Since the shift to remote work that started during the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing percentage of employees are in the position to work and live wherever they want. For some, that has meant relocating to a place with better outdoor access. Hordes of geographically-liberated professionals have made their way to mountain towns across the country, exacerbating pre-existing issues of housing affordability, cost of living, and overcrowding in popular wilderness areas.
Some towns and counties, on the other hand, found themselves with a dearth of younger adult residents, and are offering incentives to remote workers willing to relocate. Many of these under-the-radar communities have ample trails, mountains, and waterways for active people to explore. In all of these cases, another benefit is the offer of cold hard cash if you move. Who would say no to that?
I selected the states listed below for their outdoor access. And new places are offering incentives all the time. Rochester, New York and the surrounding county, in the state’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, is definitely on my radar. They recently suspended their popular Greater Rochester Remote program, which offered remote workers cash to move to the area and an extra bonus to buy a home. But they’re planning on relaunching it sometime this year with revised incentives.
(Photo: West Virginia Tourism)
The Ascend West Virginia initiative pays remote workers to move to one of five participating communities, with some extra perks aimed at attracting outdoor enthusiasts in particular. Over 100 people have taken advantage of the program, which started in 2022, and the goal is to bring 1,000 remote workers to the state in the next several years.
The Deal: $10,000 received in your first year, paid in monthly installments, and an additional $2,000 at the end of your second consecutive year. Plus, a one-year outdoor recreation package valued at $2,500 that includes guided outings and free gear rentals.
How to Enter: Interested parties can apply online. Promising applicants—showing a love of the outdoors and a desire to be a part of new community helps—continue on to an interview.
Snowshoe Mountain’s lift-served bike park is at the epicenter of East Coast riding and has hosted several UCI Mountain Bike World Cups. There are more than 40 trails to choose from. The skiing in winter is great, too. (Photo: West Virginia Tourism)
Why Move: The aptly-named Mountain State is home to some of the best whitewater and rock climbing in the Eastern U.S., and plenty of opportunities for a wide range of outdoor sports. In winter, skiers and snowboarders get in turns on the slopes of West Virginia’s 10 ski resorts. In New River Gorge, the newest national park in the U.S., there’s camping, hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. There’s even lift-served downhill mountain biking on the Snowshoe resort’s ski trails. And in August 2023, Governor Justice signed a bill to designate the first new state park in West Virginia in 30 years—Summersville Lake State Park. It sits on the northern shore of the state’s largest lake and has hiking and biking trails, climbing access, and climbing education programs as well.
(Photo: Mark C. Stevens/Getty)
The Bluegrass State isn’t offering as large of a cash incentive for remote workers to relocate to counties in the eastern part of the state in the Appalachian foothills as others on this list. But some of the small-dollar add-ons are quite charming. Over 1,000 people have applied for the program, known as SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region), and stipend since it was launched in 2022.
The Deal: A $5,000 cash stipend paid in two installments plus a few other perks, like concert tickets, a health and fitness club membership, free banjo, fiddle, or mandolin lessons with a local instructor, and a year of free donuts and coffee from a local coffee shop. Only remote workers who earn at least $60,000 a year, are U.S. citizens, and are moving to Owensboro or surrounding counties from outside the state are eligible.
How to Apply: There’s currently a waitlist to apply for the incentive, which you can get on here.
Why Move: Owensboro is in Western Kentucky, not quite in the heart of the Bluegrass State’s best-known outdoor recreation areas. The Red River Gorge, a world-famous sport climbing destination, is four hours away—within reach for a weekend trip, if not a quick one-day outing. Closer to home: Mammoth Cave National Park, containing over 400 mapped miles of (kinda spooky caves), plus singletrack mountain biking trails and access to the Green River.
Unlike some of the other options on this list, the Choose Topeka relocation incentive, which started in 2019, is geared towards incentivizing people to move to the city to accept jobs with local employers.
The Deal: Up to $10,000 for rent in the first year, or up to $15,000 towards buying a house.
How to Enter: The Choose Topeka website has information about participating employers—once you have the job, you can apply through them.
Why Move: Skiers and downhill mountain bikers might not want to live in the middle of the Great Plains, but other outdoor athletes and nature lovers will find plenty to do in and around Kansas’ capital city. Several large parks and a lake with boating, fishing, and swimming are within city limits. The state is known for cycling, particularly gravel biking—Unbound Gravel, the sport’s premier event, is held in the Flint Hills, and the 200-mile Dirty Kanza starts just an hour down the road in Emporia. And there’s unique, beautiful nature right in Topeka’s backyard, like the 40 miles of hiking trails through some of the last remaining old-growth grassland at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
(Photo: Brett Maurer/Getty)
Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend is actually more of a universal basic income than a relocation incentive. Oil and mining revenues go into the state-run fund, which distributes an annual sum (usually between $1,000 and $1,500) to all Alaska residents. It’s a smaller check than the others on this list, but you’ll continue to receive it for as long as you live in the state.
The Deal: The exact dollar amount varies year-to-year. In 2023, Alaskans received $1,312.
How to Enter: After living in Alaska for one year, full-time permanent residents are eligible to apply online.
Why Move: Where to start? Alaska’s not called the last frontier for nothing—there’s over 322 million acres of public lands in the state, full of bucket list destinations and adventures for mountaineers, skiers, hikers, hunters, anglers, and kayakers. If it’s wild and rugged, Alaska’s probably got it. The tallest mountain in North America? Check. Denali stands at 20,310 feet. Massive glaciers? Sure, right outside of many towns. National parks? Undeveloped wilderness? You bet. The snowiest ski resort on the continent? That’d be Alyeska Resort, an hour from Anchorage with an average snowfall of 669 inches. Absolutely gigantic wildlife? Look no further.
Miyo McGinn is an assistant editor at Outside. She’s happily living in Bozeman, Montana, but is seriously considering Alaska for her next move—for the wilderness, of course, but the annual cash payments do sweeten the deal.
(Photo: Miyo McGinn)
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