By Emily H. Bratcher and the Editors, Outside Magazine -- What kinds of cities make families happy? That was our starting point. The answer, of course, is complicated. Our first assumption: kids like being around other kids. So we looked for cities where a high percentage of the population is under age 18. Next we looked at affordability, since every parent knows the financial challenges of raising offspring (some $241,000 for a child born in 2012, according to the United States Department of Agriculture). Then we considered health, removing any metropolitan areas that were above the national rate for adult obesity. Finally, we zeroed in on what we believe is the critical X-factor: access to large urban parks, trail networks, waterways, ski mountains, and other wild spaces. As it turns out, any city that scored high on all of the above inevitably supports a community of active families who value outdoor play above all else. And the winners are… 

Salt Lake City
Population: 1.1 million (metro)
Median Home Price: $241,000
Best For: Mountain sports

Among major U.S. cities, it’s impossible to beat Salt Lake’s access to mountain sports. Within 45 minutes are four of the best ski areas in the world: Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton. Then there are the endless backcountry skiing lines in the nearby Wasatch Mountains. Mountain bikers have their pick of numerous singletrack trails in the canyons east of town, which also contain hundreds of rock-climbing routes. The Middle and Lower Provo rivers offer blue-ribbon trout fishing. Not surprisingly, Salt Lake is home to a thriving community of serious outdoor fanatics. (It’s also the venue for the biggest trade show in the outdoor-gear industry, Outdoor Retailer, every summer and winter.) All this and it’s a true urban center, with an NBA team, a busy international airport, and healthy job market (local employers include eBay and 3M).
Other cities include:
Minneapolis - Best For: Lovers of parks and lakes
Austin - Best For: Urban recreation
Portland - Best For: Living by bike
Boston - Best For: Running fanatics
Colorado Springs - Best For: Endurance sports
Madison - Best For: Cycling
Albuquerque - Best For: Year-round adventure
Washington, D.C. - Best For: Weekend warriors
Boise - Best For: Playing in the Rockies