumping-off point for hiking, rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing. And Juneau isn't far from Glacier Bay National Park, home to massive glaciers. Those looking to stay in the lower 48 can consider taking up surfing and scuba diving at Carlsbad State Beach near Carlsbad, Calif. Over on the East Coast, South Burlington, Vt., near Adirondack Park and the Green Mountains, offers hiking and colorful New England autumns.
In Montana, Glacier National Park offers scenic day hikes and, for the more ambitious, mountainous backpacking trips. The park is just north of Kalispell. Further south, two big national parks, Bryce Canyon and Zion, are easy day-trip destinations from Cedar City, Utah. Those who appreciate the dry air and mountains of the Southwest might enjoy Tanque Verde, Ariz., located near Saguaro National Park. The park is home to a diverse range of plants and wildlife, including its namesake, the saguaro cactus. Canyon Lake, Texas, hosts a variety of water activities, like boating and fishing, as well as relaxing walks along the shore.
Many cities, including those not on the top 10 list, have hiking and outdoors groups that organize activities for retirees. John Bregar, 60, lives in Durango, Colo., where he spends time bird-watching, mountain climbing, and skiing. He does many of the activities with Seniors Outdoors!, a group with over 400 members that helps organize trips.
Heidrich recommends biking and swimming as among the best exercises for seniors. Both, she says, are most fun when done outside.