Great urban hiking, biking trails in the Northeast

The High Line in New York City.
The High Line in New York City. (Iwan Baan / Handout)

It may seem counterintuitive to plan a city outing that involves your hiking boots and camelback, but urban trails are some of the best-kept secrets in metropolitan regions. After all, what's an active body to do after a day spent in convention halls or perusing museums and watching theater performances?

There are endless ways to get in those 10,000 daily steps when traveling besides going to the hotel gym. Even within a densely populated destination, there are exhilarating — and bug-free — adventure trails where you can take in the great outdoors and crisp autumn air without leaving town.


Many cities have dedicated green space and revitalized waterfronts that serve as playgrounds for active populations, offering everything from jogging and bike paths to fishing and leaf peeping. Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, the largest urban park system in the country, encompasses over 60 parks with 200 miles of trails through green lands, waterways and city commons.

Doing New York City in a day is a little bit like an episode of "The Amazing Race." You can't see all that the destination offers (sorry, Brooklyn), but you'll get an impressionistic glimpse of the city.

Metropolitan regions have preserved trails along abandoned railways, like New York's High Line, where, amid the backdrop of a spectacular skyline, hikers can sightsee above noise and noxious fumes.


Moreover, some savvy hotels and chains are offering amenities to accommodate their outdoor activity-seeking clientele. For example, New York's James SoHo provides guests with a personalized running tour of SoHo. All of Kimpton's hotels offer guests complimentary use of their custom PUBLIC bicycles to explore their surroundings. And InterContinental's EVEN brand offers organized cultural walks.

So how can you find these adventures? Rather than suggesting you stalk an REI clerk as he leaves work, we've uncovered urban hikes in cities just a short jaunt from Baltimore. The best part? When you've finished, you're never far from a great restaurant or watering hole.


D.C. is simply a mass of green space; nearly 20 percent of the district is dedicated to parkland, according to the Trust For Public Land. That makes for plenty of playgrounds for visitors and active insiders, eager to escape that other "Hill."



Website: nps.gov/rocr

Best for: Hiking

What's there: Five miles of the quietest, most serene forest, impossibly rooted in the heart of D.C. The route is often empty, and bicycles are prohibited. Further up, it even connects with a horse trail. Instead of returning on the same path, you can loop onto the Valley Trail, which takes you past the Nature Museum (think: park rangers and modern restrooms), or you can pick up the Rock Creek Trail and wander into Virginia.

Getting there: Begins at the historic Pierce Mill, 2491 Tildon St., N.W. (Beach Drive intersection). There is parking by the mill. The nearest metro station is Van Ness, but the trailhead is a mile away.

Bonus: The trail loops past the park's Horse Center and Planetarium (the only planetarium in the National Park Service). There are picnic facilities along the route, so pack snacks or lunch.


Best for: Cycling, running, strolling, skating

What's there: Aiming to be completed this fall, this new 20-mile multi-use trail provides a scenic route from Prince George's County along the banks of the Anacostia River into D.C. where it diverts off, passing by national treasures. Cross the 11th Street Bridge and wander by the historic Washington Navy Yard, Nationals Park and Ballpark Boathouse. Other sections traverse the Tidal Basin, Kingman Island, the Fish Wharf, National Arboretum and Kenilworth Gardens, and the National Mall.

Getting there: For the D.C. portion, park along Anacostia Drive, Yards Park (10 Water St., S.E.) or at Nationals Park where you'll follow the crosswalk to the boardwalk. Metro stations to the trail are the Navy Yard Station (Green Line) and the Potomac Avenue Station (Orange/Blue Lines).

Bonus: End with a tour and tasting at Bluejacket brewery, 300 Tingey St., S.E., bluejacketdc.com.


Website: cctrail.org

Best for: Biking, jogging

What's there: This 11-mile rail trail is primarily flat or (blessedly) downhill, spanning Silver Spring to Georgetown, made up of dirt and gravel pathways that become smooth asphalt. Along the way you'll pass through rapidly changing landscapes of densely wooded regions, scenic bridges, downtown Bethesda and the Potomac River, ultimately ending along the Georgetown waterfront.

Getting there: From Interstate 495 take Georgia Avenue south. Turn right on Colesville Road to the Second Avenue intersection. Parking here allows you to return on the Metro. Once parked, follow Second Avenue to a left on Grace Church Road and follow trail signs.

Bonus: Brunch in Georgetown, then ride through the Mall to Union Station to catch the Red Line back to your car (bicycles are permitted certain hours).


Ironic that the land called "The Big Apple" is also called a concrete jungle. Albeit, New Yorkers are renowned for making the most creative use of their spaces, and so it's fitting that this city offers some of the most unique trails and scenic vistas in hiking and biking.


Best for: Walking, bicycling

What's there: Views, views, views every which way you glance and fascinating culture at each end.

Brooklyn Bridge

What's there: At 133 years old, it is the oldest of the three suspension bridges. Spanning 1.3 miles, it provides panoramic views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Pedestrians and bicycles are relegated to the 15 foot-wide upper span, above the roaring traffic, and each have dedicated lanes (warning: It's downright dangerous to wander over into the bike path). First-timers should allow themselves an hour, for stopping to gaze and take photos.

Getting there: Take the 4, 5, 6 trains to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop. The entrance to the bridge is across the street from the subway station.

Bonus: When you arrive, you can explore Brooklyn Heights — an outfit called freetoursbyfoot.com offers free tours — or wander Brooklyn Bridge Park. End at the East River Ferry Terminal to catch the ferry back to Manhattan.


Tip: For more views, Fornino Pizza on Brooklyn's Pier 6 has rooftop seating. fornino.com.


Manhattan Bridge

What's there: Same breathtaking views except you get to see the Brooklyn Bridge and Chinatown. Albeit, this walk is not for the faint-hearted. If you can bear the noise (the path runs alongside the B/D/N/Q subways, producing a thunderous shake) and glimpses of the harrowing drop through the open-framed foot grating, you'll be rewarded with a less-crowded jaunt across the East River, landing you by the recently opened Main Street Park and John Street Park. Don't miss the graffiti-strewn Arch & Colonnade as you enter the bridge- quintessentially Manhattan.

Getting there: Take the B or D line to Grand Street and walk two blocks south.

Bonus: If you're up for more climbs that offer a view, check out the DUMBO Boulders. Located under the bridge, this is the city's first outdoor climbing facility. dumbo.thecliffsclimbing.com.

Williamsburg Bridge

What's there: Once the world's longest suspension bridge, this 7,308-foot overpass receives the least acclaim of the three. Unexpectedly ending in parkland, it's a more serene walk than the other two, despite accommodating more than 200,000 daily commuters via cars, subways, bicycles and on foot. You'll revel in views of the Empire State Building, midtown Manhattan and the 59th Street Bridge stretching into Queens at the East River State Park. As you exit the bridge, turn around and you'll see the famous sign "Leaving Brooklyn, Oy Vey!"

Getting there: Take the F or J line to Delancy Street-Essex Street station, then cross the street to enter the bridge's footpath.

Bonus: The end of the bridge puts you onto South Fifth Street; meander a few blocks to the funky shops and cafes where it intersects with Berry Street.


Website: centralparknyc.org

Best for: Hiking, rock climbing

What's there: Central Park is often called the lungs of New York, providing a respite from the city's unrelenting tumult on the senses. Of the park's 58 miles of hiking trails, North Woods is the most rustic. Its 40 acres encompass a hiking path, climbing rocks, dense woodlands and waterfalls and The Blockhouse, a circa-1814 fort. Designed to resemble the Adirondacks, you'll feel like you've been teleported upstate. That is, until you look up and see skyscrapers on the horizon.

Getting there: North Woods is located on the park's northwestern corner, spanning 101-110 Streets. Take the A, B or C Line to Cathedral Parkway and enter the park.

Bonus: Pop into the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center (inside the park at 110th, between Fifth and Lenox) to learn about the Central Park Conservatory's free-guided tours. centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/charles-a-dana-discovery-center.html


Website: thehighline.org

Best for: Walkers, joggers

What's there: This elevated-freight-line-turned-public-park along Manhattan's West Side is a walking sightseeing tour of authentic New York living. Along the path are gardens, art commissions, theatrical performances, nature and fitness activities, architectural tours, and views inside the neighboring apartments. There's so much to take in, you'll be amazed at how quickly 1.45 miles passes.

Getting there: Most folks prefer to walk the High Line south to end in the super-chic Meatpacking District. But those seeking a more substantial walk can traverse it round trip and enjoy the north-facing views of midtown, as well as the downtown skyline. From the north, enter at 34th Street and 10th Avenue. From the south, take any west side subway to 14th Street and walk west. Turn left at Washington Street to the intersection of Gansevoort Street.

Bonus: At dusk on Tuesdays through Oct. 25, Amateur Astronomers Association of New York hosts free stargazing through high-powered telescopes.

While longtime residents of northern Harford County note development has increased there in recent years, much of the land along Route 136 remains agricultural.

The parkland and trails in Philly are all part of the 9,600-acre Fairmont Park system, claimed to be the largest landscaped urban park system in the world. Its 60-plus parks encompass historical sites, the country's oldest zoo and botanical gardens, museums, two waterways and miles of trails for hiking, biking, climbing and rafting.


Website: fow.org

Best for: Hiking

What's there: 7.5-mile trail that fuses nature with culture. The rustic path runs alongside the creek bypassing otherwise-hidden historic relics: a circa-1737 covered bridge, Native American statue, as well as incredible wildlife and the famed Fingerspan Bridge (resembling a finger, intended to draw the connection between the human body and the natural world).

Getting there: Drive or take the L-bus to Chestnut Hill College on East Northwestern Avenue. The trail begins by crossing the bridge.

Bonus: 2½ miles into the hike you'll pass the 19th-century Valley Green Inn, a perfect respite for lunch and restrooms. It is located on Forbidden Drive; no private motorized vehicles are permitted.


Best for: Hiking, off-road cycling

What's there: This loopy linkage of paths takes you from the historic Belmont mansion into bucolic beauty and back again, traversing city stairs, bridges, wetlands and creek crossings, grassy sports fields and picture-perfect Philly skyline vistas.


Getting there: Benjamin Franklin Parkway west to West River Drive to Montgomery Drive to Belmont Mansion Drive.

Bonus: The mansion was an important safe house on the Underground Railroad; visit the museum inside.



Best for: Walking

What's there: A chain of seven parks spanning 12 miles, from Boston to Brookline. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, this is a treasure trove of historic buildings, statues, gardens, lakes, meadows, stairways and bridges hidden within the Boston Common, Public Garden, Esplanade, Back Bay Fens, Olmsted Park, Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park.

Getting there: Park Street Church (1 Park St.) at the top of the Boston Common is the perfect place to begin. The route is very intricate, weaving through many neighborhoods, so obtain a map from the Conservancy.

Bonus: After the Public Garden, detour three blocks for lunch at tiny Saltie Girl (281 Dartmouth St., saltiegirl.com), a crazy-innovative seafood pub. Yes, there's lobsta', but no reservations, so go early.


Best for: Walking

What's there: Perhaps the country's most notable historic walking trail (2.5 miles) traces the game-changing people and places of the American Revolution. You'll see the grave sites of founding fathers, America's first public school, Paul Revere's House and more.

Getting there: All lines of the T (Boston's subway) stop within a few blocks of the State House (24 Beacon St.), the first stop on the trail. There are signs to guide you, or download the map from the website.

Bonus: Dozens of eateries along the trail, but don't miss the frites — with 13 choices of toppings — at Saus, famed for its inventive "street fare" (33 Union St., sausboston.com), and the legendary cannolis at Mikes Pastry (300 Hanover St., mikespastry.com).



Website: nhill.org

Best for: Hiking

What's there: The park is 88 acres of wilderness residing in the heart of Providence, filled with glacial boulders, ravines, scenic valleys, streams populated by wildflowers, fox, deer, wild turkeys and birds. You can conquer all five trails in an afternoon; don't miss the Pinnacle Trail leading to the highest point in Providence.

Getting there: Drive to the recreation center, 675 Plainfield St., where the trailhead begins.

Bonus: When you've finished, head to Bocado Tapas for blood-orange sangria and "the Spanish Experience" — six tapas and paella. 60 Valley St., bocadotapasbar.com.

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