Not all towns are created equal when it comes to living that outdoor lifestyle. These are seven of our favorite cities for amazing access to outdoor adventures.
San Diego, CA
There’s only one “America’s Finest City,” and it’s San Diego for good reason. Seventy miles of beaches create excellent opportunities for surfing and every other water sport imaginable, and great weather twelve months out of the year means you’ll find someone to share your stoke in every season. San Diego is also a great base of operations for hiking—there are sixty-five miles of trails in the famed Balboa Park alone, and other local trails cut through canyons and across seaside cliffs. A bit farther out you’ll find the Laguna Mountains, which see regular snowfall, and deserts, including California’s largest state park, the Anza-Borrego Desert, home to slot canyons, mud caves, and the elusive bighorn sheep.
Most people hear “Idaho” and think “potatoes,” and to be fair, the Idaho Potato Drop is still a thing. But Boise is also home to the 25-mile Greenbelt, a tree-lined recreational space that follows the Boise River, providing opportunities for fishing and birdwatching. The Boise River is itself a recreational site, popular with families for its kid-friendly flatwater stretches that beg to be floated and home to the Boise River Park, where experienced paddlers can test themselves against the river’s waves. For even more thrills, try rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, 100 miles of class IV whitewater running through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest roadless wilderness left in the US.
Seattle’s proximity to heavy hitters like the Olympic National Forest, the Puget Sound, the Cascades, and even Mt. Rainier, makes it a fine city for outdoor enthusiasts, but lesser-known Olympia is closer to those destinations, and it boasts a number of homegrown parks perfect for families and weekend-warriors to boot. Priest Point Park and Percival Landing Park provide waterfront opportunities along the Sound, while Capitol State Forest’s 150-plus miles of singletrack and equestrian trails lie just outside the city. Thurston’s Bountiful Byway features 60 scenic miles of locavore heaven, winding between distilleries and farms, and the Chehalis Western Trail provides fifty miles of access to over 170 acres of parkland, including nearly two miles of frontage along the Deschutes River.
Chattanooga’s natural beauty is arguably its greatest attraction. Hikers and paddlers alike take advantage of trails in the mountains and on its blueways, and crushers flock from around the nation to the routes along the miles of sandstone bluffs and myriad crags and boulders. All that rock means Chattanooga is absolutely riddled with caves, from the more commercial operations in The Lost Sea and Ruby Falls to the unnamed, possibly uncharted 7000+ systems throughout the region, best suited for experienced spelunkers. And finally, the warm sun on the Tennessee River Valley creates some seriously powerful thermals over the Cumberland Mountains—hang gliders can soar for hours on a single launch when the winds are just right.
Situated between the otherworldly red rock of Arches National Park and the eerie, compelling landscape of Canyonlands National Park, it’s no wonder Moab is popular with outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Moab’s got it all. Into mountain biking? Spoil yourself with an amazing buffet of biking trails, from easy Gemini Bridges to the technical rock drop descent on Captain Ahab—and of course, you can’t miss the iconic Slickrock Trail. BASE jumping? Legal in many places around Moab. Slacklining? World records have been set here. Canyoneering? Zion National Park’s just hours away. Kayaking? Colorado River. Heliskiing? Those are the Wasatch Mountains, and they’re calling.
The peak of Denali is visible from downtown, and that’s just the beginning of things to love about Anchorage. Chugach State Park is its backyard, boasting 155 peaks and almost twice that in trail mileage, and locals love Flattop Peak—an easy hike for the stout-hearted and a popular spot to spend the summer solstice’s 22 hours of daylight. If you’re looking for glaciers, more than five percent of the state is covered by them, and they’re close enough to touch in places like Matanuska Glacier Park where you can walk right out onto the ice or grab your paddle and kayak through a sparkling ice field. Winter days are short, but seven hours is still plenty of time to climb a frozen waterfall or play a game of pick-up ice hockey.
Maine boasts 3,500 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and its inland lakes and streams, making it an excellent East Coast destination for paddlers, and Portland’s the perfect launching point. Take a canoe out on the Scarborough Marsh, a large saltwater tidal marsh perfect for beginners and families, or put into Casco Bay and explore Peaks Island and the surrounding waters. Meanwhile, landlubbers can appreciate the hundred-odd miles of walking trails, and more challenging treks are just minutes away in Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park, the latter of which is home to the state’s highest peak, Mount Katahdin.