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Amazing Urban Adventure: Where to Find the Outdoors in Town

8/11/17 by Matt Wastradowski

When most of us imagine the Great Outdoors, we envision landscapes that are dozens, if not hundreds, of miles removed from the nearest town: mountain rivers, thick forests, and spectacular views. Yet a number of cities throughout the United States have made names for themselves by embracing their close connection to nature: Some offer paddling opportunities in the shadow of skyscrapers, while others boast hiking trails with enviable vistas of downtown skylines.

Wherever you go in these eight cities, you’re never far from your next outdoors fix. Whether mountain biking in a world-famous town of 5,000 or floating a river through the middle of downtown, here are some of our favorite cities throughout the United States for getting a nature fix—all without ever leaving town.

1. Portland, Oregon

Portland’s Willamette River offers ample in-town paddling adventures.
Portland’s Willamette River offers ample in-town paddling adventures. Jonathan Miske

Wherever you go in Portland, you’re rarely far from some form of urban adventure. The Willamette River, which bisects the city, is popular with kayakers and paddlers, while paths lining the waterway provide a picturesque backdrop for runners and cyclists. Meanwhile, the Biketown bike share system shuttles riders around the Rose City, the Springwater Corridor Trail provides a quiet, tree-lined bike path through the city’s southeastern quadrant, and hikes on a handful of extinct volcanoes end with thrilling viewpoints of the surrounding Cascade peaks—all without ever leaving city limits.

But the crown jewel in Portland’s urban adventure core is Forest Park. Overlooking downtown and northwest Portland, the 5,157-acre park hosts more than 80 miles of soft-surface trails, fire lanes, and forest roads to hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Just a short walk or bus ride from downtown, this stunning oasis gives outdoor enthusiasts the chance to eye the regal St. Johns Bridge and downtown Portland skyline, visit the Audubon Society of Portland’s Nature Sanctuary, check out the historic Pittock Mansion, and more.

2. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga’s aptly named Lookout Mountain offers adventure and stunning views.
Chattanooga’s aptly named Lookout Mountain offers adventure and stunning views. Kathryn Crouch

In 2011 and 2015, Outside Magazine declared Chattanooga as the "best town ever."

No surprise why: It’s virtually brimming with adventure opportunities on land, sea, and air. Kayakers and stand-up paddlers love hitting the Tennessee River in downtown, hikers love the city vistas from atop Lookout Mountain, and just about everybody loves Prentice Cooper State Forest, which offers hiking, trail running, and backpacking routes, climbing opportunities, and pristine mountain biking trails. Meanwhile, don’t miss Raccoon Mountain for some of the region’s best singletrack trails, and hit up Tennessee Wall for hundreds of climbing routes. And for those looking to really kick things to new heights, Lookout Mountain is also a beloved spot for hang-gliders.

3. Asheville, N.C.

The Pisgah National Forest is one of Asheville’s most beloved outdoor destinations.
    Jeff Bartlett
The Pisgah National Forest is one of Asheville’s most beloved outdoor destinations. Jeff Bartlett

You probably already know Asheville for its creative blends of art, music, and beer. But the bustling town serves as the gateway to a seemingly endless supply of Appalachian adventure.

Thousands of miles of hiking trails blanket the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, while the 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest hosts hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails aimed at newbies and experienced riders alike. Climbers, meanwhile, love Looking Glass Rock for its blend of routes and Rumbling Bald for its bouldering opportunities.

Not to be outdone, the rivers and creeks running through town offer opportunities for casual, after-work paddling and adrenaline-pumping whitewater kayaking in equal measure. Best of all: However you’re worked up a sweat, you’re never far from a pint or two at one of 20 or so local breweries.

4. Boulder, Colorado

On the west side of Boulder, the Flatirons are a favorite local destination for hiking and trail running.
On the west side of Boulder, the Flatirons are a favorite local destination for hiking and trail running. Michael W Murphy

With more than 300 days of sunshine each year and a home base in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is famous for accessible outdoor adventure.

On the west side of town, the Flatirons are popular with hikers, trail runners, climbers, and mountain bikers for their city views, easy access, and craggy formations. Elsewhere, Indian Peaks provides backcountry skiing opportunities well into spring, Boulder Reservoir offers relaxing flatwater paddling in the midst of summer, and the Left Hand Canyon cycling route invites riders to marvel at the transition from high plains to the mountainous terrain for which Colorado is famous. Whatever activity you dig into, you’re sure to be in esteemed company, as Boulder boasts a dizzying number of resident pro athletes.

5. Boise, Idaho

The Sawtooth Wilderness is right in Boise’s backyard.
The Sawtooth Wilderness is right in Boise’s backyard. Miguel Vieira

If you were to draw a Venn Diagram of water-based adventure, mountain-bound outings, and high desert experiences, Boise would sit smack-dab in the middle. Stand in the middle of downtown Boise (preferably while perched atop a stand-up paddleboard), and you’ll spy the Sawtooth National Forest, Boise National Forest, Boise River, and expansive Idaho high desert. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover a 130-mile network of hiking and running trails at the edge of city limits, some of the region’s best waterways for canoeing and kayaking, whitewater rapids in the nearby Owyhee Canyonlands, challenging climbing routes at the Black Cliffs, and wintertime skiing and snowshoeing opportunities in the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area.

6. Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The Snake River, just outside Jackson Hole, is a great spot for flatwater paddling and whitewater rafting.
The Snake River, just outside Jackson Hole, is a great spot for flatwater paddling and whitewater rafting. Adam Fagen

Jackson Hole might be best-known for its epic skiing, but it’s also beloved for year-round recreation opportunities that draw weekend warriors and dedicated athletes alike.

VIsit in summer, and you’ll enjoy flatwater paddling and whitewater rafting on the nearby Snake River, floating Flat Creek through the center of town, and hiking the Cache Creek trail network, just two miles from downtown. Fall or winter visits mean skiing and snowshoeing at the world-famous Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Teton backcountry, and springtime brings with it running, road cycling, mountain biking, hiking, and more.

And that’s to say nothing of the recreation afforded at nearby Grand Teton National Park. The world-famous park promises backcountry camping, hiking, floating, paddling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and cycling—all just 10 minutes out of town.

7. Moab, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park is a mecca for mountain biking.
Dead Horse Point State Park is a mecca for mountain biking. Charlie Choc

Moab, Utah, might be the world’s most famous town of 5,000.

For starters, Moab borders the Colorado River, allowing thrill-seeking whitewater waters and placid paddlers alike to explore the region’s red-rock glory. Moab also hosts mountain bikers from around the world, drawn by Dead Horse Point State Park and other trails around the rocky region for their unmatched challenges and views.

And, not to be outdone, Moab sits at the doorstep of Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park (the latter of which is home to 2,000 stone arches). Mere minutes from town, the national parks offer up-close views of the region's stunning scenery through backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, canyoneering, camping, rock climbing, floating, and rafting.

8. New York City, New York

Grab a paddle to see Central Park in a whole new way.
Grab a paddle to see Central Park in a whole new way. Allie_Caulfield

New York City—home to high-rise skyscrapers, expansive subway systems, and the bright lights of Broadway—isn’t often associated with the great outdoors.

But active-minded urban dwellers know that the city offers a surprising array of ways to enjoy the outdoors. For starters, Central Park alone offers enough outdoor recreation to keep enthusiasts busy for weeks. The 843-acre park is crisscrossed with dozens of miles of walking and cycling paths, and at various times throughout the year, visitors can rent bicycles, rowboats, and gondolas; go ice skating or fishing; or try climbing on the park’s numerous boulders.

For all its grandeur, Central Park is just one highlight of New York’s outdoor adventure offerings. Hikers can get their nature fix at Inwood Hill Park, cyclists can hop in the saddle on the Westside Green Path, and aquatic enthusiasts can take stand-up paddleboards and kayaks into the Hudson River. And don’t forget about a scenic stroll from the High Line, an elevated, 1.45-mile-long park set atop an out-of-commission rail line.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.