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5 Best Cities for Urban Hiking

Los Angeles

Writer and adventurer Dan Koeppel really started something when he decided to climb some of the urban staircases in Los Angeles instead of driving miles out of town for a hike. His article in the June 2004 Backpacker magazine, "I Climbed Los Angeles," helped popularize urban hiking. The staircases are there because the old neighborhoods in L.A. were built on hillsides, and developers built sidewalks with steps so people could get to the houses they built. This was in the days before everyone had a car and the need for a place to park it. Koeppel expanded his interest in staircases into a 16.2 mile (26.1 kilometer) hike that includes 4,182 steps – many of them steep – and the sidewalks that connect them. The route rises 7,455 feet (2.13 meters) in elevation and includes vistas of most of the famous sights in and around L.A. [source: Cromley].

Many people have tried to replicate all or part of Koeppel's route, and there is now an annual two-day free event, The Big Parade, that covers about 17 miles (27.36 kilometers) and nearly 100 staircases between downtown L.A. and the Hollywood Sign.

But hiking in Los Angeles doesn't have to be as strenuous as climbing steep staircases. There are plenty of easy hiking routes that show you L.A. up close.

Griffith Park is one of the city's most popular flat hiking areas. Covering more than 4,000 acres, this area in the Los Feliz neighborhood near the Santa Monica Mountains is one of the largest urban wilderness parks in the United States. The city maintains 53 acres (214,483 square meters) of trails, but warns that hikers may encounter coyotes, foxes, rattlesnakes and other wildlife. A favorite route is from the parking lot of the Griffith Observatory to the top of Mount Hollywood.

If you want to absorb culture while hiking, the Architecture and Design Museum of Los Angeles offers urban hikes to such areas as Little Tokyo, MacArthur Park and the Downtown Historic Core, guided by poet Mike Sonksen, who performs his works along the route.