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The ‘nature vs. city’ debate seems to always divide our travel plans. Should we escape to the green oasis in the hills, or be culture junkies in concrete jungles? Thankfully, the cities on this list do a great job of blurring the line between the two. Urban hiking is just what it sounds like — finding and exploring the most stunning natural spaces without getting too far from city limits. If that sounds up your alley, here are the top cities around the world to go urban hiking.
San Francisco is notoriously hilly, making it miserable for everyday commuters but perfect for the eager urban hiker. With over 630 public stairways, 40 hills, and 70 miles of designated hiking trails, there’s more than enough to keep you busy here. We’d also recommend just finding a hilly street with a view of the harbor and doing some interval training up and down. You may not feel like you’ve covered much ground but your pedometer will say otherwise.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro lays claim to a pretty important accolade in the department of urban hiking: the largest urban forest in the world. Covering seven percent of the city’s entire surface area, Tijuca Forest is filled with tons of wildlife and lush green spaces, and it isn’t just flat either — the park has tons of mountains. Climb up to Tijuca peak, which is the tallest in the park, and definitely head up Corcovado to get the priceless view of the Christ the Redeemer statue.
With its rolling hills and views of the water and the towering skyline, Hong Kong makes for a perfect destination for avid urban hikers. Dragon’s Back hike usually gets all the credit (it was recently named Times Magazine’s best urban hike in Asia) but we also recommend heading to Lion Rock Country Park. Both have incredible views of the massive urban metropolis and out to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Lion Rock Country Park is a two-mile trek that can be done a few times if you’re up for a good workout.
Chicago deserves to be in this conversation because of its 18.2-mile lakefront trail. Along this route, you’ll be walking from north to south — from Rogers Park to Calumet Park — and you’ll stroll by small slices of Chicago culture along the way. Pull over to do some people-watching at Hollywood Beach, check out the bird sanctuary at Montrose, and join the African drum circles in Jackson Park. When you’re finished, treat yourself to a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza — you’ll deserve it. For an alternative, check out the Montrose Beach Tour, which is one of the few places with a hill and a view in Chicago.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town’s Table Mountain towers over the beachside city as one of the most iconic geographical features in the world. Because the mountain is so easy to access from the city (it can be reached by gondola or cable car), it falls in the urban hiking category. If you’re feeling iffy about your hiking skills, skip the more dangerous and popular India Venster path in favor of the Pipe Track. Whether you summit when it’s clear or socked in by the clouds, both are amazing experiences.
It’s genuinely tough to beat the Pacific Northwest in the outdoor adventure department. Seattle is the region’s reigning king, and it’s easy to see why. Some of the top urban hikes in Seattle include Discovery Park, Washington Park Arboretum, Stairway Walks, and Seward Park. Each of these gems has some combination of nature, waterfalls, perfect rainforest climate, and view of Mt. Rainier, as well as wildflowers come springtime.
New York City
People get pretty cooped up in New York, which is why the city has a great handful of urban parks to escape and get a slice of nature. Central Park gets the most attention with over 250 acres and 136 wooded acres and tons of maintained trails, so we recommend starting there.
The High Line in Manhattan is another popular spot, but real New Yorkers flock to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Take the Midwood Trail, a bosky trail with a big canopy and a few waterfalls. While these spots definitely err on the side of “urban” rather than “hiking,” they’re nevertheless great places to get outdoors for a few hours.
Auckland, New Zealand
When have you ever been able to walk across the length of an entire country? New Zealand’s “Coast to Coast Walkway” hikes across the country’s capital of Auckland from Waitemata to Manukau. It’s also the most visually diverse spot on this list. On the walkway you’ll pass by harbors, restored historic buildings, the site of an old indigenous (Maori) village, five volcanic sites, up and over a 600-foot ridge, gardens, and tons of other interesting geographical landforms. The walkway is one of the reasons the Kiwis take the edge in the Australia vs New Zealand debate.
With nearly year-round warm weather and a culture that celebrates the outdoors, Austin has become a haven for keen urban hikers. Austin doesn’t have too many hills or natural geographical features, but the public works department is not messing around when it comes to awesome infrastructure projects.
Right now Austin is working on developing a network of 300 miles of urban trails. With over 20,000 acres of green spaces in the city alone, you’re bound to find a route or two. We recommend the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail and the five-mile Tejano Healthy Walking Trail where you can spot some of the best architecture in the Austin skyline. We also recommend immediately canceling out that carb-loss activity with some classic Texas BBQ afterward.
From easy breezy coastal walks on well-paved sidewalks to full-day jaunts that send you into the Australian bush, Sydney has more than a few options for urban (and not so urban) hiking. For those just looking for a quick stroll, opt for the Hermitage Foreshore Walk. It won’t take more than 30 minutes. For the more enthusiastic, check out the Bondi to Coogee walk that lasts about 2.5 hours.
Urban hiking in Los Angeles usually gets a bad wrap due to the heat, smog, and the traffic endured to reach your destination. And to be clear, no-one walks in LA, ever. The thing that sets the city apart, however, are the cool neighborhoods. Spend an afternoon wandering around hip spots like Little Tokyo, Leimert Park, MacArthur Park, and the Downtown Historic Core. Pull over for delicious ethnic cuisine, funky bookstores, record stores, and whatever else strikes your fancy. If you want to get out of town for a bit, skip the all-too-popular Runyon Canyon and opt for the 2.1-mile Deb’s Park Loop (and time your ending for sunset).
If you’re new to hiking, this Hiking for Beginners guide has all the information and resources you need to set out on your next adventure!