What do Americans in the market for a vacation home want?
Appalachian mountain views and Florida sunshine, it turns out.
Vacation rental management website Vacasa has rolled out its second annual report highlighting the best U.S. destinations to invest in a vacation rental property. It analyzed home sales and rental data in vacation areas around the country. Vacasa also found that 65% of people in the market for a vacation home haven't decided where to buy.
The report, called the Top 25 Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home, provides shoppers with data such as median home cost and capitalization rate, which is the rate of potential return on a real estate investment.
"Buying a vacation rental property requires more consideration than simply where you'd enjoy owning a vacation home that you could visit a few times a year," said Shaun Greer, Vacasa's senior director of real estate.
"If you are seeking to maximize your investment, you'll need to familiarize yourself with markets that have a strong rate of return, consistently high occupancy rates and local regulations," Greer added in a statement.
Appalachia's Great Smoky Mountains are home to two of Vacasa's top 10 finishers, while Florida snagged three spots. The list also has surprise Western finalists in California and Montana.
Here's a look at the top 10, along with the median sale price and the cap rate for each.
Known as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky was settled by ranchers in the late 1890s and began attracting attention as a ski destination in the early 1970s, thanks to annual snowfall of about 400 inches.
Now a year-round destination offering everything from golf and fly fishing to snowshoeing and dogsledding, the town is split into three sections: Canyon, Meadow and Mountain Village, which is home to Big Sky Resort.
The town, whose population of 2,500 can double during the high season, lies in the shadow of 11,166-foot Lone Mountain, 47 miles north of Yellowstone and 55 miles south of Bozeman. Bozeman is connected nonstop to 17 major U.S. cities by seven airlines. For more, visit www.visitbigsky.com.
Median home sale price: $585,000
Capitalization rate: 5.4%
This Pacific coast community, an official California Historical Landmark about 3½ hours north of San Francisco by car, was founded as a military garrison after the Civil War and became a tourist magnet thanks to its spectacular ocean views.
Glass Beach — strewn with colored "stones" worn down from decades' worth of old bottles, headlights and appliances once thrown off nearby cliffs — is one of its most iconic attractions. Other draws in this town of some 7,530 inhabitants include the 7-mile Coastal Trail, the quirky Larry Spring Museum of Common Sense Physics and the 134-year-old scenic Skunk Train railway. For more, see Visitfortbraggca.com.
Median home sale price: $509,500
Capitalization rate: 5.9%
The southernmost incorporated place in the continental U.S., this quirky island city of 25,500 "Conchs," as locals call themselves, lies at the end of the 100-mile-long Florida Keys archipelago and has long attracted writers, artists and other bohemians.
Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote there in the 1930s, and his house remains a top tourist attraction. Thanks to Key West's longtime "live and let live" attitudes, the town has also been a popular LGBT destination for decades (it elected its first openly gay mayor in 1983.)
Cruise vacationers and full and part-time residents alike love the city's abundant sunshine, fishing and water sports, nightlife and — key for vacation home hunters — 19th century wooden architecture. Five airlines serve the island's international airport. For more, visit Fla-keys.com/key-west/ and www.keywestchamber.org.
Median home sale price: $763,109
Capitalization rate: 6.1%
Myrtle Beach is the crown jewel of South Carolina's 60-mile long Grand Strand coast. This small city — home to just under 34,000 residents — punches above its weight when it comes to tourism, drawing about 14 million visitors annually.
Those vacationers come not only for the beach but for more than 100 golf courses, a dozen or so live theater venues and a 1.2-mile oceanfront boardwalk and promenade presided over by the 187-foot-tall SkyWheel.
Flying in is easy: Myrtle Beach International Airport offers nonstop service from 50 U.S. and Canadian cities via nine carriers. Crave less honky-tonk and more Southern charm? Genteel, history-rich Charleston is just a 2½-hour drive south. For more, go to Visitmyrtlebeach.com.
Median home sale price: $213,950
Capitalization rate: 6.2%
The "Sunset Capital of Alabama" lies on a narrow, 14-mile barrier island off the state's Gulf of Mexico coast. A protected bird sanctuary in its entirety, Dauphin Island is also home to some 1,300 permanent human residents. Attractions include the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, historic Fort Gaines, white sand beaches, public golf courses, marinas and parks. The island is just under 30 miles from Mobile and its airport. For more, visit the town's tourism website at Townofdauphinisland.org/visitors.
Median home sale price: $345,281
Capitalization rate: 6.7%
Did you dream of living in Walt Disney World as a kid? Still do? Well, buying in Kissimmee, 30 minutes southeast by car on the northwest shore of Lake Tohopekaliga, could be the next best thing. Part of the Orlando metro area, the city is home to about 71,000 residents and is easily accessible by air, rail, bus and auto.
Beyond Disney, nearby theme park attractions include SeaWorld, Legoland and Universal Orlando Resort, which just announced a major expansion. (Note: Both CNBC and Universal Orlando Resort are owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast.) Visitors can also enjoy such Florida attractions as the Kennedy Space Center, GatorLand, golfing and swamp airboat rides. For more, go to Experiencekissimmee.com.
Median home sale price: $264,863
Capitalization rate: 7.2%
Tucked between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest, tiny Whittier, North Carolina, is home to just about 5,600 people. An hour's drive west of hipster arts haven Asheville, the small town is close to big vacation attractions, including the activity-rich Eastern Cherokee Reservation and its Harrah's casino; Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; and gem mining, hunting, fly fishing and rafting venues. Too small for a tourism board, Whittier and its surroundings can be found on North Carolina's state tourism website at Visitnc.com.
Median home sale price: $178,000
Capitalization rate: 7.9%
Another small city, Davenport has boomed almost 200% in a decade, growing from just under 2,900 inhabitants to about 5,400 today. An hour's drive southwest of Orlando International Airport, Davenport is just far away enough to escape the theme park crowds and just close enough that residents can easily avail themselves when they feel like it. Top attractions include the True Blue Winery, Providence Gold Club and Lake Davenport itself. The city's website can be found at MyDavenport.org.
Median home sale price: $255,390
Capitalization rate: 8.4%
Five hours north of New York by car and a 3½-hour drive from Boston, Killington, Vermont, is best known as the largest ski area in the East. Home to just 800 or so permanent residents, the town welcomes thousands more each winter for snowy sports. But summertime activities abound, too. The popular Appalachian Trail for hiking, for example, cuts right through Killington. Golf, mountain biking, ATV rides, concerts, shopping and cuisine are other popular pursuits. Burlington, Vermont, has the closest major airport. For more, visit Killington.com.
Median home sale price: $208,828
Capitalization rate: 9.3%
You might describe Sevierville, Tennessee, and nearby Pigeon Forge as a one-woman tourism miracle, all thanks to native daughter Dolly Parton — singer, actress and entrepreneur.
This scenic corner of the state had been a popular destination since Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in the 1930s, but things really started taking off in 1986 when Parton bought an interest in a local theme park and rebranded it Dollywood.
The resort and theme park is now Tennessee's biggest attraction, drawing almost 3 million annually. This visitor renaissance has resulted in a boom in new attractions and activities throughout the region, although the most enduring and enigmatic draw remains the haunting Great Smoky landscape. For more information, go to VisitSevierville.com.
Median home sale price: $239,976
Capitalization rate: 10.3%
(CNBC's John Schoen contributed to this report.)