Photo: Luciano Mortula - LGM/Shutterstock

The World’s Best Urban Hiking Trails Inside City Limits

Insider Guides Hiking
by Tim Wenger Mar 9, 2020

As the weather begins to warm, those hiking boots tucked in the back of your closet may begin to call your name. Hiking season is fast approaching, and after a long winter, a good long walk is in order. In many cases, you don’t even need to leave city limits. These urban hikes offer both exercise and skyline views, without a long commute to the trailhead.

1. Crosstown Trail — San Francisco, California

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San Francisco is a compact city, and you can walk 17 miles across some of its best attributes on the new Crosstown Trail, which we’ve described in detail. Starting from Sunrise Point, you’ll pass through the Community Gardens and McLaren Park in the first segment. Segment Two highlights include the farm animals of the Virginia Leishman Farm and a nearly three-mile stretch along the Laguna Honda Community Trail. Segment Three hits the Sunset District and includes a rather steep climb up a staircase to the Rocky Outcrop garden area and the Hidden Garden Tiled Steps, one of the city’s more unique viewpoints.

2. Arthur’s Seat — Edinburgh, Scotland

Photo: Tomas Wolfschlager/Shutterstock

Edinburgh’s urban trail offers both city views and the chance to summit a volcano right from the heart of town. The 800-foot climb begins at the end of the Royal Mile, where you’ll hike up through Holyrood Park to the “seat,” the highest accessible point, and look out over the city. The volcano last erupted 340 million years ago, so there’s no worry of being spewed upon at the summit. The hike itself is quick — allow 45 minutes up, 30 down, and 15 to enjoy the views at the top.

3. Lakefront Trail — Chicago, Illinois

Photo: Maciej Bledowski/Shutterstock

Stretching 18.2 miles from Calumet Park to Rogers Park, Chicago’s Lakefront Trail offers coastal vibes to The Windy City — at least in summer. While the entire length is a multi-day effort, build your hike(s) around specific sites along the way — the bird sanctuary at Montrose, the famed Navy Pier in the heart of the city, or the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Catch some rays at Hollywood Beach, or hop a rentable Divvy Bike and see how many miles you can squeeze into one day.

4. Elliot Bay Trail — Seattle, Washington

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Few US cities are as photogenic as Seattle, and you’ll see the city from its best angles along the five-mile Elliot Bay Trail that stretches along the waterfront. Along the way, you can grab a coffee or snack at Pike Place Market, stop for a walkthrough of the Seattle Art Museum, or visit the marine life at the Seattle Aquarium. The trail is often busy even on Seattle’s notoriously rainy days, but don’t let weather deter you. Even when it’s gray outside, the skyline looking out over the bay is somehow still amazingly beautiful.

5. Victoria Peak and Pok Fu Lam Country Park — Hong Kong

Photo: Luciano Mortula – LGM/Shutterstock

Hong Kong contains vast, unexpectedly wild areas that make for spectacular hiking and even camping. Public transit accesses the region’s trail-heavy Country Parks, and much of the urban core on Hong Kong Island is encircled in trails you can reach on foot from the Mid-Levels and even Centro — if you’re up for a good climb. In fact, Victoria Peak and Pok Fu Lam Country Park are directly above the Mid-Levels. Best ascended in the morning, before the oppressive afternoon heat sets in, they offer sweeping vistas over the city to Victoria Harbor on one side and the surrounding islands across the straight on the other. To access the Pok Fu Lam trailhead, head to the top of Victoria Peak and walk down the backside towards the coast.

6. The High Line — New York, New York

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

New York City’s High Line will transport you from the bustle of the city. It’s understandably popular, so you won’t necessarily leave behind the crowds of the street below you, but you will leave behind the cars and honking yellow cabs and embrace the trees, shrubs, and even flowers that have been thoughtfully planted along the High Line’s 1.5-mile length. The former elevated railway runs from Manhattan’s Gansevoort and Washington streets to 34th Street, cutting out just past 11th Avenue. In the years since its development, more buildings built alongside it have begun to crowd out the sunlight, but the views of the surrounding public art installations and the Chelsea neighborhood are photo-worthy. The High Line is definitely worth going out of your way for should you find yourself visiting the Whitney Museum of Art or the Chelsea Market.

7. Mount Royal — Montreal, Canada

Photo: Denis Roger/Shutterstock

Mount Royal is as quintessentially Montreal as poutine, and the 45-minute trail to the top is the first thing you should do in the city. (It’s easier to do before you gorge on that poutine and Montreal bagels.) Multiple viewpoints await, none more epic than the lookout over downtown from the top. This is the best place in the city for people-watching at any point throughout the year, particularly on weekend mornings, and in winter you’ll see snowshoers and the occasional dog-pulled cross-country skier.

8. Schuylkill River Trail — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photo: Spiroview Inc/Shutterstock

Philly’s Schuylkill River Trail runs 26.5 miles from the city to Phoenixville, taking you through Valley Forge National Historical Park. But without leaving city limits, you can hike the waterfront and take in a unique view of the city’s skyline. Pop off for easy access to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a round of disc golf at the Sedgley Woods course, and the Strawberry Mansion in Fairmount Park. The trail is paved through the city, though beyond it leads to a network of hiking trails in the surrounding countryside en route to Phoenixville.

9. Indianapolis Cultural Trail — Indianapolis, Indiana

Photo: KYPhua/Shutterstock

Were you to go on a sightseeing tour of Indiana’s largest city, you’d undoubtedly spend time on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. It leads from downtown right to the Indianapolis City Market, the Indiana State Museum, and nearly a dozen separate art installations. The trail is made up of multiple paths that run along the city’s inner canal, where you also have the option to hop aboard a kayak or pedal boat should you get the urge to hit the water. Get on the trail at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Walnut Street, and see where the day takes you — though be sure to hit the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library and end with a pint at TwoDEEP Brewing.

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