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Outdoors

7 Breathtaking Natural Wonders Located Near Major Cities

By Jersey Griggs
Read time: 4 minutes

Whether you’re a full-time city dweller or just a visitor, sometimes you need to get off the grid and into some fresh air. Fortunately, there are plenty of major cities with beautiful nearby attractions that allow you to easily immerse yourself in nature. From peaceful forests to roving mountains and spectacular waterfalls, these seven stunning natural attractions are each less than an hour from the nearest major city, making them ideal for a quick getaway.

Diamond Head – Honolulu, Hawaii

Aerial view of Diamond Head crater in Honolulu, Hawaii
Credit: Drone Northwest/ Shutterstock 

Looming large over Hawaii’s capital, Diamond Head is a 762-foot-tall volcanic crater that is estimated to be 400,000 to 500,000 years old. A sacred site to native Hawaiians, Diamond Head was originally known as Lē‘ahi. Its Western name was coined by explorers who believed the crater’s calcite rocks to be diamonds. Just a short drive from Honolulu, Diamond Head is so close to the city that many people simply walk to it along Waikiki Beach. Once you get there, the 1.6-mile trail to the summit takes roughly two hours and provides breathtaking views of the city, the coastline, and the vast Pacific Ocean.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – Kyoto, Japan

Image of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan
Credit: mariusz_prusaczyk/ iStock via Getty Images 

Easily accessible by train, this ethereal forest on the northern edge of town is one of the most photographed spots in Kyoto. The bamboo grove, with its towering trees and endless swaths of green, offers a pocket of tranquility away from the hubbub of one of Japan’s largest cities. Further adding to its mystical appeal, an extension of the forest pathway leads to Nonomiya Shrine, a historic Imperial site with a reputation for helping women find love. Open 24 hours a day and with free admission to the public, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the most popular sites near Kyoto — to avoid crowds, it’s best to visit during early morning or evening hours. 

Muir Woods – San Francisco, California

Pathway through coastal redwoods of Muir Woods, California
Credit: zrfphoto/ iStock via Getty Images 

A mere 17 miles north of San Francisco (and less than an hour’s drive) lies one of the rarest forests on Earth. Muir Woods is a 558-acre national monument that’s home to a grove of magnificent coastal redwoods, a species of trees that can only be found on the coastlines of California and Oregon. Perhaps even more impressive than their rarity, however, are their size and age. These towering giants climb up to 258 feet tall and are up to 1,200 years old. The network of trails that lead through the park is open to foot traffic, including the seven-mile Dipsea Trail with spectacular vistas of the California coastline and the Bay Area.

Table Mountain – Cape Town, South Africa

View of Table Mountain and coastline near Cape Town, South Africa
Credit: Kanuman/ Shutterstock 

It’s hard to imagine Cape Town, South Africa without Table Mountain, the famous flat-topped berg (isolated mountain) that overlooks the city. But Table Mountain isn’t just famous for its distinctive shape. The mountain’s richly diverse flora includes more plant species than are present in some entire countries. Due to its popularity and proximity to the city, Cape Town transit makes Table Mountain easy to visit. A free city shuttle leads to a cable car that transports visitors straight to the top of the plateau. Hiking up the ridgeline is also popular with nature lovers, especially during springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Columbia River Gorge – Portland, Oregon

Bridge over Multnomah Falls in Oregon
Credit: EMiddelkoop/ iStock via Getty Images 

Located 30 miles west of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is a treasure trove of trails, waterfalls, and vistas all begging to be explored. Indeed, there are dozens of hikes that traverse this lush canyon along the Columbia River, with the famous Waterfall Corridor alone being home to more than 90 waterfalls. Of these, Multnomah Falls is the tallest and the most spectacular, with water cascading down the canyon for a staggering 620 feet. Although it is visible from the highway, the popular natural attraction can be viewed up close via a paved 2.5-mile loop trail that leads to a viewing deck beneath the falls.

Wicklow County – Dublin, Ireland

Sheep on rolling green pastures of Wicklow County, Ireland
Credit: espiegle/ iStock via Getty Images

Dubbed the “Garden of Ireland,” Wicklow beckons nature lovers with its green pastures, soaring mountains, and pristine lakes. A 55-minute drive from Dublin, the region is also home to the Wicklow Mountains, the largest national park in the country. Of Wicklow’s many offerings, Glendalough is an ideal day trip for outdoorsy travelers seeking respite from the big city, offering easy parking and numerous hikes. The Spinc is one of the most popular, a 3.9-mile trail loop that descends from mountaintop to valley, passing by waterfalls, a lake, and old ruins along the way. 

Bowen Island – Vancouver, Canada

Boats off the coast of Bowen Island, British Columbia
Credit: LorraineLanglois/ iStock via Getty Images 

If you’re looking for a quick, nature-packed getaway from Vancouver, look no further than Bowen Island. Accessible via a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, this quiet island provides a tranquil escape in the middle of Howe Sound. A popular destination for paddlers, Bowen provides plenty of opportunities to get out on the water — check out Bowen Island Sea Kayaking for skill clinics, camps, and sunset tours. Despite being a mostly residential island, Bowen has plenty of appeal for outdoor lovers, including hiking trails, coastal beaches, an inland lake, and a working lighthouse.

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