Tuesday, July 1, 2014

So what exactly is urban hiking?

At the start of each Urban Hiker SF tour, we ask our guests if they have ever been on an urban hike before. Most people either shake their head 'no' or give us a slightly confused look. After posing this question to countless hikers, I realized that most people don't have their own definition of urban hiking.

For San Francisco, I normally define urban hiking as "exploring the stairways, hills, and hiking trails" of the city. But there aren't stairways, hills, and hiking trails in every city, so how else can we define urban hiking? I started thinking about this, and wanted to answer the questions of "What exactly is urban hiking, and how does it differ from other hiking and walking?"

Here are a few characteristics that, when put together, create an urban hike:
Bench in Walter Haas Park

1. Urban environment  
This may be stating the obvious, but an urban hike has to be in an urban setting. This is the main characteristic that sets urban hikes apart from standard hikes. On both a standard hike and an urban hike, you might find yourself sitting on a park bench taking in a stunning view. Only on an urban hike, however, will that view be right next to a major downtown area.





Tombstone Wall in Diamond Heights
2. Spirit of Exploration 
Urban hiking (like hiking in general) also implies a spirit of exploration. When you embark upon an urban hike, you're not trying to take the most direct or functional route somewhere. On the contrary, you are aiming to enjoy your surroundings and discover something new...you know, like a stone wall that's made of tombstones or a driveway that's covered in psychedelic ladybugs.

Psychedelic Ladybug Driveway




 
3. Fitness
Pacific Heights Stairs
To contrast walking and hiking again, a major difference between a walk and an urban hike is that with the latter, you're usually aiming for a higher level of heart-pumping action. With 630+ public stairways, 40+ hills, and 70+ miles of hiking trails, I think San Francisco has any number of your fitness challenges covered. I get out of breath just thinking about many of our stairways. 

And even if you don't have stairways in your city, it could be the pace at which you're walking, or the desire to climb up hills that turns your ordinary walk into a hike.


4. Green spaces
With urban hiking, it's often one's goal to get out into green spaces like parks, hiking trails, beaches, and more. Heading into nature in the middle of the city is part of the true essence of an urban hike. Often though, it's hard to completely lose your urban setting. Don't be surprised, for example, if a 1,000 foot-tall-man-made tower pops into the background. That is only to be expected.



5. Distance
And lastly, there is distance. One might not say that half-mile walk in the woods was a hike. But, you might say you "hiked all over town" racking up 10 miles running errands. Hiking often involves going a longer distance - let's say over 3 miles, but as you might imagine, there is no set distance that clearly divides walking and hiking.

While walking, hiking, and urban hiking have a lot of similarities, they have small differences that also make them unique. What really sets apart a walk from a hike from an urban hike is your own, personal perspective. What's your definition of urban hiking? Where do you live and do you go urban hiking in your city?



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