10 Mountain Hikes for City-Dwellers

Natural skyscrapers

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Hiking in the mountains doesn't always require a drive to the Rockies or a trip to the Alps. Most cities don't have 14,000-foot peaks, but some do have mountains or tall hills that feature challenging hiking trails and stunning scenic overlooks.

These spaces also offer a break from the city environment, a chance to get out into nature for an afternoon (or just a few minutes). For some city dwellers, the best thing about these slopes is that they provide amazing skyline views, like Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, pictured here. Others simply consider them exercise venues — a prettier alternative to the local gym.

Here's a collection of urban peaks that are only a short drive or subway ride away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Namsan Mountain

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Seoul, South Korea, has a number of peaks. One of the most visible is Namsan. This 800 foot mountain is topped by Seoul Tower, which is itself 775 feet tall. The mountain is within walking distance of the nearest subway and bus stations. There is a cable car that whisks passengers up to the summit, but there are also roads, trails and stairs for those who would prefer to walk.

There are overlooks on the top of the mountain, though getting to the best vistas on Namsan requires taking an elevator up to the viewing platforms in Seoul Tower. Hikers have several different route options, but all require a challenging uphill trek. Most of these routes take one to two hours to complete.

Table Mountain

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Table Mountain in South Africa is more than 3,550 feet above sea level. Because of its location behind Cape Town, it is arguably one of the world's most recognizable urban mountains, standing right alongside the likes of Rio's Sugarloaf Mountain and Hong Kong's Victoria Peak. The mountain can be reached via a cable car. Hikers can ride up and then hike around the plateau and the upper slopes.

It is possible to forego the cable car and climb via the Platteklip Gorge, which runs right up the middle of the mountain. The steep route is about two miles and takes two or three hours even for people who are in good shape. Some other routes start at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, while South Africa's National Park Service leads longer treks through the region.

Victoria Peak

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Victoria Peak rises 1,811 feet above Hong Kong Island. Often simply referred to as "the Peak," Victoria is only the 31st tallest summit in the former British colony. However, it is the most visible mountain in Hong Kong because it rises up directly behind the skyscrapers of the business district. Tourists can get to the top via a cable car called the Peak Tram or by road.

The viewing area atop the Peak is quite commercialized and features shops and chain restaurants. There is also a 2.8-mile loop trail around the upper slopes of the mountain. This pathway is paved, and it passes quieter scenic overlooks and also runs through forests. Despite its proximity to the city, Victoria Peak’s forested areas are home to numerous species of birds and insects, including butterflies.

Camelback Mountain

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Arizona's Camelback Mountain is one of the most notable geographic features in the Phoenix metro area. Because of its central location, it is a popular recreation destination for locals and tourists alike. Camelback's peak is 1,280 feet above street level (and 2,706 feet above sea level). Most of the mountain is part of the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area.

There are easier trails in the park, but two challenging paths lead to Camelback's summit. The Echo Canyon Trail, which runs about one and quarter miles, and the mile-and-a-half Cholla Trail both require a two or three hour time commitment. The dirt and gravel trails are in good condition, but some sections are so steep that handrails have been installed to aid hikers.

Elephant Mountain

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Taipei is a great city for hikers. It has a number of accessible peaks, but one of the best and most convenient is Elephant Mountain. This mountain has a trail with steps that leads to an extremely popular scenic overlook. Not only is the trailhead within walking distance of the center of the city, but the peak of Elephant Mountain offers panoramic views of Taipei and its most prominent landmark, the Taipei 101 skyscraper, pictured here.

It does not take long to reach the mountain's overlook from street level, but the trek does require negotiating a number of steps. The problem with the trail being so accessible is that it can get crowded on the weekend (especially at sunset time). Weekday hikers avoid the worst trail traffic jams, though they should still arrive early to stake out a good vantage point for the sunset.

Bob's Peak

Photo: Lawrence Murray/flickr

Bob's Peak rises directly above the New Zealand city of Queenstown, and, as you can see, it offers a stunning view of almost the entire city. The easiest way to get from the city, which is on Lake Wakatipu, to the summit is on the Queenstown Gondola. The cable car reaches a height of almost 1,500 feet above the lake. There is also a path called the Tiki Trail that takes hikers on a steep, but manageable, ascent.

The views from trail or gondola are a highlight, but Queenstown is better known for its adventure sports. Once they reach the top, hikers can use the Skyline Luge tracks, a mountain bike or perhaps a paraglider to get back to lake level. Those who want to extend their hike can opt for a number of trails that start at the top of the gondola's route. One of the most popular is a daylong trip to the 5,700-foot summit of Ben Lomond.

Mönchsberg

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Mönchsberg is one of five mountains in Salzburg, Austria, taking its name from the Benedictine monks who built an abbey at the foot of the mountain. There are historic structures, forests and meadows on Mönchsberg, which has an especially rugged look compared to many other urban peaks.

Trails crisscross the entire area, with different routes leading past different attractions on the slopes. Some viewpoints overlook the city and Hohensalzburg Fortress, while others are better for getting views of the other nearby mountains.

Arthur's Seat

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Arthur's Seat is the main peak in a group of hills about a mile from Scotland's Edinburgh Castle. The 820-foot peak and the surrounding hills are part of Holyrood Park. Aside from getting a convenient hill-walking experience, people come to Arthur's Seat because it offers views of the historic city in every direction.

There are a number of different ascent routes, with the more challenging treks found on the southwestern side of the hill. Buses stop at Holyrood Palace, which also has a parking lot. Since the peak is so centrally located and such a prominent part of the skyline, it is almost impossible to get lost on your way there.

Mount Davidson

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Mount Davidson is the tallest point in San Francisco at 927 feet above sea level. The peak is part of Mount Davidson Park, which is located in the southwestern part of the city. Once you reach the park, the hike to the summit is only about half a mile on decently maintained dirt and gravel pathways. Those who want to take a longer hike can loop their way up the mountain on different trails.

Davidson has a good reward-versus-effort ratio when it comes to its views. People who get to the higher points of the hill will be able to see panoramas of large parts of the city. There is also a huge concrete cross, which stands more than 100 feet tall, on the top of Davidson. The cross is a memorial to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian genocide.

Mount Royal

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Mount Royal is a modest mountain in terms of size. Its highest point is at Colline de la Croix, which is 764 feet above sea level. Despite this, it is an important landmark that not only serves as the basis for Montreal’s name, but also provides some of the best skyline panoramas in the city.

In the 19th century, the Mount Royal Park was opened. The park is reachable by public transportation and the walking paths are extremely accessible. This is obviously an urban park, so it is not quite as natural as some of the other mountains on our list. Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile place to visit, especially for the views of the city. In winter, groomed cross country ski trails and snowshoe paths mean the outdoor activities don’t have to stop with the snow.