7 Reasons to Take an Urban Hike

As much as I love hiking, sometimes life prevents me from driving an hour or two on the weekend to hit my favorite trails. However, distance and convenience doesn’t stop me from hiking entirely. Instead, I’ve turned to hiking in the city; more specifically, taking an urban hike. This is just as it sounds, purposely walking through the city to get in exercise while taking in the metropolitan scenery.

After spending a few weeks in Europe last year, I came to appreciate the benefits that come with urban walking in distance. Three to five mile walks to get somewhere became norm.  Discovering that you can walk anywhere with a good pair of shoes, an adventurous spirit, and a great deal of patience, I took this attitude back with me to the U.S. and have been practicing it ever since. I walk to work, to the gym, to eat, and even to go out.

Still not convinced to take an urban hike? I’ve compiled seven reasons why your next hike outdoors should be an urban one.

1. Lighten Your Load

Perhaps the greatest advantage to taking an urban hike is the ease of accessing necessary supplies and facilities along the way. If you are feeling hungry, you don’t need to remember to pack enough protein-packed snacks. Instead, you can stop at the nearest café to refuel. Have the sudden urge to pee? Stop into the nearest public building or convenience store to take care of your needs. Bring only what you want to bring instead of what you need. Leave behind the massive water bottle, snacks, and instead bring an extra lens for your camera.

2. Access Urban Trails with Ease

Almost every novice hiker will cite distance as a reason to not take a hike. With busy lives and schedules, it can be difficult to find time (or inclination) to drive into the wilderness. An urban hike doesn’t require an early call time to drive to the trail before the sun gets too hot. Instead, you can roll out of bed as you please, eliminating much of the time that can consume your day when preparing for, driving to, and taking a walk in the wilderness.

3. Explore Your City

It’s easy to get consumed in our everyday lives—driving to and from work, going to the gym, eating dinner, sleeping and repeat the next day. Often we forget to take a walk outside the walls of our house. An urban hike gives us the chance to explore the terrain we live in, to contemplate how we live and interact with the city we call home. We break out of the limitations of our daily agendas and how they consume our perception of where we live. Instead, with an urban hike, we learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us that we often forget is out there.

4. Navigate Without Question

More often than not, I get lost while hiking along poorly marked trails. If navigation is a weakness of yours like it is for me, this is made substantially easier on urban hikes. Rather than having to rely on a compass or a complicated GPS device, you can instead use the GPS function on your phone to help guide you. Keep in mind your service may be spotty or your battery may get drained if this will be your sole form of navigation. It is always advised to have a secondary form of navigation such as a paper map or compass. “I always carry one during nature hikes, but in urban areas, you can generally follow landmarks to ensure you’re headed in the right direction,” says Liz Thomas, a distance hiker who holds the women’s unsupported speed record of hiking the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail (in 80 days and 13.5 hours).

5. Conquer Urban Obstacles

If you are worried about not trekking up those steep inclines you often encounter in nature hikes, fear not. Urban hikers squelch this concern by to focusing on climbing as many stairs as possible on their route to mimic the include of a traditional hike. This doesn’t mean climbing steps in a park or any old building along the way, but rather stairways that connect public roads. “These are essentially roads for pedestrians — hidden sidewalks in the hills,” says Thomas. By becoming acquainted with these urban obstacles, you should become more aware of public infrastructure for pedestrians and explore parts of the city you might not have otherwise.

If you are unsure where stairs are, many are marked on Google Maps or you can also look behind dead end signs—where many are often hiding. Sites like publicstairs.com report step findings worldwide to also help better inform you.

6. Get A Good Workout In

Urban hiking can be just as strenuous as a nature hike. A perfect example of this is urban hiking in San Francisco, a city that has more than 600 outdoor stairways. In fact, one hiker plotted a seven-day 110-mile route that connected them all and found his trek included 42 hills and more than 5,000 feet of climbing. Another hiker spent six days hiking 200 miles and 300 staircases around Los Angeles. Hiking in Pittsburgh can be even more rigorous, with 45,000 steps in 700 stairways. The need for an indoor gym is almost eliminated when you have an outdoor gym at your fingertips.

7. Participate in A Free Activity

Taking an urban hike is almost free of charge. Aside from a good pair of shoes and socks, and the fuel your body needs to keep going, an urban hike is free. There is no need to fill up your tank of gas or pay an entrance fee at a park. Instead you can walk out your front door at your leisure and explore your city. It’s free, it’s easy to do, it’s easy on the joints. There is no question that an urban hike is not only budget-friendly but it’s also good for you.