Moving to the big city means sacrificing time out in nature, right? These metro areas are proof that you don’t have to compromise, serving up urban comforts with a healthy portion of outdoor escapes.
Easy access to nature isn’t just important for your personal happiness; studies have found that spending time hiking in parks, relaxing at botanical gardens, or paddling across lakes can improve your memory, reduce stress, dial-up your creativity, and even improve your eyesight.
These cities, in particular, offer plenty of natural splendor:
1. Ithaca, NY
Home to a century-old bird sanctuary, Ithaca is one of the country’s best kept secrets. Bird watchers will already be familiar with the area’s spiderweb of trails and population of rare avian residents, but enjoying the sprawling wilderness along the Finger Lakes doesn’t require a pair of binoculars (or a dense encyclopedia of our feathered friends).
Ease yourself into nature with a stroll through the Cornell Botanic Gardens, where you will find a 35-acre site featuring 12 specialty gardens. According to Cornell University, these gardens include herbs, flowers, a rock garden, vegetables, vines, containers gardens and many others.
Ready for adventure? Head into the Robert H. Treman State Park, where winding trails will take you past a series of cascading waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls, and along the rugged Enfield Gorge into the heavily wooded lower park.
Here, choose between a night or two (or never leave, you pick) under the flapping canvas of a tent or in the comfort of an RV or cabin. Remember to pack swimsuits to take advantage of the nearby stream-fed pool situated under a rushing waterfall.
2. Oakland, CA
The Bright Side of the Bay is a shining beacon for nature lovers across the world. Over 14.5% of the metro area is set aside for parkland. But it’s the city’s proximity to 11 national parks and Lake Merritt which has earned Oakland a spot at the top of every biophiliac’s bucket list.
Redwood Regional Park, situated just a few miles from downtown, attracts the lion’s share of Oakland’s annual flood of tourists. Taking a step out into its untamed wilderness, it’s easy to see why many guests are here for their fifth or sixth visit.
According to the park’s site, it was timber from the area’s woods that once helped lay the foundations for what is now the San Francisco Bay area. But for past century, those redwoods have stood tall and untouched. Some of the coast redwoods measure in at around 150 feet tall.
The park comes equipped with picnic sites and overnight camping areas, both offering easy access to around 40 miles of trails.
3. Minneapolis, MN
It’s a thriving metropolitan center with all the perks of big city living, but Minneapolis isn’t a concrete jungle. Pristine parks and lakes splice into the heart of the greener half of the Twin Cities, with a new adventure just a stone’s throw away from your nearest comfort and convenience.
In summer, arm yourself with a paddle and kayak through the city’s waterways. The still waters are the perfect playground for budding and veteran rowers alike.
Winter doesn’t signal the end of the line for these coveted lakes. Anglers will find plenty to reel in during the colder months when the waters freeze over, drilling holes and casting hook, line, and sinker to lure in the catch of the day.
There’s also enough turf to match the surf, with a lush park just minutes away from anywhere in Minneapolis. Parkscore rated the city’s park system as the best in the country, beating out San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Portland.