For most folks, hiking is pretty much just walking around with extra granola bars. It’s the everyman’s outdoor pursuit, and one of the few recognized outdoor activities in which you can participate accidentally. Most people equate hiking with the great outdoors, and that’s okay. But what exactly makes any one particular outdoor area great? You don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere to enjoy hiking. In fact, sometimes the best way to appreciate nature is by direct contrast with the harsh realities of urban life.
Valley Green, Philadelphia
The Wissahickon creek flows from Philadelphia’s Northwest suburbs into the city’s iconic Schuylkill River. The surrounding area, known locally as Valley Green, offers some of the best biking, running, and hiking trails in the City. The park’s main trail, Forbidden drive, follows the winding Wissahickon creek to the Schuylkill and connects to Kelly Drive. An intrepid urban hiker can start a hike by climbing the hilly wooded trails of Valley Green, completely surrounded by nature and cut off from all urban noise pollution, and end a hike by perusing by some of Philadelphia’s finest sculptures near the Philadelphia Art Museum. Exceptionally energetic urban hikers may even summon their inner Rocky Balboa and sprint the Art Museum steps.
Central Park and High Line Park, NYC
You cannot have an urban top ten list without mentioning New York City. The city may not have the best hiking trails, but it is undoubtedly the epitome of urban. New York has been dubbed the concrete jungle, and walking around the city is its own unique form of hiking. However, this list is primarily about trees and nature, so in that regard, the best urban hiking in NYC must be Central Park. Even though the park is relatively enormous, it’s hard to forget you’re in a city in Central Park. That’s okay. The fact that you can walk somewhere in New York, see more trees than concrete, and barely hear a car horn is a victory. You probably won’t be floored by nature’s grandeur in Central Park, but you can pretend you’re in a Woody Allen Movie, or Home Alone 2, or almost any romantic comedy ever, and that’s kind of great. If you’re over Central Park, Chelsea’s High Line Park offers another Urban Hiking treat. The repurposed abandoned train line allows city dwellers to imagine what the city would look like if civilization crumbled and nature reclaimed the land.
Griffith Park, Los Angeles
The hills around the Hollywood sign offer some relief from Los Angeles’ suffocating urban sprawl. The dusty trails offer city folks just enough elevation to escape the smog. There is a surprising amount of wildlife in these hills and the lookout points offer spectacular views. These views, combined with the foothills’ natural beauty make it easy to see why past generations were so eager to develop this land in the first place.
Seaward Park, Seattle
All of Seattle is pretty much an urban hiker’s dream. The city offers plenty of easy access to natural trails. Seaward Park is one Seattle’s best. The forested peninsula juts into Lake Washington and offers hikers an “edge of the world” experience within the city limits.
Red Rocks Park, Denver
Of course the mile high city is home to great hiking. There is a multitude of hiking options in Colorado, but Red Rocks Park – with its famous red sandstone rock formations – offers one of the most unique hiking experiences in the area. Red Rocks is a bit further from downtown than some of the other spots on this list, but as part of the Denver parks system, Red Rocks qualifies as one heck of an urban hike.
Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta
Atlanta is a city dedicated to urban hiking. The city is currently in the midst of a massive public works project to make navigating the city on foot a more pleasurable experience. Stone Mountain Park is often a point of political contention, as it is essentially the Confederate Mt. Rushmore, but controversy-aside, the 19 mile hike between downtown Atlanta and Stone Mountain is undoubtedly one of the better urban hiking experiences around.
Papago Park, Phoenix
If you’re into warm weather, sunshine, and vast expanses of land, Arizona is a great place to be, and a great place to be outside. Two Arizona cities can actually lay claim to Papago Park. The park is so large that it connects to both Phoenix and Tempe. The vast Papago Park offers a gorgeous variety of rock formations, desert plants, and an amazing variety of wildlife. If you visit, watch out for rattlesnakes.
Jordan River Parkway, Salt Lake City
You may be picking up on a theme here: Western Cities are good for hiking. Salt Lake is another outdoor lover’s city. Downtown Salt Lake City is wedged between spectacular mountains and, you guessed it, a giant lake. The Jordan River Parkway is a 40-mile (40-mile!) urban park that winds alongside the Jordan River. The Jordan River Parkway is home to nearly one hundred smaller parks that each boast their own unique charms. And, yes, of course it’s beautiful – it’s Zion.
Historic Trail, San Francisco
There are a quite few quality hiking spots in San Francisco. Many of the city’s surrounding parks offer spectacular views of the Bay and the Pacific, so it’s hard to choose just one hiking trail for San Francisco. Historic Park is not the city’s biggest park, nor does it offer the best views, but it does accomplish the difficult task of allowing visitors to forget that they are completely surrounded by a major urban metropolis. Hikers seeking more room and better views should check out Land’s End, but city dwellers seeking a quick respite from concrete can tuck into Historic Train and take in the trees.
Diamond Head, Honolulu
Diamond Head is one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks and hiking Diamond Head is pretty much a must-do for any tourist visiting Oahu’s South Shore. Diamond Head may not be the most challenging hike in the area, and it may not be the most lush, but its proximity to downtown Honolulu and timeless appeal make Diamond Head a perfect example of everything urban hiking should be.