Ten of the Best Urban Hikes in the USA


, by Charlie Boscoe

Looking over Los Angles at night from the Hollywood sign. Photography by: Shutterstock.

The words "urban" and "hiking" aren't usually used in the same sentence, but even in America's most densely populated concrete jungles, there are some beautiful walks. The primary interest along some of them is culture; on others, it is scenery, and some - like the ten listed here - combine both. 

Trying to document every great urban hike in America would be a mammoth task, so we've narrowed it down to ten routes in ten cities. Talking about hiking is almost as fun as doing it, and there's potential for plenty of debate about which hikes could/should have been included, but eventually, we had to settle on a list - and here it is!

Elliott Bay Marina Path, Seattle

Starting out in the Pacific North-West's biggest city, this is one of those hikes that has just about everything. The trip begins at the iconic (and recently revamped) Seattle ferry terminal, with the Sky Tower looming over you, and then winds its way along the waterfront to Elliott Bay. The views of Seattle city center, and out across Puget Sound, are stunning, and there's a good dose of cultural interest en route as well. 

Downtown Seattle in the evening light. Photography by: Edmund Lowe Photography / Shutterstock.

For those who reach Elliott Bay and, having admired the view for a while, still want to hike further, continuing up to Discovery Park via some sections of road walking is a great way to extend an already superb hike.

Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood Sign

The most iconic urban landmark on Earth...? The Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower might have something to say about that claim, but the Hollywood sign is undoubtedly a world-famous sight. There's no way to drive to the famous sign, and those wanting to stand on the summit of Mount Lee (right behind the legendary nine white letters) will have to hike there.

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The best and most iconic route to the top is from Griffith Observatory, a well-known LA landmark in its own right. There are countless variations between Griffith Observatory and Mount Lee, so don't stress too much about being precisely on route and just enjoy the ride. Regardless of which route you take to reach the top, the view is staggering, and the sheer scale of Greater Los Angeles is utterly overwhelming!

San Francisco Bay Trail

If the stroll we listed at the northern end of the West Coast was an easy one, our suggestion further to the south is anything but! The San Francisco Bay Trail is never technically hard, but its length makes it a multi-day outing for all but the best ultra runners. 

The trail begins by the Marin Islands and then meanders south past epic sights (both maritime and historical), over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the city center, and down to San Francisco International Airport. Doing this trail over four or five days and staying in interesting parts of town is a superb and unusual use of a hiking trip.

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Photography by: Travel Stock / Shutterstock.

Camelback Mountain via Echo Canyon Trail

Phoenix experiences blistering temperatures in mid-summer, but it's a beautiful hiking destination outside the hottest months of the year. There are countless options for hikes, but the trip up Camelback Mountain via Echo Canyon Trail is one of the best in the region. The trail is definitely not a pushover, with a steep gradient and plenty of prickly plants ready to spike any hiker who loses their balance! The payoff for your efforts and potential puncture wounds is a commanding view across the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and the wild peaks that lie to the north of the urban sprawl.

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Mount Wire Loop

Salt Lake City has a solid claim to be the best hiking city in the US - mountains surround it, and there are even great hikes on its flatter parts, such as Antelope Island. The hike up Mount Wire is one of the closest to downtown Salt Lake (which is well worth exploring thanks to the highly unusual architecture to which it is home) and provides an exceptional view of the city and its hilly surroundings. The hike also leads you alongside some breathtaking wildflowers and, if you're lucky/unlucky, mountain lions and rattlesnakes!

Missoula Riverfront Trail

Comfortably the most straightforward hike on this list, the leisurely stroll around Missoula's Clark Fork River is a cruisy way to get some fresh air and sample some western culture. The trail is paved, easy to follow, and completely non-technical, so it's suitable for the entire family. The ambiance of the trip through Missoula Center is pleasant, and the views of the surrounding mountains are enjoyable, but this is a hike focused primarily on culture. Listing every historically interesting landmark on the route would be a lengthy endeavor, but suffice to say that if you're interested in the history of this wild state, you'll enjoy this route.

Missoula and the Clark Fork River at daybreak. Photography by: Keegan Connell / Shutterstock

Quarry Trail and Eagle Rock Loop

With a river running through it and grassy peaks looming above, Boise has a similar feel to Missoula. The cities are of comparable size, and both sit in states renowned for their sheer scale and wild feel.

The hike described here—the Quarry Trail and Eagle Rock Loop—is straightforward and only marginally tougher than the Missoula Riverfront Trail. It leads along an easy trail and provides excellent views over this traditionally western yet cosmopolitan-feeling city.

Cherry Creek Trail: Confluence Park to Cherry Creek State Park

Speaking of Western, cosmopolitan cities, Denver springs to mind. Half a century ago, it was a relatively small city but has grown exponentially into one of Western America's major urban centers.

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A combination of a dry climate (a little-known fact is that Denver gets more annual sunshine hours than LA), easy access to wilderness, and a buzzing cultural scene have made it an increasingly popular place to live, and hikes such as the Cherry Creek Trail are examples of what is so appealing about the city. The trail leads quickly from the city center along a remarkable section of greenway to Cherry Creek Reservoir. Doing it in one day is a tough challenge, so breaking it up with a night in one of Denver's fun suburban areas such as Glendale is highly recommended.

Central Park Outer Loop 

Central Park is a remarkable feature, and whoever designated it as unavailable for development should be congratulated. New York real estate is amongst the most expensive in the world, and yet there sits a park right in the middle of it all, designated as a leisure place. Long may it last.

Central Park at sunset. Photography by: T Photography / Shutterstock

The classic long hike at Central Park is the Outer Loop, and for six miles, it mixes huge city vistas with some remarkably quiet sections. If you want the ultimate version of urban hiking - this is it!

Boston Walking City Trail

Despite having a combination of culture, sea views, and green spaces, Boston wasn't - for some reason - considered a hiking destination until relatively recently. Part of the reason for the transformation was the effort made by local journalist Miles Howard, who was instrumental in creating the four-stage Boston Walking City Trail. It could be done in a single day, but savoring it over the course of four is far better and allows you to sample some of the city's historic hotels and restaurants en route.