4 Great U.S. Cities for Urban Hiking
Sightseeing by foot satisfies two wellness traveler needs: exercise and adventure
March 9, 2023
Crowds and traffic congestion may plague national park trailheads, but pristine woodlands, coasts and mountains aren’t the only hubs for hiking. Urban getaways brim with mapped and do-it-yourself trail systems—and they’re booming among health-conscious city-goers.
The concept, known as urban hiking, involves swapping rural landscapes for an adventurous jaunt through city streets and parks. It reaps the health benefits of outdoor walking—cardio, endurance and mood-boosting—without the time commitment or gear required to access more rugged terrain.
Data proves its allure. In the past six years, outdoor adventure app AllTrails has watched the usage of its urban trail listings more than double. The pandemic boosted the trend even more.
“During the pandemic, walking was among the few safe activities we could still do while enjoying each other’s company,” says Meaghan Praznik, head of communications for AllTrails. “During this time of high stress, there was a massive reawakening to how accessible, fun and cathartic walking is.”
It’s also a great way to get to know a new city—something I first realized after moving to Boston for graduate school. With no car, limited time and a shoebox-sized studio apartment that couldn’t store hiking gear, I turned to city streets to fuel my adventure cravings. I mapped an urban-hiking list across all Boston neighborhoods, then did the same when I moved to London, New York City and Cincinnati, and on countless travels in between.
Sightseeing by foot satisfies two wellness traveler needs: exercise and adventure. Those aren’t the only benefits for urban hikers, though. Praznik says urban hiking provides an environmentally conscious form of transportation. It also comes with a low barrier of entry. “Urban hiking is an accessible and easy way to get outside and explore new areas without the investment in gear and travel that’s often needed for larger hiking and backpacking adventures.”
According to Praznik, countries such as France, England, Japan and Singapore boast some of the best urban trail systems in the world. The U.S. isn’t far behind—especially as cities across the country invest in new urban-trail infrastructure. Here are some of the top U.S. urban hiking locations, according to data from AllTrails.
Boston’s compact size—less than 50 square miles—makes it perfect for efficient sightseeing hikes. Try urban hiking along the Charles River, where a 20-mile reservation oscillates from city views to historic attractions, with stops at Harvard, the waterfront Hatch Shell and Paul Revere Park. For a shorter outing, follow the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, an iconic path that links the city’s American Revolution sites. Or challenge yourself with Boston’s 25-mile Walking City Trail. The project debuted in 2022 and connects 14 neighborhoods with parks, gardens and greenways.
Wild hikes abound in the mountains outside Denver, but you don’t have to leave the Mile High City to find adventure. Take in views and admire tranquil gardens on a three-mile loop around City Park, home to the local zoo and science museum. Embrace the city’s buzzing craft brewery scene with 2.5 miles of stops on the Denver Beer Trail, from Union Station up to the River North Art District (RiNo) and beyond. Or hike a stretch of the 40-mile Cherry Creek Regional Trail, which runs along its namesake waterway from downtown Denver into the suburbs.
San Francisco’s hikes may be urban, but the ocean, wooded areas and sandy backdrops add a dose of wilderness to those city trails. Enjoy beloved waterfront attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf and its resident sea lions on the city’s portion of the more than 300-mile Bay Trail, which winds along San Francisco Bay. Take a roughly four-mile hike from downtown, passing through the palm-dotted Presidio national park, then stroll across the 1.7-mile Golden Gate Bridge, which is open to pedestrians from dawn to dusk. Or sign up for a guided city adventure with Urban Hiker, a local company that offers private and group tours.
Vitamin D is a near guarantee on city hiking trips in Miami. Get your sun, steps and sights in with urban hikes such as the seven-mile Miami Financial District Walking Tour, which starts at the lively 32-acre Bayfront Park and includes historic, pop culture and architectural attractions along the way. Heading to Miami Beach? Explore the palm-fringed Art Deco District on a four-mile out-and-back stroll. Or clear your head with the sound of crashing waves along the Beach-walk, an attraction-packed paved trail that follows the roughly eight-mile length of the island.