Best US Cities for Hikers to Visit (or Live) for Primo Hiking 

Man with a backwards hat and a backpack looking over San Diego, one of the best US cities for hiking
The Best Cities in the US for Hikers & Backpackers

I had two must-haves when putting together this list of the best US cities for hikers: 1) larger, vibrant cities; and 2) close proximity to natural wonders. That’s my dream — to commune with nature by day, then wash off the trail dust in a big city spa before exploring the nightlife.

I looked for destination cities with well-known airports that have small trail towns nearby, areas you’d definitely want to visit and perhaps even live in. For me, that conjures memories of Portland, Denver, and Anchorage, where I’ve had so many great on- and off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Read on for details about top hiking cities and the natural attractions just beyond their city limits. I’ll recommend popular trails that range from slight elevation gains to long stair-stepper grades, with difficulty levels from family-friendly all the way up to pulse-pounding.

These are my personally vetted top 15 best cities for hiking, no matter what you’re looking for — snowy peaks, lush valleys, desert solitude, or dense forest canopies. Nothing is ranked in this list; all these cities and areas are unique and delightful in their own ways.

Portland, Oregon

View of a reservoir, trees, and Portland, Oregon skyscape in the distance
Mt. Tabor Park near Portland, Orgeon

The City of Roses is a smorgasbord of hiking options, with deep river gorges, coastal mountains, and volcanic peaks all situated within a short drive. Mild weather year-round means getting outside is always an option, with enough variety that you won’t ever get bored.

My previous deep dive into Portland trails include the high alpine slopes of Mount Hood via Paradise Park, steep Columbia River Gorge trails like Dog Mountain, and relaxed strolls through the Wildwood Trail, the city’s crown jewel for exceptional urban hiking.

Famous for food carts and breweries, food lovers in Portland have an endless array of cheap, delicious, and diverse food to fuel up after crushing the day’s outing on nearby trails.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle is the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, and its hiking attractions are numerous and varied. Being situated between the Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains means there’s a diverse range of hiking options, including mountains that are bigger, steeper, and meaner than most.

Just outside the city, the classic challenges of Mount Si (7.9 miles) and Rattlesnake Ledge (5.3 miles) showcase the region’s beauty, but at a price: your lungs will burn, your calves will ache, but you’ll eventually be rewarded with panoramic views of sea-to-summit beauty.

A slightly longer drive will let you explore a vast area around Olympic National Park or Mount Rainier. Both parks are massive and awe-inspiring, with non-stop discoveries that make a lifetime of exploration possible.

Seattle may be famous for its gray, drizzly weather, but it also has the best coffee culture in the nation. Deal with the rain by getting some good waterproof gear so you can dash through the raindrops and grab a top-notch latte from across the street.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Do you daydream of hiking while at work? Situated in a bowl between the Wasatch Mountains to the northeast and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west, Salt Lake City constantly reminds its visitors and residents of the many adventures that await them in the high country.

Given the two massive mountain ranges, it’s not surprising that many of the best hikes are steep climbs, such as the Mount Olympus trail (7.8 miles), but easier family-friendly options, like the Donut Falls trail (3.3 miles) are equally abundant in the foothills.

Utah might just be the state with the most photogenic national parks — Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches — so living in Salt Lake City with its easy access is truly the icing on the cake for hikers.

Four-season athletes will enjoy areas like the Wasatch mountains for both summer hiking and winter recreation like skiing and snowboarding. Geology lovers can geek out over the brightly colored arches, hoodoos, and spires unique to the region.

Denver, Colorado

Hiker with a straw hat and a trekking pole wandering down a mountain trail near Denver, Colorado
Chicago Lakes Trail near Denver, Colorado

The Mile High City offers prime access to the most rugged stretch of the Rocky Mountains. The high-elevation trails can challenge even the most seasoned hikers. There are few places in the country where you can go peak bagging as easily or extensively.

The area has far too many wilderness and mountain regions to name, but a few highlights include places like the Chicago Lakes Trail (9.1 miles), which exemplifies everything I love about Colorado: steep climbs, wildflowers, and glacial lakes.

Other gems in the area include the 4th of July Trail (7.2 miles), which lets you explore the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and the Herman Gulch Trail (6.4 miles), tucked in the Arapaho National Forest.

For multisport athletes, Denver is my choice for the best all-around city for outdoor adventures: rafting, biking, skiing, and rock-climbing opportunities abound and are world-class. And with over 300 days of sunshine per year, hikers trying to cram as much outdoors into their lives will feel right at home in Denver.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a storied history and is home to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, but what lies on the other side is the true treasure. Rising above the ever-present fog of the San Francisco Bay are natural delights immortalized in the writings of John Muir.

Mount Tamalpais State Park rules supreme in the Marin Headlands, with everything from open, grassy ridgelines to deep canyons. Situated right alongside are the Muir Woods, which will take you on a leisurely walk among old-growth coastal redwoods.

If you want to stay in the city itself, you still have great options in the large city parks, including the Golden Gate Park Loop (6.3 miles).

San Francisco gives you access to both an eclectic city experience and unique geography. You can enjoy it year-round, thanks to the consistently mild bay climate. For both culture and the amazing outdoors, San Francisco is hard to beat.

Los Angeles, California

A hiking guide that includes Hollywood?! Despite Los Angeles’ reputation as a concrete jungle dedicated to movie stars, the city has access to both great urban parks and mountainous trails. It’s surprisingly easy to leave the glitz and glamour of Hollywood behind and hit the trails.

Griffith Park is a sprawling maze of trails winding through a myriad of peaks in one of the largest urban parks in the country. Cruise the trails and you’ll also have the chance to see such iconic sights as the Griffith Observatory and the iconic Hollywood hillside sign.

The coastal Santa Monica mountains are covered in old fire roads for hassle-free hiking, and to the north is the famous backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, the gateway to some truly remote trails.

The mention of trail towns often conjures up the image of small, quiet places with one lonely corner store; Los Angeles is a major exception, with the opportunity for big city life that doesn’t compromise on the ability to get outdoors.

Phoenix, Arizona

Cacti against a sunset with mountains in the background near Phoenix, Arizona
Hiking at sunset near Phoenix, Arizona

The Sonoran Desert surrounding Phoenix provides a stark contrast to woods and mountains and allows you to experience unique flora and desert landscapes. Summer heat will have you getting out early, but the rest of the year stays cool enough for midday hiking.

Several of the parks in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve system rank in the top 20 of the largest urban parks in the world. While the peaks here don’t tower overhead, they’ll elevate you above the desert’s rocky terrain and reward you with stunning vistas.

Camelback Mountain (2.6 miles) can be seen from most of the Phoenix metro area due to its central location, and it’s the best place to get sweeping views of the surrounding area. Other classic hikes in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve include Piestewa Peak and Dobbins Lookout.

If you want to experience desert trails, Phoenix’s wide range of options makes it very appealing. It’s a great winter destination when trails in other cities are snowed in or you need a little extra sun to get through the dark months of the year.

Austin, Texas

Even though Texas is commonly associated with cowboys on the dusty plains, Austin is remarkably lush and green, partly due to the Colorado River flowing through the heart of the city. Urban hiking reigns supreme, with most trails situated within city limits.

Limestone cliffs and seasonal swimming holes help make the Barton Creek Greenbelt (14.2 miles) one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the city. McKinney Falls State Park is a family-friendly destination with easy trails and the chance to cool off in the pools formed by the upper and lower falls.

Do you love music? And swimming? As the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin has top-notch entertainment for a night out after burning calories on the trail. But if you want to avoid the crowds, dive into one of the many refreshing swimming holes tucked alongside the city trails.

Las Vegas, Nevada

I hated Vegas on my first few trips. The noise and lifestyle of the strip are just not my style. It was only when I finally rented a car and got away to the natural beauty surrounding Vegas that I learned to love the area.

The rich red and orange hues of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are a brilliant reminder that every type of ecosystem has its own natural beauty. The Fire Wave hike in the Valley of Fire State Park highlights the sandstone features to an even greater extent.

Avoid the hot summer months or pack lots of water to deal with the desert heat. If rock climbing is in your wheelhouse, Red Rock Canyon is also home to several thousand routes, and while you probably won’t be the next Alex Honnold, there’s some great fun to be had.

Anchorage, Alaska

Three tents next to a lake near Anchorage, Alaska
Camping at Lost Lake near Anchorage, Alaska

Reaching the last wild frontier requires extra travel, but you don’t entirely leave civilization behind when you visit Anchorage. Abundant wildlife, pristine wilderness, and long hours of summertime hiking make the trip north quite worthwhile.

Long ridgelines make up the bulk of the Chugach Mountains and create a two-sided view of the raw wilderness below. The valleys are lush and green with easy grades, but climbing the ridgelines and peaks behind them will have you scrambling up steep and technical terrain.

There’s no better place than Alaska to get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Even in Anchorage, you’ll hike alongside salmon runs, moose, and even grizzly bears. Few places blend the natural and human worlds so completely.

I highly recommend going in the summertime if you’re visiting Alaska for the first time. Winters are too harsh and dark for pleasure hiking; it’s a season only suitable for sled dogs. Long summer days, however, allow for magical experiences like summiting a peak at midnight without needing a headlamp.

Honolulu, Hawaii

A tropical paradise can be so much more than just resort hotels and sun tanning. The island of Oahu, home to Honolulu, provides everything from easy beach hikes to treacherous jungle ridges.

Many of the former WWII military installations are now trail markers on hikes like the Diamond Head State Monument, a unique opportunity to stand on the crater rim of an ancient volcanic eruption. The best sunset on the island can be seen at the end of the easy Ka’ena Point Trail (6.1 miles).

Hiking through a tropical jungle is vastly different from the usual stateside trails and something I think every hiker should experience at least once. When in need of “Pau Hana” (relaxing after work), take a trip to Hawaii, hike the island, and let your worries melt away.

Asheville, North Carolina

Despite the many Western states on this list, cities in the eastern US also deserve some love. Asheville lies in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has heavily forested trails winding throughout the rolling peaks, earning it the moniker “The Land of the Sky.”

All of the peaks here are lower in elevation than their distant cousins in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, which makes it relatively easy to reach the top of classics like Mount Pisqah (2.4 miles) and the Black Balsam Knob (1.4 miles).

Don’t let the shorter distances fool you — East Coast trails are often steeper and more technical than Western trails. If you really want to log a few more miles, the nearby Appalachian Trail offers 2,200 miles of fun.

Knoxville, Tennessee

View of Knoxville Tennessee surrounded by trees and mountains in the distance
Knoxville, Tennessee and its surrounding wilderness

Knoxville shares a similar geography to Asheville but opens a whole new area to explore, with close access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The forests here grow thick, and you’ll often find yourself strolling under a dense canopy of trees, with only an occasional flicker of sunlight reaching the ground.

Peaks and waterfalls are abundant in the Smoky Mountains, with top trail destinations including Laurel Falls and Peregrine Peak. Closer to town, House Mountain (3.7 miles) is a chance to summit the highest peak in Knox County.

Visiting in the fall gives you a chance to enjoy the vibrant East Coast autumn colors when the region transforms into a vivid blaze of color. (But the other three seasons are no slouch, either, with each bringing a refreshing facelift to the local trails.)

Washington, D.C.

Politics, monuments, and urban trails are the name of the game when heading to the nation’s capital. With its numerous parks and green spaces, the city offers plenty of time on the trails for pondering our nation’s history.

Rock Creek Park is close to the heart of the city, and the sprawling oasis is one of the oldest national parks in the country. The easy hiking is interspersed with colonial houses, mills, and Civil War fortifications across 30 miles of trails.

Several states border Washington, DC, making it easy to escape to even quieter trails. Nearby options include Sugarloaf Mountain (7.4 miles) and Shenandoah National Park. When urban hiking doesn’t quite scratch your itch, head out and explore the surrounding waterfalls and dense forests.

History buffs wanting to mix historical and outdoor interests will find D.C. a delight. You can start the day with a morning hike through dense woods and finish the day with a hike around the National Mall with its tightly-packed array of museums and galleries.

Boise, Idaho

I confess potatoes pop into my head whenever I think of Boise, but that doesn’t do justice to the capital city of Idaho, along the Rocky Mountain foothills. Yes, the neighboring farmland makes for lousy hiking, but a quick peek to the east will reveal the impressive Sawtooth Mountains.

Mountain lakes dominate the top selection of hikes in the Sawtooth National Forest. Since you’ll be gaining plenty of elevation to get to them, a refreshing dip is usually in order. Or, if you’d rather go low than high, the Owyhee Canyon to the east of Boise is wild, pristine, and remote.

Boise is a good starting point for accessing the lower 48’s truly remote and undeveloped outdoor areas. The Owyhee region has been nicknamed the “Big Quiet” for precisely that reason. If your favorite style of hiking includes no trails and no people, this is the place for you.

Which City Will Bring You Closer to the Trail?

Male hiker wearing a backpack and looking towards the Blue Ridge Mountains
Plenty of US cities offer great hiking; which will you choose?

Those are my 15 best cities for hikers in 2023. I’ll do my best to update this list every year, so please share your comments below. Who knows? Your feedback may end up on someone’s must-see list. Or part of their moving plans to find their next best-of-both-worlds basecamp.

This list prioritizes cities with airports that are also gateways to the smaller, more homey trail towns we all cherish. If you want a quieter place, use this list to explore entire regions. Your best hiking experience may be the one just over the next ridgeline.

I’m partial to Anchorage, Portland, and Denver because of their primo hiking and backpacking trails, but I also want to explore other top-notch destinations. For example, I hear Phoenix’s desert calling my name, and Knoxville beckons with its vibrant autumn colors. Choices, choices, choices…

Which cities sound like the best match for your hiking ambitions? The only way to find out is to book a flight, grab your pack, and start exploring. And let us know what you discover by posting your comments below. We hikers are a community, and we’d love to hear your story.

Last Updated on March 19, 2024

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Maks Durayev

Maks is a writer residing in the Pacific Northwest who loves to cover all things related to food, the great outdoors, and environmental sustainability. When he's not writing, you’ll find him roaming the woods or trying out new recipes in the kitchen.

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