9 Hip Towns That Are National Park Gateways

From the Seattle hipsters to Asheville’s Southern hospitality, folks living near national parks seem to have it all. Join 'em.

Photo By: joe daniel price

Photo By: Raul Rodriguez

Photo By: Arpad Benedek

Photo By: RiverNorth Photography

Shaky Town

From the hippie to the dippy, the flamboyant to the clairvoyant, San Francisco has it all. Between its mild weather and steep streets, its residents spend a lot of time getting a workout. The cosmopolitan city is the gateway town to Yosemite, Point Reyes National Seashore, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz, China Beach, Ocean Beach and the Presidio on its roster. Whether you’re into opera, jazz or rock-n-roll, we can assure you that there’s a drum circle forming near you.

Emerald City

The town that gave us Jimi Hendrix, Gypsy Rose Lee, Starbucks and Microsoft is one cool town, literally. In grungy Seattle, temperatures average 58.8°F per year and it rains more than 150 days annually. That makes for some sweet snow at Mount Rainier and plenty of activities in nearby North Cascades National Park and Olympic National Park. Seattle also boasts the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and the San Juan Island National Historic Park. Throw in a night out at the Comet or the Crocodile and your friends will be green with envy. 

I’m Going to Jackson

Located less than 10 minutes from Grand Teton National Park and about an hour and a half from Yellowstone’s entrance, the town of Jackson Hole has been described as Aspen without the flash – a bold statement considering you can toss a snowball and hit a billionaire. They come for the slopes, the seclusion, the beauty and the home brews. Celebrities like Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock laid downed permanent roots.

Way Down South

At the southern-most tip of the U.S. you’ll find the laidback town of Key West. Its highest point sits 18 feet above sea level with Cuba about 100 miles away. Locals enjoy year-round fishing, snorkeling, street festivals and rum tastings. Offbeat activities include bike tours in an above-ground cemetery and the Aqua West Drag Show. Locals recommend spending time on Duval Street and the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Key West is also the anchor city for Dry Tortugas National Park, which is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Go there when you’re ready to dry out, so to speak. 

Scruffy City

Sitting at the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Knoxville, Tenn., is like the Little Engine That Could. It keeps chugging and chugging, offering more live music, fun outdoor activities and crazy good restaurants. The "Scruffy City," as locals call it, has a respect for historic architecture and continues to protect and preserve areas such as the vibrant downtown. Gone are the days when orange-and-white college football was its best offering; Knoxville has earned its own stripes and colors. 

Marfa, Marfa, Marfa

A lot of people think there’s no reason to go anywhere in Texas except maybe Austin, Dallas, San Antonio … let alone West Texas. We’re here to enlighten you: Go to Marfa. You may recognize this sleepy kitschy dust bowl from “No Country for Old Men” or “There Will Be Blood.” It’s got a unique art scene, a film festival, a groovy resort called El Cosmico and less than 2,300 residents. About an hour and a half north of the Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote and overlooked parks on the NPS roster, Marfa is your stop for one last look at civilization. Or how civilization looked about 30 years ago, depending on one’s perspective. 

Band Camp

What was founded as Camp Collins in 1864, Ft. Collins is home to Colorado State University and a burgeoning brewery scene. The college town has since attracted musicians, artists, hucksters, entrepreneurs and ski bums. All enjoy the town’s proximity to the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park and myriad outdoor activities such as mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing as well as music festivals and farmer’s markets. 

Desert Cool

Considered the gateway town to Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs oozes cool. Frank Sinatra put the sleepy desert town on the map and once shared the grooviest pad with Ava Gardner. Hey, you can even rent it should you have the bones, baby. It’s got great thrift store shopping, film festivals, MCM home tours and detox spas. The only thing you’ll want for is more time. 


Located near the Smoky Mountains and at the Blue Ridge foothills, Asheville, N.C. is one of the hippest towns below the Mason-Dixon. The downtown and River Arts districts, outdoor activities and world-class cuisine attract thousands of new and repeat visitors each year. And of course, we’ll always have the Biltmore. 

Shop This Look

More from:

Your National Parks