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When some people think of travel, the first thing that comes to mind is good eating. For others, it’s premier museums that are loaded with iconic art. Others yet prefer to take the outdoor adventure route, filling their days with challenging hikes, scenic vistas, rugged terrains, and opportunities to climb, swim, crawl, and explore.
If that last one sounds like you, any of the following U.S. cities will satisfy your need to get outside and see the world—or, at the very least, the U.S.—in all of its stunning, natural glory. These American outdoor hotspots have a ton to see and do in the great outdoors—from traversing national parks to lounging on beautiful beaches, kayaking across serene lakes, and so much more.
Keep reading to see what travel experts are calling the best U.S. cities for outdoor adventures. And then, if all this nature-filled adventuring has you working up an appetite, check out the 10 Best Foodie Cities in the U.S. next.
You might know Seattle as a haven for coffee aficionados, but the Emerald City is ripe with outdoor beauty that’s ready for exploration year-round. The city is surrounded by mountains and water, and some of the state’s most amazing hikes are within a half hour of downtown.
“There’s mountaineering on the big volcanoes (Rainier and Baker), world-class rock climbing in the Cascades, downhill skiing 45 minutes from downtown, and cross-country skiing a few hours from the city,” says travel guru Scott Kubly, founder of Cabana, a modern mobile hospitality company. Visitors can also enjoy nearby sea kayaking or whitewater rafting.
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Referred to as Red Rock Country, Sedona offers a never-ending supply of breathtaking views, happy hiking, and opportunities for outdoor escapades.
“Sedona is a city unlike any other and a magical destination perfect for adventure seekers,” says Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay. “It’s surrounded by surreal red rock formations, steep canyon walls, and pine forests. Aside from its natural beauty, there are plenty of outdoor activities you can enjoy.”
Visit the Verde Canyon Railroad, drive the scenic routes, go on a Pink Jeep tour, or book a helicopter ride for aerial views. Some of the best hikes are Devil’s Bridge Trail, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock for some truly jaw-dropping views. “Catching the sunset from one of these incredible spots and stargazing at night in Sedona are two unforgettable experiences to add to your bucket list,” Dittakavi says.
The desert is certainly rich in beauty, but sometimes, the water calls your name. Enter Los Angeles, an excellent basecamp for outdoor explorers who want to travel up and down the center of California’s coast.
“Los Angeles pretty much has it all. You have amazing food all over the city, beaches in town and all the way up and down the coast, wineries with delicious sips and incredible views, and killer slopes for skiers and snowboarders only two hours away,” says Kubly. “Hike up the fire trails to Griffith Observatory for stunning views of the city, or join the famous rollerskating scene at Venice Beach.”
If you’re up for a drive, Kubly says to consider renting a convertible or Jeep and driving the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Malibu. You’ll get sights on sights for the whole ride—not to mention delicious food on both ends of the trek! There’s also plenty of natural beauty to admire heading away from the coast, too, such as Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and the Mojave Desert.
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South Lake Tahoe is another great spot to park in California and is a gorgeous three-hour drive from San Francisco. As a bonus, it’s beautiful any time of the year.
“During the winter months, South Lake Tahoe’s powdery mountains are huge attractions for snowboarders and skiers,” says Heath Hammett, CEO of rental search platform VacationRenter. “In summer, the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe are the perfect setting for kayaking, paddleboarding, and other aquatic activities.”
South Lake Tahoe is also in close proximity to nature parks, such as Emerald Bay State Park and El Dorado National Forest, both of which offer countless hiking trails and camping grounds.
There’s no doubt about it: A visit to Moab will make you feel like you’re in a theme park for outdoor lovers. This Southern Utah town is within easy driving distance of numerous iconic national parks and monuments, which means you can make an entire vacation simply by exploring the nearby area.
Located within Moab’s city limits are Arches and Canyonlands, and the gorgeous—and less frequented—Capitol Reef National Park is only two hours away. Drive west for about four to five hours and you’ll bump into Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park (in that order). Oh, and Monument Valley—which has served as a backdrop in numerous movies—is about two-and-a-half hours south.
Fort Collins is located about an hour from Colorado’s capital and is a destination where adventurers will feel right at home.
“Fort Collins is abundant with national parks, forests, and mountain ranges, making it an outdoors enthusiast’s dream,” says Hammett. “If you visit Fort Collins, be sure to visit Roosevelt National Forest, which is one of its most popular parks. Vibrant with lush greenery and mountainous scenery, Roosevelt National Forest is the perfect place to rock climb, hike, and horseback.”
The Cacha la Poudre River is also a great spot for white-water rafting, swimming, and outdoor picnicking. Hammett says it’s not too far from Horsetooth Falls, which offers an unforgettable panoramic view of Fort Collins once you reach its peak.
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St. Petersburg set the record for the longest number of consecutive sunshine days in the world, which means its “Sunshine City” nickname is well-deserved. The year-round glorious weather makes planning a visit easy, and once you’re there, the adventure doesn’t stop.
“St. Petersburg is a postcard-perfect seaside destination with 35 miles of stunning white sand beaches,” notes Dittakavi. “You’ll be surrounded by wildlife and have access to the most exhilarating outdoor activities, from hiking and windsurfing to kayaking and parasailing.”
Dittavaki says you shouldn’t miss your chance to visit St. Pete Beach, which TripAdvisor named the #1 beach in the U.S. and #5 in the world in 2021. Known for its gorgeous views of the Gulf of Mexico, this beach destination offers visitors plenty of thrilling water sports activities.
Also, check out Shell Key Preserve (clear kayak recommended), drop by the secluded Caladesi Island State Park, or go snorkeling over the ruins of Fort Dade located off the coast of Egmont Keys.
Want to do it all? Get yourself to Bend, Oregon.
“Travelers flock to Bend to visit Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which is made up of 54,000 acres of volcanic land, remnants of an explosion that occurred over 1,000 years ago,” says Hammett. “Bend is also home to Smith Rock State Park, where many come to hike, bike, horseback ride, and camp. This park is best known for its various rock climbing routes—the most famous being the Monkey Face spire.”
He adds that the Deschutes River is located just a few miles away from Smith Rock and is the perfect spot for anyone who wants to fish, kayak, canoe, or go whitewater rafting.
Minnesota has been dubbed the land of 10,000 lakes, and believe it or not, that’s an understatement. The state actually boasts over 14,000 lakes and is also home to 66 state parks. Located about two hours north of the Twin Cities, Duluth will put you in close proximity to a hearty supply of satisfying outdoor exploration.
One of the biggest draws is Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is located in Ely. Stretching over 150 miles across the U.S. and Canada border, it’s comprised of over one million acres of unspoiled natural beauty. Duluth is also near Voyageurs National Park, George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, Cloquet Valley, and Sax-Zim Bog (a birder’s paradise).
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For the best of many worlds, head to Austin, Texas where you can enjoy delicious dining, great music, the arts, and plenty of open-air exploration. Nearby Hill Country and West Texas beckon visitors with their scenic landscapes and outdoor activities, including swimming holes, tubing rivers, and natural springs.
“Check out Hamilton Pool Preserve or Jacob’s Well,” Kubly suggests. “And if you feel like driving out to West Texas, stop by Fredericksburg and Enchanted Rock, then keep going out to Balmorhea Pool and the Davis Mountains for hikes, swims, and endless picturesque views.”