On The Road
Eight Great Urban Hikes
Whether your asphalt jungle is in northern Europe, North America or South Africa, here are some spots to get over your “nature deficit disorder”
Instead of just seeing your friendly neighbourhood labradoodle on your morning run, imagine catching sight of an elk or bobcat before picking up your first coffee of the day. Whether you know it or not, you may not be functioning at your best unless you stop to smell the chlorophyll.
Some have posited that overly urban creatures suffer from “nature deficit disorder” (coined by writer Mr Richard Louv), a host of behavioural problems (including anxiety and depression) resulting from lack of interaction with the great outdoors. While this hypothesis is unproven, the downsides of physical inactivity include a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, depression and, potentially, certain cancers.
The good news is that government leaders and urban planners have begun to recognise the importance of parks and other green spaces to their citizens’ wellbeing, and are setting aside such spaces – in some places, even removing relics of “civilisation” and returning land to its natural state. Some cities have a head start on creating inviting outdoor spaces where one can reconnect with nature – and get your heart rate going at the same time. In these cities, you can lace up your boots, hail a cab or jump on a train, and be on the trail in half an hour or less – and still be back in town and showered in time for happy hour. Here are some of our favourites.
Portland is known for its outdoorsy inclinations, and within 10 minutes of downtown, you can get a woodsy fix. Forest Park, which is the largest urban forest in the United States, abuts the city’s northwest quadrant and stretches more than seven miles. Conceived by Messrs John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, the park includes more than 80 miles of soft-surface trails and forest roads. Close enough to neighbourhoods to be a popular morning-run or dog-walking spot, Forest Park is big enough to afford you solitude. (Not complete solitude: elk, black-tailed deer, bobcats and coyotes call the park home.) On clear days, the snow-clad monoliths of Mount Hood and Mount St Helens seem almost in reach.
Find a list of Forest Park trails at forestparkconservancy.org
NW 23rd Avenue rests near the base of Forest Park and has a number of bars and restaurants to refuel in after your hike. nwpdxnobhill.com
If the hilly urban substrata of Pacific Heights and Russian Hill leave you wanting more, head across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Coastal Trail along the Marin Headlands offers staggering views of the “City by the Bay”. You’re left wondering how these hills were spared condominiums! A little further north, Tennessee Valley beckons, with trails of varying challenge overlooking the Pacific. In the spring, the wildflowers can be tremendous, and some trails lead to secluded beaches. Nearby, you can descend into groves of stately redwoods at Muir Woods. Mount Tamalpais looms above it all and offers another 50 miles of trails, plus great mountain biking.
Find a list of trails for Golden Gate National Recreation Area at nps.gov/goga
For a great pre-/ post-Marin hike breakfast, pop into funky Mama’s Royal Cafe in Mill Valley (00-1-415-388-3261).
What to wear
Anchorage is a point of departure for countless expeditions into Alaska’s boundless back country, but you needn’t leave the city limits for an adventure. There are 87 miles of unpaved trails, 120 miles of paved trails and a decent chance of seeing moose. Flattop Mountain at Glen Alps is a highlight. You’ll gain 1,350ft in the 1.5-mile tromp to the summit. From there, you can take in Denali (or Mount McKinley), North America’s tallest mountain (at 20,237ft above sea level) and the Aleutian Islands to the west. If you’re pressed for time, consider the Chester Creek Trail, which winds through midtown. In the summer, you’ll see spawning salmon in the creek.
Find a list of trails in Anchorage at alaska.org
Bears – grizzly and black – occasionally show up near Anchorage trails, usually drawn by salmon. Check for red signs at the start of a trail, alerting you to the presence of ursine visitors, and use good judgment.
What to wear
Sydney is blessed with a national park within its city limits (Sydney Harbour National Park), so visitors have no excuse not to head out and stretch their legs. A favourite walk is Manly to Spit Bridge in the city’s north. This 10km trail follows the coastline past some of Sydney’s tonier homes, bushland, Aboriginal rock engravings at Grotto Point and beautiful beaches where you can detour for a swim. There are even views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, though the panoramic vistas from Dobroyd Head are hard to beat. Many shorter walks, including the Hermitage Foreshore Track in the eastern suburbs, also beckon.
Learn about hikes in Sydney Harbour National Park at nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Arabanoo Lookout at Dobroyd Head is a great place to spot whales from June to November, when humpbacks and southern right whales migrate along the coastline.
Table Mountain rises majestically 1,086m above Cape Town, an iconic landmark of sandstone and granite that’s beautiful to behold. Truth be told, the views from its flanks and summit out over the city and the Atlantic (including Robben Island, where Mr Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) are even more impressive. There are several ways to reach the plateau (in addition to the cable car). The route up Platteklip Gorge is the most direct, but also the most taxing as you’re basically heading straight up. The trails from Silvermine and Cape of Good Hope are longer, but less severe. If you don’t have the time or inclination to hike to the summit, consider Lion’s Head, which offers many of the same vistas.
Learn more about Table Mountain at sanparks.org
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As Sound of Music aficionados know, hiking is a way of life in Austria. (Sound of Music aficionados also know that the musical is set in Salzburg, but allow us some editorial licence here, and we will allow your plein air karaoke version of “Do-Re-Mi”). Vienna’s city fathers have acknowledged this with more than 500km of trails. Many wind through the Vienna Woods, some skirt vineyards and more than a few lead to heurigen (wine taverns – hello!). One favourite is City Hiking Trail 1, a four-hour walk that takes you above the Danube and offers superb views of the city. Trail 5 (also known as the Bisamberg route) traipses 10km through vineyards and orchards; free hiking companions are available at Stammersdorf, where the hike begins. If you have a little extra time – say five or six days – consider the Rundumadum, which circles the city for more than 120km.
Discover Vienna’s many hiking trails at wien.gv.at
The Bisamberg has five heurigen, including Edlmoser, which serves food and libations in a cottage dating back to 1627.
What to wear
Untrammelled nature may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Singapore, but the tidy city-state has more than 300 parks and four nature reserves. MacRitchie Reservoir Park is the gem of Singapore’s park system, a swathe of rainforest encircling a series of reservoirs near downtown, replete with long-tailed macaque monkeys, monitor lizards and well-maintained nature trails. A must-hike path here is the TreeTop Walk. After four or five kilometres through mature dipterocarp trees, you’ll reach a freestanding suspension bridge that stretches 250m across and above the forest canopy. (The highest point is 25m above the forest floor.) From here, you can take in the rich flora and fauna of the canopy.
Learn more about MacRitchie Reservoir Park at nparks.gov.sg
Macaques have fascinating social lives. Learn more on walks with tour leaders from the Jane Goodall Institute.
What to wear
Hiking has long been a popular pastime in Hong Kong – no surprise given the island’s hilly terrain and ocean proximity. One favourite route is the Peak Circle Walk, which takes you up Lugard Road to a lookout perched above the beautiful chaos of Victoria Harbour. (You can take the Peak Tram back down.) Hong Kong’s most famous hike is the Dragon’s Back Trail. After ambling through groves of bamboo and climbing open hillsides, you’ll eventually reach the Dragon’s Back, a ridge that connects Shek O Peak to Wan Cham Shan; from your perch 284m above sea level, you can observe Clear Water Bay Peninsula to the east and Stanley Peninsula to the west. The trail ends at Shek O Beach, one of the city’s finest. You’ll probably be ready for a dip.
Learn more about hiking opportunities in Hong Kong at discoverhongkong.com
Treat yourself to an alfresco mint lemonade and pizza at Black Sheep (00-852-2809-2021) in the village of Shek O, at the end of Dragon’s Back.