10 Scenic Mountain Hikes Near Major Cities

View of Edinburgh old town and castle with part of Arthur's Seat mountain visible in foreground, green grass and lush trees below, and blue sky above.
Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano in the center of Edinburgh, offers views of Edinburgh Castle and the city.

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Hiking in the mountains doesn't always require a trip to the Rockies or 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 offer a break from the city, 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 they provide amazing skyline views. Others simply consider them exercise venues—a more attractive alternative to the local gym.

Here are 10 urban peaks that are only a short drive or subway ride away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

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Namsan Mountain (Seoul)

aerial view of sunrise over Seoul downtown city skyline, with Seoul Tower at Namsan Park atop Namsan Mountain

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Of the numerous mountain peaks found in Seoul, South Korea, one of the most visible is Namsan. This 800-foot mountain is topped by N Seoul Tower, which is 775 feet tall, and is within walking distance of the nearest subway and bus stations. A cable car whisks passengers up to the summit, but there are also roads, trails, and stairs for those who prefer to walk.

There are overlooks at the top of the mountain, though getting to the best vistas on Namsan requires taking an elevator up to the viewing platforms in N 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.

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Table Mountain (Cape Town)

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa with view of Table Mountain in the distance and blue water in the foreground along the shoreline with light blue sky above

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Table Mountain in Cape Town, 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. The mountain can be reached via 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 to complete, even for experienced climbers. Some other routes start at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and tour guides lead longer treks through the region.

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Victoria Peak (Hong Kong)

View from the lush green mountain, Victoria Peak, looking down at the highrises of city of Hong Kong with a bright blue sky filled with white clouds above

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Victoria Peak rises 1,811 feet above Hong Kong Island. Often simply referred to as "The Peak," Victoria is one of many mountains in the former British colony, but it is the most visible in Hong Kong because it rises up directly behind the skyscrapers of the business district. Tourists can get to the top via road or a cable car called the Peak Tram.

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 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.

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Camelback Mountain (Phoenix)

Aerial view of Camelback Mountain with a clear blue sky above and the city of Phoenix, Arizona in the foreground

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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 1,400 feet above street level (and 2,700 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 1.25 miles, and the 1.5-mile Cholla Trail. Both are considered extremely difficult and 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.

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Elephant Mountain (Taipei City)

View of the city of Taipei and the tallest structure, the Taipei 101 tower, from the lush green forests of Elephant Mountain

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

It does not take long to reach the 600-foot 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 weekends. Weekday hikers avoid the worst trail traffic jams, though they should still arrive early to stake out a good vantage point for the sunset views.

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Bob's Peak (Queenstown)

Aerial view of Queenstown from Bob's Peak with the city in the foreground next to the vivid blue water with mountain peaks in the distance below a bright blue sky

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

The views from the trail and gondola are a highlight, but Queenstown is better known for its adventure sports. At the top, hikers can use the Skyline Luge tracks, a mountain bike, or even 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.

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Mönchsberg (Salzburg)

aerial view of the hills and historic buildings of the city of Salzburg, with Hohensalzburg Fortress atop a high hill, and blue skis above from the mountain of Mönchsberg

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Mönchsberg is one of five mountains in Salzburg, Austria. It takes 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 various attractions on the slopes. Some viewpoints from this 1,600-foot peak overlook the city and Hohensalzburg Fortress while others are better for viewing other nearby mountains.

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Arthur's Seat (Edinburgh)

View of Arthur's Seat, a mountain in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland behind smaller hills and grass covered field with multi-story buildings of the city in the foreground

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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, a royal park in Edinburgh. 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.

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Mount Davidson (San Francisco)

View of the city of San Francisco from Mt Davidson, with blue sky, and smaller mountains in the distance, the tall buildings of the city center and smaller buildings in the foreground located among tall green trees

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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 a half-mile on 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.

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Mount Royal (Montreal)

view of downtown Montreal, Canada's high rise buildings, lush green trees, and blue sky with light white clouds taken from Mount Royal

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Mount Royal, located in Montreal, 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, Mount Royal Park was opened. The park is reachable by public transportation and the walking paths are extremely accessible. This urban park 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.