These are the U.S. Cities That Outdoor Lovers Need on Their Bucket List
Pack your hiking boots and put your phone on airplane mode.
From sea to shining sea, the U.S. is filled with wild spaces not far from urban settings — and they’re the perfect place to reset and reconnect with nature. So we curated some of our favorite cities to get outside in. Whether you visit for the jaw-dropping views and inspiring hikes, or the prime camping and beautiful al fresco restaurants, these cities are ready for outdoorsy adventures.
While not exactly a city by most of the world’s standards, by Montana standards, Whitefish is downright cosmopolitan. Even better: It has all the conveniences of a city and all the nature of being at the gate of the wilderness. It’s hard to find a place more beautiful than the region of Glacier National Park, a staggering and ferocious portrait of the vastness of the Americas. Start the day hiking at Glacier and come back to Whitefish for beers and mountain biking. Snag a reservation to stay at this luxury treehouse, too, to really feel at one with nature. With dozens of trailheads leading out right from town, there’s no need to give up the creature comforts of city life in order to get deep into Montana’s no-man’s-land. We recommend bear spray, though, just in case.
New Orleans, Louisiana
While most of us think of New Orleans as defined by the French Quarter, the Crescent City sits on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, the banks of the Mississippi, and is just an airboat ride away from the Gulf of Mexico. Those thousands of acres of green space blooming with tropical flowers and ancient oak trees make New Orleans a great place for a stroll or bike ride. It may be known for being an enchanting (and intoxicating) city, but its nearby environs are equally as stunning; Louisiana is home to more than 40% of the country’s wetlands, after all. We recommend a picnic in New Orleans City Park and a boat ride in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve — but don’t feed the alligators! For your stay, the Olivier House Hotel is centrally located and has a pool, if you want to clock in more time outdoors.
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As the jewel of the Front Range, Denver has access to some of the most remarkable sights in the country. There’s the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, loads of breweries and live entertainment, plus, it’s one of the closest big cities to the wilderness. From here, you’re less than two hours to the epic Rocky Mountain National Park, not to mention a number of great hiking, mountain-biking, and camping spots in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Golden Gate Canyon State Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. If you want to stay right in the middle of the action though, look no further than the rustic, yet totally modern, Juniper Mountain House in Evergreen. FYI: Locals complain that Colorado has gotten too crowded, and we’re not here to dispute that. Get up early or go in the off-season for the least amount of people on the trails.
Chicago has everything a world-class big city should offer, and it takes full advantage of its prime location on the shores of Lake Michigan. After a morning of exploring the concrete jungle and all of its many wonders (shopping, food, museums, etc.), head to one of the many beaches for a dip in the lake. The Drake has a prime location and views, if you want the best of both worlds. There are biking and walking trails lining the lakefront, from downtown into the suburbs, and places such as Grant Park and the Burnham Nature Sanctuary inspire with the preservation of local wildlife. Just an hour southeast is the stunning Indiana Dunes State Park, where wilderness coexists with the hustle of the sprawling Chicago ’burbs.
A stunning mid-South city with charm, entertainment, and lots and lots and lots of recreation at its doorstep, Nashville has been a regional travel darling for decades. This musical city is blessed with year-round pleasant temperatures (granted, a bit toasty in the summer) and the Cumberland River rolling through its downtown. Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Natural Area preserves the stunning nature of this region, with flora and fauna alike. Fall Creek State Park and its beloved waterfalls and hiking trails are just a short drive away. Backcountry camping at Savage Gulf is close enough to the city to make it part of your trip, with 15,590 acres of wilderness. If you prefer to stay in modern digs, the Germantown Inn is right in the middle of Nashville’s entertainment district.
Situated on the sunrise side of Lake Superior, Duluth is one of the liveliest cities in the upper Great Lakes region — and one of the most outdoors-friendly in the country. Plus, in the summer, you don’t have to worry about being tough enough to handle the cold. Duluth is known for its vibrant arts community and being surrounded by some of the world’s natural wonders, with Lake Superior as the centerpiece (and what a centerpiece it is). Plus, if you call the Solglimt Lakeshore B&B your home base, a dip in the lake is just a short walk from your room. Head north on Highway 61 to watch the sunset over the lake at the towering cliffs at Palisade Head, popular with climbers.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
The Organ Mountains tower over this medium-size town just north of the Mexico border. Internationally prized by climbers, these mountains are great for hiking and mountain-biking as well. They also happen to be bordering one of the most remarkable natural places in the country: White Sands National Monument, a sea of gypsum sand that reflects the blue bird New Mexican skies like freshly fallen snow. The San Andres National Wildlife Refuge abounds with elk, bighorn sheep, and other animals native to the Chihuahuan Desert. Bunk down at the Courtyard by Marriott Las Cruces at NMSU for all the amenities you need (pool included) when you’re not exploring. While you’re in town, don’t miss out on the state’s famous green chilies. It’s not an easy place to leave.
This former steel town sits at the confluence of three rivers: The Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio. One of the Rust Belt’s most glowing and lively cities, it also boasts more than 1,700 acres of public green space, including the popular Frick Park. Cyclists are in heaven here, as long as they don’t mind the hills, and kayakers in their glory with the ability to explore all the way to the incomparable Allegheny National Forest (serious paddlers only). While you may be here to explore the great outdoors, treat yourself with a stay at the Mansions on Fifth Hotel, which is close by to the Botanical Gardens and many parks. Pittsburgh’s many parks often host movie nights, concerts, and other types of entertainment, too.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a fun city just a short drive south from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and all the glories that lie within. Whether it’s hiking or camping in the Smokies, whitewater rafting in Nantahala National Forest ,or biking around town and paddleboarding on the French Broad River, this city is best experienced outdoors. At night, lay your head at Hotel Indigo in the city’s downtown — and still take in mountain views. Dozens of lakes sit outside of Asheville, inviting you for a dip in the humid summer months, as well.
We in the lower 48 tend to think of Alaska as another country, but indeed it is ours. Juneau is our favorite West Coast city, mostly because it’s one of the wildest cities in the U.S. Bald eagles, black bears, whales — I mean, come on. Juneau is all about choosing your own adventure. Cabins, camping, and fishing can be found at Tongass National Forest, and from Juneau you are ready to explore the state’s infinite mountains, rivers, and passion for life out of doors. Or, book your stay with PayPal and Expedia at the Silverbow Inn, which is conveniently located in the downtown.