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Outdoors

10 U.S. Cities With the Best Air Quality

By Rachel Gresh
Read time: 6 minutes

Visiting a new city usually involves a lot of walking as you explore its most famous tourist attractions. But have you ever paused to wonder how clean the air you breathe is? The American Lung Association has released its “State of the Air” report for 2024, which ranked the cleanest (and dirtiest) cities in the United States based on the year-round particle pollution levels in their air. Unfortunately, there are no pollution-free cities; however, some areas of the country fare much better than others. If you’re searching for the most pristine places in the U.S. to enjoy outdoor activities, look no further than these 10 cities.

10. St. George, Utah

Layered sandstone rock in canyon outside of St. George, Utah
Credit: Sara Edwards/ iStock via Getty Images 

Surrounded by stunning national parks and bountiful outdoor activities, St. George offers visitors plenty of opportunities to take in fresh air. The town is wedged between the scenic Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and the Arizona border, and is only 30 minutes from Zion, one of the country’s most popular national parks. Boating and watersports are also a favorite pastime at Sand Hollow State Park. Nearby, hikers can explore an extinct volcano at Snow Canyon State Park. Downtown St. George offers galleries featuring work by local artists (many inspired by the breathtaking scenery in St. George) and an array of museums displaying dinosaur fossils, art, and pioneer artifacts.

9. Anchorage, Alaska

Aerial view of pedestrian bridge leading to downtown Anchorage, Alaska
Credit: ChrisBoswell/ iStock via Getty Images 

As the most populated and accessible city in Alaska, Anchorage is a well-known tourist hub. Along the city’s waterways, sightseers can breathe in the fresh air as they enjoy fishing, rafting, and glacier cruises to nearby Kenai Fjords National Park. Just north of the city is another national park, Denali, a 6 million-acre preserve home to the nation’s tallest mountain peak. Dog sled rides, railroad adventures, golfing, and gold panning (an homage to Alaska’s gold rush days) are other favorite activities in the region. The Alaskan weather isn’t always suitable for outdoor adventuring, but visitors will find plenty to do at downtown Anchorage’s many museums, breweries, and live entertainment venues.

8. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Craggy rock formations in Garden of the Gods outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado
Credit: Sean Pavone/ iStock via Getty Images 

Colorado Springs owes its dramatic scenery and clean air to the nearby Rocky Mountains. Garden of the Gods is one of the most famous parks in the region, where red sandstone formations provide a stunning backdrop for hiking and horseback riding on 15 miles of trails. More extreme adventures include rock climbing or white water rafting in the Arkansas River. Downtown Colorado Springs is home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center and a nearby museum. Other activities include rodeos, hot-air balloon festivals, and family-friendly museums.

7. Duluth, Minnesota

Clifftop lighthouse above Lake Superior, outside of Duluth, Minnesota
Credit: Dennis O’Hara/ Shutterstock

Ranking seventh on the list of U.S. cities with the best air quality, Duluth sits on Lake Superior, on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s part of a metropolitan area known as the “Twin Ports,” which also includes the town of Superior, Wisconsin, located just across the state line. Duluth’s scenic Lakewalk — which connects shoreline parks and beaches with dining and other attractions — is a great place to take in the clean air. Downtown, you’ll also find museums for the entire family, including the Great Lakes Aquarium and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. In the summertime, art, music, and food festivals take over the lakeshore as sailboats dot the harbor.

6. Cheyenne, Wyoming

River and red sandstone rocks outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming
Credit: Zack Frank/ Shutterstock  

The wide-open skies and spirit of the Old West haven’t been forgotten in this capital city. Rodeos, live music, ranches, and Western-style boutiques make Cheyenne feel like a 19th-century time capsule. Downtown, award-winning botanical gardens and the 19th-century state capitol building are major draws. Cheyenne’s most famous annual event, Frontier Days, is a massive outdoor rodeo — touted as the world’s largest — that’s been held since 1897. To really enjoy Cheyenne’s fresh air, head to the 30,000-acre Terry Bison Ranch and take the Sunday lunch train or a horseback ride to see the famous herd of bison.

5. Bangor, Maine

Downtown Bangor, Maine, seen from above
Credit: DenisTangneyJr/ iStock via Getty Images 

Bangor has a history of fishing and fur trading, but lumber is the primary industry here. As a tribute to Bangor’s lucrative woodlands, which contribute to its stellar air quality, the tallest Paul Bunyan statue in the world adorns the town’s Main Street. Bangor was also the hometown of famed author Stephen King and inspired several of his works, including the horror novel It. Visitors can take a Stephen King tour to see some of the sights included in his stories. The nearby 700-acre Bangor City Forest also boasts miles of recreational trails. And on the weekends, visitors can meander a farmers market and enjoy locally sourced cuisine.

4. Wilmington, North Carolina

Waterfront buildings in Wilmington, North Carolina
Credit: T. Markley/ Shutterstock 

Less than a half-hour drive to the Atlantic coast, Wilmington boasts not only great air quality but also plenty of Southern charm, tasty cuisine, and historic architecture. It is home to one of the largest historic districts in the country, a 230-block area known for its Victorian architecture. Two of the most famous buildings include the Bellamy Mansion and Latimer House. The city’s live oak-lined streets boast shopping, scenic patio dining, historic tours, and lively festivals. To the east, its beaches are some of the most popular in North Carolina, including the resort area of Wrightsville Beach.

3. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

Palm trees in lagoon in Lahaina, Maui
Credit: joshuaraineyphotography/ iStock via Getty Images 

Often referred to collectively as Lahaina, the coastal area of Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina is located in northwest Maui. It is home to some of Hawaii’s most beautiful beach resorts, with plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy in the clean air. Many come here to scuba or snorkel at the Carthaginian shipwreck off Lahaina harbor. Visitors can take in views of resident sea turtles, white-tip reef sharks, frogfish, eels, and other wildlife. Whale-watching tours are also popular, especially during the winter and spring months. Inland, many farms offer tours where visitors can learn more about local trades, including chocolate, coconuts, and dragonfruit. (Note: Some of the areas of metropolitan Lahaina are still off-limits to visitors due to the devastating wildfires of 2023, but when they do open, they will rely heavily on tourist dollars to get back on their feet.)

2. Casper, Wyoming

River and fields outside of Casper, Wyoming
Credit: Rexjaymes/ Shutterstock 

Casper was at the crossroads of many 19th-century pioneer journeys due to its location in the center of the “Cowboy State.” The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center is the best place to learn about the region’s pioneer history. Discover what the lives of these explorers were like as they traveled the area on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express trails. Other popular activities include fly-fishing on the North Platte River, snowsports at Casper Mountain, rock climbing, family-friendly camping, and seasonal art, music, and food festivals downtown.

1. Honolulu, Hawaii

Palm tree-lined beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, seen from above
Credit: bpperry/ iStock via Getty Images 

Despite having the highest population on this list, with nearly 1 million residents, Honolulu has the cleanest air in the country. Hawaii’s capital city is located on the southern shores of Oahu. Every year, millions of visitors head to Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach to soak up the sun, wade in the surf, and enjoy some of the city’s best food, from fish tacos and Spam musubi to classic poke and shave ice. Meanwhile, history buffs can visit several fascinating World War II sites, including the USS Arizona Memorial of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Honolulu is also home to the 19th-century Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on U.S. soil, where Hawaii’s last monarchs once lived. 

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