When U.S. residents decide to move, it’s usually based on a new job or school, or perhaps personal preferences like ideal weather or culture. But air quality is an important factor that goes by the wayside for those who choose cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, New York or Sacramento, where ozone pollution is highest. And in a country where more than four out of every 10 citizens live where the air quality received an F from the American Lung Association, it’s best not to take chances. Breathing dirty air irritates the lungs and increases your risk of lung cancer, according to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization.
Fortunately, breathing clean air can add four months to the average person’s life. Even just a vacation to a city with clean air can give you a fresh outlook. Here’s a list of the top 11 cities to visit with the cleanest air based on particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association.
Cleanest Air In The U.S.: Here's Where to Find It
1. Prescott, AZ
With the Prescott National Forest to the west and The Kaibab National Forest to the east, Prescott is surrounded by natural wonders and fresh air. Take a two-hour drive to visit Grand Canyon National Park, or explore the historic locale by having a picnic on one of the five lakes in town.
Prescott is perfect for outdoor vacations, where you can go horseback riding, hiking, fishing, camping and biking on the many trails in town. Monuments, museums and historic spots dating back to the late 19th century are a must-see, filled with memories of the old Wild West.
2. Farmington, NM
The town of Farmington in northwest New Mexico is surrounded by mountains and wide-open skies – the perfect spot for a fresh air vacation. Farmington is an intersection between the San Juan, Animas and La Plata rivers, and the town holds a festival for the three rivers each year featuring music, food, entertainment and outdoor activities.
Due to its warm climate, open spaces and fresh air, Farmington is known for its athletics and is a particularly great vacation spot for baseball fans. Experience the Connie Mack World Series tournament each August at Ricketts Park, or catch state championship high school baseball games at the local fields.
3. Cheyenne, WY
Located just over 100 miles north of Denver, Cheyenne considers itself an embodiment of the Old West. Filled with museums, old mansions, themed attractions and even a rodeo, Cheyenne’s history alone is enough to warrant a visit.
But for those looking for another excuse to visit the capital of Wyoming, try one of the city’s annual events, like the Kids Cowboy Festival, the Cowboy Symposium, Frontier Days or Depot Days. Cheyenne boasts plenty of outdoor activities, too, including the Curt Gowdy State Park at the foothills of the Laramie Mountains, or the Vedauwoo Recreation Area – a perfect spot for camping among the ancient rock formations.
4. Casper, WY
It’s no surprise that Wyoming, the least populous state in the country, would have an abundance of fresh air. Casper embraces its standing as a clean air city with year-round outdoor events, even branching out into the sport of fatbiking (in which bikers use wide tires to combat all types of terrain).
Casper, with its long and cold but dry winters, offers skiing in the colder months, ice-skating through spring, and a wide variety of golfing options in the summers. Casper takes pride in its western past, holding regular rodeo events and trips through Old West trails.
5. Flagstaff, AZ
Pine forests, mountains and hiking trails encircle the city of Flagstaff, where outdoor activities prosper in every season. With its fresh air and warm climate, the city is an ideal location for backpackers, mountain climbers, and extreme recreationalists. Flagstaff is located in the center of The Kaibab National Forest, with the 12,637-foot Humphreys Peak to the north and Wupatki National Monument to the northwest.
Roll the windows down for some fresh air and take a drive just over an hour to the north to visit Grand Canyon National Park, or take a quick drive to the south to see the Red Rock State Park near Sedona.
6. Duluth, MN
Outside Magazine named Duluth the Best Place to Live in the U.S., and it’s easy to see why. Beyond its low level of air particle pollutants, Duluth claims beautiful views and miles of Lake Superior shoreline, making it an all-around outdoor vacation destination.
The city of Duluth works hard to keep up its strong outdoorsy reputation, allotting generous tax dollars to recreation and parks, like the Duluth Traverse – a 100-mile system of urban mountain-bike trails in the works for completion in 2017. Nonprofit groups keep the city’s environmental efforts in check and make sure Duluth remains an ideal place to explore nature and see the sights.
7. Salinas, CA
California is not known for its high air quality ratings; in fact, seven of the top 10 most polluted cities with regards to year-round particle pollution are located in California, according to the American Lung Association. But the town of Salinas, just south of San Francisco, is an anomaly – ranking number six in the fewest year-round air particle pollutants and coming in at the cleanest metropolitan area for both Ozone and short-term particle pollutions. So what’s different about Salinas?
The Monterey Bay gives the city of Salinas a constant refreshing breeze of ocean air, while mountains and a marine layer tend to blow smog further inland, skipping over the coast. Salinas enjoys a mild and warm climate, with daily highs in the mid-60s throughout the winter and the mid-70s in the summer – an ideal spot for a fresh air vacation (just don’t linger in the inland smog!).
8. Brevard County, FL
Brevard County is home to the cities of Palm Bay, Melbourne and Titusville and is located on the eastern coast of Florida. Home to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, a major tourist attraction, Brevard County is sometimes referred to as the Space Coast. Summers are hot and humid, and the dry season lasts from December through May, with very few hurricanes at any time of year, making it an ideal clean air vacation spot.
Brevard County is home to several wildlife refuges thanks to support from the Environmentally Endangered Land Program. Community members come together in task forces and volunteer groups to improve water quality and discuss water conservation.
9. Maui County, HI
For impressive views, honeymoon spots, volcano visits and plenty of outdoor recreation, your best bet is Maui County in Hawaii. Maui County makes up the islands of Maui, Lanai, and most of Molokai, in addition to the uninhibited islands of Kahoolawe and Molokini. The major city of Maui County is Kahului, located on the island of Maui, though travel guides point to the more naturalistic settings within Maui County for the freshest air and guaranteed fun.
Though the air in Hawaii is cleaner than most other states, busy metropolitan areas and sugarcane burning necessitate the Clean Air Branch of the Hawaiian government. The Clean Air Branch surveys the air and enforces pollution control to keep pollutants down for locals and visitors alike.
10. Rapid City, SD
With a total population of about 71,000, Rapid City is the second-largest city in South Dakota. Must-sees include tourist favorites such as Mount Rushmore National Park, Reptile Gardens and Badlands National Park. But don’t miss Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been under construction since 1948 and will be the largest sculpture in the world (if it’s ever finished).
Due to dust particles in the air from street sanding and industrial activity, Rapid City failed to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for particle pollution back in the late ‘70s. After decades of hard work, Rapid City finally met EPA standards in 2006, setting the town on the fast track to become one of the cities with the cleanest air in the country in 2015, bringing even further recognition to the Old Western tourist town.
11. Anchorage, AK
Anchorage is a city with a lot of personality. It is home to 40 percent of Alaskan residents, and its position on the map is within a 9 ½-hour flight of nearly 90 percent of the industrial world, making it a perfect refueling stop for international flights and a major FedEx world hub. Anchorage is also a four-time winner of the All-America City Award in recognition of its community efforts.
Anchorage is filled with skiing opportunities, especially among the Chugach Mountains. Recreation areas fill the city, including some of the most beautiful municipal parks in the country. Wildlife tours in Alaska might include moose, bear or whale sightings. You can even embark on a glacier cruise to discover dozens of glaciers within a quick trip from the city center.
This article was written by Caitlin Klask.