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10 Great Cities for Outdoor Fun

  • American flag and tourists view from Chimney Rock mountain, cities for outdoor fun
    Steve Heap

    Asheville, North Carolina

    En español | Imagine a peaceful float down the French Broad River, one of countlessgorgeous streams flowing through the North Carolina mountains. Now imagine pulling your kayak over in Asheville’s hip River Arts District for barbecue, a brewery tour and a gallery walk. Too tame? Head downstream 20 miles for Class II to IV whitewater rafting. By car, take the Blue Ridge Parkway to hiking spots, including the far-reaching panorama at Craggy Gardens and the three-mile round-trip to the 5,721-foot summit of Mount Pisgah. You’ll find great biking trails south of town at Bent Creek, also home to the green oasis of the North Carolina Arboretum.

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  • Austin skyline and people on paddleboards, cities for outdoor fun

    Austin, Texas

    “Keep Austin Weird” has long been the state capital’s slogan, but the city has a definite wild side, too. You'll find it downtown at beloved Zilker Park, a green expanse that's home to the three-acre Barton Springs Pool. Austinites consider this spot their own private swimming hole. The park's Butler Hike and Bike Trail runs 10 miles along the shore of Lady Bird Lake. The seven-mile Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail offers multiple spots popular with hikers, rock climbers and, when the creek is flowing, kayakers and tubers.

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  • Couple on blanket watches hot air balloons, cities for outdoor fun
    Getty Images

    Boise, Idaho

    Boise might just have the biggest concentration of within-city-limits outdoor activities in the U.S. Begin on the Greenbelt, which stretches alongside the Boise River for 25 miles through downtown and draws hikers and bikers. The river itself is popular for lazy kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and even river surfing on dam-created waves. You’ll find more miles of hiking trails at Camel’s Back Park and Hulls Gulch Reserve, on the northern edge of the city. In winter, downhill and cross-country skiers need drive only 16 miles to Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area to enjoy 2,600 acres of ski terrain.

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  • Person riding mountain bike on trail, cities for outdoor fun

    Boulder, Colorado

    Just about everybody in this city in the Rocky Mountains foothills is a hiker, biker, paddler or rock climber. It’s easy for a visitor to join the fun, too. Get a tube or kayak and enjoy a float down Boulder Creek in the heart of downtown, or rent a bike and pedal on some of the 300 miles of trails winding through 44,000 acres of open space surrounding Boulder. Just 20 minutes from town, El Dorado Canyon State Park offers great hiking and some of the best rock climbing in the region. For an even more expansive adventure, the vast wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park is an hour away.

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  • Couple holding hands walking down path near cornfield, cities for outdoor fun
    Ken Wiedemann

    Burlington, Vermont

    Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was born in Burlington, and you won’t feel guilty about rewarding yourself with a scoop or two after a bike ride on the excellent Island Line Trail, a 14-mile route along the shore of Lake Champlain. The trail begins just south of town, and the path continues onto a causeway across the lake. Book a ferry ride to explore more out on the water, or rent a sailboat, kayak or stand-up paddleboard along the Burlington waterfront. Drive east an hour and you’ll feel on top of the world after a three-mile hike to the top of 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Up for some winter sports? The Bolton Valley Resort is 25 miles from the city.

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  • Rock formations from Airport Mesa Loop trail in Sedona Arizona, cities for outdoor fun
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    Flagstaff, Arizona

    Set amid the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff abounds in hiking and mountain-biking trails: Follow the popular, 14-mile round-trip Kachina Trail — on the slopes of the volcanic San Francisco Peaks — to enjoy lush wilderness, or underground adventure at nearby Lava River Cave. To see some of America’s most striking red-rocks terrain, head south 30 miles to the fantastic landscape around Sedona. The granddaddy of all panoramas awaits 80 miles north at the Grand Canyon, but don’t neglect the eerie moonscape of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, just 16 miles north of Flagstaff, or the ancient cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument, 10 miles east of town.

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  • Sailboats on Lake Calhoun, cities for outdoor fun

    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Visionary thinking a century ago made Minneapolis what it is today: the No. 1 American city for parks, according to the Trust for Public Land. Early civic leaders bought land around several of the 20-plus lakes in the urban area, creating beautiful Chain of Lakes Regional Park, where locals and visitors can canoe, sail, swim, walk and bike. Elsewhere, hiking is popular in Minnehaha Park, where bluffs overlook the Mississippi River. And speaking of the Mighty Mississippi, you can take a guided canoe or kayak tour of the river in downtown Minneapolis. Just south of the airport, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge offers a relaxing place to enjoy the natural world.

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  • Skiers take to the slopes at Santa Fe Ski Area, cities for outdoor fun
    Mark Newman

    Santa Fe, New Mexico

    New Mexico’s capital gets so much praise for art, food and history that another attraction is often overlooked: the great outdoors. In winter the Ski Santa Fe area boasts great powder, and in summer there’s fine mountain biking and wilderness hiking — including the spectacular seven-mile trek to the 12,632-foot summit of Santa Fe Baldy. North of town, hop into a raft for the six-mile stretch of the Rio Grande called the Racecourse, a thrill ride of continuous Class II and III rapids. Use the city’s Dale Ball Trails to reach the top of 8,577-foot Picacho Peak, where you’ll be rewarded with a vista of Santa Fe and the distant Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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  • Person in red canoe on Willamette River, cities for outdoor adventure
    Bob Pool

    Portland, Oregon

    The hipsters who’ve made Portland an icon of cool in recent years are also enthusiastically green. No place in America is more bike-friendly: With more than 300 miles of bikeways, Portland has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters of any city. Residents revere the 5,157-acre Forest Park, the largest urban forest in the U.S. Check out the Intertwine for countless suggestions on city hiking and biking trails and other outdoorsy activities, including paddling on the Willamette River. Less than an hour east, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers hikes to dozens of spectacular waterfalls, most especially the 620-foot Multnomah Falls.

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  • Group of women running near water, cities for outdoor fun
    Getty Images

    Seattle, Washington

    It’s fitting that one of the finest views of Seattle can be found on the short ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. Water is essential to the lifestyle here, with lakes and bays winding throughout the city. Rent a sea kayak or canoe and explore the picturesque (and pricey) houseboat neighborhood featured in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, as well as other scenic spots on Lake Union or Portage Bay. Enjoy the water from dry land at Seward Park, a peninsula on Lake Washington with old-growth forest and (on clear days) a view of Mount Rainier. Two national parks — Olympic to the west and Rainier to the east — offer easy excursions to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Northwest.

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