Ah, hiking. It’s good for our mental health, physical well-being, and can put us deeply in touch with our most primal roots. But if you find yourself settling down or spending long periods of time in big cities, you may think that you can’t enjoy a nice hike along a well traveled trail. But this is misguided thinking. And no, I’m not talking about “urban hikes”. In many of the country’s biggest cities, you can escape the busy streets and get lost in nature’s greenery.
You just need to know where to look.
Let’s check out some of the trails that New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco have to offer.
Of all the cities on this list, NYC is probably the last you would expect to offer some kind of hiking opportunity. And with a nickname like the Concrete Jungle, it’s pretty easy to see why. However, the five boroughs we know today were previously heavily inhabited forested areas. With conservation efforts and a sense of community stewardship, some of the natural settings of the old city have been preserved. If you’re vacationing in the most dense borough, Manhattan, go above the midtown tourist traps and check out Inwood Hill Park, in the northernmost neighborhood on the Island. It is a casual hike that runs about two miles, and offers sweeping views of the Hudson River. It’s also full of history, too— it was once inhabited by the Lenape Indians and may have been the place where Peter Minuit bought the island.
If you venture north of Manhattan and wind up in the Bronx, another trail awaits you. Pelham Bay Park is home to the Kazimiroff Nature Trail, a two mile hike that is home to a variety of New York flora and fauna. It also has the benefit of taking you through the beautiful Hunter Island! If you are pressed for time, there are also 30- and 45- minute trails that provide sweeping views of the Long Island Sound.
Queens has some nice hiking adventures available, too. And it makes sense when you consider just how big it is! There’s urban areas and residential ones, but also a solid amount of wildlife preserves and refuges. When visiting, you can check out Alley Pond Park, which offers a glimpse into the area’s geological history. It was formed by glaciers some 15,000 years ago, and boulders in the area are remains of that era. It has some fairly diverse wildlife too— the old glaciers mean that freshwater ecosystems are humming with activity alongside the expected saltwater ones.
The nation’s third largest city also has some great outdoor offerings. Like Alley Pond, you can thank ancient glacial patterns for the stunning moraines at Swallows Cliff Woods. At just under ten miles, the hike takes you through the nesting areas of songbirds, and terrain that varies from prairie to woodland to marshes. It is perhaps most famed though, for the “front lawn”, which leads to a steep 100 foot stair climb. The top of the stairs are also the top of Swallow Cliff North, and is the origin point for a famed toboggan run— so don’t forget to bring a sled!
Waterfall Glen is like hiking in a dream, and it lives up to the name. A 10 mile loop-trail will take out above the Des Plaines River and near calming waterfalls. If you like to soak in wildlife on your trips, this is one trail that is good to pass up. Waterfall Glen is home to over 740 different plants and 300 different mammal species
Though technically not in Chicago, getting to Starved Rock Trail in Utica, Illinois isn’t difficult when you have a car. While most of the midwest has a reputation as flat, this park is anything but that. On these hikes, you’ll see everything from waterfalls to gorgeous sandstone canyons. Bring a camera to capture the view!
While the city has developed a reputation for a tech hub, there are more than a few spots that allow you to disconnected and explore that natural side of things. Take Alamere Falls for example. While it’s not the easiest hike on this list, it allows you to take in the magnificence of a tidal fall. They’re waterfalls that empty right into the ocean, and are pretty rare. After the hike, why not relax on the beach or take a dip in the Pacific?
The Cataract Falls give you some serious motivation to keep climbing higher. With every passing section, you are rewarded with yet another view of a gorgeous fall. The trail is densely blanketed with moss, and trees abound, giving it an ethereal vibe. While the each fall empties into a pool, swimming is prohibited, because the falls serve as a source of drinking water
Elliot Creek Falls provide hikers with a short, easy, and sandy trail. To check out this fall, start at Año Nuevo State Park and head south. The waterfall is particularly enjoyable after a long rain, and sometimes fossils even turn up nearby.