12 of the best cities for hiking in the US
These cities serve up all the nightlife and culture you could ask for, plus ample access to heaps of world-class hiking trails
Not everyone who loves hiking wants to move to the mountains. I tried it myself for 12 years and loved every minute of it, but I have to admit there are some serious perks to being back in the world of urban living these days – proximity to an international airport, amazing restaurants, nightlife and, you know, culture just to name a few. But the absolute best of both worlds is when you can find a cosmopolitan city with easy access to great hiking trails where you can escape the hustle and bustle when you need a nature dunk. Fortunately, America is chock full of such places, and in this article we’ve selected some of the best cities for hiking in the US, where you can wander the hills in your hiking boots by day, and change into some kitten heels for martinis by sunset.
1. Denver, CO
It should come as no surprise to you to find the Mile High City on this list, but if you’ve never been here before, you might also be surprised to discover that Denver is not actually up in the Rockies at all but on a very flat plain. Not to worry, however, because all you need to do is hop on 70 heading west and in about 25 minutes you’ll be in the foothills town of Golden, where you can hike loads of great trails like North Table Mountain. Head a little further to Idaho Springs and hike St Mary’s Glacier, or you can hike a 14er – Mount Bierstadt is closest – with about an hour of driving. Check out the best hikes in Colorado near Denver for more ideas.
2. Seattle, WA
Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to Seattle than Pike Place Market and good coffee, not least of which is its proximity to some amazing hiking trails. You can hike Discovery Park without leaving the city limits, or head up to Snoqualmie Pass where loads of fantastic discoveries await, from Kendall Katwalk to Snow Lake. Snoqualmie Valley is home to Mount Si, less than 45 minutes away, if you want to train for hiking Rainier, and let's not forget the other nearby National Parks of Olympic and North Cascades. Check out our top picks for best hikes near Seattle for the scoop.
3. San Diego, CA
San Diego truly has it all – coastline, mountains, tons of National Forest and public land, and though you might think of it as a place for laid back beach vibes and great tacos, it has loads of great hiking trails on tap as well. Start with Los Peñasquitos Canyon and Waterfall or Torrey Pines State Park Loop to warm up, and when you’re ready for something more challenging, hit El Cajon for a strenuous climb with a wilderness feel.
4. Portland, OR
Portland might be surprisingly far from the state’s only National Park, Crater Lake, but there are plenty of trails both within the city limits and in the surrounding Mount Hood National Forest to whet your whistle. Head to Lower Punch Bowl Falls just 40 minutes away on the Columbia River or up to Angel’s Rest for splendid views. In under two hours, you can seek out a perfect reflection of Mount Hood in Mirror Lake or head to the coast and walk around Cape Falcon.
5. Salt Lake City, UT
Sure, it’s not Moab, but Salt Lake is surrounded on three sides by mountains, including the Sawatch Range, which is a subsidiary of the Rockies, and therefore you don’t really have to go far to hit the trail here. Neff’s Canyon and towering Mount Olympus are right in town, while Bell’s Canyon provides Rocky Mountain vistas and Lake Blanch and Red Pine Lake are pristine alpine lakes.
6. San Francisco, CA
San Francisco might be a rumbling metropolis of a city, but it’s also a gateway to several National Parks including Pinnacles which is only two hours away. Closer to home, head across the Golden Gate Bridge for a stroll through the big trees of Muir Woods, over to Lands End on the edge of the city or Point Reyes National Seashore for some rugged coastal walks or any one of the fabulous State Parks like Mount Tamalpais over in Marin County or Mount Diablo.
7. Tucson, AZ
Tucson is surrounded by five mountain ranges and flanked on either side by Saguaro National Park, so you’ll never run out of hiking trails to explore in this sublime southwest town. Explore the Mica View Loop Trail or the Garwood Trail in the Rincon Mountain district to the east, Seven Falls in the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north or switchback your way up to The Windows for splendid views of the city.
8. Boulder, CO
Boulder is less than an hour from Denver, but we’ve included it on this list because it’s even closer to other great hiking areas in addition to those around Colorado’s capital. You don’t have to leave the city limits to hike Mount Sanitas, Gregory Canyon or in Chautauqua State Park. For more of a challenge, hike one of Boulder’s five peaks such as Bear Mountain, or hop in the car and make your way to nearby Nederland, Eldorado Canyon State Park or Rocky Mountain National Park less than an hour away. For more ideas, check out the best hikes in Boulder.
9. Asheville, NC
Head inland from North Carolina’s famous beaches and you’ll find a hiker’s paradise in Asheville. Tucked into the western Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is close to the Appalachian Trail if you want to hike a section of the famed long distance walking path. If you prefer to climb, nearby Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and you shouldn’t miss the winding trails in Pisgah National Forest.
10. Phoenix, AZ
When you think of Phoenix, you might imagine cooling off by the pool during the summer’s intense heat, but go in winter and you’ll discover some fabulous desert hiking in warm weather that doesn’t require a four-hour drive to the Grand Canyon. Hike among the rock formations in South Mountain Park or Pinnacle Peak Park, clamber up Camelback Mountain for views of the city or explore the saguaros and petroglyphs of White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
11. Las Vegas, NV
Most of us can handle about 48 hours in Vegas before we need to get out, and the surrounding mountains provide just the escape you need from air conditioned casinos and endless buffets. You forget that you’re slap bang in the middle of the desert and surrounded by red rock formations – head to Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park and get away from the crowds.
12. Los Angeles, CA
We’ll admit, the endless traffic jams can make the thought of leaving LA daunting, but don’t forget that the massive urban sprawl juts up against the equally massive sprawl of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. Yeah, sure, you can hike up to the Hollywood sign and Jim Morrison’s cave, but with a little effort, you can find heavenly trails in Malibu’s Corral Canyon and Altadena, climb Echo Mountain or Mount Baldy or head north and discover the geological wonders of the Vasquez Rocks Trail. Don’t forget too that the iconic Joshua Tree National Park is only two hours east.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.