Hiking is an excellent way to combat chronic disease, improve your overall health, and help clear your mind with nature’s natural beauty.
Unfortunately, those living in metropolitan areas like New York or Washington D.C. may find it difficult to set aside the time each week to head for the mountains. For many people, the added gas cost and travel time just don’t seem to match the health benefits of traveling over time. Many opt to simply find the best rowing machine for home use, or some other workout equipment. But it’s still important to spend some time walking outdoors.
You don’t need to hike to the mountaintop or head into the forest to enjoy the health benefits of walking. While it may not be as scenic as a panoramic view in the wild, urban hiking can provide all of the benefits and exercise your body needs in a way that’s easy and convenient for you.
Not sure where to start? We’ve got a few tips to help you get started on urban hiking, no matter in which city you find yourself.
- Planning Your Route
Every city is different—so planning ahead and sorting out the best route for your hike is going to be essential for a safe and strenuous journey.
If you need to return to where you’ve started or plan to hike right from your front door, look ahead to which streets are going to provide bike lanes or large pedestrian sidewalks for you to use. Know which highways you’ll need to turn on, and how far to go before turning back or heading down an unfamiliar road.
If you’re going in one direction, know where public transportation can pick you up after your exercise—so as to not strain yourself in a section of town you may not know. In fact, it is best to drive your route if possible before going down it, as unfamiliar roads may not prove to be as perfect (or as safe) as they appear on the map.
Knowing the incline of the roads is also key to planning a route. Hillier cities like San Francisco or Seattle will require climbing many staircases—which are needed to simulate the elevation differences of a real hike. The flatter your city is, the further distance you can expect to travel without tiring yourself out.
Many environmentally conscious cities in the United States—such as Portland or New York City—offer guides for those looking to plan an urban hike or want to know which streets are best for pedestrian activity. Take full advantage of these services, since if you’re already a citizen of that town, you’ve most likely already paid for the route.
- Using Parks to Your Advantage
Many cities have sanctioned areas that are protected from further urbanization and allow citizens to enjoy the great outdoors without leaving behind the convenience of a town.
If there’s a park near you, consider planning your urban route either as a destination point or starting point. In some cases, city parks (like Central Park) will be large enough for you to be able to circumvent around them to get in that much-needed exercise.
City parks also give you the opportunity to utilize trailheads and enjoy nature—while also being close to public restrooms, restaurants, and other city amenities. In many ways, the advantages can make urban hiking more convenient than the real thing.
Many of those in major cities are just as interested in health and exercise as you may be—so if possible, ask others out and about in parks near you if they’ve got their routes in the city to keep up with their fitness. You may uncover paths you hadn’t considered or found a new accountability partner.
- Packing The Right Gear
While urban hiking may sound like a glorified version of merely walking about, depending on your route and location, it can be every bit as difficult as a hike in the mountains.
That’s why it’s important to prepare and wear the right gear for your route.
Running shoes are the obvious choice for footwear—as most cities won’t require hiking boots. However, make sure you pick up a pair with the right amount of padding since concrete won’t give as easily as the forest floor.
Remember to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your route. Checking on an online mapping service could show you where convenience stores are, so if you don’t want to carry unwieldy bottles of water, you can plan to purchase the water you need as you go, or snacks to help your body keep up with the activity.
Since cities are usually far noisier than the wild, headphones are a must for those who don’t want to inundate with horns and sirens. It may not be a perfect solution—but playing either your favorite playlist or perhaps ambient sounds could help drown out your location and get into the headspace of an outdoor hike.
There’s a lot to be gained by living in a major city, so moving to the suburbs or the outskirts of town to get closer to the mountains may not be an option for many people. Finding ways to make your city work for you is crucial to surviving in the concrete jungle—and urban hiking is a great way to manage your health and fitness needs without traveling far from home.
The allure of the city has always been convenience—so don’t stop at urban hiking to get smart about your health. Find ways to outsource errands like a prescription pickup to others to keep your hikes focus and give you more time to get outside. New Yorkers can utilize a service like Medly to get their prescriptions delivered at no cost to them.
Whatever you choose to do, don’t let the distance of the wilderness excuse you from getting in the exercise you need—and don’t rely on a daily commute to keep your body healthy and happy. Do your research, plan out a route, and enjoy the great outdoors in any way you can.
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