— This article continues our Dueling Retirement States series with another regional comparison. See Further Reading at end for links to other comparisons in the series —
June 22, 2015 — Are you tempted by the lure of mountains for your dream retirement lifestyle? The Mountain States of the U.S. – Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming – continue to experience amazing population growth, including from people of retirement age. Colorado’s population, for example, grew by over 1 million people between 2000 and 2014, much of which was net in-migration. Many of these mountain states’ new residents are 20 and 30 somethings who have come for jobs in these growing economies. But another demographic segment flocking to the region for its beauty, outdoor recreation, and in many cases, to be near their adult children, is the huge baby boomer group. The attraction for many of these folks is the opportunity to enjoy magnificent mountain ranges like the Beartooths in Montana, the Sawtooths in Idaho, and the many sub-mountain ranges of the Rockies in Colorado. In this article we will compare and contrast these 6 mountain states: Colorado and Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming (links go to our mini-retirement guides to each state). Population and income data is from American Fact Finder-U.S. Census Bureau.
A Few Facts
Colorado is by far the more populous of the 5 states. The 2014 population there increased to just over 5.35 million from 5 million in 2010, which is a 6.5% increase in just 4 years. There were 2.8 million people in the second most populous state, Nevada, up from 2.7 million in 2010 (+5.1%). Wyoming had the smallest population of the six, which stood at 584,000 in 2014, a 3.6% gain from 2010. Utah enjoyed a significant population increase from 2010 to 2014, 6.5%, double the overall U.S. growth rate. Its population estimate was 2,942,000 in 2014. Idaho had 1,634,000 people in 2014, up 4.3% from 2010. The Montana population was 1.024 million in 2014, up from 989,000 in 2010 (+3.5%).
Montana has the highest percentage of 65+ population of the 6 states – 16.2%, while Utah is the youngest state in this category with 9.8% of its population being 65+. The 65+ population in Colorado was 12.3%, compared to 13.8% in Idaho, 13.5% in Wyoming, and 12.0% in Nevada. The total U.S. % is 14.1%.
Economics and Home Prices.
Colorado and Utah tend to have the most expensive homes of these 6 states. Nevada and the Las Vegas area was one of the nation’s hardest hit regions in the 2006-7 housing meltdown. The other mountain states in this comparison were relatively immune to that crisis, probably because they were less overbuilt. Retirees looking for housing bargains should consider Idaho, which had the lowest statewide Home Value Index at $166,000. By comparison, the Zillow Home Value Index for the entire USA was $178,400 in mid 2015, a 3% increase yr. to yr. Source: http://www.zillow.com/nv/home-values/
2015 Home Price
Home Prices by City
The highest priced Colorado Metro is Denver at $269,000 and the lowest was Pueblo at $107,000. Prices in the huge metro of Las Vegas stood at $169,700, whereas Reno was considerably higher at $208,000. In Boise prices were slightly higher at $182,300. Helena Metro home prices were among the highest in this group at $243,800. In Salt Lake City that Index was $244,700 and in Ogden it was $121,400. Cheyenne home prices were slightly higher at $189,100.
Cost of Living
The Numbeo.com Cost of Living + Rent Index is 74 for Denver, 64 for Boise, 65 for Salt Lake City, and 80 for Las Vegas. Since the Index for New York City is 100, that means all 3 cities are less expensive than the Big Apple, with it being cheapest to live in Boise. Unfortunately, data on cost of living is not readily available for many of the other cities in these states because of their relatively small size.
Although Nevada, Utah, and Colorado are close to the same latitude they do not share the same climate due to drier conditions in NV and UT and higher altitudes throughout much of Colorado. Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana tend to have similar climates, with northernmost Montana being the chilliest of the six. Las Vegas (NV) has an average temperature of 90 in July and mid 40s in January. Salt Lake City (UT) is cooler in summer with a July average high in the high 70s and a January average of about 30. In Denver (CO) those averages are low 70’s and 30, whereas up in Helena (MT). they average high 60s and 20. Boise is very similar temperature wise to Salt Lake City with its July average in the mid 70s and a January average of 30. Because most of these are very tall states, the climate changes from north to south.
Tax Environment Comparison
Nevada and Wyoming would have to be considered the 2 most tax friendly mountain states: neither one has an income tax. Idaho and Montana have the highest marginal tax rates, although Montana lessons that blow since it has no sales tax. Montana and Colorado provide some exemptions of social security from taxation, depending on income. Colorado provides a fairly generous exemption for pension income to people over 65.
Most of these states offer senior property tax exemptions of some type. Colorado, for example, has a very generous Homestead protection law which exempts 50% of the value for long term residents. Idaho has a similar circuit breaker program for those who meet certain income limitations. None of the mountain states have inheritance or estate taxes. The data below is from the Tax Foundation and Tax-Rates.org. For more detail about taxation and other information about each state see our mini State Retirement Guides.
State Inc Tax
State Sales Tax*
Med Prop Tax**
*Localities may add additional sales taxes
** On appraised market value
Taxation of SocSec
Taxation of Pensions
Where to Live by State
All of these mountain states are renowned for their outdoor recreational possibilities, with outstanding hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, and kayaking – among other activities. The more populous states like Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah all have a few larger cities to choose from and a range of other choices. For example Topretirements has reviews of 27 towns and cities in Colorado. In Montana and Wyoming we have 7 and 6 towns reviewed respectively, so your options are more limited. They all have interesting college towns to choose from, such as Laramie (WY), which is home to the University of Wyoming, or Boulder (CO), the upscale home to the University of Colorado.
Most popular retirement mountain towns
In this section we will list the most popular mountain towns for retirement at Topretirements. The # in parentheses is the popularity ranking on our Top 100 list.
St. George, UT (#42). Located in southern Utah, St. George, with its very nice downtown and warm climate, is becoming synonymous with retirement.
Grand Junction, CO (#56). People who have retired to Grand Junction cite the nice downtown, abundant local fruit and wineries, and many outstanding recreational activities within a short drive. About 60,000 people live in the city proper.
Denver, CO (#63). The Mile High City is a huge Metro with every kind of big city amenity, and charming neighborhoods and parks.
Reno, NV (#70). This is the 4th largest city in the state. There are 18 ski areas within 2 hours, and 3 major bodies of water – Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River, and Pyramid Lake.
Henderson, NV (#75). This town has the highest ratio of parks and recreation facilities per inhabitant of any city in Nevada. Very near to Las Vegas, it has a diversified economy too.
Durango, CO (#83). This exceptionally beautiful place is one of the towns in the southwestern part of the state.
Las Vegas, NV. (#84) This huge and famous metropolis can’t be beat for entertainment or a choice of lower cost living options.
Mesquite, NV (#91 ). This retirement town on the Nevada and Utah borders is in a beautiful desert.
Whitefish, MT (#96). Many people consider this one of the most beautiful settings in America – a nice town along a postcard lake and mountains looming above.
Boise, ID (#100). This bustling city is the 3rd most populous Metro in the Pacific Northwest. It’s nickname is “The City of Trees”.
Of course these are just the most popular towns on our list. There are many more interesting places to retire in these states which you can find in our State Directories.
The mountain states all offer superb recreation and scenery. In general they are all reasonably tax-friendly, especially Nevada, Wyoming, and Montana. They have a range of places to retire, with Colorado offering the biggest number of towns to choose from.
For further reference:
State Retirement Guides
Gulf Coast Retirement: Sun, Tax-friendly, and a Lower Coast of Living
Retirement 101 Mid-Atlantic States: MD, DE, VA, NJ
Florida Retirement 101
Dueling Carolinas: NC vs. SC
Dueling States: Arizona vs. Florida
California Retirement 101
Retirement in the Southwest: AZ, NM, and Utah
Comparing the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington for Retirement
Comments? We and all your fellow members love to know what you are thinking. Please share your thoughts about retirement in these mountain states in the Comments section below.