Big cities and outdoor living might seem at odds with one another. Many population hubs are often a series of cramped concrete quarters. They may be appealing in their own rights, such as for business, culture, entertainment, and general amenities, but how about easy access to fresh air and pristine nature? Well, some places have struck a satisfying balance. Sometimes this is due to the exceptional geography, while other cities make a conscious effort to create outdoor spaces and experiences. These are eleven such cities in the United States that are ideal for outdoor living.
Boulder is the epitome of “outdoorsy.” For starters, it experiences 300 sunny days each year. Plus, there are over 300-miles of bike and multi-use paths, as well as 45,000 acres of preserved open spaces throughout the city. In the near vicinity, there are 150-miles of trails (great for hiking, mountain biking, and snow-shoeing) that inch into the inspiring surroundings. Those with a little more pep in their step can even “bag a 14er” (i.e., one of Colorado‘s 58 mountain peaks above 14,000-feet). This is a trying yet doable and always rewarding experience for locals and visitors alike. Many excellent options are but a short drive out of town.
As long as you can handle some rain and maybe even learn to appreciate it, Seattle will deliver the outdoor goods. The only thing separating the city from the Pacific Ocean is the beautiful expanse of Olympic National Park. A short ferry ride across Elliott Bay and the East Passage, which itself is a great way to get out on the water, connects the seaport to the massive island that is centered around the iconic, snow-capped Mount Olympus. Within the city limits, one will discover 485 parks featuring a combination of beachfront paths, enchanting forests, and rich garden displays. Just West of Seattle, water lovers will find the sizable Lake Washington and its cute neighbor, Lake Sammamish.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge is a beautiful, fun, and novelty resort city located just outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The setting and set-up are well-tuned to family entertainment. Hiking through the lush, rolling hills of the park is always a great go-to. Perhaps even cap it off with a panoramic view from atop Clingmans Dome. There are plenty of carnival rides for a more exhilarating experience out in the open Tennessee air, from the focal-point Ferris wheel to roller coasters and waterslides. You can also zip around on the go-kart track, try your hand at mini-golf, or attempt to hold onto your lunch as you tumble downhill in a protective bubble at the Outdoor Gravity Park.
This former logging town has turned into another outdoor paradise city. This gem is particularly appealing to trail runners, as it has 51-miles of maintained trails right in town and hundreds of miles of multi-use trails just outside on the outskirts. Bend was named “America’s Best Trail Running Town” by Outside magazine. This city has also hosted the USA Track & Field Trail Half Marathon, 50K, and Mountain Running National Championships. After logging some miles, kick the legs up and go for a float down the Deschutes River – a right of passage for anyone visiting during the summer months. Throw some fishing, golfing, and patio-hopping into the mix, and you have yourself a regular outdoor mecca. Basically, wherever you are in the city, there is always something fun just around the bend.
Read MoreBend, Oregon
Asheville, North Carolina
The soft haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the faint roar of the many waterfalls beckon outdoor enthusiasts to hike around the perimeter of this North Carolina city. One can also explore the floral arrangements within Asheville. Botanists abound at the Biltmore Gardens & Grounds to see more than 100,000 flowers flourish, starting with daffodils in early April before being joined by tulips and azaleas shortly thereafter. The well-manicured North Carolina Arboretum is another standout day trip, and en route, visitors will get to drive the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Otherwise, the craft beer and corresponding patio scene get everyone outdoors for some leisurely socializing.
Read MoreAsheville, North Carolina
Las Vegas, Nevada
You heard me right. The glitz and glamor of The Strip are but a fraction of what Las Vegas has to offer. All around are explorable mountains and protected wilderness areas, and just east of the city is the long expanse of Lake Mead. Alex Honnold, famous for his free-solo climbing in Yosemite, moved to the suburbs of Las Vegas to have access to year-round climbing. Vegas is also a well-known hub for trail running and hiking. Plus, in typical Vegas style, all sorts of additional fun can be had in the form of off-road ATV or Jeep expeditions, a bulldozer/excavator playground (Dig This Las Vegas) where you can dig and smash as you please with these mega-machines, and of course, on the actual Strip you can ride roller coasters and zipline as you please.
Aloha Honolulu and your inviting Pacific Ocean shoreline. The capital city of Hawaii, located on the island of Oahu, is home to all your waterfront needs. Visitors can sprawl out on the sandy Waikiki beach, improve their surfing skills, bust out a snorkel, try their hand at paddleboarding, kayaking, parasailing, you name it. When you are all splashed out, head back to dryland for some nearby epic hikes (be sure to grunt up “Stairway to Heaven” before you go). Also, enjoy ziplining, hit the links, join up with an eco-tour to learn about Oahu’s farm-to-table practices, or just aimlessly stroll around enjoying the ocean breeze and stunning views. Hawaii is one of those quintessential archetypes of paradise, and this is almost entirely owed to the fantastic, year-round outdoor living.
Read MoreLas Vegas, Nevada
Salt Lake City, Utah
Utah is home to seemingly infinite, otherworldly environments, and Salt Lake City, the capital of this unique state, puts you in the heart of it all. Local trail systems and nearby canyons will entice hikers and mountain bikers alike. Just Northwest of the city is the Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western hemisphere and a feature so appealing that the city takes its name after it. Immediately due South of the city, one will happen upon Utah Lake, another excellent spot for water and mountain lovers. A simple day trip from Salt Lake City opens the door to over 60 state and national parks that are only a few hours away. That should keep both frequent visitors and permanent residents busy for a while. Oh, and do not forget about the city’s four world-class ski resorts.
Read MoreSalt Lake City, Utah
Outdoor adventure certainly awaits in the last frontier. The Alaskan capital of Juneau, with its magnificent natural backdrop, makes it hard to know where to start. One can go for a hike, paddle out on the Favorite Channel, hop on a whale-watching tour, or get up close and personal with massive glaciers. In addition, one can also go skiing at the adjacent Eaglecrest resort, explore the world’s northernmost rainforest, sign up for a “flightseeing” tour to get an aerial view of it all, cast a line, and hope to catch some nutritious salmon. Wildlife enthusiasts can cautiously view some of the 1,600 brown bears that inhabit Admiralty Island National Monument and the Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary. The laid-back travelers can just cruise around town, enjoying the vibes and crisp mountain air. Does it get any better than that?
Read MoreJuneau, Alaska
The San Francisco Peaks, Mt. Elden, and Mt. Humphreys provide the playground for Flagstaff’s robust climbing and running communities. There are ample trails and crags nearby to keep these athletes sharp and entertained. In the heart of town, those spirited adventurers tend to relax by slacklining or tossing frisbees in the park. All the while, you might regularly spot hang-gliders and paragliders soaring overhead. Also, just outside of town, the nearby lakes keep the water enthusiasts satisfied. Come wintertime, and the aforementioned mountains provide the stage for all kinds of winter sports. For a more laid-back experience, check out the many outdoor film and music festivals throughout the year.
San Francisco, California
This bicycle-friendly city has year-round moderate temperatures and a mix of terrains to keep one occupied. Start by joining the daily peloton of cyclists as they cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the red of which contrasts against the deep blue of San Francisco Bay/the Gulf of Farallones on a sunny day. On the way back, cruise by the famous Painted Ladies’ houses as you stop at some of the many pleasant parks throughout the area. Do not forget to stop at Ocean Beach to take a swim or mix in some surfing. If you prefer being on the water, you may also wish to catch a boat to the infamous Alcatraz Island. If biking around is not your thing, ride the quintessential San Francisco trolley instead – a great way to feel the breeze while you take in the sights and sounds of the different neighborhoods.
Not bad, America. You have some pretty amazing cities spread across your vast and diverse landscape. Those are some of the spots you will want to check out if you cannot quite decide between the energy of big cities and the soul-soothing necessity of time in the outdoors.