10 Exhilarating Destinations That Combine City Life With Natural Splendor
If you’re seeking the excitement of a big city, combined with the invigorating energy of the great outdoors, check out these 10 destinations. You don’t necessarily have to make alternate trips to get the best of both worlds. Using city data — like combined ParkScores and WalkScores, population numbers and convenient RV park locations — these top 10 city destinations with easy access to outdoor adventures provide a great solution to your next getaway. So grab your hiking boots and city attire, and get ready for some excitement!
Albuquerque, New Mexico
You’ll find amazing outdoor activities in Albuquerque all year round. With comfortable temperatures in both spring and fall, summers tend to be hot and dry, and city winters are typically mild — although ski enthusiasts can usually find perfect conditions in the mountains nearby. 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 there in October, stop by Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta to watch hundreds of hot-air balloons rise above the Rio Grande Valley in the most incredible spectacle.
While not technically a big city itself, Alexandria, Virginia is part of the Washington D.C. metropolitan 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 and explore a nature preserve in Dora Kelley Nature Park, named after a long-time resident and avid nature lover.
The “mile high city,” above the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is one of America’s most diverse destinations for amazing outdoor adventure. Bask in natural wonders within metropolitan limits, like the iconic Red Rocks Park, featuring an amphitheater built into breathtaking natural sandstone formations. For an incredibly memorable wildlife experience, take an easy and fast drive to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Completely free to visit, you can go on an indigenous animal tour or enjoy one of their year-round nature programs.
Known as one of America’s “greenest” big cities, Jacksonville, Florida is home to over 450 urban parks. Bring a pair of binoculars and plenty of insect repellent, and get out there to explore the area’s unique island parks. Famous for wildlife photography and birdwatching, Big Talbot Island State Park is a nearly indescribable natural preserve. On Little Talbot Island, you’ll experience pristine beaches made for exploration and even surfing. Make sure to save time for a visit Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve while you’re in there — it’s a chance to see one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands along the Atlantic Ocean.
Lakes, streams, wetlands, and an ancient landscape formed by glaciers abound the Madison, Wisconsin area. You might consider starting your “Mad Town” nature adventure at Olbrich Botanical Gardens for 16 acres of gorgeous display gardens, set against prairie-style architecture. If you’re looking for a most 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, you’ll find all your jollies by the water on Lake Mendota, the largest of Madison’s lakes. Fishing and public beaches are also popular there — and on nearby Lake Monona as well.
Minneapolis has the greatest public park system in the country, according to The Trust for Public Land. You will want to consider making arrangements to see as many of these amazing parks as you can. A good place to start would be 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 practically every outdoor activity you can think of. And no excursion to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” would be complete without a day at Chain of Lakes, the most popular destination in the Minneapolis park system.
Phoenix, Arizona is widely considered a growing “green mecca” in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Modern green spaces, new community gardens, public bike sharing and plans for more nature-friendly initiatives render this destination as one of growing popularity. Park your RV and start your outdoor adventures 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.
Breathtaking Portland is home to 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 incredible river views. Washington Park (with the Oregon Zoo and Hoyt Arboretum) offers amazing views of the city skyline and famed 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 is nicknamed the “City of Roses” after all.
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 the San Francisco area, 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.
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. Rev up your RV 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.
We hope this list of big city travel suggestions provides you with some insight into how to keep the diversity in your destinations. If you have any questions please contact us below.