Urban hikes for an easy nature getaway

Sometimes you just have to veer from the itinerary and get outside. Maybe your attendees’ eyes are glazing over from too many meetings and cups of coffee, and need a quick and much needed break to recharge their batteries. Or maybe you don’t have the time or budget to get your group out of the city and into the kind of fabulous nature activity you (and they) would like.

Fortunately there’s an option. From new green-space developments to tried and true parks, many urban areas offer alternatives for getting out into nature without having to get out of the city. For planners, it’s a great way to shoehorn a brief getaway into a busy schedule without breaking the bank. And it can sometimes be as easy as firing up the Google map machine and searching for green spaces near your hotel. Following are a few suggestions on some great urban nature escapes for your next meeting.

Boston – Blue Hills Reservation
A mere 14 miles south of downtown Boston, the Blue Hills Reservation offers 125 miles of multiple trails that crisscross through its 7,000 wooded acres, past ponds, hilltops and wetlands. Enjoy easy half-mile loops or rugged 3-mile treks over rocky terrain, or a picnic next to one of several ponds. The Skyline Trail is the featured trail here, with a number of hills along the way that offer excellent views of the Boston skyline. Another option is the 2,575-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation just north of downtown, with 100 miles of trails, several ponds and open meadows for picnics or other activities.

San Francisco – Lands End
San Francisco is surrounded by outdoorsy options, from the open spaces of Marin County right across the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of the city. But one of the best hikes in the entire Bay Area is found within city limits. Located on the northwest edge of San Francisco, Lands End offers several trails with lots of unspoiled coastal nature along with amazing views of the San Francisco bay, Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge. Hike down to the beach, visit the USS San Francisco Memorial, and check out the ruins of the famed Sutro Baths, all while forgetting you’re a stone’s throw to city streets.

Vancouver – Stanley Park
That hunk of green space that sticks out like a thumbnail into the harbor from downtown Vancouver is one of the most impressive city parks in North America. Step into the wilds of Stanley Park, offering such a stark contrast to the neighboring urban core you’ll swear there’s bears in there. Hiking and mountain biking trails wind through stands of Douglas fir, red cedar and Sitka spruce, while a more civilized option in this urban oasis is to walk or bike the paved trail that runs through towering woods and along the water’s edge.

New York City – The Greenbelt
If a New Yorker tells you to “take a hike, pal,” they may be suggesting one of a surprising number of parks located within city limits. Considered the flagship park is the 2,880-acre Greenbelt in the center of Staten Island, which boasts a 35-mile network of marked hiking trails, from short loops to the 12-mile Blue Trail. The Greenbelt Conservancy offers audio tours and hiking guides with expertise in everything from botany to history or biology. Check out the High Rock Environmental Center and the Greenbelt Native Plant Center to add an educational element to your outing.

Los Angeles – Griffith Park
L.A. County is huge, and so is the 4,210-acre Griffith Park north of Hollywood, one of the largest city parks in the country. And unlike other city parks, it’s mostly untamed and varied, with 53 miles of trails and an elevation range from 384 to 1,625 feet. Aside from the famed Griffith Observatory and other attractions (L.A. Zoo and Greek Theatre), much of the park is wild and rugged, made up of separate pockets for activities such as hiking or horseback riding through chaparral terrain. The most notable hike is along the Mt. Hollywood Trail, a 90-minute trek to the top of Mt. Hollywood, which offers spectacular views of the observatory, downtown L.A. and the Hollywood sign.

Chicago – McClaughry Springs Woods
Located 24 miles from downtown Chicago (but still within Cook County) is a collection of woods and nature preserves with meadows, ponds and trails that run through wooded terrain. One of the most notable here is the McClaughry Springs Woods and the 20 miles of unpaved Sag Valley Trail that winds through the small forest. Enjoy some vertical rise in these otherwise flat lands, as the trail follows a stream that in summer is alive with frogs, dragonflies and birdsong.

Photo credits: Stanley Park fall foliage, shutterstock.com. Lands End, San Francisco by Alfred Sonsalla / Shutterstock.com  ; Griffith Park Observatory by Ayrat A / Shutterstock.com.


John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and blogger based in San Jose, California. He has covered the meetings and hospitality industry extensively since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @jcax01

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