City Guide

The 15 Best U.S. Cities for Outdoor Enthusiasts

By Cassandra Brooklyn | Aug 11, 2022

Who doesn’t love a good outdoor adventure? Whether it’s an epic hike through the forest or a bike ride along the water on some far-flung island, there’s something special about being outdoors with nothing but your bicycle or your hiking boots. And while some outdoor adventures can be great on vacation, they’re equally amazing when you can incorporate them into your daily life wherever you are. For example, water lovers would do well to base themselves near lake cities or coastal towns, while forest or mountain lovers may have different priorities. Whether you tend toward tiny towns or prefer massive metropolises, there are plenty of places in the U.S. with heaps of outdoor activities within reach.

To get you started thinking about where to head next, here are our picks for the best cities for outdoor enthusiasts:

1. Boise, Idaho

The first light of the sun hits the mountains in Lucky Peak State Park, right outside Boise, Idaho.

Boise has a bit of everything, from mountain biking trails and kayaking right near the downtown area to easy access to hot springs and dark sky preserves a bit outside of town. Boise is one of the most rapidly growing destinations for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers seeking a bike-friendly city that’s also near skiing, hiking, kayaking, and camping destinations. Idaho is also known for having some of the best whitewater rafting in the country, including the Lochsa, Salmon, Snake, and Selway rivers, which offer thrilling adventures from spring to fall.

2. Phoenix, Arizona

Sunset in the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix is very bike-friendly, with easy access to all types of outdoor activities nearby. You can go stargazing in Flagstaff, putt around at a golf course in Tucson, or go hiking and mountain biking in nearby Scottsdale. While this southwestern state may be known for its hot desert heat, Phoenix is also only a few hours from winter wonderland skiing in the snow-capped Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. A few hours of driving will also take you to Petrified Forest National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park, so you’ll pretty much never run out of things to do in the Phoenix area.

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3. Scottsdale, Arizona

The Superstition Mountains and Sonoran desert landscape at sunset in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

If you like warm weather and southwestern charm but are looking for something a bit smaller than Phoenix, Scottsdale is a great choice. You’ll have fantastic access to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, and you’ll be even closer to Lost Dutchman State Park and Tonto National Forest.

From May to October, you can also visit the Bat Cave to witness 10,000 to 20,000 Mexican free-tailed bats as they make their way south to Mexico. If you like the idea of flying high like a bat, know that Scottsdale is one of the hot air balloon capitals of the country, so it’s a great place to go for a ride (particularly around sunrise or sunset).

4. Little Rock, Arkansas

Arkansas River Emerald Park North Little Rock Arkansas

Bicycle lovers would do well in Little Rock, Arkansas, where detailed cycling guides make it easy to plan your bike rides by breaking down cycling route distances and elevation profiles, points of interest, and other nearby trails. Self-guided cycling routes are themed—think craft breweries, local history, and art districts—and tend to be short and sweet. Longer cycling routes, on the other hand, are perfect for more serious riders wanting to explore the 70-mile Thornburg Loop or the 55-mile Keo Loop.

Mountain bikers can head to Little Rock’s Two Rivers Park and River Mountain Park, which include trails for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders.

5. Denver, Colorado

Camping tent in the Rocky Mountains with lake and snow capped peaks

Whether you’re a cyclist, hiker, kayaker, rafter, or mountain climber, Denver is the place for a huge number of outdoor activities. not only will you find great bike lanes within the city and half-day rafting trips just outside of Denver, but you’re also a hop, skip, and a jump away from glorious mountains that are perfect for multi-day adventures.

Some rugged routes can accommodate bicycles, but some of the peaks are so intense that you won’t be able to get a bicycle up the rough terrain. In those cases, a steep and stunning hike is better suited for the area.

Looking for some trail inspiration? Check out our blog post, “A Local’s Guide to the Best Hikes in Denver.”

6. Fort Collins, Boulder, and Colorado Springs

Winter in the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado

While Denver gets most of the attention in Colorado, there are plenty of other outdoorsy cities in the state, including Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Fort Collins. Colorado Springs is the state’s second-largest city, while Boulder and Fort Collins are smaller college towns. You could easily visit each city as day trips or skip around and base yourself at each for a few weeks or months if you want to switch up your outdoor adventures a bit.

All of these Colorado towns are great places for cyclists, hikers, and climbers, but Boulder is known for its rock climbing and Fort Collins is an especially good choice if you’re into brews and bikes. The culture in Fort Collins is very much associated with the city’s many microbreweries, some of which organize group rides and public events. There are also plenty of bike routes you can explore on your own.

7. Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon Panorama. Sunset scene with dramatic sky and light reflections on the Willamette River.

There are three great ways to get around Portland, Oregon: bike, bike, and bike. Bike paths blanket the town, happily guiding you to the fabulous new seafood restaurant, quirky cafe, or independent bookstore you’ve been dying to try. Portland is a bike lover’s dream, but those looking for hiking, camping, canoeing, and other outdoor activities will easily find that outside of town.

Also, Portland is less than 90 minutes from the ocean, so it won’t be too difficult to head to sandy beaches for some sun and fun or to shady shores better suited for kayaking, fishing, and napping.

9. Seattle, Washington

Man hiker by alpine lake. Nada lake, Enchantment Lakes basin, Leavenworth, Seattle, Washington state, USA .

Seattle is a great place for people who want to live on the water but may not be into islands. While Seattle is not directly on the ocean, it’s surrounded by lakes, bays, and waterways that are just begging to be explored (plus, the ocean itself is not too far away).

Much of Seattle is bikeable or walkable, and the city is also nearby Saltwater State Park and Dash Point State Park, if you’re itching to get away for some waterfront nature. You’re also only about 90 minutes from Mount Rainier National Park and two hours from Olympic National Park, which are excellent for hiking, kayaking, skiing, or snowshoeing, depending on the season.

10. San Francisco, California

Scenic panoramic view of historic Bixby Creek Bridge along world famous Highway 1 in beautiful golden evening light at sunset with dramatic cloudscape in summer, Monterey County, California, USA

San Francisco has a young and fun ocean vibe with a large focus on technology, but it’s also only an hour from the West Coast’s skiing capital, Lake Tahoe, and two hours from the idyllic coastal village Carmel-by-the-Sea, which has stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco is a great place to base yourself if you want to enjoy the benefits of a big metropolis while being able to bike everywhere and enjoy easy access to small coastal towns, inland sea fun, and skiing and hiking adventures in the mountains.

10. San Diego, California

With cliffs towering over him, a surfer pulls out of a wave in San Diego, California.

Not only is San Diego one of the most beautiful cities in California, but it’s also one of the best for outdoor recreation. This city has a huge bike culture, with many different cycling groups organizing fun themed rides you can join. You can even ride the quick 20-mile route along the sea to Mexico and take your bike across the border to Tijuana!

You can also head up north up the coast and take day trips to some of the beach towns that coastal California is famous for. San Diego has great access to hiking, along with scuba diving and surfing for all the ocean lovers out there.

11. Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin ice age nature background. Scenic landscape with wooden boardwalk and hiking trail through colorful trees along lake. DevilÕs Lake State Park, Baraboo area, Wisconsin, Midwest USA.

Wisconsin’s capital is known for its strong beer and cheese culture, but this city also has many outdoor recreation options and a high bike score. Madison is a lake town (on an isthmus, actually, stretching between two different lakes) and has consistently been voted as one of the most bicycle-friendly places in America.

Not only does this city have an extensive network of protected bike lanes in the city and bike paths out of the city, but Madison also has a large bike-share network in case you want to leave your own bike at home. Here, you’ll be perfectly situated to explore some of the state’s famous rail trails (former railroad lines converted into bike and pedestrian paths), and hike sections of Wisconsin’s 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail, one of the best hiking trails in the U.S.

12. Minneapolis, Minnesota

A landscape photo of the bike lane in down town Minneapolis. The photo is taken from the middle of the street with cityscape in the background.

Often dubbed the most bicycle-friendly place in the U.S., Minneapolis is a phenomenal base for anyone who likes to do everything from their bike, from long road rides to mountain rides and everything in between. No car is needed in Minneapolis, as you can easily bike to anywhere you need to go. If you do have a car or want to go further, the surrounding “Land of Lakes” in Minnesota are perfect for canoeing, paddleboarding, or lakeside hiking and camping. Choose from hundreds of lake cities and have at it!

13. New York City, New York

Far Rockaway beach, sand dunes on beach, empty beach during sundown, beautiful beach in nature at the Atlantic Ocean

The Big Apple may be known for attracting actors, artists, and models, but it also draws huge numbers of transplants seeking outdoor activities in the surrounding area. Bike lanes cover much of the five boroughs, and you can bring your bike on the subway, making it great for car-free bike commuters.

You can even bike right next to the Atlantic Ocean, where surfing is popular in the Rockaway section of Queens. New York nature lovers also have easy access to beach towns and coastal camping sites all along the Atlantic coast in Long Island, as well as tremendous opportunities to hike and bike north of town in the stunning Catskills region and the Adirondack Mountains.

14. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Great Allegheny Passage bike trail

Bike lovers would do well in Pittsburgh, which is blanketed with bike lanes that run through downtown, around town to different neighborhoods, and along the forested waterfront paths that line much of Steel City. Riders looking to do some distance can grab their bike and hop on the Great Allegheny Passage (also known as the GAP trail), which originates near Pittsburgh and runs all the way to Washington, D.C. While you’ll find plenty of hotels and B&Bs along the way, you can also camp. Fall is an especially beautiful time to do the ride!

15. Boston, Massachusetts

Lady paddling the kayak in Boston

Boston is another bicycle-friendly town where you can ride anywhere and everywhere you want to go. Bike paths are plentiful and well-marked (and many are protected), and the multitude of waterfront paths will also guide you to places to kayak in the area. Boston is a great base to explore the rest of the northeast, as you’ll have easy access to places like Vermont, which has phenomenal skiing, and Maine, which has superb hiking and kayaking.

Live your best life in the great outdoors with Landing

If you’re an outdoor lover looking to hike, bike, kayak, and camp all over the country, you may want the flexibility of having a home base in different states. Landing offers digital nomads fully furnished apartments in over 375 cities throughout the U.S., along with flexible lease terms that make it easy to try out a new city, then move on when you’re itching to go somewhere else! With Landing’s network of fully-furnished apartments, you can find an amazing place to stay no matter where your outdoor adventures take you. Learn more about what a Landing membership can do for you today.

Looking for some hiking inspiration? Check out our blog post, “The 15 Best Hiking Trails in the U.S. to Check Off Your Bucket List.”

Cassandra Brooklyn

Cassandra is a freelance travel writer based in New York City with work appearing in The New York Times, National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, Fodor's, USA Today, and The Daily Beast, among other publications. She specializes in sustainable travel, adventure travel, and all things outdoors - hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, camping, and scuba diving. She's also the owner of EscapingNY, a small tour company and she leads tours in Cuba, Mexico, Jordan, and beyond.