Every city has parks, playgrounds, and outdoor activities, but some cities are just better suited for outdoorsy types. Whether you like to hit the trails, swim, golf, or just take in an afternoon at a nice neighborhood park, there are certain cities that offer exceptional outdoor amenities.
We studied the 100 most populous cities in the United States, choosing cities with excellent park facilities, acreage, and access. We also considered weather and sunny days in particular as well as close proximity to national parks.
This list highlights the 10 best cities to live in if you enjoy the outdoors. They have exceptional municipal parks systems, access to national parks, and great weather to enjoy it in.
1. Denver, Colorado
Park Score: 65
Distance to the nearest national park: 69.5 miles (Rocky Mountain National Park)
With nearly 6,000 acres of parks within the City of Denver and plenty of sun throughout the year, Denver is a great place to be outdoors. And while Denver itself is a beautiful place to get outside, you can’t overlook the city’s proximity to world class ski areas and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Denver’s city parks are well maintained and offer miles of trails for hiking, biking, trail running, and more. There are 1.6 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, 1.4 dog parks per 100,000 residents, and 3.9 playgrounds per 10,000 residents. A whopping 8 percent of city area is park land and the median park size is 6.1 acres. Denver has a population density of 8.7 per acre.
Denver Botanic Gardens is particularly beautiful and offers an oasis of flowers and foliage right in the middle of the city. Confluence Park downtown offers kayaking, including whitewater chutes with lessons, rentals, and outfitting. City Park has a 3.1 mile route that goes right along the city’s 5280 contour line.
Denver’s weather is sunny with mild winters. The city has four distinct seasons and an arid climate. There are more than 300 days of sunshine every year. Winters have an average daily high temperature of 45 degrees, and while it snows often in Denver, the snow doesn’t stay on the ground very long. Summers are sunny with low humidity and cool evenings, great for a nighttime bike ride or stroll around the block.
Rocky Mountain National Park is just about an hour and a half away from Denver. The park has hiking, scenic drives, wildlife, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and more. With 355 miles of hiking trails, you can take on steep mountain peaks and lakeside strolls. You can even reach more than 12,000 feet in elevation on drives through the park. Wildlife includes elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.
Colorado is one of the world’s most well known destinations for skiing. And while you won’t find ski spots in the city of Denver, there are many ski areas within 70 miles, making Denver a great place to live if you love to hit the ski trails on the weekends. Vail, Aspen, Telluride, Winter Park, and other famed ski areas are all close to Denver.
2. Washington, D.C.
Park Score: 81
Distance to the nearest national park: 70.8 miles (Shenandoah National Park)
Thousands of acres of parks, endless outdoor attractions, and a temperate climate make Washington, D.C. a great city to spend time outdoors. The city has one of the country’s best parks systems, national treasures, and beautiful cherry blossoms every year. Plus, it’s about an hour and a half away from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Washington, D.C. has 8,525 acres of park acreage and an incredible 21.9 percent of the city is park land. Although D.C.’s parks are typically small with a median park size of .8 acres, they have a lot to offer. There are 4.1 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, 1.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents, and 1.7 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.
The National Mall is D.C.’s most popular park destination both for tourists and residents. The city is also home to the U.S. National Arboretum, where you can find the former U.S. Capitol Columns, miles of trails, the National Herb Garden, and one of North America’s largest collections of bonsai trees. Rock Creek Park is one of D.C.’s most beautiful, offering 1,700 acres of parkland and native species adjacent to the National Zoo with miles of hiking and biking trails. You can even go horseback riding in this urban oasis. If you prefer a more urban park, Meridian Hill Park is landscaped and multi tiered with statues and a cascading waterfall.
Washington, D.C. has a temperate climate with chilly winters and hot summers. Spring and fall are mild, while winter has light snow, so you can get out and enjoy the outdoors year round. In the summer, it’s hot and humid with frequent thunderstorms.
The capital city is one of the most walkable cities in the country, offering plenty of sidewalks, parks, and trails. The city also has two rivers, the Potomac and Anacostia, which offer kayaking, paddleboarding, and other water activities. And every spring, D.C.’s cherry blossom trees bloom, offering a beautiful outdoor welcome into the season.
Just over 70 miles from Washington, D.C. is Shenandoah National Park, encompassing 200,000 acres of protected lands with wildlife and recreation. The park offers vistas, hiking, scenic drives, picnics, and more. You can take backcountry trips, enjoy winter splendor, and even participate in a car free day, riding your bike along Shenandoah National Park’s roadways.
3. Seattle, Washington
Park Score: 71
Distance to the nearest national park: 89.7 miles (Mount Rainier National Park)
Seattle isn’t the sunniest city in America, but it has extensive opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. There’s a good reason Seattle is known as Emerald City: it’s filled with lush, green land. Thousands of acres of park land, a regular view of Mount Rainier, water activities, and outdoor attractions make Seattle a beautiful place to live life outdoors.
There are 6,590 acres of parks in Seattle, giving residents a population density of 12.3 per acre. The median park size is 2.4 acres. Overall, 12.5 percent of the city is park land. There are 1.9 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, 2.2 dog parks per 100,000 residents, and 2.3 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.
Green Lake Park is Seattle’s most visited municipal park. Green Lake is a freshwater glacial lake surrounded by a 2.8 mile path. This path is divided into two baths, one for pedestrians and the other for bicycles, skates, and unmotorized vehicles. The park also has outdoor swimming, bocce ball, lawn bowling, roller hockey, soccer, baseball, golf, and even a monthly midnight bicycle race. Washington Park and Arboretum is expansive with 230 acres of green hills and hiking trails through forests and marshes. There are also swimming and picnicking spots. At Kerry Park, you can enjoy a view of the Space Needle. At sunset, there’s a colorful view of Mount Rainier. Gas Works Park, located on the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant is on the short of Lake Union. The remnants of the plant remain, offering a steampunk look for park goers. There’s even a section that has been incorporated into a children’s play barn structure and an artificial kity flying hill with a sculptured sundial.
Seattle’s climate is oceanic. The city has cool, wet winters and mild summers that are relatively dry. While Seattle has more rain days with a light drizzle than other cities, the city has less precipitation than many other U.S. cities. Overall, Seattle typically has 150 days with at least light rain. There are 201 cloudy and 93 partly cloudy days. High temperatures in the summer average 76.1 degrees and winters usually average a low of 40.6 degrees. Seattle typically sees snow, but heavy snow is rare.
Seattle has extensive outdoor activities. Hiking is a popular activity, particularly at Seattle’s largest parks Discovery Park and Seward Park. Kayaking and paddling opportunities are plentiful with Seattle’s Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, Lake Union, Lake Washington, and more. Cyclers enjoy Seattle’s recreational trails, particularly the six mile Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop. You can even ride the Washington State Ferry or go flightseeing on Seattle’s seaplanes.
Often visible from Seattle, Mount Rainier is less than 100 miles from the city. This active volcano is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States and is 14,410 feet above sea level. The park is home to wildflower meadows, an ancient forest, and plenty of wildlife. Activities include wilderness hiking, camping, and climbing. In addition to Mount Rainier National Park, Seattle residents can enjoy Mt. Baker, North Cascades, San Juan Island National Historic Park, and Olympic National Park.
4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Park Score: 65
Distance to the nearest national park: 214 miles (Petrified Forest National Park)
One of America’s sunniest cities, Albuquerque residents can enjoy the outdoors in nearly 30,000 acres of parks and extensive nearby national parks. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy year round in Albuquerque, including biking and hiking trails, golf courses, rafting and canoeing, horseback riding, skiing and snowboarding, birding, rock climbing, and more.
Albuquerque has an amazing 27,438 acres of parks in the city with park land making up 23.6% of the city. The median park size is 4.3 acres with a population density of 4.8 per acre. There are 2.2 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, 2.3 dog parks per 100,000 residents, and 2.9 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.
Balloon Fiesta Park is Albuquerque’s most visited municipal park and the site of the city’s annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Montgomery and Academy Hills are great parks for picnicking, playing on the grass, or picking up a game of tennis or basketball. Elena Gallegos Park offers trails and beautiful surroundings.
Albuquerque is one of the warmest and driest cities in America and almost every day is sunny in this high desert climate. Outdoor activities are available year round. Summers are warm with average highs of 90 degrees in the daytime and 44 degrees at night. Winter is cold, but still sunny. It snows occasionally, but rarely lasts more than a day or two (although snowy peaks are available on the nearby Sandia Mountains for skiing).
Albuquerque’s unique climate means that you can ski in the morning on nearby peaks, then golf or hike in the sun the same day. There are many hiking and biking trails that are easily accessible, including the Sandia Mountains and the Petroglyph National Monument. Golf courses are open year round. You can go rafting and canoeing on the Rio Grande and ski and snowboard nearby. With varying elevations, bird watching is varied, so is rock climbing and mountaineering.
Just over 200 miles away, Petrified Forest National Park is breathtaking in its wonders and beauty. Maintained trails in the park are excellent for hiking, learning about the natural environment, archaeology, and petrified logs. Biking, backpacking, horseback riding, and even geocaching are other popular activities in the park. Albuquerque is also close to Mesa Verde National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Arches National Park, and the Grand Canyon, offering extensive access to some of America’s best national parks.
5. San Francisco, California
Park Score: 77.5
Distance to the nearest national park: 129 miles (Pinnacles National Park)
San Francisco is indisputably one of America’s best outdoor cities. With beaches, plenty of outdoor spaces, parks, public art, and beautiful weather, there’s so much to enjoy outdoors in San Francisco.
There are 5,693 acres of parks in San Francisco with a median park size of 1.8 acres. Park land makes up 19 percent of the city’s area and there is a population density of 27.8 per acre. There are 3.5 dog parks per 100,000 residents, 1.9 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, and 1.9 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.
Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s most visited and picturesque park. This park alone is home to two functioning windmills, a herd of buffalo, the Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and more. Twin Peaks offers some of the best views in the city. Glen Canyon Park is a great place to check out native species. And Bernal Hill is beautiful green space to take a hike in the city.
Though it can be cold by California standards, San Francisco has 260 days per year that are at least partly sunny. The weather is mild year round with very little variation in temperature, even in different seasons. The average temperature is typically between 51.3 and 62.7 degrees in the daytime. Temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees. Fog is very common, especially during the summer, but snow is very rare. This mild year round weather makes it easy to enjoy the outdoors any day of the year.
San Francisco has extensive outdoor activities, including running, cycling, hiking, paddling, skiing, snowboarding, and surfing. The city has the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, 47 hills, and mountains nearby to enjoy. Ocean Beach is a reliable surfing spot where locals also enjoy biking, skating, and flying kites. Land’s End is a great place to explore on foot with spectacular views, Victorian bathhouse ruins, and wildlife including sea lions, dolphins, and whales. Row or sail out to Angel Island State Park and enjoy a trek of the thirteen miles of trails. Regular ski buses are available from San Francisco as well.
While San Francisco has excellent local and state parks, you can’t overlook the city’s proximity to national parks. San Francisco is just 129 miles from Pinnacles National Park, offering hiking, camping, rock climbing, caves, and bird watching. The famed Yosemite National Park is also nearby, where you can enjoy camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, swimming, boating, skiing, and more.
6. Portland, Oregon
Park Score: 76.5
Distance to the nearest national park: 137 miles (Mount Rainier National Park)
Portland may not have Albuquerque’s sunny days, but what this city does have is a variety of outdoor activities, excellent parks, and access to national parks. Forests, bays, abundant gardens, seasonal activities, and more are all available in Portland.
Portland has 14,489 acres of park land, which makes up 17.8 percent of the city’s area. There are 3.8 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, 5.4 dog parks per 100,000 residents, and 2.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents in Portland. Portland’s parks have a population density of 7.4 per acre and a median park size of 4.6 acres.
Washington Park is the most visited municipal park in Portland. It’s 410 acres with mostly steep, wooded hillsides. This urban park includes a zoo, arboretum, rose garden, amphitheater, children’s museum, and rose garden. Amenities include miles of trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, soccer fields, tennis courts, and an archery range. Forest Park is the largest urban park in the United States with 5,156 acres and 30 miles of hiking trails. Mt. Tabor Park is home to concerts in the park, reservoirs, and even an adult soap box derby.
Portland’s climate is temperate with warm, dry summers, and cool, rainy winters. The summer has little to no rainfall, but it is particularly rainy during the summer. August is the warmest month with an average high temperature of 81.1 degrees. December, Portland’s coldest month, has an average daily high of 45.6 degrees. The city rarely gets below 20 degrees.
Portland is a great place to hike, run, or bike with accessible trails and kid friendly hikes in and near Portland. You can go camping at Mount Hood and even camp in a yurt at Fort Stevens or Nehalem Bay State Parks. Walk among the spring flowers, take in a picnic, watch the colors change, or go apple picking. In the winter, you can go ice skating in the city or hit Mount Hood for snowshoeing, skiing, or snowboarding. Along the water, you can go fishing, or get into swimming holes near Portland or along the Willamette River. Portland’s rivers are great for kayaking as well.
Mount Rainier State Park is close to Portland, offering hiking, camping, even rock climbing in the ancient mountainous forest. Olympic National Park is also nearby, where you can go boating, fishing, tide pooling, camping, hiking, backpacking, and take in the wildlife.
7. Honolulu, Hawaii
Park Score: 61.5
Distance to the nearest national park: 177 miles (Haleakala National Park)
Honolulu’s Hawaiian coastline is world renowned its beauty, swimming, snorkeling, and surfing. The beach is a major factor in Honolulu’s status as a great outdoor city, but that’s not all this lush, green island city has to offer. Mountains, volcanic craters, and even shady spots under and urban tree make Honolulu an outstanding city to enjoy the outdoors.
In Honolulu, there are more than 12,000 acres of park land. In fact, park land makes up a significant part of the city’s area at 33 percent. The median Honolulu park size is 2.3 acres and there is a population density of 9.5 per acre. Per 10,000 residents, there are 1.3 playgrounds and 5.8 basketball hoops, as well as .6 dog parks per 100,000 residents.
Ala Moana Regional Park is the most popular park in Honolulu, offering 100 acres of sandy beach. Calm waters make this a good park for swimming and amenities including lifeguards, showers, restrooms, and food concessions make it convenient. There are also tennis courts and a music pavilion. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve was created out of a collapsed volcano crater and is great for snorkeling. More challenging waters are available in the scenic cove of Waimea Bay Beach Park. If you prefer high altitude hiking, check out Nuuanu Pali in the Koolau Range with excellent views of the eastern landscape.
Honolulu’s climate is hot and semi arid. It’s mostly dry in the summer and stays warm almost year round. The lowest recorded temperature was 52 degrees in 1902 and 1969. Average high temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees and average lows are between 65 and 75 degrees year round. October through early April is Honolulu’s typical rainy season with very little rainfall during the summer. There are an average of 278 sunny days every year.
Honolulu is clearly a great place to enjoy the water. With miles upon miles of beautiful beaches, you can swim, surf, snorkel, scuba dive, jet ski, parasail, paddle, kayak, fish, and more. Go whale watching in the winter during the humpback whale migration. Take a hike on Diamond Head to see a volcanic crater, World War II bunkers, and more. Or hit Waimea Falls for Hawaiian history, native plants, and tropical birds.
Haleakala National Park is just 177 miles from Honolulu. Home to a dormant volcano, endangered Hawaiian geese, and beautiful overlooks across the mountains, there’s plenty to take in at this park. You can camp, hike, and more along the summit district or coastal district in Haleakala National Park.
8. San Diego, California
Park Score: 71.5
Distance to the nearest national park: 164 miles (Joshua Tree National Park)
Another coastal gem, San Diego has practically every warm weather outdoor activity you might be interested in. Water sports, camping, biking, hiking, cruises, and more are available in this city. You’ll find more than 45,000 acres of park land with endless trails and beaches. And at just 164 miles from Joshua Tree National Park, San Diego is close to back country roads, backpacking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.
San Diego has 45,392 acres of park land with a median park size of 6.8 acres. The city area is made up of 22 percent park land with a density of 6.5 per acre. There are 2.9 basketball hoops and 1.9 playgrounds per 10,000 residents, and 1.1 dog parks per 100,000 residents.
San Diego’s most visited municipal park is Mission Bay Park. More than 4,600 acres in size, this park has 27 miles of shoreline with sandy beaches, boat docks, launching facilities, and rentals. You can follow along bike and walking paths, picnic, or play on basketball courts or playgrounds. Torrey Pines State Beach and Park has bluffs overlooking the sea with miles of trails as well as a beach with lifeguards and bathrooms. Ellen Browning Scripps Park is a great place for a stroll along the waterfront or even a game of shuffleboard. The area’s wildlife preserve has opportunities for swimming, diving, tide pooling, and wildlife watching.
San Diego’s climate is semi arid with mild and sunny weather year round. Average monthly temperatures range from 57.3 degrees to 72 degrees with temperatures occasionally reaching 90 degrees or higher. Ice and snow are rare and typically only occur inland. May and June are often foggy, while most of the city’s rainfall occurs December through March. Summers have practically no rain.
This city is a good place to enjoy the water with swimming, jet skiing, kayaking, boating, snorkeling, surfing, wake boarding, and more. You can go on cruises and whale watching tours. There’s also biking, ATVing, camping, fishing, golf, hiking, and other sports. At the Torrey Pines Gliderport, you can take off paragliding for an unbeatable view. Visit Coronado Municipal Beach for clean, wide stretches of sand and a great surfing environment.
Just 164 miles away from San Diego is Joshua Tree National Park. This beautiful desert park is so close, but offers a terrain that is so different from San Diego. Wildflowers take over in the spring, the stars come out at night, and there’s plenty of recreation to enjoy. You can drive on back country roads, go horseback riding, get a ranch tour, go mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, birding, and more.
9. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Park Score: 86.5 and 82.5
Distance to the nearest national park: 294 miles (Voyageurs National Park)
Technically two cities, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is a great place to visit parks. With two of the best parks systems in the United States (ranked number one and number two), Minneapolis-St. Paul offers a combined 9,456 acres of parks. With recreational lakes, nature and wildlife tours, hiking and biking tours, golfing, horseback riding, and scenic byways, there’s no end to the exciting outdoor activities available in the Twin Cities.
Minneapolis has 5,064 acres of park land, with 14.9 percent of the city area made up of parks. St. Paul has 15.2 percent park land, 4,932 acres in all. The median park size in Minneapolis is 6.5 acres and 3.7 acres in St. Paul. Basketball hoops per 10,000 residents are 3.9 in Minneapolis and 4.2 in St. Paul. There are 2.8 playgrounds per 10,000 residents in Minneapolis and 3.9 in St. Paul. Dog parks per 100,000 residents are 1.8 in Minneapolis and 1.4 in St. Paul. Minneapolis parks have a population density of 11.7 per acre and 9 per acre in St. Paul. In St. Paul, 96 percent of residents live within a short walk of a park and the same is true for 95 percent of Minneapolis residents.
The most visited municipal park in Minneapolis is Chain of Lakes Regional Park. This park is 1555 acres large with 15 miles of pedestrian and biking trails. There are multiple beaches on Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet within the park, as well as boat and canoe launches. You can visit park gardens or a bird sanctuary, a dog park, even restaurants within the park. It also offers archery, a cross country ski trail, fishing, hockey and ice rinks, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball, and much more.
In St. Paul, residents make the most use of Como Regional Park. Another large park, Como Regional Park encompasses Como Lake, Como Town Amusement Park, the Como Zoo, and the Como 18 hole golf course. There are 2.3 miles of paved trails, athletic fields, a fishing pier, watercraft rentals, conservatory, carousel, mini golf, a pool, even a historic streetcar station and woodland outdoor classroom.
It can get very cold in Minneapolis-St. Paul. In fact, the Twin Cities have the coldest average temperature of any major metropolitan area in the United States. Winters can be very cold with plenty of snowfall. Summer is warm to hot and often humid with thunderstorms and heavy rainfall in the spring, summer, and fall. Minneapolis-St. Paul has a January average of 15.6 degrees and 73.8 degrees in July. Despite exceptionally cold winters, residents in the area often still enjoy the outdoors year round, taking part in outdoor winter activities including cross country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, and hockey.
Residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul have no shortage of outdoor activities to choose from. There are plenty of lakes for canoeing and kayaking, miles of biking and hiking paths throughout the cities, and a zoo, arboretum, and other enjoyable outdoor walking areas.
Located just under 300 miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Voyageurs National Park is a watery wonderland. Visitors are encouraged to set out on the water highways of the North Woods in this park, taking the interconnected water routes to destinations throughout the boreal forest. There are rocky shorelines, picturesque sunsets, scenic wonders, and plenty of camping amenities.
10. Las Vegas, Nevada
Park Score: 61
Distance to the nearest national park: 142 miles (Death Valley National Park)
Las Vegas may be known for casinos and nightlife for visitors, but residents know that this desert oasis is also a great city for outdoor life. With more than 5,000 acres of parks, abundant sunshine, and tons of recreational activities, Las Vegas is one of the best cities in America to enjoy the outdoors — as long as you can take the heat.
Las Vegas has 5,104 acres of park land, making up 5.9 percent of the city’s area. The median park size is large at 7.8 acres and there is a population density of 7.1 per acre. There is one basketball hoop per 10,000 residents and 3.7 playgrounds per 10,000 residents. There are 4.1 dog parks per 100,000 residents.
Las Vegas’ most visited municipal park is Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs. This park is also the largest in Las Vegas at 2,040 acres. Floyd Lamb Park offers a change of scenery from the desert with plenty of lush trees and greenery. There are stocked ponds, grassy lawns, picnic areas, scenic paths, even horseshoe facilities. Tule Springs Ranch, part of Floyd Lamb Park, has fossilized remains of mammoths, bison, giant sloths, and more and is one of the best examples of Pleistocene paleontologic sites in western North America. Rock Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 15 miles west of Las Vegas with large red rock formations and popular hiking and rock climbing destinations.
Las Vegas is sunny year round with 310 sunny days annually, so you can enjoy the outdoors practically any day of the year. However, it can get dangerously hot during the summer months. In this hot desert climate, there are long, very hot summers, warm springs and falls, and short, mild winters. July is the hottest month and has an average daytime high of 104.2 degrees. Even overnight lows are often above 80 degrees. December is Las Vegas’ coolest and cloudiest month with an average daytime high of 56/6 degrees.
In and around Las Vegas, exciting outdoor activities await. You can race a dune buggy in the desert, zip line in a canyon, bike around Red Rock Canyon, or hike in the Valley of Fire. Or, hit the water, kayaking in the Colorado River or take a boat ride on Lake Mead. You can even go golfing, ride a horse, or go rock climbing.
Las Vegas is close to a number of national parks and conservation areas. The Hoover Dam is just 40 minutes away. The Grand Canyon is easily accessed on helicopter tours as well. Death Valley National Park is just 142 miles away with sightseeing, biking, backpacking, back country roads, sand dunes, desert peaks, and camping. Zion National Park is close as well, just 160 miles away from Las Vegas and offers hiking, wildlife watching, rock climbing, canyoneering, and more.