While there are benefits to raising children in both cities and rural environments, there is no conclusive answer when it comes to the question: which one is best? Big cities often need a fast-paced life to grow—or at least to keep up with it. Adults struggle with finding the balance between city life and nature regularly, and with kids, the struggle becomes more prominent.

It comes down to what kind of lifestyle, as parents, we want to live. It’s what dictates most things in our lives—the career paths we wander down, the partners we choose, the places we hang our hat. Not every parent is going to want to get rid of their four-story brownstone to move upstate to greener pastures, and some families love that their closest neighbor is five miles away and that they know their postman by name. They might not have the desire to be surrounded by city culture and energy, 24/7. Both have their pros and cons, and if our location fits our lifestyle, do we have to venture beyond a certain mile radius?

For some city-dwelling families, it might mean planning ahead to ensure that your kids are spending enough time in nature. More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and while it’s impossible to imagine living like Max from “Where the Wild Things Are” all of the time, there’s probably room in your lives for a little bit of wild.

Today, there is a huge push for families to ditch the screen time for a weekend spent hiking through a forest, beach, or other natural environments. The bottom line is that kids need to spend time outdoors, because free play and regular contact with the natural world fosters creativity, improves strength and balance, teaches problem-solving and risk assessment, and gives them a sense of independence and self-worth. Not to mention that early experiences with nature can be linked to the development of a child’s imagination—something the world could always use more of.

The extinction of experience is also nature’s loss. Promoting more outdoor experiences can change the impact being had on our natural environment, simultaneously giving both children and adults the balance we need between the high energy buzz of city life and soft peacefulness we find in nature, in ourselves.

So, if you’re raising little ones, regardless of your latitude and longitude, make sure you give them the childhood experiences that cover the gamut: yes, take them to Broadway shows and play I Spy on public transportation and visit art museums and city parks. But also research how close the most accessible trail is from your home, or take them kayaking on the river, or camping in a National Park the next time family vacation rolls around. While creating more outdoor experiences for your little ones can mean a lot of work as a parent, it also means nurturing a long-term love for the great outdoors within them.

Here are four great outdoor cities and towns, and what parents have to say about raising their kids in them:

Jackson, WY

“Jackson is one big, outdoor playground, nestled in between two national parks, The Tetons and Yellowstone. Whether it is winter with skiing, boarding or snowmobiling or summer with hiking, paddle boarding or fly fishing, there is endless outdoor fun. Jackson Hole lends itself to year-round built-in family activities, continuous care for our environment and a healthy and fit lifestyle.” — Rachel Kantor

Alexander Lopez, who spent his childhood in Jackson says: “With access to world-class skiing, mountaineering, and hiking, the valley of Jackson Hole was the dream town to grow up in. In addition to the great outdoors, the valley offers amazing schools and a wide variety of programs that give these gifts to all.”

Asheville, NC

“Asheville is a great little city for families who want to live the middle-class dream—if that’s a thing. It’s casual, massively family friendly, and surprisingly welcoming. It feels like a city in the way that one is accepted for who they are, but it also feels like a town as many of the hoods are so cozy and tightly knitted. And it’s gorgeous—the mountains that surround it are breathtaking—lots of beautiful earth around here.” — Stacey Voloshin

Salt Lake City, UT

“Salt Lake City is a very family-friendly city. You’re never the only climber with kids out here and it’s easy to find other family climbing groups. The access is unparalleled, approaches well maintained, and there are safe staging areas. It’s a beautiful city for me to raise my children in and nurture their love for the outdoors at the same time.” — Haley Dahle

Chattanooga, TN

“I grew up in Indiana, went to school in Florida and then embarked upon the difficult question: “Where do I want to live?” After driving throughout the region, and also considering a few spots in Colorado, Chattanooga struck me as the perfect little-big town. There is a blended sense of Metropolitan and Mayberry. I love being able to teach downtown and then walk my daughter to dinner, or drive ten minutes to watch the sunset on Lookout Mountain. She frequently asks: “Are we going hiking this weekend?” I appreciate how easy it is to find solitude; one only needs to drive minutes to find some of the best climbing, biking, hiking, boating, and camping in the region. The world is so fast-paced now, so connected and by default, disconnected. It is important to me for my daughter to grow up in a nature-centered environment. After all, isn’t that what grounds us? Teaches us humility? Observing the grandeur of the world around us? At our house, we don’t have the Internet, and we don’t have cable; we spend our time seeking either creativity or activity. To me, this mindset is unique to Chattanooga—a place that fosters athletes and artists. I’ve traveled to many beautiful and spectacular places, and yet, I always feel the pull to come back to the quiet Mecca of Chattanooga. I suppose you could say it’s a beautiful oasis of sorts, and I’m grateful to raise my child here.” — Kelagn Hawhee

This article was previously published by Seneca Creek here on October 19th, 2016.

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