The Best U.S. cities for outdoor adventures are understandably some of the country’s most popular travel destinations. They also tend to rank high among the best places to live. Their appeal is largely attached to the opportunities that they offer to mix urban entertainment with top notch outdoor recreation. What you essentially get with each of these cities is two travel destinations in one.
Denver Outdoor Adventures Image: Grumpy.Editor (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Denver is undoubtedly one of the best U.S. cities for outdoor adventures. Set at an elevation of 5,280 feet, if you are measuring from the 13th step of the beautiful Capitol Building, the aptly named “Mile High City” is set against a Rocky Mountains backdrop. Any number of excellent Colorado mountain resorts are within easy reach of Denver, and much of the highland terrain is claimed by national parks and forests. Rocky Mountain National Park with its glaciated peaks is among the most popular protected areas to visit on day trips from Denver. It offers an array of activity options, such as hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mountaineering, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The closest mountain resort to Denver for downhill skiing and snowboarding is the Eldora Mountain Resort at just 47 miles away. Since there are so many other mountain resorts within easy enough reach of the city, it is by no means the only option. White water rafting is another way to get your thrills during a Denver visit. Clear Creek is just a half hour away, making it a convenient option. Colorado Mountain Express is among the regional shuttle companies that offer transportation between Denver and the many great mountain destinations to the west, so you don’t need a car to get to your high altitude playgrounds of choice.
Portland Outdoor Adventures
Not too far from the Columbia River Gorge, the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean is where you will find the city of Portland, Oregon. The area in general is one of exceptional natural beauty and allows for activities that range from skiing and snowboarding in the winter to surfing in the summer. Other activities, such as hiking and biking can be enjoyed year round, with Mt. Hood being a perfect destination for outdoor pursuits of all kinds. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the windsurfing at the Columbia River Gorge near Portland. Some call it the best windsurfing in the country. The gorge is also great for sailing, with Viento State Park and Rooster Rock State Park being the two best places to launch your windsurfing board or sailboat. You don’t have to leave Portland’s metropolitan area to enjoy time in the Great Outdoors. Within this “urban” area, the city counts somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 parks and wild spaces. Forest Park is the shining example. It covers a large portion of the city’s West Hills and is one of the biggest urban forests in the nation.
Seattle Outdoor Adventures
Another Pacific Northwest city that deserves to be ranked among the best U.S. cities for outdoor adventures is Seattle. Much like Portland, Seattle finds itself near the mountains and the sea. This combination of elements translates to an enviable array of possibilities when it comes to outdoor fun. Thanks in part to the city’s location on the shores of the Puget Sound, windsurfing is something that can be enjoyed in the more immediate Seattle area. Magnuson Park and Newcastle Beach near Bellevue are among the top windsurfing destinations in the area. If windsurfing isn’t quite your thing, you might prefer hiking on the trails and beaches of Discovery Park, which is found to the near northwest of downtown. Or maybe try some canoeing or sailing in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Outside the city limits, Seattle residents and visitors can enjoy visits to such amazing places as Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, where hiking, backpacking and climbing are among the activities of choice. Other ideas for outdoor fun in the Seattle region include heading to the Summit at Snoqualmie for skiing and snowboarding or taking in the beautiful seascape of the San Juan Islands while sea kayaking.
Burlington Outdoor Adventures Image: rik-shaw (flickr)
Heading over to the northeastern region of the United States, it is hard to overlook Burlington when considering the best cities in the country for outdoor fun. The Vermont capital rests along the eastern shores of Lake Champlain and has great biking trails, including the highly rated Burlington Bike Path. On Lake Champlain itself, activities include swimming, boating and fishing in the summer and ice fishing and ice skating in the winter. On the land surrounding Lake Champlain, biking isn’t the only activity option. There is also great hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Burlington is just minutes from trailheads in the scenic Adirondack and Green Mountains, which opens up another appealing side to its recreational opportunities. The hiking and camping are sublime in the mountains in the warmer months. During the cold winters, such renowned Vermont ski resorts as Stowe Mountain and Smugglers’ Notch are among the top area destinations. One of the best things about enjoying outdoor recreation during your Burlington escape is that you won’t feel as guilty about eating all that yummy Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Knoxville Outdoor Adventures Image: D&S McSpadden (flickr)
Knoxville is one of the South’s best U.S. cities for outdoor adventures. This has a lot to do with its role as a major gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most highly visited of America’s national parks, Great Smoky Mountains is a place where you can cycle, camp, hike, fish, and wildlife view to your heart’s content. For an excellent view of the mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, drive to the top of Clingsmans Dome. This mountain tops out at 6,643 feet, making it the park’s highest point. There is a lookout tower that can be reached via a half-mile hike from the Clingsmans Dome parking area. Another wonderful park near Knoxville is Fall Creek Falls State Park. This is the largest and most visited of the state parks in Tennessee and it features the highest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi River - the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls. Hiking, zip lining and golfing are among the many activities that can be enjoyed at Fall Creek Falls State Park, and there is a sizeable pool at the bottom of the waterfall that can be a joy to swim in on hot days. For adventure that is about as thrilling as it gets, you can go white water rafting in the Knoxville region. Among the regional rivers to run is the Pigeon River, which is just a 45-minute drive from Knoxville.