Dear MarketWatch,

My wife and I will retire in 2022 and are starting to think about where we’d like to end up. We have a home in Northern Utah and were planning to retire there, but are having second thoughts due to concerns about pollution and drought. Here are some of our parameters:

– Sell our current house and buy a house in a price range of $400,000 to $700,000.

– Outdoor activities like gardening, hiking, biking and golf.

– In or near a medium-sized town (one that has more than the basic amenities so we would have access to some shopping and could go out and enjoy a little nightlife with restaurants, theater, etc. — so perhaps up to 50,000 people) with good healthcare. Perhaps a college town? In or near mountains and in driving distance to a military installation would be ideal.

– Weather: Four seasons. Not a terribly long winter or high humidity. 

Any and all suggestions are appreciated!

Thanks, 

John

Dear John,

Drought unfortunately is becoming a bigger issue in much of the western U.S. Colorado Springs (suggested here), on the eastern side of the Rockies, seems like an obvious choice, but with 475,000 people it exceeds your size requirement. You may still want to look at the fringes or for a community within an acceptable driving distance.

The good news is that your housing budget is generous. Still, it may be tough to find a place in the mountains, given the appeal and the scarcity of housing in these towns. And many college towns are bigger than 50,000 people, especially if you are looking for a flagship state school.

Read: We love to ski but are struggling even with a $1 million house budget — what’s an affordable ski town where we can retire?

You seem confident about the cost of retirement, but I’d still encourage you to check your retirement finances, whether with this free retirement calculator, the company handling your investments or both. 

I’ve found three possibilities in three parts of the country. That said, you may need to make some trade-offs between the size of the town (unless you are OK with being attached to a larger city), the mountains and your tolerance for snow, and the proximity to a military base. I’m not worried about finding golf courses wherever you land, and I’m confident you’ll find a bike club to ride with.

Puyallup, Washington

This area is the gateway to Mount Rainier, the highest point in Washington state.

iStockphoto

This city of 42,000 puts you on the edge of the giant Seattle-Tacoma metro area and about 30 minutes from the large Joint Base Lewis-McChord. 

Puyallup was long known as a rural area, with daffodils and the Washington State Fair as its biggest claims to fame. Neighboring Sumner, where 10,000 people live, was once known for rhubarb farms. Both are now blending into the Sea-Tac area. Plenty of over-55 developments are going up, if that appeals. 

Pierce County is the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park. When you want to hike or bike closer to home, start with the 21-mile Foothills Trail, which loops from Puyallup to the south and then heads northeast to Buckley.

ManeStage Theatre is your starting point for those evenings out. You’ll have plenty of local restaurants to explore. 

But when you want big-city amenities, Seattle is 45 minutes away. Unfortunately, the Sound Transit system, which has a stop in Puyallup, pretty much operates on commuter hours only.

Yes, you’ll have rain — this is the Pacific Northwest. That’s in lieu of lots of snow. Average winter highs are in the mid-40s and average summer highs don’t even reach 80.

You don’t mention state taxes, but Washington is one of those with no income tax.

The median list price for a home in Puyallup was $475,000 in May 2021, according to Realtor.com, which like MarketWatch is owned by News Corp. Here’s what’s on the market now.

If neither Puyallup nor Sumner appeal, an alternative could be Olympia, suggested here, which is west of the military base and home to Evergreen State College.

At the other end of the state is Spokane, suggested here and which has a VA Medical Center as well as a Military Entrance Processing Station. But like Colorado Springs, you’d need to look on the outskirts to find a community the size you want. Or you could try Coeur d’Alene an hour away given your housing budget. I’ve suggested it here.

State College, Pennsylvania

Football is inescapable at Penn State.

Getty Images

The home of Penn State University doesn’t have a military base nearby, but it does have a VA clinic. (VA medical centers in Wilkes-Barre or Lebanon are two hours away; the one in Pittsburgh is three hours away.) So there’s a trade-off.

Why you still might consider State College and the area nicknamed Happy Valley: It rates highly on the Milken Institute’s list of best small cities for aging, and you’d be in the Appalachian Mountains. Not the mountains you are used to in Utah, perhaps, but plenty of hiking opportunities. Five trails are highlighted here.

A bonus for ex-military: Pennsylvania doesn’t tax military pensions.

State College has fewer than 45,000 residents, so that meets your ideal. More than 160,000 people live across Centre County. The cyclist in you will like that the State College-Centre Region is rated a silver-level bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. 

As for nightlife, there’s Penn State Centre Stage and the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State, both on campus. The Palmer Museum of Art, also part of Penn State, is always free. Just off campus is the State Theatre with more event choices. And you’d of course have plenty of Big Ten sports offerings if that’s your thing. 

During the day, those 60 and older can audit university classes for free.

Oh, and brace yourself for lines for Penn State-made ice cream at the Berkey creamery on campus. 

The Appalachians mean you will have winter; average highs are in the 30s, and you could get close to 4 feet of snow each year. Is that too much winter? Average summer highs are in the low 80s.

You can get quite a bit of house for your budget in State College. Here’s what’s on the market now, again using Realtor.com.

Cookeville, Tennessee

Cummins Falls State Park is a short drive north of Cookeville.

iStockphoto

Too wet around Puyallup and too much snow in State College? Then let’s move south, where winters will be mild.

Cookeville is a community of 35,000 set in the rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau about 90 minutes east of Nashville and 90 minutes west of Knoxville. Tennessee Tech University, a public university with around 10,000 students, is here, and state residents 60 and older can audit classes for free. There’s only 80,000 people across all of Putnam County so you won’t get the density you’d get around, say, Clarksville, near Fort Campbell, Ky. 

The trade-off is that the military installation — Arnold AFB — is about 90 minutes away to the south. If that’s too far, you may want to look closer to it, beginning with Tullahoma and Coffee County.

If, on the other hand, you’re good with the drive, you could cast a wider net around Cookeville and look at golf-course communities closer to Crossville, a smaller town in neighboring Cumberland County.

Read: As more retirees flee urban life, here’s what to know about retiring to a rural area

For those evenings out, start with checking what’s on at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center

Cookeville is at nearly 1,100 feet elevation, so not quite as high up as State College. Sure, average lows are below freezing, but the average highs are upper 40s or even 50, In the summer, average highs get into the upper 80s.

Head east to the Cumberland Trail for some serious hiking. For something less strenuous, use the Tennessee Central Trail in Cookeville, a rail-with trail that’s currently just over 4 miles, though it’s envisioned one day to stretch 19 miles. And don’t overlook the more than 150 waterfalls in the wider area.

Tennessee, like Washington state, doesn’t have an income tax.

Like State College, your housing budget will go far. Here’s what’s on the market in Cookeville and across Putnam County.

If this suggestion isn’t quite right but you want to stay in Tennessee, consider Johnson City, suggested here. You’ll need to compromise even more on the military installation, however.

Otherwise look in southwestern Virginia, particularly the areas around Blacksburg, Va., (suggested here) and Roanoke, Va. (suggested here). Both are near the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. Further north along the Shenandoah is Harrisonburg (suggested here), which is two hours from Fort A.P. Hill.

Where should John and his wife retire? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

More from MarketWatch’s “Where Should I Retire” column

I’ll retire with a military pension and want to move to a bicycle-friendly, beer-loving place — so where should I go?

‘Work and a few vacations each year is all we’ve done for the past 34 years’ — This couple has $2.6 million and no idea where to retire

We want to retire to a small mountain town on $18,000 a year — where should we go?

I can afford a $300,000 home in a ski town ‘but not if it comes with $6,000 a year in HOA dues’ — so where can I retire?

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