America’s biggest burgs have become thriving adventure hubs, home to a new breed of outdoor athletes who paddleboard before work, bike singletrack at lunch, and hit the climbing gym before dinner. Here’s where and how to join the fun.
The Not-So-Second City
Population: 2.7 million
Median Household Income: $55,295
Park Acreage: 13,547
Stereotypical Resident: The weekend warrior who’s quick to tell you how the cold doesn’t stop them from running, biking, or surfing all winter long.
What’s Happening: Chicago is undergoing a public-space renaissance with the development of new trails like the elevated 606 and the Chicago Riverwalk. This in a metro area that’s already loaded with recreation opportunities.
The Neighborhood: A community that attracts immigrants from all over the world, Pilsen is known for its vibrant street art and international food scene, from high-end Vietnamese at HaiSous to Mexican street fare at Don Pedro Carnitas.
The Run: The Lakefront Trail parallels Lake Michigan for 18.5 miles and offers views of Chicago’s skyline. Fleet Feet Sports operates water and Gatorade stands along the path in summer, training season for the Chicago Marathon.
The Adventure: SUP the lake from Montrose Beach or paddle the Chicago River through the heart of downtown. “It’s so urban, paddling through this giant canyon of glass and steel, but there’s all kinds of wildlife, too,” says Dave Olson, owner of Kayak Chicago, who’s been working with Urban Rivers to create floating gardens.
The Escape: Head 30 minutes south of downtown to the Palos Trail System, where around 24 miles of high-quality singletrack meanders through a Cook County forest preserve. “It’s mostly cross-country, but there are several sections that are really rocky and technical,” says Jerry Stoeckigt, executive director of Chicago Area Mountain Bikers.
The Desert Rose
Median Household Income: $41,613
Park Acreage: 4,610
Stereotypical Resident: The burrito-fueled cyclist who’s unafraid of hill climbs, cactus needles, or riding singletrack at night to escape the summer heat.
What’s Happening: In 2015, Tucson was designated a Unesco Creative City of Gastronomy—the first American city to earn such an honor—in recognition of its unique blend of Native American, northern Sonoran, and colonial Spanish cuisines.
The Neighborhood: Menlo Park, close to open space on Tucson’s west side, is just minutes from the Loop, a newly completed 131-mile bike path that circles the city.
The Ride: The route that really put Tucson cycling on the map is the 29-mile, 6,600-foot climb up Mount Lemmon. You start among saguaros and end among ponderosas. Riders who get this far are rewarded with a gleeful descent.
The Adventure: In summer, mountain bikers rendezvous after dark at the 36th Street Trailhead to ride 9.3 miles by headlamp through the 20,000-acre, county-owned Tucson Mountain Park. Watch for wildlife: snakes, tarantulas, owls, and Gila monsters all come out at night.
The Crag: Mount Lemmon offers more than 3,000 climbing routes. Summer temperatures on the upper mountain can be 20 degrees lower than they are in town. In winter you can climb on sunny days in a T-shirt.
The Running Hub
Median Household Income: $66,758
Park Acreage: 5,089
Stereotypical Resident: The brewery worker with an advanced degree who wears a Red Sox hat while training to run a sub-three marathon.
What’s Happening: Boston is booming and getting more diverse. The population has grown by nearly 10 percent since 2010; these days nearly 30 percent of Bostonians are foreign born.
The Neighborhood: Fenway, once home to little more than the legendary ballpark and plenty of dive bars, is now one of the hottest culinary destinations in Boston. “Fenway has always gotten a lot of foot traffic, but new condo investment has brought higher-end restaurants and bars,” says Maggie Walsh Deaver, a yoga instructor who organizes pop-up fitness classes throughout the city. Grab a whiskey and a dozen oysters at Citizen Public House before catching a game.
The Other Race: The Boston Marathon gets all the love, but Yulefest, a winter 5K in nearby Cambridge, is more fun. “It’s one big party, from the top racers to the slower runners who are dressed in fun outfits,” says Dave Spandorfer, cofounder of local running-apparel brand Janji.
The Workout: Running the stairs of Harvard Stadium is a Boston tradition. November Project organizes a weekly session on Wednesday mornings, but you can attempt a full tour of all 37 stair sections on your own.
The Watering Hole: Get your pre-run coffee and post-run beer in the same place. Lamplighter, a Cambridge brewery, features some of the best IPAs in town and shares its location with Longfellows, a shop that sells to-go growlers full of delicious coffee.
The Hangout: Running brand Tracksmith opened its first retail store, the Trackhouse, in the Back Bay neighborhood in 2017. Stop in for running gear, to sign up for training jaunts, or to watch live-streamed races at its lounge.
The Adventure: Reachable by a short ferry ride, the 34 islands and peninsulas that make up Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park are great for hiking and trail running, but they’re an even better paddling destination. Park rangers give kayaking lessons off Spectacle Island, or you can go it alone and camp on Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells, or Peddocks Islands.
The Escape: Spandorfer recommends New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Camp in Monadnock State Park, a two-hour drive away, then climb 3,165-foot Mount Monadnock for views stretching all the way to the Boston skyline.
The Tropical Paradise
Median Household Income: $40,327
Park Acreage: 1,500
Stereotypical Resident: The tanned triathlete-yogi-marathoner-SUPer who does everything but surf.
What’s Happening: Sure, Miami has beaches, but public officials are also busily connecting hundreds of miles of urban trails, making it possible to explore oceanfront parks, cross Biscayne Bay, and then grab a delicious Cuban pastelito puff pastry—all on multi-use paths.
The Neighborhood: You’ll find bungalows, Spanish architecture, old-growth trees, and quirky parks in Coconut Grove, Miami’s oldest neighborhood, on the city’s southeastern shore. The Bohemian vibe comes with great recreation, including runs along the five-mile Commodore Trail and 20-mile out-and-back rides to Key Biscayne on the Rickenbacker Causeway. But you’ll have to pony up. Coconut Grove is one of the city’s hottest housing markets; the average single-family home is priced in the low seven figures.
The Adventure: Oleta River State Park, 30 minutes from downtown in North Miami, offers more than 1,000 acres of urban green space. BG Oleta River Outdoor Center will set you up with rentals for your chosen activity: riding the park’s 15 miles of mountain-bike trails, paddling through its mangrove forests, or exploring North Biscayne Bay on a stand-up paddleboard.
The Glades: The Everglades, an hour from Miami, are the lifeblood of South Florida and the third-largest national park in the lower 48. Rent a kayak from Flamingo Adventures, then paddle the 11-mile out-and-back Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail. Camp on a chickee, an open-air platform on the water, and you may see crocodiles and manatees from your sleeping bag.
Little Rock, Arkansas
The Hidden Gem
Median Household Income: $57,534
Park Acreage: 6,300
Stereotypical Resident: The ruggedly hospitable southerner who packs their PFD alongside their trail-running shoes, hiking boots, and cycling cleats.
What’s Happening: While northwest Arkansas deserves its recent designation as America’s next mountain-biking paradise, Little Rock, smack-dab in the state’s geographic center, is an undiscovered multisport oasis.
The Neighborhoods: With plenty of interconnected trails splintering off their bungalow-lined drags, the city’s adjoining Heights and Hillcrest neighborhoods offer easy access to all manner of trail runs, hikes, and rides. Bonus: the Meteor, a hybrid coffee and bike shop, serves single-origin coffee to fuel your morning training sessions and local beer for a post-ride come down.
The Race: Between the Big Dam Bridge 100 cycling tour, which saw 3,500 participants last year, and the Little Rock Marathon, the city hosts many marquee events. But with 8- and 24-hour courses, December’s Raid the Rock adventure race, which has participants paddling hidden wetlands and rappelling off parking garages, guarantees the most comprehensive tour of the city.
The Mechanic: For 48 years, the Chainwheel bike shop has been a hub for gear and, more importantly, know-how. “They understand I’m going to roll in two days before a race and say, ‘Hey, can you check my brake pads and do all this? And by the way, I need it back tomorrow,’ ” says adventure racer Rachel Furman. “They kind of roll their eyes, but they always come through.”
The Urban Adventure: Travel just two miles south of downtown and you’ll find one of America’s largest urban wetlands, 1,800-acre Fourche Creek. Put in at Interstate Park and you can paddle between the 300-year-old cypress trees that host some 188 species of birds, all within the heart of the city.
The Escape: A little over an hour west of town, you’ll find the IMBA Epic-certified Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. The 40-odd miles of singletrack mirror the southern rim of 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita, a man-made wonderland that boasts around 200 islands—all of which are ready for some paddle-in camping. Be sure to hit up DeLuca’s in nearby Hot Springs; there’s no better pizza in the state.
—Jordan P. Hickey
The Green Acres
Median Household Income: $60,789
Park Acreage: 5,070
Stereotypical Resident: The hardy midwestern striver who paddles in summer, nordic skis in winter, and cycles year-round in whatever conditions nature serves up.
What’s Happening: As part of the Minneapolis Big Build, city stakeholders are investing more than $1 billion in projects to improve local facilities and amenities, including plenty of new urban greenspace.
The Neighborhood: Sandwiched between a 740-acre park and downtown, Bryn Mawr is perfect for families who want out-the-door adventure without sacrificing their city fix. “It’s got world-class nordic skiing and miles of singletrack mountain biking at Theodore Wirth Regional Park, along with a canoe launch that connects us to the city’s lakes,” says Steve Yore, an analyst at Quality Bicycle Products. “We can bike downtown on paved trail in under 20 minutes.”
The Race: The centerpiece of February’s City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival is the Loppet Classic, a 23-mile point-to-point nordic marathon that starts at Bde Maka Ska, the city’s largest urban lake, and winds around the frozen trails of south Minneapolis.
The Loop: In 2020, Theodore Wirth Park—home to 15 miles of groomed ski trails—will host the first FIS Cross-Country World Cup event held in the U.S. in nearly 20 years.
The Hub: The Trailhead, a new adventure center at Theodore Wirth Park, has a gear shop that will service your bike or skis, outfit you with new equipment, or rent you a fat bike, cross-country planks, and snowshoes.
The Adventure: Cycle the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a 51-mile road route and multi-use path that circles the city, taking you through nearly unbroken parkland. “You can recharge at any of more than 100 amazing restaurants, cafés, and brewpubs without leaving the trail,” says Bruce Martens, director of Loppet Cycle Works.
The Weekend Trip: Twenty-five miles northeast of the city, you’ll find the sleepy Saint Croix River town of Stillwater and the 40-room Lora, a new boutique hotel built inside a 19th-century brewery. Paddle part of the 255-mile Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, or cycle dozens of miles of paved trails.
The Multisport Metropolis
Median Household Income: $57,597
Park Acreage: 5,002
Stereotypical Resident: The millennial who cruises the BeltLine on a Bird scooter and refuses to travel OTP (Outside the Perimeter).
What’s Happening: Atlanta has always been the South’s business center, but the city’s culture and quality of life are catching up to its economic clout. “The amount of street art is mind-blowing,” says Robyn Elliott, owner of Bicycle Tours of Atlanta. “Artists come from all over to create murals and graffiti here.”
The Neighborhood: Old Fourth Ward has emerged as the hottest district inside the Interstate 285 loop—locally known as the Perimeter—with former warehouses being converted into lofts and business spaces. “It’s the most Atlanta of all our neighborhoods. Among other reasons, this is where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached,” says Tucker Berta Sarkisian, who works for the popular SweetWater Brewing Company. The neighborhood is home to the rollicking Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping-Pong Emporium bar, which is known for both drag shows and competitive table tennis.
The Race: The AJC Peachtree Road Race, which is held on the Fourth of July, is the country’s largest 10K, and it’s a rolling party. Thousands of spectators line the course, and costumes are highly encouraged.
The Workout: The BeltLine is a rails-to-trails project that will form a 22-mile loop, connecting 45 different neighborhoods and many parks. Five of the eight sections are complete and already attract runners, cyclists, and gawkers. “Around here people talk about what section they run the way other people talk about their fitness classes,” Sarkisian says.
The Fueling Station: Staplehouse, in Old Fourth Ward, offers a nine-course tasting menu designed by chef Ryan Smith, a James Beard Award finalist. Everything is local and all after-tax profit goes to support restaurant workers in need.
The Adventure: Southside Park is home to Atlanta’s only legal singletrack, with a 1.25-mile flow trail and a new three-mile intermediate loop that winds through a dense forest canopy just seven miles from the heart of downtown.
The Escape: Two hours to the north, Cloudland Canyon State Park’s thousand-foot sandstone gorge hides waterfalls, caves, and 64 miles of hiking trails. The six-mile Sitton’s Gulch Trail will lead you into the heart of the ravine.
Median Household Income: $65,224
Park Acreage: 6,238
Stereotypical Resident: The twentysomething transplant who works at a startup and Instagrams mountain vistas at least twice a month.
What’s Happening: Denver has gained more than 100,000 residents in the past eight years, and the city—which is now home to the winter and summer editions of the Outdoor Retailer trade show—has become the country’s most important hub for the gear industry.
The Neighborhood: A decade ago, Sloan’s Lake, in west Denver, was a middle-to-lower-income community. Today its median home price is nearly $600,000. The residential area has taken on new life, with trendy spots to sip craft beer and coffee, along with easy access to Sloan’s Lake Park, one of Denver’s most popular spots for running, cycling, and paddleboarding.
The Race: Colfax Avenue, the longest commercial street in America, is an eclectic strip of motels and dive bars that runs straight through the heart of Denver. Experience it by lacing up for the Colfax Marathon, the city’s only 26.2-mile event. “If you’re a runner here, the Colfax is something you absolutely have to do,” says Holden Fitzgerald, a University of Denver student who’s run both the half and full marathons.
The Hot Spot: Food halls—gathering spaces that feature a wide range of beverage and dining options—are popping up across the city, and they owe a lot to the success of Avanti, in north Denver, where the concept first took off locally. Head to the rooftop bar and enjoy the skyline and a Black Manhattan, which uses Averna liqueur in place of vermouth.
The Adventure: Denver is a great multisport town. Josh Erickson, a shop manager at SloHi Bike Company, recommends a classic cycling trip that covers 29 miles, starting at downtown’s Confluence Park and running to Chatfield Reservoir. You can fish along the way, then camp at Chatfield State Park. The next morning, rent a kayak and explore the lake before riding back into the city.
The Escape: Want to skip town? Head north. Hit Estes Park and the Twin Owls Steak House after a long day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.
Los Angeles, California
The Surf and Turf
Population: 4 million
Median Household Income: $60,197
Park Acreage: 37,021
Stereotypical Resident: The tan, Tesla-driving publicist with a spinning addiction.
What’s Happening: L.A. is speeding up major transit projects to reduce the city’s infamous traffic in advance of the 2028 Summer Olympics.
The Neighborhood: Venice is home to laid-back surfers and trendy eateries, but a tiny beach bungalow there will cost you $2 million. Instead, head 20 miles inland to up-and-coming Highland Park, where you’ll find taquerias, walkable streets, easy access to 282-acre Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, and ranch homes for around $500,000.
The Workout: “The Santa Monica stairs are so popular for exercising that they have their own Yelp page,” says Janel Holcomb, a former professional cyclist who works with Liv Cycling. “Anyone and everyone is sprinting up them.”
The Adventure: Griffith Park—4,210 acres of greenery inside the city limits—is famous for its hiking and biking trails. The star parties at Griffith Observatory are awesome.
The Escape: “The Santa Monica Mountains are just an hour from L.A. but feel far away,” says Holcomb. “You can camp in Sycamore Canyon, hike a section of the 67-mile Backbone Trail, go gravel or mountain biking, and surf or hang out on the beach, all in the same day.”
Charleston, South Carolina
The Watery Wonderland
Median Household Income: $63,364
Stereotypical Resident: The preppy cocktail connoisseur with a year-round tan who divides time between surfing, paddleboarding, and hunting waterfowl.
What’s Happening: The growth of Charleston’s shipping port and investments in the auto industry have bolstered the economy of this historic southern city.
The Neighborhood: Park Circle is a planned community in North Charleston created in the early 1900s. It’s boomed in recent years, with young families leaving downtown in search of a higher quality of life. Play a round of disc golf in its 30-acre park, sip a beer on the massive deck of Commonhouse Aleworks, and then head to dinner on East Montague Avenue, home to some of the city’s best restaurants.
The Race: The Chucktown Showdown is an October paddleboard event on four- and nine-mile courses in Charleston Harbor.
The Hill Climb: The Ravenel Bridge rises 200 feet above the water and it’s the only “hill” in the city. Run the 2.5-mile pedestrian path for views of downtown, the harbor, and the Atlantic.
The Taqueria: “Chico Feo is super laid-back and looks simple, but the tacos are really good,” says Peter Melhado, who owns Charleston’s Isla Surf School. Try the smoked pork taco topped with spicy kimchi.
The Shopping Spree: Half-Moon Outfitters has provided paddling gear and board shorts for more than 20 years. Watch for pint nights and the occasional live band at the West Ashley store, near downtown.
The Adventure: There’s paddling in every direction, but Folly Creek, an undeveloped finger of saltwater estuary between Folly Island and Charleston proper, may be the most striking spot. “It’s an incredibly wild experience full of oyster beds and dolphins,” says Brittany Freeman, a reservations manager at Coastal Expeditions, which has been running paddling trips around Charleston since 1992.
The Escape: Load your kayak with beer, brats, and bug spray, and launch from the Isle of Palms Marina for a 4.5-mile paddle to Capers Island, an undeveloped barrier isle. Capers is the city’s nearest legal beach-camping option. (Get a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.) Or skip the paddle and catch a ride with Barrier Island Eco Tours.
The Mountain-Adjacent Town
Median Household Income: $57,125
Park Acreage: 3,446
Stereotypical Resident: The tattooed thirtysomething with a fixed-gear bike and a bartending job, or the cowboy-hat-wearing rancher with a truck and a gun rack.
What’s Happening: A new Amazon fulfillment center and the Tesla Gigafactory have brought tech jobs and higher home prices, but the Biggest Little City is still inexpensive, with two-bedrooms renting for just over a grand a month.
The Neighborhood: Once known for its strip clubs and seedy bars, Midtown Reno has been reinvented with maker spaces, coffee shops, apartment buildings, and great food. “I love the Eddy, a beer garden and community space with bocce ball and live music,” says Zoe Richards, a ski patroller at nearby Mount Rose. “Like everywhere in Reno, you can bring your dog.”
The Event: Burning Man takes place in August three hours from Reno, and the festival influences Reno’s culture year-round, from post-festival civilization-reentry parties to the Space Whale, a stained-glass-and-steel sculpture that’s currently on display downtown.
The Trails: Just north of town, the Peavine trail network has over 40 miles of mountain-biking and running routes in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Send it on the black-diamond downhill, or ride the eight miles of all-mountain and cross-country tracks.
The Workshop: At the nonprofit Reno Bike Project, you can buy new or upcycled rides, get a tune-up, or take a repair class.
The Adventure: “There’s a whitewater park on the Truckee River in the middle of downtown that brings a big crowd every May for the Reno River Festival,” says Eddie Davis, a wholesale planner at Patagonia’s Reno office. “The river is also great for tubing and cooling off when it gets hot.”
The Escape: Skiing in Tahoe, climbing in Yosemite, and mountain biking in Downieville are all within a couple of hours. Locals head south on U.S. 395 to climb, ski, or hike in the eastern Sierra Nevada, then soak at Travertine Hot Springs just across the state line in Bridgeport, California.
New York, New York
The Carless Wonderland
Population: 8.6 million
Median Household Income: $60,879
Park Acreage: 40,016
Stereotypical Resident: The weekday micromanager who “relaxes” on weekends with boot camps and power yoga.
What’s Happening: New York has long been the U.S.’s financial and cultural center, and while that’s not changing, New Yorkers also know that the city can serve as an epic adventure playground.
The Neighborhood: “The Flatiron District is the city’s one-stop shop for all things health and wellness,” says Marc Daigle, an instructor at Flywheel, a cycling gym in the area. Once you’re spun out, you’re within walking distance of meditation studios, spas, CrossFit and boxing gyms, and some of Manhattan’s best outdoor opportunities, like Chelsea Waterside Park, the climbing gym at Chelsea Piers, and the High Line, a 1.5-mile elevated greenspace.
The Climb: The annual Empire State Building Run-Up has competitors tackle the 1,576 steps to the observation deck of the city’s most famous skyscraper.
The Crags: There are dozens of indoor climbing gyms and outdoor routes in the city, suited to all skill levels. In addition to Chelsea Piers, Manhattan has the 12,000-square-foot Central Rock Gym. Or get outside in Central Park, where more experienced climbers can test their skills at crags like Worthless Boulder, near 110th Street, which features 16 routes ranging from V1 to V10.
The Personal Shopper: Paragon Sports in Union Square is a household name among New York’s adventure set. The Manhattan institution sells gear in three stories of space, and if you make a reservation, one of the store’s guides will outfit you for everything from ski trips to through-hikes to triathlons.
The Adventure: New York has 1,240 miles of bike lanes, making it easy to explore all five boroughs on two wheels. “From riding along the Hudson to speeding past the Empire State Building, every day you ride is a new adventure,” says Mike Espinosa, chief instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp. Road bikers loop Prospect and Central Parks, while mountain bikers can get their singletrack fix in Washington Heights at Highbridge Park, which offers three miles of technical trails plus a dirt jump park and a pump track.
The Escape: It’s only an hour from Manhattan to Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, home to some of the best hiking in the Hudson Valley, including Breakneck Ridge.