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Escape from the city!

5 metros that let you go off the grid at the drop of a hat

Sometimes the action and energy that attracts people to a big city can be the very things that drive them bonkers after a while. Even for lifelong city dwellers, the constant noise, activity and competition of urban living can grind on the psyche. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I just gotta get out of here for a couple days,” chances are you’re craving a quieter, slower, less populated setting.

There is a word that describes such a place: Nature. (For the purposes of this article, it’s defined by untouched beauty and ideal camping. Think forests and canyons and rivers, not deserts and salt flats and frozen tundras.) Accessibility to nature depends on the surrounding geography and sprawl of the metro area.

Below are five big cities that feature drive times of two hours or less to the middle of nowhere.

Seattle, WA

Destination: Mount Rainier National Park

Travel time: 1:45

What’s good: A rich landscape of forests, meadows, rivers and lakes greets outdoor enthusiasts eager for a weekend away from the Emerald City. With the majestic peak as a constant backdrop, there is no end to the stunning beauty one can take in along the park’s 260+ miles of trails. Because of its splendor, Rainier attracts almost 2 million visitors a year. If you want to truly get away from it all, you’ll need to purchase a wilderness permit so you can camp and hike in the back country without general restrictions.

Portland, OR

Destination: Mount Hood National Forest

Travel time: 1:05

What’s good: Mt. Hood overlooks a lush forest populated with waterfalls, pristine lakes and mammoth Douglas firs extending hundreds of feet into the sky. Only an hour away from Portland proper, this jewel of the Pacific Northwest is one reason why the city is teaming with nature lovers, climbers, scientists and adrenaline junkies alike. Mount Hood National Forest is popular—hosting roughly 4 million visitors a year—so again, it’s best to get a wilderness permit for some alone time in the trees. With over 1000 miles of trails, however, you won’t have to work too hard for the isolation you want.

Denver, CO

Destination: Jefferson, CO

Travel time: 1:30

What’s good: Like the previous “escape cities,” Denver is full of outdoor enthusiasts due to its proximity to elevation (and while the Rocky Mountains are a skier’s paradise, good luck finding alone time on a good powder day). For an unforgettable trip that takes you just far enough to forget about the rat race, the wilderness near the town of Jefferson offers raw beauty that rivals any spot in the country. Butting up against the Arapahoe National Forest and Breckinridge Mountain, this tree-filled valley is spanned by long stretches of unspoiled rivers and lakes that drain the snowmelt off the surrounding peaks. The forest roads here are treacherous, so accessing the quiet place you want may require a reliable 4×4 vehicle.

Phoenix, AZ

Destination: Mogollon Rim Lakes

Travel time: 2:00

What’s good: Tonto National Forest is a diverse landscape of desert and red rock canyons mixed with pockets of aspen and large swaths of conifers. It runs from south of the Grand Canyon to just east of Phoenix and includes the Mogollon rim, a 200-mile long rock face that cuts across Arizona and forms the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. A few miles inland from the rim are a handful of gorgeous lakes nestled among forests of Ponderosa pine. Though vulnerable to visitors during the holidays (4th of July and Memorial Day weekends are especially crowded), the Rim Lakes and their surrounding forests offer seclusion, silence and unbeatable scenery for most of the year.

Atlanta, GA

Destination: Chattahoochee National Forest

Travel time: 1:30

What’s good: In terms of biodiversity, the mixed woodlands of the Chattahoochee National Forest are among the richest in the world. A popular destination for nature lovers the world over, it is here that the headwaters of the great Chattahoochee River form, and where the Appalachian Trail reaches its highest point at Blood Mountain (4461 ft.) and ends at neighboring Springer Mountain. Both peaks are part of the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains, famous for their rolling beauty, teaming wildlife and pristine rivers. Though one of Atlanta’s nicknames is “The City in the Forest”—a reflection of the many trees in the metro area—a weekend of complete Zen awaits only 90 minutes to the north.

If you love urban living but need quality time to yourself every now or then, consider putting down roots in one of these five “easy escape” cities!


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