As the weather warms and we shed our spring jackets for summer shorts, it can be tempting to while away our weekends drinking on a sunny patio. As fun as ‘rosé all day’ can be, sometimes escaping the city and immersing ourselves in nature is just what we need.
Indeed, studies show that spending time outdoors can help reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as lower stress levels. Overall, people exposed to a lot of nature are healthier and more relaxed.
Whether you live in the bustling Big Apple or the streets of Hot-lanta, there are a medley of different parks and trails to explore all easily accessible via car or public transit. So pack some snacks, lace up your boots, and get ready to discover the best day hiking trips the U.S. has to offer.
Phoenix- Camelback Mountain (Cholla Trail)
If you’re looking for a challenge, don’t mind the heat and are keen to witness the stark beauty of the desert, you can’t do better than hiking in Phoenix. Arizona’s capital city provides a wealth of nearby hiking options that will intrigue even the most experienced hikers.
Our personal favorite can’t-miss hike of the area? Camelback Mountain. This stunning vista is iconic to Phoenix and only 20 minutes from downtown. Hikers can choose between two equally difficult trails (Echo Canyon and Cholla) both which boast a 1,420-foot climb to the summit, which you guessed it: resembles the hump of a camel’s back!
The Cholla Trail totals 3 miles (one mile longer than Echo Canyon) but has a steadier incline. Keep your eyes peeled for native desert fauna such as the desert tortoise, chuckwalla lizard, cottontail rabbits, and rattlesnakes. Your reward after this strenuous climb? A beautiful panoramic view of what recently became the fifth-largest city in the U.S.
Los Angeles – Griffith Park Observatory (West Observatory Trail)
Los Angeles may be the city of the silver screen, but it would be a shame to spend your time in SoCal at the cinema when sunshine, natural beauty, and epic hikes beckon.
The Griffith Park Observatory offers a dash of classic Hollywood with a healthy serving of outdoor recreation. Griffith Park is home not only to the legendary ‘La La Land’ sunset dance scene (and some picturesque views of the Hollywood sign) but a bevy of well-maintained trails.
At over 4,300 acres and just 5 miles from downtown LA, Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. The West Observatory Trail is perfect for a quick and easy day hike, with a modest elevation gain of 580 feet and a round trip length of 2 miles.
Soak in the art deco architecture, Hollywood History, and beautiful views of the Observatory at the culmination of your hike. If science is your thing, take some extra time to explore the free museum and check their schedule for special events.
San Francisco – Sutro district of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (Land’s End Trail)
With miles of gorgeous coastline, varied topography, and sublime ocean views, it’s no wonder hiking is popular with San Franciscans and Bay Area residents. For an ideal escape from the Golden Gate City, take an afternoon and hit a trailhead or two.
The Land’s End Trail at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the perfect way to ease into seeing the Bay Area sights while breaking a sweat. This 3.4-mile trail is moderately challenging and serves up scenic views of both the Pacific Ocean, the historic baths, and Eagle’s Point Overlook. Fun fact, the Spanish named Land’s End westernmost point Point Lobos for the numerous ‘lobos marinos,’ or sea wolves that used to sun themselves on the rocky shores.
Philadelphia- Wissahickon Valley Park (Orange Trail)
Looking to work off that Philly cheesesteak? Unbeknownst to locals and tourists alike, the city of brotherly love contains swaths of natural beauty in which to hike, bike, or simply relax in solitude. Wissahickon Valley Park is a veritable seven-mile sanctuary within the city limits, containing over 57 miles of trails and a 1,800-acre gorge. For a substantial hike that will lead you over rugged, less traveled terrain (and by the spookily named Devil’s Pool) try the Orange Trail. At 5.8 miles, this trail is best suited for intermediate-level hikers.
Another note: Wissahickon Valley Park is designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. This means owls, chickadees, titmice, and five species of woodpecker are seen with great regularity.
Atlanta – Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area (Arabia Mountaintop Trail)
Southern charm and unbridled outdoor beauty are in abundance in Atlanta, where just a mere 30 minutes from midtown you can experience the diverse scenery of Arabia Mountaintop Trail. If you are hiking with the family, this trail is only 1.3 miles roundtrip and beginner-friendly.
What Arabia lacks in difficulty, it more than makes up for with stunning scenery. Exposed granite, fields of wildflowers, and 360-degree views of Arabia Lake will enchant any outdoors enthusiast. For an especially epic photo op, try the hike after a rainstorm. You’ll have the privilege of seeing the beautiful cloud reflections in the shallow water pools on the mountain’s cratered summit.
Baltimore – Patapsco Valley State Park (Cascade Falls Trail)
Summer heat got you in a funk? Cool down and take a reprieve from the monuments and historical charm of Baltimore with a refreshing hike through Cascade Falls Trail.
Located in Patapsco Valley State Park, you’ll find waterfall sightings just 1,000 feet into the 2.6-mile loop trail. This moderate level hike offers a 500-foot elevation gain, a rock staircase, and chances to wade through a shallow creek. Bonus: take a dip in the Patapsco River following your hike!
New York – Van Cortlandt Park (John Muir Trail)
We love the Big Apple for many reasons: top-notch za, unique art, superb museums, and the fact that you don’t even need to leave the city to get in a satisfying hike! For one of the best urban hikes, grab your Metro Card and head uptown to Van Cortlandt Park. This Bronx-based natural oasis is the fourth-largest park in NYC and also happens to contain the country’s oldest municipal golf course.
The John Muir Trail is 1.5 miles and is the only trail of the park to traverse the steep terrain of the Northeast forest from east to west, showcasing the native red oak, sweet gum, and tulip trees. Marvel at the beauty of this terrain as you travel through three ecologically distinct forests. A slightly more demanding option is the Cass Gallagher Trail, which will take you by the Riverdale Equestrian Center.
Raleigh, North Carolina – William B. Umstead Park (Sycamore Trail)
As the popularity of hiking continues to rise in the City of Oaks, it can be tough to find a quiet moment on the trails. William B. Umstead Park might be North Carolina’s most visited park, but due to its massive 5,000 acres of forest and lakes, it’s the perfect place to experience forest-filled solitude. Conveniently bordering the edges of Raleigh, Cary, and Morrisville, the park presents visitors with nearly unlimited trail options.
Ready to go to the distance? Try out the Sycamore Trail, a 7.2-mile loop that features moderate elevation gains and hugs the Sycamore Creek. Pro tip: don’t leave the park without exploring the stunning chainsaw art created out of a 25-foot-long fallen Oak Tree on the Graylyn multi-use trail.
Whether you live in the succulent-heavy desert or the lush oak and hickory-filled forests of the Northeast, hiking is a fun, meditative, healthy way to enjoy nature. When you don’t even need to leave your city to do it, it’s also convenient.
So gather your public transit card or a set of wheels, a few friends, and plenty of water to get ready to hit those trails!