When it comes to escaping to the outdoors, popular culture tends toward images of vast stretches of isolated parkland. Places without buildings and cell phone service, where birds sing and the layers of grime clinging to your skin become a badge of honor.
While we highly recommend experiencing these sensations and places, it takes time and money to reach them, which isn’t always easy to come by. And, let’s be honest, sometimes you want to get outside without leaving behind the comforts of home - there’s nothing wrong with that.
Did you know you might not have to go far to get your nature fix? That you could even bring along fresh breakfast and decent coffee from a local shop to top it off? Many cities offer a variety of options to get outside, from cultural trails to full-on hiking trails within the city limits. Facilities are as diverse as the urban areas they serve, giving almost everyone the opportunity to take part in celebrating public lands on the local level.
- Cultural Trails. These get you walking around and interacting directly with your neighborhoods and their history, such as Washington, D.C.’s in-depth heritage trails or the world-class Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
- Greenways. These make it easy to walk or bike through huge slices of city, usually with a view, like on the Atlanta Beltline, Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, or the 500-mile San Francisco Bay Trail.
- Big Parks. Cities like D.C., Phoenix, Madison, and Seattle offer large natural spaces that make you forget you’re in a bustling metropolis, removed from traﬃc and complete with hiking trails or other outdoor amenities.
- National Park Service Facilities. The National Park Service is a valuable resource for cultural treasures as much as natural, like Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and the French Quarter section of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in New Orleans.
While they might not inspire the same romantic ideas of rugged outdoorsiness, the urban outdoors are just as valuable as the big preserves, with the added convenience of proximity. They’re a vital community resource that brings nature to people who could not otherwise reach it, while improving cities’ environments and investing citizens in local conservation.
Even a modest trail is an important link among you, your community, and the outdoors. Just about any opportunity to get outside is a good one, and making these spaces popular builds support to help them grow. As they do, your area will have a thriving space, both ecologically and socially, that is good for everybody, and feels more outdoorsy along the way.
About the Author: Andrew Carpenter is an American University graduate who studied international relations, focusing on human rights and environmental justice. His starry-eyed tendencies have led him to bike across Europe and the U.S., last year writing about transportation issues that affect communities across the country from a cyclist’s perspective. Andrew is a freelance writer who looks to promote innovative, sustainable ideas that inspire discovery and bring communities together.