See Your City In a New Light with an Urban Hike

Who says you need “rocks,” “dirt,” or “trees” to call your walk a hike?

If there’s anything the pandemic taught us, it’s the importance of embracing fresh air, whether you live near a pristine lake or a bustling subway station. Cities across the country are teeming with hidden green spaces, soaring bridges, abandoned railways, and unexplored neighborhoods, so there’s nothing stopping you from treating your metropolis like a concrete jungle, where skyscrapers replace trees and you don’t need a mountain to get some uphill action. So if you’re a city-dweller who finds traditional hiking to be overrated—The views are just someone else’s shoes, you think—consider seeking adventure right outside your apartment. Here are our favorite cities for tracing grids, from the Alameda Ridge of Portland to New York City’s highline.

people walking around sculpture on high line
The High Line

New York, New York

The city that never sleeps isn't known for its majestic natural beauty, and that’s exactly why this urban trail will blow your mind. Beginning at Inspiration Point just north of the George Washington Bridge, you can follow the westside waterfront greenway all the way down to Battery Park. While there’s no danger of being eaten by bears around these parts, bicyclists tend to fly on this trail, so stay on high alert. And if you’re keen on grabbing some classic NYC bites along the way, consider tacking on a self-guided food tour, which encompasses a number of green spaces, from the always-stunning Central Park to the art-filled High Line.

Portland, Oregon

One of the more attractive cities for earth-conscious folks, it’s no surprise that Portland has detailed urban trails mapped out for its outdoors-crazed residents. The Alameda Ridge and Stairs route, a set of hidden public stairways, is a cardio-lover’s dream. Everywhere you turn, there’s a new, longer staircase to conquer and an uphill climb to fight your way through.The best part is hitting up one of the city’s 500 food carts on your walk home, because nothing tops off a sweat session better than a big fat gourmet donut. And if it’s wildlife you’re after, take to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, a wetland running along the east bank of the Willamette River that’s inhabited by all kinds of birds, frogs, and salamanders.

people walking with view of golden gate bridge
Unsplash/Eirik Uhlen

San Francisco, California

Streetcars are for wimps and tourists. If you’re up for the challenge, San Francisco's seismic hills will set your calves ablaze. The architecture, gardens, and curious people-watching opportunities here will make any road you wander down a true adventure. Start with the no-brainer walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, where you can take in sweeping views of the downtown skyline, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. Looking for more nature? Jump onto the 2.4-mile segment of the gorgeous California Coastal Trail that runs through the Presidio. You won’t regret it.

Savannah, Georgia

For Southern charm and ripped quads, hit the cobblestone trails of Savannah, Georgia. Start at the City Market, take the stairs down to picturesque River Street, then loop back up and around the old Colonial homes and towering oak trees to smell the flowers in Forsyth Park. End your day at eerily beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery, famous for its starring role in the best-selling novel (and film), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Austin, Texas

Since 2014, the city of Austin has been working on developing more than 400 miles of urban trails. Though by today’s count, you’ll have to settle for just 60 miles of wacky, fun, and historically rich trekking. Check out the five-mile Tejano Healthy Walking Trail that runs through the Oswaldo AB Cantu/Pan American Recreation Center, neighborhood parks, churches, Hispanic-owned businesses, historic homes, and community murals. The hike will certainly spike your appetite, so finish it off with some good old Austin barbecue, refueling after all of those calories you just burned.


Miami, Florida

There’s no denying it—urban hiking in Miami gets hot. Set yourself up with lots of H2O and SPF for this five-mile Art Deco-strewn stoll. Start with "South of 5th Street," a historic and scenic area of South Beach, then navigate your way toward the Miami Beach Pier. Stop to feast your eyes on the outstanding skyline views as well as the overly tanned bodies playing beach volleyball. Once you’ve had your fill, head toward the Art Deco District, wander down Espanola Way, and make sure to hit the shops along Lincoln Road. Wrap it all up at the Miami Beach Botanic Gardens, where the admission is free and the flowers are fresh. Talk about mixing culture and cardio.

Los Angeles, California

No one walks in LA… like, ever. But if you must get off the congested highways and take the foot-paths less traveled, follow along with LA native, historian, and poet Mike Sonksen. He performs spontaneous live poetry as he guides viewers through hip, on-the-low neighborhoods like Little Tokyo, Leimert Park, Macarthur Park, and the Downtown Historic Core. For additional architectural splendor, trek through Barnsdall Art Park until you reach Hollyhock House, a historic gem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that sits atop a hill and offers panoramic views of the city.

Washington, DC

Millions of tourists flock to DC every year to explore the National Mall and gaze upon monuments to our nation’s past. But don’t get trapped in the scores of visitors: Take this 3.5-mile urban trek west of 14th Street to take in all of the patriotic sights while also enjoying room to breathe. Start at the Washington Monument and grab a quick view of the White House to the north, then head west to the National World War II Memorial. Find Constitution Gardens to the north by crossing the levee, then continue on to the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln Memorials. Afterwards, head east and stand between the Reflecting Pool and Independence Avenue to find the DC War Memorial. Take the 1.5-mile loop around the Tidal Basin to see the MLK Jr, FDR, and Jefferson Memorials, then end your march with by sidling up to the thousands of tulips that have been planted every year since 1969 at the Floral Library.

philadelphia waterfront with cherry blossom trees and skyline in the background
Visit Philly

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Luckily for those who live there, Philly boasts the iconic 70-mile Schuylkill River Trail, most of which hovers over abandoned railway lines and connects downtown Philadelphia with the suburbs. Get started near the outskirts of the University of Pennsylvania, then make your way through Museum Mile—where you can jog up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art if you’re feeling victorious—before taking on Boathouse Row and Fairmount Park. And if it’s an especially beautiful day, be sure to reward yourself with a leisurely meal at one of the city’s breezy, waterfront restaurants.

Chicago, Illinois

Not for the casual hiker, this 18.2-mile urban hike around the Chicago Lakefront will test both your stamina and the state of your sneakers. Get an early start on this beast, as you’ll be walking all the way from Rogers Park to Calumet Park. Along the way, you’ll sample slices of Chicago’s diverse culture, from people-watching at Hollywood Beach to fowl-watching at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. Before you call it quits, treat yourself to a big slice of Chicago Deep Dish. You’ll certainly deserve it.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Parvati Shallow is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram