Cities offer a number of perks, but access to great natural spaces isn't always one of them. Fortunately, urban parks offer a great way to experience nature without ever leaving the city. While most of us may think of New York's Central Park as the quintessential urban park, the truth is that these incredible outdoor spaces can be found in cities all across the country. Here are just six of the best urban parks in the United States.
Zilker Park, Texas
This is sometimes referred to as "Austin's most-loved park," and it's easy to see why — the greenery spans 351 acres of downtown Austin, and features a huge range of amenities. If the weather's nice, you can swim in Barton Springs Pool, an outdoor swimming area that's fed from natural springs. If you want to get some exercise, you might take advantage of the disc golf course or the volleyball courts.
This park also offers an array of botanical gardens, including the Taniguchi Oriental Garden, which boasts an array of ponds and a bridge that's positioned so that, when the moon is high, light is reflected in the water below it. There's even an outdoor theater, live music, and an annual kite festival for visitors to enjoy.
Forest Park, Missouri
With approximately 13 million visitors every year, Forest Park is the sixth most visited urban park in the U.S. It spans over 1,000 acres, and, true to its name, features a number of forests — but it isn't all rural seclusion. Forest Park is also home to many attractions such as the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Zoo, a science center, and the Muny, the largest outdoor theater in the country.
In addition to the numerous spaces where you can hike or picnic, Forest Park offers a variety of events. There are trivia nights to raise money for the park, bird walks and nature classes, "float-in movies" at the boathouse, and autumn hayrides.
Falls Park, South Dakota
Take in cascading waterfalls right in the heart of an urban area at Falls Park. Located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, these waterfalls are what gave the city its name. Walk or cycle the 19-mile loop of the Big Sioux River and Recreational Greenway, which lets you follow the Big Sioux River through the city, to get the lay of the land. Stop for a meal and some ice cream at the Falls Overlook Cafe before continuing through the park.
Falls Park doesn't disappoint in winter — it is decorated from November through January with nearly 25 miles of string lights.
Theodore Wirth Regional Park, Minnesota
At over 740 acres, this is the largest park in Minneapolis. In a place with such harsh winters, the Theodore Wirth Regional Park focuses just as much on cold-weather activities as on warm-weather ones. Throughout the region's snowy winter months, this park offers sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. If you're new to winter sports, you can try their snowboarding lessons or sign up for a group ski lesson. The Wirth Chalet Fireplace Room, with its wood-burning fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and pub room, is a rustic spot to warm up after a day in the fresh powder.
That doesn't mean it's not worth visiting in the summer, however. There are golf courses, a soccer field, a disc golf course, and tennis courts. If you'd like to try something a little different, pick up a bow and do some archery, something else you can practice in the sprawling park. Or, if you'd prefer to relax, explore the pier or drop a blanket and have a picnic in one of the designated areas.
Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia
Rock Creek Park has over 1,800 acres of greenery spread out across the northwest quadrant of the nation's capital. It is incredibly popular among runners due to its flat trails covered by a canopy of trees. If you'd like a different way of seeing the park, you can ride horseback along the specially dedicated equestrian trails.
History buffs will enjoy visiting Peirce Mill, which was built in the early 1800s. It was a grain mill, a sawmill, and a teahouse before becoming the historic landmark it is today.
For a more typical park experience, the land offers a number of beautiful picnic spots. If you'd like to learn more about the area, you can take a guided tour with a park ranger, explore the park's planetarium, or visit one of the exhibits at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center.
City Park, Louisiana
If you're visiting New Orleans, take a break from the beignets and live music to take a stroll through the 1,300 acre City Park. This urban landscape is home to the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world — one of which is almost 800 years old. City Park is also home to an outdoor sculpture garden and an incredibly peaceful botanical garden, as well as a hand-carved wooden carousel that has been in use for almost 100 years.
City Park hosts numerous events throughout the year, including live music, "Ghosts in the Oaks," and "Martini Madness" — a fundraising event featuring specialty martinis and local food. Whether you want to picnic under the oaks, adventure in the amusement park, or take in some modern art, City Park has something outdoorsy for you to enjoy.