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Travel News 10 best city walks in the US from sidewalks to the trails

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10 best city walks in the US from sidewalks to the trails

Times are tough for travelers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

Whether you live in a big city, like 80% of the American population, or plan to visit one of these five urban centers on your next vacation, there are a lot of hidden gems to discover when you explore by foot. Recent efforts to get Americans moving have led to the creation of numerous city walks designed to increase access to nature in the busiest environments. After all, walking might just be the best form of exercise, and it’s a perfect way to get to know more of a new city, too.

Here are our picks for city walks and hikes across five of the biggest cities in the US:

Scenic urban hikes in Los Angeles

Vacationing in LA means touring the wildly popular hotspot of Universal City, finding your favorite stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then, as we’ve seen in the movies, driving out of the city to another destination. However, there are some amazing self-guided walking tours around Los Angeles, too, thanks to the city’s close proximity to nature. Here are a couple of the best urban hikes around the City of Angels.

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Access unbelievable city views right in the middle of LA. This 2.3-mile hike takes the scenic switchback route from the city to the top of Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. From there, you’ll be able to see the skyline as well as the Hollywood Hills, the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Where to start: Use this trailhead address: 6019 Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016. You can park for free on the streets outside the park entrance and in the parking lot of the park itself, or you can get there with public transport from downtown LA (take the Metro Expo Line toward Culver City, get off the La Cienega / Jefferson Station, and you’ll be 5 minutes away from the trailhead).

The walk: The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Head out from the car park and follow the switchback route, which climbs about 300 feet. At the top, enjoy the sprawling city views and take a few souvenir photos. On the way down, descend 282 steps on the Culver City Stairs.

View of Hollywood sign from LA city walk, with two pairs of the sneakers in the foreground

Wisdom Tree hike

This is probably the most popular city walk out of LA — a pilgrimage to the only tree to survive the 2007 Barham fire. The Wisdom Tree is at the top of Burbank Peak, the highest peak at the end of Griffith Park. It gives you great views all over Los Angeles and can be a stop on your way to the Cahuenga Peak and then on to the famous Hollywood Sign. This walk also loops back through a less-visited part of Griffith Park for extra views of the San Fernando Valley.

Where to start: You’ll need to head to the Wonder View Trail Head to start this walk, but be careful, as there is no parking around the starting point. The best option is to park on Lake Hollywood Drive and not on Wonder View Drive, as some guides might suggest. It’s just a short walk away from the trailhead.

The walk: Head up Wonder View Drive from Lake Hollywood Drive, and you will reach a gate at the end of the paved area. After you pass through, you’ll get to a wide-open area and the trail to the Wisdom Tree is to your right. Follow the signs to Burbank Peak on the Burbank Peak Trail up a steep climb. After a few short, steep switchbacks, you’ll find yourself face to face with the famous tree and the picture-perfect view of the city beyond it.

If you choose to turn back here, the total walk will only be 1.8 miles. However, carry on to Cahuenga Peak for another 0.4 miles by going back to the last trail marker and following the sign, to reach the highest point in the park at 1,821 feet. From there you can go on to the Hollywood Sign. We also suggest turning back via the loop made by the Tree of Life Trail (easily visible on Google Maps) to pass by the Valley Overlook viewpoint. Doing the full loop including the Hollywood Sign will make your walk 4.2 miles.

City walks in New York City

There are myriad hidden gems to discover down every street in New York City. The best way to explore The Big Apple and immerse yourself in its bustling atmosphere is, of course, on foot. But, it’s not just Manhattan that’s worth exploring. Brooklyn also has lots to offer, including amazing views of the NYC skyline. So head out across the river before returning to Manhattan for a tour of SoHo and TriBeCa.

NYC viewed from Brooklyn

Brooklyn Bridge Park

The waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park offers great views of the city and the East River, while giving you the opportunity to take in some fresh air and enjoy 85 acres converted from what was once an industrial set of piers. Cross to Brooklyn from Manhattan via the very Instagrammable Brooklyn Bridge, with its postcard-perfect views, to start your urban adventure.

Where to start: You can start your walk from either end of the park. We recommend coming off Brooklyn Bridge and heading to Pebble Beach first, then following the 1.3-mile path along the river from pier to pier.

The walk: This city walk doesn’t require a lot of directions: simply follow the river along the shoreline. Enjoy the views of Manhattan and enjoy the beach and serene atmosphere. You can find out more about various landmarks by following this self-guided tour.

Out-of-focus taxis on street in New York City

SoHo/TriBeCa walking tour

Heading down to SoHo and TriBeCa will give you the feeling of being in another city within NYC. The small side streets hide interesting buildings and unique shops, as well as historic spots. Visit on a Saturday when these neighborhoods are at their liveliest, or avoid the largest crowds with a midweek stroll.

Where to start: The best starting point is the junction of Broadway and E Houston Street coming out of Broadway-Lafayette St subway station (or Bleecker St and walk down one block).

The walk: Head south and get lost among the art galleries and museums, with a first sweet stop at the Museum of Ice Cream. Explore the Prince Street shops, then head east to Greene Street. Here, you can find some of the finest examples of cast-iron architecture in the city. The block between Canal Street and Greene Street is the longest such block anywhere in the world. Even the lampposts here are exceptional, with various embellishments worth a second look. Follow this detailed guide from the New York Times to make sure you don’t miss any historic buildings and museums.

Urban and nature trails in Austin

Texas has great outdoor destinations and is a premier vacation spot for walking and hiking lovers across the world. Its urban centers also offer much to be discovered when you’re on foot, especially if you head to Austin. You’ll be charmed by art and nature alike with these two city walks.

The Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake

The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake is a unique pathway in the heart of Austin. The Boardwalk was added in 2014 to create a 7,250-foot walkway replete with art works and fantastic views of the city. Don’t miss the 36 cast bronze belts created by artist Ken Little, with country music song lyrics embossed on each.

Where to start: You can access the Boardwalk from several points, including S. Lakeshore Boulevard between Pleasant Valley Road and Riverside, where you’ll find a parking lot. Consult this map.

The walk: The full loop including the Ann and Roy Butler trail is 10 miles long, but you can stick to just the Boardwalk and enjoy the peaceful waterside views and the skyline of Austin at sunset. There are several viewing areas and benches allowing you to stop and complete different portions of the walk during different times of your visit to Austin, if you prefer.

View of Austin from urban trails with trees in the foreground

Onion Creek Trail

For a more out-of-town experience, the Onion Creek Trail offers a short 2.9-mile loop to see the popular McKinney Falls. The route is paved, giving easy access to all walkers, and there’s plenty of parking around, too.

Where to start: Head to McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin. You can park at Smith Visitor Center and download the GPS trail data (called a GPX file).

The walk: Enjoy views of Upper McKinney Falls before heading parallel to Onion Creek through the woods. The trail allows you to walk at leisure, stop for a picnic and even jump into the creek for a quick swim.

Discovering city walks in Chicago

With its vibrant cultural scene and numerous local attractions, Chicago is a great place to take in museums and art galleries. It also boasts worthwhile options for self-guided city walks thanks to its location along Lake Michigan.

The 606

Where Manhattan has its High Line, Chicago has The 606. This disused railroad became an elevated park connecting Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park. It is also an events hub and a great way to connect your top sightseeing spots with some green space.

Where to start: There are several access points along the 2.7-mile stretch of The 606. You can use this interactive map to find your preferred entry spot.

The walk: Start at either end of the trail and explore the stretch end to end. Along the way, you’ll find permanent and temporary art on display, as well as scenic spots to admire the city from.

Chicago city walk views, including the waterfront and skyline

The Lakefront

The Lakefront Trail is the very definition of an urban trail: fully paved, in the heart of the city and with a great mix of concrete landscape and green oases. Lined by parks, gardens and even beaches, this pedestrian trail is a whopping 18.5 miles! You’ll also be able to pop into top Chicago sightseeing spots like Navy Pier and Soldier Field.

Where to start: The trail begins at 71st Street on the South Side and ends at Ardmore Street on the North Side. You can walk it in either direction.

The walk: Take in the full view of Lake Michigan as you mingle with joggers and cyclists on the trail. Starting in the south, visit the South Shore Cultural Center or stop at the excellent Museum of Science and Industry. Then, carry on through parks and beaches and don’t forget to check out Soldier Field, the oldest stadium in the NFL. End your walk with a free trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of a few zoos in the US that doesn’t charge admission.

Denver urban walking tours

Many visitors to Denver only stop there on the way to Rocky Mountains ski resorts. However, the city is a great destination in itself, with lots of cultural attractions, craft breweries, live music and excellent restaurants. These two trails combine urban walking with some of the city’s top art displays.

City Park Loop

You can enjoy a spot of nature right in the middle of Denver in its City Park. This loop is 3.3 miles long, flat and easy, but offers great views and access to some of the city’s attractions.

Where to start: Use this map to get to City Park and plan your route, potentially connecting with the Perimeter Trail or the Mile High Loop if you want to be out for longer.

The walk: There are plenty of picnic spots and scenic areas to stop and enjoy your time in the park. You can also check out Denver Zoo, take a tour around Ferril Lake or visit the Museum of Nature and Science.

Art Walk

The city’s Art District on Santa Fe (ADSF) has a delightful 2.7-mile circuit from where you can visit art galleries, enjoy excellent food and drink stops and relax in Sunken Gardens park.

Where to start: Begin just outside Eggens Violin Shop on 5th Avenue and follow this walking route put together by ADSF.

The walk: From the charming Victorian house where you can admire the violins handcrafted by Rock T. Eggen, make your way north to the Sunken Gardens, then loop back around streets busy with art galleries and shops. Every first Friday of the month, the ADSF puts on an organized Art Walk on Santa Fe Drive, giving art lovers an opportunity to connect and share the experience of immersing themselves in Denver’s art scene.

Winter view of Denver with a nearly full moon in the sky

Final thoughts

Whether it’s your first time in a new city or you’re eager to explore your own local urban trails for fresh air and exercise, we hope these city walks have given you inspiration for your next trip. Always consult a paper map or a GPS app on your smartphone so you have a good idea of where you’re heading. And, especially if it’s warm or you’re out for longer, don’t forget to bring some water and even snacks with you!

You might not be ready to book flexible travel with Skyscanner just yet, but these city walks are there when you’re ready to plan your next trip and explore again. When you prepare your next vacation, remember to also check local government guidelines to find out the latest COVID-19 restrictions and measures. That way, you’ll be able to make the most of anywhere you go.

Where can I go right now?

Keep an eye on travel restrictions as you plan your next trip. You can visit Skyscanner’s interactive travel restrictions map any time to see the latest updates. Check the conditions of entry for each country if you plan to go abroad.

Global COVID-19 travel info graphic. Click to view the "where can I go?" map

Frequently asked questions about city walks

Are all city walks fully pedestrian?

No, the walks we have included here are not all closed to motorized traffic. Some are trails shared with bikes, while some are simply on sidewalks. As you will be in busy cities, we strongly advise you to be aware of traffic at all times.

How accessible are city walks in parks?

Most of the trails we included in this article have been modified to offer access to persons with reduced mobility. We have also included their websites, where available, so you can check directly before going.

Are city walks free of charge?

Yes, the urban trails and hikes mentioned here are all free to access. You don’t need to pay an entrance fee to enter the parks or public land. You will, however, need to allow money for public transport and/or parking charges, where applicable.

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