Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends


Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. This post was updated June 23, 2021.

Finally planning that big-city vacation? Add a day in nature to the itinerary. Nearby nature sanctuaries, in the form of state and federal parks, provide welcome reprieve from America’s concrete jungles. Free from the traffic, towering skyscrapers and massive throngs of people, they serve as a natural antidote to the sensory overload that cities so often inspire. Here are a few nature-detour suggestions for top cities across the US.

RELATED: 6 incredible places to swim with animals in nature


Muir Woods National Monument
Distance: 17 miles/40 minutes

This magical setting is too close not to visit. Take a break from bustling San Francisco and meander amidst the all-knowing silence of ancient redwoods in this sanctuary named in honor of conservationist and nature philosopher John Muir. A federally protected landscape since 1908, Muir Woods National Monument is a place to come for wide-eyed walks through the woods with quiet reverence to your surroundings and where, as Muir himself wrote, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”


Bear Mountain State Park
Distance: 50 miles/1 hour

Yes, there’s a gigantic nature reserve in the middle of Manhattan called Central Park that is certainly worth a visit. But for those who wish to completely free themselves from the skyscraper skyline and 24/7 hum of traffic, there’s Bear Mountain State Park. Located in the Hudson Valley, this is the most popular state park in New York state, offering hiking and biking trails through dense woodlands that will hush the hustle-bustle instigated by the Big Apple.


Starved Rock State Park
Distance: 94 miles/1 hour 40 minutes

Less than 100 miles from Chicago is a spectacular natural setting that attracts bald eagles each winter, the largest wintering population outside of Alaska. (Fun fact: Illinois is second only to Alaska for eagle watching.) Starved Rock State Park boasts quiet hiking trails that weave through canyons and waterfalls, formed millions of years ago by glacier melt and steam erosion, It’s especially epic in spring, when ice melts and waterfalls flow, and fall, when foliage bursts in vibrant hues of red, orange and gold. It’s an unexpected setting in a state as flat as Illinois, and one that inspires wows and wonder.


Shenandoah National Park
Distance: 75 miles/1 hour 30 minutes

Escape the political cacophony of our nation’s capital for the peaceful setting that is Shenandoah National Park, if only for a day. It’s home to more than 500 miles of trails that wind through waterfalls, caverns, old farmsteads and forests. Find your perch in this landscape spanning 200,000 acres, and listen to the quiet melody of songbirds, insects and wind—a nice respite from the noise you’ll find in D.C.


Huntsville State Park
Distance: 68 miles/1 hour 15 minutes

Huntsville State Park is just north of Houston, in the Sam Houston National Forest. With 21 miles of hiking trails, plus plenty of kayaking, canoeing and fishing opportunities on Lake Raven, it’s a serene, wooded setting for playful R&R.


Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Distance: 35 miles/45 minutes

With more than 500 miles of trails, the Santa Monica Mountains are a natural wonderland hidden in plain sight, even for many car-loving Los Angelenos. It’s hard to imagine that not far from the sprawl of Los Angeles, lies this beautiful area that hugs the sparkling Pacific Ocean with views that can keep you mesmerized for hours. For the adventurous, its Backbone Trail crosses the best-protected coastal Mediterranean habitat in the world, weaving through canyons, woods and epic ocean vistas.


Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Distance: 15 miles/30 minutes

Trade the man-made opulence of Sin City for the natural spectacle that is Red Rock Canyon. Its 19 trails wind through forests, desert and canyons (some still featuring ancient pictographs). The gorgeous red landscape against the Mojave Desert, bathed in natural silence, will seem far, far away from the ringing slot machines of Vegas.

ALSO: It’s only natural that you should rack up rewards for your travel—don’t miss out!


Rickets Glen State Park
Distance: 138 miles/2 hours 20 minutes

Fairmount Park, much like New York’s Central Park, is a fabulous greenspace for urban dwellers, with its 9,000 acres of trails, woodlands and wetlands residing within Philadelphia. But when you want to escape the City of Brotherly Love for a waterfall wonderland, head to Ricketts Glen State Park. The enchanting forest boasts 22 free-flowing waterfalls, which are visual and audible delicacies along its hiking trails. Ice climbing on the frozen falls is popular in winter months.


Mt. Misery
Distance: 27 miles/40 minutes

Ignore the name. This setting is neither a mountain, nor does it inspire misery. Its 60 miles of wooded trails just outside of Boston that used to be Henry David Thoreau’s old stomping grounds, so you’ll be walking in the footsteps of a literary legend with a visit here. If the quiet setting could inspire this poetic Transcendentalist, who knows what it might inspire in you.


Alderfer Three Sisters Park
Distance: 30 miles/45 minutes

The Mile High City is hugged by nature, with its mountain landscapes practically taunting those who reside in the city center on a daily basis: “Come out and play.” That makes it especially hard to pick just one setting to highlight. But Alderfer Three Sisters Park has it all: short strolls for the family; strenuous climbs for the intrepid; and a long loop hike for those who wish to meander. It boasts stunning vistas and rock formations amidst a never-ending stretch of ponderosa pines, making it seem far removed from civilization.


Pedernales Falls State Park
Distance: 45 miles/1 hour

Away from Austin‘s famed traffic snarls, deep in Texas Hill Country, this 5,000-acre park is a mecca for hiking, biking and tubing—the latter being a Texas summertime tradition. Pedernales Falls State Park is also home to a zip line company that will whisk you above the canopies for a bird’s eye view of the natural paradise; it also facilitates treehouse stays for those seeking an overnight respite from city noise.


Wekiwa Springs State Park
Distance: 17 miles/30 minutes

To prevent amusement park burnout, escape to Weiwa Springs State Park for a day where your family can enjoy bonding time without waiting in antsy queues or paying $10 for ice cream in the shape of mouse ears. Your Orlando escape includes canoeing, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding and picnic opportunities in this sanctuary shaded by graceful trees draped in Spanish moss. A special mention also goes to Blue Spring State Park, a designated manatee refuge from mid-November through March, which is 35 miles (45 minutes) from Orlando.

Orbitz, app, iPhone, travel, deals

Tagged: Top 10 Lists

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at

One thought on “Great nature detours near 12 U.S. cities”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *