I am writing a story, in which I would like to have three locations within about a half hour to an hour driving distance (assuming population, road systems and automobiles on par with the contemporary real world). The location is unspecified; it is Earth-like, but not necessarily Earth. (As long as "Earth-like plants and animals" are plausible, feel free to play with the planet!)

  • Location A has [sub]tropical vegetation and at least one valley/canyon of moderate size. (Something like southern California, or Hawaii, or your stereotypical jungle/rainforest. Basically, I want to transplant something that closely resembles the San Diego zoo here). It needs to be close to a decent sized urban area, but doesn't need to be especially flat.
  • Location B is somewhat more temperate and has a mixture of trees (possibly both evergreen and deciduous) and grasses, the latter of which can be due to human activity. It can be a little arid, but closer to the North American East Coast, Midwest or Pacific Northwest is preferred. It needs to be flat enough to support a light to heavy suburban population, as well as several specific locations that are "mostly" flat. (In other words, it isn't San Francisco or the side of a mountain.) Bonus points if the trees change color in autumn.
  • Location C has a typical annual snowfall of at least 0.3m. Ideally, C and B would be the same place, or at least within about 15-20 minutes of each other.

Is it possible for such locations/climates/biomes to exist in such proximity? If so, what major geological or geothermal features and/or differences in elevation would be necessary to achieve this? (Maybe the top and bottom of a mesa? A flat-rimmed caldera, with A in the bottom and B on the rim? Maybe location A has some sort of geothermal heat source?)

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    $\begingroup$ Go to Cannes, in southern France. You will be on the shore of the Mediterranean, with typical mediterranean climate; sunbathing in perfectly possible in winter. Admire the Palais des Festivals and the multitude of luxury yachts. Then drive 40 km (25 miles) to the ski resort of Gréolières-les-Neiges. (Or do a Google search for ski resorts côte d'azur.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 13, 2020 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @levininja, "about a half hour to an hour driving distance"... which, yeah, depends on the roads and what-not, and I know it's a fuzzy answer, but that's what matters story-wise. As a ballpark, call it 40km; it could be a bit more if there's a good freeway for most of that, or less if the roads have to be narrow and winding. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Much better this time! Only thing I'd recommend is that you nòt award the Green Check until at least two or three days have passed. This gives you a wider range of answers to review and also doesn't put potential respondents off the task. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:34

4 Answers 4


The key is coastal mountains, and good roads.

Most of the US West Coast has urban areas that never freeze, perhaps 90 minutes from mountains high enough to provide respectable skiing. Another place that comes to mind is Bergen, Norway.

For instance last year, the ski slopes an hour out from Sacramento/Roseville announced that skiing would continue into July. I am not kidding. There was a lot of snowpack, and it would last that long. The road from Roseville to Truckee is reasonably well-developed; 55 for trucks and all the cars drive 70.

2-lane roads would have the characteristic of US-50, a bit twisty but not excessively so, with most of the distance being a 60 mph cruise except for hairpins and twisty sections here and there. It really depends on how insane you want to make your geography; your snow scenario requires altitude not jaggedness, so you can have snowy regions with gentle, easy-to-build terrain.

The normal happening is that the ocean moderates the temperature of the air to at least 0C and realistically higher; it arrives at the coast saturated with humidity. This temperate air keeps the coastal cities warm. When the air hits the mountains, it must go up; where it is made colder because of the altitude and reduction in atmosphereic pressure. Cold air can't hold as much moisture as warm air, so it must shed the humidity, and down comes snow. Very reliably.

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    $\begingroup$ If you want to make the driving distance even shorter, just reverse the mountains. The Sierra Nevada has a long, fairly gentle slope on the west side, and a pretty steep drop on the east. Given clear roads and no traffic (admittedly a rarity :-() I can drive from ~4500 ft elevation to ~8900 ft Mt Rose Summit in about 20 minutes. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 14, 2020 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ The en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Alps in new zealand is also a good example. $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Feb 14, 2020 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ Where in driving distance from Bergen, Norway is a subtropical forest or anything of the kind? $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2020 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TomášZato-ReinstateMonica I'm thinking of the original Slow TV video, where the train leaves Bergen with not a sign of snow, and then Voosh! Through the first tunnel into deep winter. I assumed Bergen benefits from a significant coastal effect. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2020 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ Lake Tahoe in California comes to mind as well. Fairly famous for the fact that during certain times of year you can water-ski and snow ski in the same afternoon $\endgroup$
    – Bitsplease
    Feb 14, 2020 at 18:36

This makes me think of the Cascades mountains in Oregon and Washington. The mountains are snow-covered but right next to subtropical on the West side because the wind brings weather patterns in off the ocean there. And location C is on the other side of the mountains, on the East side, there are certainly some areas that are temperate if they are close to the mountains, but once you go much more west it gets into desert.


The Big Island (Hawaii Island) absolutely fits your needs. Mauna Kea (our tallest mountain, actually the worlds tallest mountain-look it up) has snow on it right now,we have temperate-type forests on the slopes, tropical jungle and desert all around. In fact every climate on earth except arctic is represented on this one island. you can drive "essentially" all the way around it in 3 hours (although you would miss a-lot) or cross it and hit say even 5 climate/ecological zones in an hour or two.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding. This is a nice, succinct answer. Thank you for the contribution. Please take a look at our tour to be familiar with the site: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/tour Also, the help center will help you ask great questions and write great answers: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help See you around! $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:48

This will work in San Diego itself.

Only your location B has to be a flat highland "mesa", so it can be both forested and suitable for sizeable human population. Location "A" we can find next to the ocean, and "C" in the higher mountains, behind "B" location.

For general location, you need to stick to low latitudes, and on US West Coast you can't be higher than Southern California if you want to have subtropical forest like "A".

  • $\begingroup$ Any idea how much elevation difference we're talking about? What the roads would be like between "A" and "B"? $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ In San Diego, that has to be at least 600 meters. It should be high enough to block moisture moving from A to C. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ Uh... why do I not want C to get humidity? The snow needs to come from somewhere... $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew ouch, I read the question wrong. I will edit the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Feb 13, 2020 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, I'm actually reconsidering if I should switch to this as the accepted answer. I went with Harper's because it is more detailed and e.g. considers the roads, but yours has the critical point that I need a mesa. Mountains, at least by themselves, don't satisfy my requirement of having (more than just a handful of) people at "B". $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 23:54

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