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The 5 Best U.S. Cities for Summer Hikes

Looking for the perfect place to embark on a summer hiking adventure? These cities offer gorgeous hikes and plenty to do off the trail.

By Phil Newman on September 11, 2020

It’s about time for you to take a hike — literally. The American landscape is dotted with gateway cities and towns that lead to some of the world’s most beautiful, scenic, invigorating hiking trails. Summer is an ideal time to plan a walk in the woods — whether it’s a long stroll along gently rolling terrain or a steep, rocky climb to the top of a breathtaking peak. Among the plentiful options from coast to coast, here are five of the best cities from which to launch a summer hike, and highlights of the trails that make them such alluring destinations.

Millinocket, ME

This charming hamlet is near Katahdin/Baxter PeakMaine’s tallest mountain at 5,268 feet and the northernmost point on the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail. The strenuous trek to the summit can take eight to 12 hours over difficult terrain, including the Knife Edge. Milder options near Millinocket include Russell Pond, a 14.2-mile, out-and-back trek with several stream crossings — ideal spots to fly fish for brook trout and watch wildlife.

Tip: If hiking part or all of Katahdin, reserve a day-use parking pass in advance, a must for the busy summer season.

Gatlinburg, TN

The gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park — America’s most visited national park — Gatlinburg is a valley-tucked village worth exploring. Summer hikes just up the road range from steep, lengthy trails (such as the 11-mile round trip Alum Cave Bluffs route to Mt. LeConte) to easier jaunts on paved walkways (like the 2.6-mile round trip Laurel Falls route). The 3.8-mile Chimney Tops hike is another popular option.

Tip: Be sure to dress in layers for this one. The changes in elevation mean changes in temperature and in East Tennessee, pop up showers are likely to occur. Be sure to pack a rain jacket! Additionally, the Rainbow Falls Trail is closed Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. until Nov. 15, 2018 for trail rehabilitation. 

Madison, WI

With a mild climate and numerous natural wonders, the region around Madison is ideal for summer hiking. The 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail passes near the city and offers several sections to hop on and hike, including Table Bluff (a 5-mile, out-and-back, well-defined trail) and Devil’s Lake (up to 13.7 miles with shorter spurs to explore). Several state parks near Madison are also inviting options, including Blue MoundGovernor Dodge and New Glarus Woods.

Tip: For much more detail about hikes near Madison, check out this book.

Aspen, CO

One of America’s top winter wonderlands is also a summer paradise. Hiking options abound, from soaring, 14,000-foot summits (Capitol Peak, Maroon BellsSnowmass Mountain) to shorter hikes through wildflower-laden meadows to crystal-blue lakes (Crater Lake, Conundrum Creek, Hunter Creek). The popular Smuggler Mountain/Warren Lakes trail provides a stout workout and picturesque views of the town and valley below.

Tip: Aspen is 7,890 ft. above sea level, and the trails rise from there; if visiting from a lower altitude, try to build in a day or two of acclimation before undertaking strenuous hikes.

Portland, OR

A jewel of the Pacific Northwest, Portland is home to scores of summer-hike opportunities. In the city, 410-acre Washington Park features 15 miles of wooded hiking trails of varying difficulty. Mount Tabor Park includes a 2-mile hike to a dormant volcano with scenic vistas of the city and Mt. Hood. Powell Butte Nature Park includes an easy, 3.5-mile loop with photo-worthy views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. Just west of the Portland, the Aspen Trailhead to Rocking Chair Dam covers 12.6 miles and typically takes a day, but the habitat it traverses is worth every step.

Tip: Visit here to learn about farm-to-table dining in Portland, either to fuel up for a hike or to celebrate afterward.

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