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10 Outdoors Adventures Near Major U.S. Cities

Start planning your next summer escape now.

Plan Your Summer Escape

This summer, make a plan to escape to the great outdoors–turn off your cell, shut your laptop, disconnect, and go. Before you hit the road, however, grab a S’well Roamer and fill it with water—or beer, wine, or any other preferred palate pleaser. You’ll then be ready to spend a day adventuring in one of the ten parks featured here, all near major North American cities.

Chicago, Illinois; Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

  • Travel time from Chicago: 1-hour drive
  • Entry fee: Free

The National Forest Service (NFS) created a buzz at this 19,000-acre prairie south of Chicago when they reintroduced bison here in 2015 as part of a 20-year plan to restore Midewin to its native landscape. These creatures (who keep to themselves as they freely roam and graze on 1200 acres) will be your companions as you hike over 34 miles of trails. Midewin is also a haven for over 100 species of breeding birds, and you may be lucky enough to spot the endangered loggerhead shrike or upland sandpiper. So, hit the highway, get set to explore, and hydrate with your S’well Roamer (which keeps your water cold for up to 24 hours). Bonus: While cyclists and equestrians are also permitted, there’s 12 miles of trails reserved solely for hikers.


Knoxville, Tennessee; Great Smoky Mountain National Park

  • Travel time from Knoxville: 1-hour drive
  • Entry fee: Free

While Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to the most famous trail in the country, the Appalachian Trail, hiking it is an adventure that requires much more than a day trip. Fortunately there are more than 150 hiking trails in this park, if you are limited to a weekend adventure. A few of the best are just off U.S. Highway 441 which bisects the park and provides easy access to many trailheads and overlooks, including the Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet, it is the lowest gap in the mountains as well as the location where, in 1940, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the national park from the Rockefeller Memorial. On a clear day, it offers arguably the most spectacular views in the entire park.


Las Vegas, Nevada; Zion National Park

  • Travel time from Las Vegas: 2.5-hour drive
  • Entry fee: $20 per person, valid for 7 days; $35 per vehicle.

Though relatively small compared to other national parks, Zion in southwest Utah packs a punch with the jaw-dropping beauty of its steep, red cliffs. The Zion Canyon leads to forest trails along the Virgin River which in turn flows to Emerald Pools where you’ll find waterfalls, a hanging garden, and the Narrows—an upstream, in-the-river hike with gorgeous views of the walls towering over you. Rocks get slippery and the water moves quickly so only serious hikers should explore this route. Less-experienced hikers may wish to embark on the two-hour Hidden Canyon trail with its gorgeous vistas or the shorter Weeping Rock, a half-mile hike ideal for families.


Miami, Florida; Everglades National Park

  • Travel time from Miami: 1.5-hour drive
  • Entry fee: $8 per person, valid for 7 days; $25 per vehicle

On Florida’s southern tip, Everglades National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famously called a “river of grass” by environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Its 1.5 million acres are a mix of freshwater and coastal prairie, mangroves, marshland, pine and cypress woods, and the islands of Florida Bay. Hikers will want to hit the 0.8-mile Anhinga Trail which winds through a sawgrass marsh where you can see alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, and egrets or explore the 15-mile Shark Valley Tram Road loop and see sweeping views from Shark Valley’s 65-foot observation tower. Dry season (December to March) is the best time to spot birds and other wildlife.

Kayak, activité nautique

Kayak, activité nautique

Mathieu Dupuis/Mathieu Dupuis

Montreal, Quebec; Parc Nationaldes Iles-de-Boucherville

  • Travel time from Montreal: 45-minute drive
  • Entry fee: $8.60 per adult 18 years and older; free for children 17 and under.

Smack in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville offers lush green space, channels brimming with birdlife and waterside trails for hiking. Pack your S’well Roamer—with its 40-ounce capacity, it’s large enough to keep you hydrated all day—and head north for a break from city life and a trek along a network of 13 miles of trails where some 200 different bird species have been spotted. Deer and Canada’s iconic beaver also call the park home. It’s easy to spot the wildlife as you hike along the wildflower-rich routes, where you’ll share space with cyclists and joggers. While there, you might even take in a history lesson about the First Nations who spent time on the park’s islands.


John Rozell

New York, NY; Storm King State Park (and Storm King Arts Center)

  • Travel time from Manhattan: 1.5-hour drive; 33.2 miles to Metro North Croton-Harmon Train Station.
  • Entry fee: Free

A mere stone’s throw from the open-air Storm King Art Center, the Butler Hill/Stillman/Bluebird Trail Loop in Storm King State Park offers outdoorsy New Yorkers the perfect weekend nature fix. Scramble up slabs of billion-years-old granite and navigate your way along marked paths beside steep drop-offs. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Back Rock Forest, the Shawangunks and the Catskills with the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge spanning the Hudson River to the north. Creepy caves and the ruins of Bannerman Castle add a dose of mystery to this 3-hour hike before you board the train back to the concrete jungle.


Minneapolis, Minnesota; Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

  • Travel time from Minneapolis: 15-minute drive
  • Entry fee: Free

This 72-mile stretch along the Mississippi River offers one of the best day hikes for Minneapolitans—the trek to Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), with breathtaking views of the Mississippi River. The most tranquil section of the park, this exhilarating hike takes you along a wooded path in the forest to a bluff-top goat prairie from which you’ll enjoy uninterrupted views of the river below. Deemed to have exceptional wildlife, botanical, and geological values, SNAs fall under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and while there are few or no trails, there’s a sense of adventure as you’re free to wander where you choose. SNAs also don’t provide drinking water so fill your S’well Roamer before you embark on your adventure; it will be an absolute necessity here!


San Francisco, California; Muir Woods National Monument

  • Travel time from San Francisco: 45-minute drive
  • Entry fee: $10 per adult 16 or older; free for children 15 and younger.

Part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods is known for its towering old-growth redwood trees and Pacific coastline scenery. The Ben Johnson Trail–by far the most popular hike–is a moderate climb which takes about three hours. The trail leads up a steep canyon through the redwoods to a scenic hillside for views of the treetops, the Pacific Ocean, and Mount Tamalpais in neighboring Mount Tamalpais State Park. Return Via Dipsea Loop, which ends with a stroll over the Redwood Creek Footbridge. Check with the Visitor Center for bridge conditions as it closes for Coho Salmon spawning season.

DCF 1.0

DCF 1.0

Seattle, Washington; Mount Rainier National Park

  • Travel time from Seattle: 2-hour drive
  • Entry fee: $15 per person, valid for 7 days; $30 per vehicle.

For millennia, the ancestors of American Indian tribes came to the mountain they called “Takhoma” to hunt and gather resources. Those tribes still hold a deep connection to Mount Rainier, now a national park that offers over 260 miles of maintained trails leading through the old-growth forest of river valleys and subalpine meadows. From the trails, visitors can explore forests, lakes, and a network of glaciers. The 7-mile Glacier Basin Trail is especially beautiful in summer when the meadows become a rainbow of wild flowers and the slopes are home to families of mountain goats. After the first mile, a half-mile trail leads to a view of the Emmons Glacier, the largest glacier in the lower 48 states.


Washington DC; Shenandoah National Park

  • Travel time from Washington DC: 1.5-hour drive
  • Entry fee: $15 per person; $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days.

Hop on the highway and head west from DC for about an hour and a half and you’ll come upon Shenandoah National Park stretching along Virginia’s distinctive blush-colored Blue Ridge Mountains. A 500-mile network of trails includes a section of the Appalachian Trail in addition to several shorter hikes. The park also has cascading waterfalls, wooded hollows, and rocky peaks like Hawksbill and Old Rag mountains while the forest itself is made up of oak, hickory, spruce and fir. Those hiking the trails will have the chance to spot songbirds as well as whitetail deer, bobcats, coyotes, wild boar, and the elusive American black bear.

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