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Best of both worlds – 7 great US cities for outdoor lovers

Trail walks and coffee shops; the best cities for outdoor lovers are rich in urban conveniences and natural features alike. Adventures abound in these towns, where fresh air is abundant, and like-minded people converge to appreciate nature’s best playgrounds.

Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix’s sunny, dry climate provides the perfect setting for outdoor enjoyment. The lack of volatile weather conditions makes it easy to plan outdoor activities; you won’t have to worry about getting rained out here. With these consistently pleasant conditions, the Phoenix outdoor dining scene is booming, and open-air shopping centers are pretty standard.

Camelback Mountain towers near the suburb of Scottsdale. It’s not just a pretty (rock) face; it’s one of the most popular places to bike and hike in Phoenix. Trails are challenging here, though, so don’t plan on a quick out-and-back experience. In the sweltering summer months, desert hikes might be off the itinerary, but tubing down the Salt River is kind of a slam dunk.

Most Phoenix parks offer laid-back atmospheres ideal for outdoor appreciation. The 1,400-acre Papago Park features walking paths, exceptionally gorgeous desert scenery, and is home to the Desert Botanical Gardens and the Phoenix Zoo. 

Fort Collins, Colorado

Fort Collins features top-notch outdoor living. With a desirable climate, waterways galore, and Rocky Mountain National Park just an hour’s drive west, Fort Collins has to be one of the best cities for outdoor lovers.

Golf courses and city parks are sprinkled throughout the city, making it extremely easy to extend outdoor time. City Park (no fancy name needed – this place sells itself) is the hub of outdoor recreation in Fort Collins, with ball fields, a swimming pool, and playgrounds.

Biking’s a big deal here. The city caters to two-wheeled transportation with over 250 miles of trails weaving past streets, parks, and attractions. Didn’t bring your own ride? No biggie, it’s easy to find rental bikes in Fort Collins.

Winter weather provides all sorts of snowsport opportunities, and icy accumulations don’t slow the bikers down; fat-tire riding is also popular here.

Bend, Oregon

Bend’s quite the outdoor-friendly community, and it’s pretty secluded, too. You don’t just stumble on this central Oregon gem; there are only a handful of roads passing through it, and the nearest international airport is almost 200 miles away (though Bend does have a regional airport).

The city’s planted at the base of the Cascade Mountains and is surrounded by national parks and forests. Combine these vast spreads of wilderness with extinct volcanoes and the Deschutes River running right through town, and you’ve got yourself the ultimate outdoor adventure destination.

Mountain exploits all year round, the outdoor Les Schwab Amphitheater, and the famous Bend Ale Trail (bike it, hike it, or tour by bus); Bend has outdoor living down to an art.

Madison, Wisconsin

The capital city of Wisconsin is a haven for outdoor lovers. Seasons are distinct here; summers are short, winters are long, and spring and fall weather is pretty perfect.

Madison’s pedestrian-friendly streets are very walkable, especially downtown and in the neighborhoods adjacent to it. The downtown area centers around the state capitol building; this is also where the weekly farmers’ market sets up each Saturday in the summer. Lake Mendota’s just a quick walk from the capitol, where, at James Madison Park, fishing, kayaking, and shore-side lounging are popular pastimes.

Surrounding this bustling capital city are numerous natural attractions. Governor Nelson State Park is on Lake Mendota’s northern shore. It’s the perfect place for leaf-peeping in the fall and wildflower-gazing in the spring. A portion of the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail can also be accessed just outside the city limits; it’s one of the most popular hiking spots in Madison.

When winter rolls around, the cold-weather fun kicks up. Ice skating and snowshoeing can be enjoyed in several parks and trails around the city, and ice fishing is a big deal around here, too. Nearby bluffs provide excellent downhill skiing opportunities, and cross-country skiing is an option on various trails maintained just outside of the city.

Miami, Florida

With a tropical climate on the coast of an ocean, Miami’s an outdoor lover’s dream destination. This world-class city is packed with natural attractions and travel-hub conveniences, too. Miami luggage storage, transportation services, and loads of lodging options make an outdoor-themed visit seamless.

Outdoor music venues are all over Miami, and when mealtime rolls around, you can stay outside, too, as most Miami restaurants offer outdoor dining. Beaches sprawl along much of the city’s eastern border and the massive Everglades National Park is within easy reach.

The list of ocean activities in Miami is endless; snorkeling, manatee safaris, and deep-sea fishing trips are just a handful of the water recreation options here. On land, Segways and golf carts are popular ways to explore the best Miami sights, and dozens of city parks provide low-key, family-friendly spots where you can enjoy the Miami weather.

Burlington, Vermont

Though it’s the biggest city in the small state of Vermont, Burlington manages to maintain a small-town atmosphere. The city’s compact, making it easy to traverse on foot, and outdoor fun is easy to find, thanks to its location on Lake Champlain.

Burlington embraces its waterfront status with beaches and parks established along the lakeshore. North Beach is the largest beach in Burlington, complete with lifeguards and paddleboard and kayak rentals.

Open-air markets and outdoor dining establishments further cultivate the city’s outdoorsy atmosphere. It’s easy to spend a day strolling through the Church Street Marketplace, with restaurants, shops, and festivals housed in a fantastic outdoor setting.

With winter comes a whole new world in Vermont. The Burlington Greenway transforms into a prime place for snowshoeing and winter hiking, and outdoor ice skating rinks can be found around town. Some of the best ski hills in Vermont are within an hour’s drive of the city, so pack your skis (or rent some) if you’re visiting Burlington in the winter.

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

The Twin Cities are in the midst of some of Minnesota’s best natural attractions, offering a unique blend of metropolitan vibes and wilderness tranquility.

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, water recreation opportunities are unlimited. The muddy Mississippi River starts just north of the city spread, and the sparkling St. Croix River flows east of St. Paul. Bald-eagle spotting is popular along the Mississippi and the St. Croix’s an excellent waterway for tubing or sailing.

Twin Cities camping is kind of a big deal – there are lots of opportunities for this unique Northwoods-style outdoor experience. It’s a little bit rugged, a lotta bit buggy, but you really can’t beat the scenery.

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