Top 10 Big Cities for Nature Lovers

Find a perfect destination that combines the hustle and bustle of a big city with the invigorating energy of the Great Outdoors

 

When it comes to vacation, you love the energy and excitement of big city adventures. But you love to get out in nature too. Thankfully, you don’t have to take two separate trips to get the best of both worlds. Using city data—like combined ParkScores and WalkScores, population numbers and convenient hotel locations—we’ve found the top 10 city destinations with easy access to outdoor adventures. So, grab your walking shoes and hiking boots and get inspired for your next getaway!

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque is perfect for outdoor fun all year long. Spring and fall offer comfortable temps, summers are hot and dry, and city winters are typically mild—although ski enthusiasts can find ideal conditions in the mountains nearby. Book your Albuquerque hotel and visit BioPark environmental center or go on a sunset hike to watch the Sandia Mountains turn watermelon-pink at Elena Gallegos Open Space. Take a hike back in time at the Petroglyph National Monument. And if you’re here in October, stop by Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta to watch hundreds of hot-air balloons rise above the Rio Grande Valley in the most spectacular fashion.

Alexandria, Virginia

While not a big city itself, Alexandria is part of the Washington D.C. metro area—and it’s one of the most walkable destinations in the country. Start with a journey through the past on the Mount Vernon Trail, which winds along the Potomac River with 18 miles of waterfront vistas, greenbelts and hiking trails. When you’re ready to really escape city life and immerse yourself in one of the best nature towns, take a drive from your Alexandria hotel and explore a nature preserve in Dora Kelley Nature Park, named after a long-time resident and avid nature lover. View hotels in Alexandria, Virginia.

Denver, Colorado

Sitting a mile up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is one of the country’s best starting points for outdoor adventure. Discover natural wonders within metro limits like the iconic Red Rocks Park, with an amphitheater built into the breathtaking natural sandstone formations. You’ll find easy access to a variety of nearby outdoor adventures when staying at any of our Denver hotels. But, for a really wild experience take a quick drive to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. It’s free to visit, and you can go on a wildlife tour or enjoy one of the year-round nature programs.

Jacksonville, Florida

Known as one of the country’s greenest big cities, Jacksonville is home to over 450 urban parks. When you arrive at your Jacksonville hotel, you’ll want to quickly unpack your binoculars and insect repellent and head out to explore the area’s island parks! Big Talbot Island State Park is a natural preserve that’s great for wildlife photography and birdwatching. On Little Talbot Island, you’ll discover pristine beaches perfect for beachcombing and surfing. Make sure to squeeze in a visit Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve while you’re in town—it’s a chance to see one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands along the Atlantic Ocean. View hotels in Jacksonville, Florida.

Madison, Wisconsin

You’ll find Madison hotels just minutes from an abundance of lakes, streams, wetlands, and an ancient landscape formed by glaciers. Start your “Mad Town” nature adventure at Olbrich Botanical Gardens for 16 acres of gorgeous display gardens set against prairie-style architecture. For a truly memorable experience, take a hike where mammoths, saber tooth cats and cave lions once roamed at the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. During the summer, find fun by the water on Lake Mendota, the largest of Madison’s lakes. Fishing and public beaches are big here—and on nearby Lake Monona too.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis has the best public park system in the country, according to The Trust for Public Land. So after you book a Minneapolis hotel, make plans to see as many of these amazing parks as you can! A good place to start is learning about local wildlife at the Minnesota Zoo or the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. The Three Rivers Park District in nearby Plymouth is home to Elm Creek Park Reserve, Hyland Lake Park Reserve, and almost every outdoor activity you can imagine. And no trip the Land of 10,000 Lakes is complete without a day at Chain of Lakes, the most popular destination in the Minneapolis park system. View hotels in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Phoenix, Arizona

Modern green spaces, new community gardens, increased bike sharing and plans for more nature-friendly initiatives position Phoenix as a growing green mecca in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Book your Phoenix hotel and start your outdoor adventure at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, a vast ecosystem of spectacular desert wildlife and plant life you won’t find anywhere else—complete with hiking and biking trails for every skill set. At South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the country, you’ll discover incredible views of the city and Arizona’s famous sunsets. If you plan to hike the iconic Camelback Mountain, be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated on your journey.

Portland, Oregon

Book a Portland hotel and explore over 10,000 acres of well-maintained green spaces, all within city limits. Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the country, with 80 miles of hiking trails through pristine forests and spectacular river views. Washington Park (with the Oregon Zoo and Hoyt Arboretum) offers amazing views of the skyline and Mt. Hood. At the city’s famous International Rose Test Gardens, hundreds of roses grow in a public space for visitors to enjoy year-round. It’s a sight you’ll want to see, as Portland’s nickname is the “City of Roses” after all. View hotels in Portland, Oregon.

San Francisco, California

While it’s often recognized for its cosmopolitan offerings, San Francisco is also bustling with nature. Golden Gate Park is the largest cultivated urban green space in the country and includes the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. Relive your childhood on any of hilly San Francisco’s slides, were there’s no age limit on the fun! Just a short drive south of San Francisco area hotels, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has a rich environment home to nearly 20 distinct ecosystems with over 2,000 species of plant and animals. And no trip to the City by the Bay is complete without visiting The Presidio—a unique national park with more attractions and outdoor family-friendly fun than you could fit into a day.

Seattle, Washington

This jewel of the Pacific Northwest, under the watchful gaze of spectacular Mount Rainier, takes pride in having the great outdoors right in its backyard. Start out from your Seattle hotel and take the outdoor fun to the Puget Sound. Explore this vast, protected ecosystem of interconnected waterways, bays, inlets and rivers with some paddle boating, sailing, or on a whale watching tour. In the city, take a hike through Discovery Park, the largest city park in Seattle, and home to two miles of tidal beaches, awe-inspiring sea cliffs and spectacular wildlife. And finally, explore rocky coastlines in iconic Lincoln Park, a major multi-purpose park where the legacy of Seattle’s Grunge music scene lives on. View hotels in Seattle, Washington.

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