Urban Hiking

Hiking practice

Urban hiking is a self explanatory term which implies that instead of hiking in remote, or not so remote, bushland you instead take the opportunity to hike through your local urban areas. Depending on where you live this may be through totally built-up town or city infrastructure with hardly a tree or shrub in sight through to areas that include local parkland or if you are lucky enough, through areas that include adjacent bushland.

But is this ‘real’ hiking or just a poor alternative? In the following article we discuss some key considerations of urban hiking as well as identifying how to get the best out of your urban experience.

Tuggeranong Town Centre on the Canberra Centenary Trail. This 145 km trail spends as much time in Canberra’s urban heart as it does in parkland, rural land and bushland.

1. Why do it?

As I write this article we are yet again in COVID lockdown and this time our local national park and reserve system is closed to public access and in addition, we are limited to the time we are allowed to exercise outdoors. Given these limitations to accessing hikes in bushland, urban hiking is our only choice. Now while this is just one reason for urban hiking, forced on many of us by the circumstances of the time, sometimes you just don’t feel like spending time driving to a trail. What can be easier that walking out your front door and starting an urban hike?

Many of us live in our towns and cities for years and never bother to explore past our regular path. Home to work, home to the shops, and every so often into the local entertainment precinct or sports stadium. In most towns and cities I have lived in there have been large areas that I have never bothered to visit. This is typical for most of us. Urban hiking is the opportunity to truly explore and get to know your, town or your city.

Urban hiking on the Canberra Centenary Trail

2. Choose your own experience

Urban hiking can take so many forms and unless you are following marked trails this is a real ‘choose your own adventure’ option with no limitation on what you will see or do. You can walk out your front door and do a loop of your suburb or you can do something much more challenging. How about walking the length of your city, summiting all the major hills, or walking through the connecting green spaces? ┬áThe choice is limitless and you can even turnaround and do the same walk over and over again but changing which way you turn, even once, will provide a whole new experience.

Map from the National Capital Open Space Report for Canberra city – the green areas designate open space and most are accessible to hikers. If you plan well you can potentially walk within the confines of the city and still stay in the ‘bush’. Every city will have similar areas spread throughout the city limits if you just know where to look

Bondi to Manly Walk located in Sydney. This walk takes in part of the city’s green belt but also walks through the suburbs taking in beaches and native bushland

3.Logistical considerations

From a logistical perspective urban hikes have the potential to be just as complex from a planning perspective as going into remote bushland. However, the opposite can also apply. Doing hikes within the confines of a city even long complex ones, changes the logistical dynamics.

Navigation

  • Within the city confines of a town or city Google maps, or even the older paper maps if you can still find them, makes navigation pretty easy from both a planning and execution standpoint

Food

  • In many cases you will be walking past various shops, cafes and restaurants which allows you to stop along the way. Alternatively, you can carry your food like you would if going bush

Accommodation

When doing an urban hike you have a couple of options if you are doing a multi-day adventure:

  • Get a lift home at the end of the day and the next day, return to your stopping point from the previous day and keep on going
  • Stay in a local motel or other accommodation option
  • ‘Guerilla’ camping (camping in areas that you aren’t supposed to)

Gear

  • As a generalisation, you will need less gear when urban hiking but that will depend on what you have planned

Water

  • While water can be easy to find in towns and cities if it’s a hot day and the shops are closed sometimes it can be hard to find particularly outside of the tourist areas. I have run out of water on urban hikes in the past and on one really hot day had had to say hello to someone in their yard and ask them to use there tap. on other days I have just dropped into a shop and purchased a drink.

Osprey Talon 33 Pack, my pack of choice for longer and more complex urban walks

Lunch on-the-go

4. Advantages and disadvantages

Any type of hiking has it’s pros and cons and urban hiking is no different.

Advantages

  • You can start your hike as soon as you walk out your door
  • Easy navigation
  • Can be easy from a logistics perspective
  • Return home each day then start again the next day or stay on trail
  • See parts of the town or city you never knew existed
  • An opportunity to visit you favourite restaurants, cafes and microbreweries
  • Bring your dog with you if allowed

Disadvantages

  • Not great for solitude
  • Walking on hard surfaces can be hard on the feet and legs

5. The dangers!

Hiking through urban areas brings a whole new set of things to keep an eye out for. While snakes are often the biggest worry for hikers when out bush, hiking through urban areas brings with it a whole new set of things to keep an eye on:

  • Crossing busy roads without getting run over
  • Neighbourhood dogs – dog poo!
  • Running out of water (it happens)
  • Stranger danger – stay safe by being aware of what is happening around you

Dog poo disposed of in a plastic bag as it’s supposed to be but not left in a tree! The urban hiker who did this should have taken the bags home and disposed of them properly. Environmentally this is about as bad as it gets! If taking a dog with you, do the right thing

Last words

For me hiking is hiking and while I love to get out into remote bushland and get away from noise, technology and people I’m not such a purist that I’ll miss out just because I can’t go, or don’t want to go bush. Urban hiking has the potential to allow you to see parts of your town or city, that you may have lived in for many years, that you didn’t know existed.

While you may not always get the panoramic scenic views or the abundant wildlife, urban hiking brings with it its own unique experiences and provides the opportunity to stay fit, spend tine with friends and family and discover your town or city.

To answer the question, urban hikes are real hikes so don’t dismiss them out of hand. You never know, you may become a fan!

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