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If you’re looking for a great outdoor workout, but you don’t have the time to drive to a distant wilderness area, you can recreate the experience by staying in town and hiking through the city. By planning an urban hike you can explore new neighborhoods, discover city secrets, and save gas money.

Here’s how you can plan your own urban outdoor adventure that starts and ends from your home, or a convenient central meeting place for your group.

1. Determine how long you want your hike to be. Think in terms of mileage or in terms of time. For this example, we’ll choose a 5-6 mile hike length.
2. Choose a starting points and some points of interest. This is the beginning of the fun part. This will allow you to link some checkpoints together in your loop. Let’s say we want our group to meet in front of the courthouse in downtown Corvallis. Then, you want to make a coffee stop at Interzone and visit at least two parks. Let Google find a route for you.
3. Enter your data points into Google Maps. Type in the starting address, then choose “Directions.” Type in the next destination.

Google maps directionsClick on the “+” to add more stops, and type in your starting address again to complete the loop. Click on the walking man icon to get walking directions. You will see a route highlighted with blue dots. This is a good starting point. Our sample walk is 5.5 miles, which Google estimates will take 1 hour and 49 minutes.Google maps directions whole

4. Set additional parameters. Maybe you want to avoid main streets, or find some hills to climb. If the weather looks iffy, maybe you want to stay near a bus route in case you need to ride home early. Think about the overall character of the walk you’d like to have when setting additional parameters. Do you want to be in residential neighborhoods, bustling business centers or lonely, rural roads? If you’re unfamiliar with the neighborhoods, switch to Google Earth and zoom in to new places to get a sense of what the terrain is like.
urban hikes corvallisMake sure you have sidewalks or paths that are safe for walking. Here, we can see an alternate route along a path that runs through Woodland Park. Instead of walking along a busy road, we can cut through the park for a more scenic walk. I’ve drawn in the red dotted line for map woodland zoom

5. Adjust the route to meet your parameters. Click anywhere on the blue dotted line and drag it to another street if you want to change the route Google chose for you. Google is going to try to find you efficient walking directions. But if you want to extend the length of the walk or meander through neighborhoods, you’ll need to manually adjust the map edited route

Here, I clicked and dragged the dotted line to take the route through the Oregon State campus, where there are more scenic gardens and pathways off-limits to car traffic. Now the distance is about a quarter mile longer, but it will be prettier and more pleasant.

6. Take your smartphone with you for last-minute route changes. Once you’re on your way, you might find an interesting diversion that takes you off-route.  If you’re familiar with the area, you might be able to get back on track easily. But if you want insurance that you’ll find your way back, take a smartphone with Google Maps installed so you can diverge from the planned route if the group has other ideas. If you don’t have a smartphone, print a copy of the map to take with you, or bring a local area map and highlight the route.

No matter how much time and energy you have, you can squeeze in a great outdoor workout in your own neighborhood. Using Google Maps makes planning a breeze. Just this weekend, my partner and I took a 10 mile trek that started and ended at our front door. We walked to a few parks and neighborhoods we’d never visited before, discovering some woodsy hideaways along the journey. We stopped for coffee at the start and lunch at the end, making for an energizing and fulfilling half-day adventure with no driving required.

Where will your urban trek take you? Be sure to post a comment after you’ve tried it out!

Read more about urban hikes at Mark’s Daily Apple.

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Personal trainer, student of movement, and outdoor explorer in the Pacific Northwest

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