Having hiked in numerous places around the United States and in a few other nations (Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Portugal), I have found that hiking is an excellent method to become better acquainted with a new place on a human scale. Hiking, especially when it involves notable amounts to topographical change, can endear oneself to a place unlike most any other form of travel. This may be why there are many travelogue books on the subject of hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Silk Road, and the like – the close rapport one builds with their surroundings when venturing on a scenic and challenging hike.
Seven (7) particularly special urban hiking trails that I have taken stand out in my mind as formative events which transcend both place and time and have endeared me to the community and its natural surroundings. These are:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico – Sandia Crest Trails – multiple trails to and atop Sandia Peak
- Boulder, Colorado – Green Mountain Trail
- Dublin, Ireland – Bray Head to Greystones Cliff Walk
- Edinburgh, Scotland – Arthur’s Seat
- Marquette, Michigan – Sugarloaf Mountain Trail
- Santa Fe, New Mexico – Sun Mountain Trail
- Tucson, Arizona – Brown Mountain Trail
One might argue that cities with variable terrain have a notable advantage over places that are relatively flat. From the standpoint of scenic views, that point may be true, but that does not mean that one cannot be shaped, calmed, or transcended by hikes on less variable terrain. In addition, not everybody is willing to or capable of hiking varied/steep terrains, so some type(s) of alternative hiking options should be available for all age/skill levels. This may include shorter hiking options that utilize potions of the signature trail, providing trails that are rated easy to moderate, or incorporating infrastructure for persons with disabilities.
Furthermore, hiking trails situated along or adjacent to watercourses, lakes, or coastlines can be very inspiring, as can those which pass through woodlands, gardens, or scenic meadows. In addition, trails that bring one closer to historical or cultural sites can also inspire. Several examples of these types of hiking (or walking in these cases) trails that I have found to be very enriching, include the following:
- Boston, Massachusetts – Freedom Trail
- Detroit, Michigan – RiverWalk Trail
- Indianapolis, Indiana – Cultural Trail
- Washington Area, DC/MD – C & O Canal Towpath Trail
To this avid hiker, a meandering foot trail passing through natural landscapes is preferable to hard-surface ones. Certainly, from a strictly cost-benefit analysis, a blazed hiking trail is considerably less expensive to establish and maintain, than having to manufacture one as in the cases of the Cultural Trail and RiverWalk listed above. But, in denser urban locales, these may be the only realistic and viable option. Regardless of surface material, the principle goal should be to get folks outside and enjoying their natural surroundings.
In many communities, partnerships between parks & recreation departments, other government agencies, land conservancies, friends groups, hiking advocacy groups, public health organizations, non-profits, and private/corporate donors help create/maintain signature trails. Not only does this defray a portion of the city’s costs, but also builds community-wide support and buy-in.
For community planners, it is critical to identify a signature trail route early on in the planning process in order to assure the corridor is protected from development and not zoned in a manner which detracts from the overall hiking experience. This is easier said than done. For example, while we were hiking the Brown Mountain Trail near Tucson, the stunning visual beauty was sadly offset by the near-constant echoed sound of nail guns hammering away on new homes being built several miles away.
Regardless whether your city is surrounding by lofty landscapes, affords coastline vistas, is dotted with historical landmarks, or is surrounded by rich and vibrant agricultural land, there should always be ways to endear the community into the hearts and minds of visitors and newcomers. And a signature hiking trail that is planned, located, and designed in a manner that showcases some of the best aspects of your community is an excellent first step (poor pun) in accomplishing the goal of attracting visitors and newcomers, while also providing healthy recreational and fitness opportunities for local residents.
If you enjoy hiking while traveling to urban areas too, here are weblinks to a couple of book options that are available through Amazon.com.*
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using this link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.