You’ve decided that you want lots of space and plenty of quiet. A home in a rural area with nothing but the birds singing and the wind rustling the wildflowers – sounds great, but not all country is the same. Do you want the High Plains of Wyoming, the sultry swampland of Florida’s panhandle, the crashing waves of Maine’s rocky coast, the sweeping vistas of the Rocky Mountains, or the down-home comfort of the Blue Ridge Mountains?
First, decide on the weather. How much snow is acceptable, and how much cold can you tolerate? North Dakota, for example, is one of the driest states, with an average of 17 inches of precipitation. Snow may not be a huge factor, but extreme temperatures are – North Dakota’s temperature variation is one of the country’s most extreme, with winter temperatures well below freezing (for example, North Dakota has seen temperatures as low as -60 degrees F) to well into the 80s (and above – temperatures over 100 degrees F are possible) in the summer.
If you want the precipitation – the frozen kind – one of the snowiest places on earth is Mount Baker in Washington State. The record snowfall? 1,140 inches (that’s 95 feet!) fell during the 1998-99 season. By comparison, Alaska – the state synonymous with snow — averages about 500 inches annually.
The desert Southwest has some extreme temperatures, ranging from highs over 100 degrees F to lows well below freezing. Arizona, for example, can reach -35 degrees in winter, while summers can reach 125 degrees in the desert. A typical day in the summer may hit 80 or above, while nighttime temperatures hover near freezing, at around 35 degrees. Arizona’s mild winters and lack of snowfall are an attractive bonus for those who enjoy the beauty of the desert landscape. And, the area’s natural attractions, like the Grand Canyon, are unbeatable.
As Arizona is dry, Florida is damp. The Florida Panhandle averages 77 degrees for the high and 59 degrees for the low, but temperatures during the summer can hover around 90 degrees. Panama City’s highest temperature on record is 102 degrees, hit in 2007. North Florida sees roughly 50 inches of rain every year. Florida has the rainiest summer of any state, but the overall rainiest state is Hawaii.
In addition to weather, consider the availability of major cities. Even if you don’t want to live in one, having one within driving distance can come in handy when all of that rural bliss becomes overwhelming. For those times when you crave a concert, a museum, a nice dinner out, or an all-day shopping spree, consider the nearby cities when choosing your new home in the country. It doesn’t have to be a huge city – Montpelier, Vermont is the capital of the second least populated state in the country (behind Wyoming), making it the smallest “big city” in the United States.
Education is also a factor, especially if you plan to attend college or if you have (or plan to have) children. The U.S. News ranking of the best high schools in the country listed 68 gold medal schools in New York and 46 in Texas. Progressive Farmer magazine ranked Kent County, Maryland as the best place to live in rural America in 2008 based in part on great schools, low crime, access to healthcare, and affordable farmland. Ellis County, Kansas came in second, and Livingston County, Missouri came in third.
From California to New York, you can find rural communities dotted with farms and ranches, vineyards and orchards. Once you find that ideal home in the pastoral landscape of your choosing, take a look around: barn quilts, horses, round silos, and acres of wheat swaying in a gentle breeze – it’s good to be just a little bit country.