Hikes and the City

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of my old hiking guides, especially when their dog-eared pages and broken spines bring back happy memories of a streamside campsite or an epic slog or the view from a granite outcrop. Part of the fun of planning a new hiking season, though, comes in looking through new guidebooks. A new hiking guide can throw open the doors to places we haven’t been before, maybe even introduce us to new ways to think about hiking.

I’ve looked at two guides lately that do both of these things. AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City and AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia explore the hiking possibilities in and around two of our nation’s former capitals: New York City, where George Washington held his first inaugural, and Philadelphia, which served as the country’s capital several times in the 18th century. I know both of these cities, but not as places to hike.

The book titles themselves signal something important going on in the hiking world: These are hiking guides that include descriptions of trails through urban parks, across city greenways, and next to rivers, along with more expected hiking fare. Nearly half the hikes in the two guides can be reached by public transportation.

A generation ago, I don’t know that we would have considered these real “hikes.” But a couple of trends have come together to make hikes of this sort entirely appropriate for guidebooks: the development of green urban corridors and natural pathways that skirt the built environment on one hand, and on the other, an increased awareness about the benefits of getting outside, wherever you happen to live. These two guidebooks, and others like them, bode well for the vitality of hiking as an urban activity and for the health of families in and around cities.

Of course, people have always walked in cities. And for families who live in rural, suburban, or exurban America — where it often feels impossible to get anywhere with getting into a car — visiting cities often gives us our best opportunities for walking. I’d have to think hard to say whether my children have walked more city miles or more trail miles over the years.

I don’t want to give the impression that these two guidebooks concentrate only on in-city hikes. In fact, both stretch well beyond the borders of their respective cities, even into neighboring states. But in their willingness to appreciate cultural, industrial, and natural history at a walker’s pace, they make hiking accessible in new ways.

In my next two posts, I’ll preview some of the particularly interesting family-friendly hikes in each book. First up — combining history and nature on the trail near Philadelphia.

Learn more
AMC's Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia by Susan Charkes
AMC's Best Day Hikes near New York City by Daniel Case

Photo: Along the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Labels: , , , , , , ,