Chattanooga is the Best Place to Live in America?

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Chattanooga, Tenn., has rock-climbing and a lot more adventure. (Photo: Courtesy Outside Magazine)

Even for Outside Magazine, the criteria for what makes the perfect town also includes what you can do inside. That’s what helped one city of 173,000 people within the Tennessee River Gorge win the title of this year’s ideal place to live.

Chattanooga finished No. 1 in the magazine’s list of 16 Best Places to Live,  as chosen by voters, reclaiming the title it won in 2011. It beat runner-up, Port Angeles, Wash., by about 5,000 votes.

In March Madness style, the magazine set about picking the Sweet 16 of finalists after starting with a bracket of 64. Outside said there were 1.6 million votes overall. Factors in selecting the finalists included outdoor activities such as trails, rivers, mountains, and lakes, but also took into account food scenes, job availability, and walkable neighborhoods.

Helping Chattanooga win was also its up-and-coming tech economy, owing in no small part to a taxpayer-owned Internet service with a lightning-fast 1-gigabyte service for all residents. The magazine called the town “like the love child of Nashville and Silicon Valley, but with more singletrack.” That’s 120 o:miles of singletrack for biking, to be exact, along with Class IV-V river rafting and mountain climbing.

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Biking at Port Angeles, Wash. (Photo: Courtesy Russ Veenema – Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce)

With just 19,000 residents, second-place finisher Port Angeles is much smaller, but with no shortage of adventure, from surfing to mountain biking, and great access to Olympic National Park.

Here are the rest of the 16 finalists, in order of how they placed:

No. 3, Iowa City, Iowa: It’s a town of 72,000 people with six bike shops and a bike-themed bar: that should give you a sense of the culture here. The University of Iowa is based here, helping keep unemployment low at just 2.3 percent.

No. 4: Eau Claire, Wisc.: Outdoor activities range from river canoeing to tubing to biking the 30-mile rail-trail system. Eau Claire native Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has also helped make it a music town this year, debuting the Eaux Claires Festival that included his band and The National.

No. 5: Glenwood Springs, Colo.: Just being named the top adventure town in Colorado is a great accomplishment, and Glenwood Springs gets there with its ample river activities, with Class III rapids.

Related: Adventure-Seekers, Take Note: Outside Magazine’s 2015 Travel Awards

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Photo: Courtesy Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association

No. 6: Athens, Ga.: There’s more to do here than watch University of Georgia football: there’s abundant room for cycling and a hot restaurant scene emphasizing local, farm-fresh food.

No. 7: Flagstaff, Ariz.: At 7,000 feet high, it’s a mountain oasis in a desert state with abundant biking, skiing nearby, and the Grand Canyon just 90 miles away.

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Photo: Courtesy Flagstaff CVB

No. 8: Beaufort, S.C.: This beachside town is made for those who love water activities, from river fishing to paddling to playing with dolphins in the ocean. It also has the Southern charm box checked, with antebellum homes and traditional, fresh-caught seafood.

Related: 10 Tourist-Free Adventure Destinations

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Beaufort, S.C. (Photo: Courtesy Beaufort Regional Chamber)

No. 9: Pagosa Springs, Colo.: The name says it all in this town of just 1,700 people: its springs are the deepest in the world and attract 500,000 visitors a year. For those who don’t want to soak, there’s kayaking the San Juan River and skiing nearby Wolf Creek.

No. 10: Boone, N.C.: These are among the cornucopia of outdoor activities here: hiking a choice section of the Appalachian Trail, Class V boating on Wilson’s Creek, and cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just be sure you’re OK with a young crowd in this college town: the median age is just 22.

No. 11: Middlebury, Vt.: The magazine lauds this college town’s 37-mile Tour de Farms bike ride (with pit stops for doughnuts and apple cider), trout fishing in the New Haven River, and the abundant jobs here.

No. 12: Spearfish, S.D.: This town offers the rare high-altitude adventure in South Dakota because of the Black Hills. This weekend, watch out for the Dakota 5-0: a 48-mile singletrack bike ride with a bacon and PBR station along the way.

No. 13: Annapolis, Md.: Of course the home of the Naval Academy is going to offer some adventure. You can watch the weekly sailboat race in the summer, or if you’re more a hands-on type, race it yourself. Or go kayaking or paddling Spa Creek.

Annapolis, Md. (Photo: m01229 / Flickr)

No. 14: Rochester, Minn.: Choose from 10 miles of biking and pedestrian trails, rowing at Silver Lake, or watching concerts at Mayo Civic Center.

No. 15: Bar Harbor, Maine: Location is everything with this island town and its proximity to Acadia National Park. Go climbing, mountain-biking, paddling, and more.

No. 16: Lake Placid, N.Y.: It’s hosted two Winter Olympics, but any time of year is a good time for adventure here. Mountain-biking and bass-fishing are among the favorite activities.

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