Urban Outdoor Adventures

How to Find Urban Outdoor Adventures

Spending time outside with my family has always been a huge priority to me. We love hiking, biking, swimming and camping in the beautiful parks in our home state of Michigan. When we found out that my husband’s job would have us moving from the suburbs of Detroit to downtown Seoul, South Korea, I was worried about how my outdoorsy family would adapt to apartment living in one of the top five biggest cities in the world.

As we prepared for our move, I started researching outdoor activities in South Korea. My initial searches turned up lots of results but for things in the countryside.

However, over time, I have found lots of ways to get outside and adventure right within the city. Even though we live in a big city now, we still get outside for as many outdoor adventures as we did when we lived in the suburbs, and we have discovered some things we really love about doing urban outdoor activities.

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Why Urban Outdoor Activities?

My search for urban outdoor adventures started out of necessity: I just do not know how to parent two young children without getting outside. Spending time outdoors is an essential part of my family’s daily routine and mental health, and we cannot limit ourselves to only getting outside when we have time to leave town. If you live in a large city, finding creative ways to make outside time fun is important.

Even if you do not live in a big city, you can still have some fun urban outdoor adventures in nearby cities or when you travel. Cities have a lot to offer for family activities both indoors and outdoors, and we love to combine the two, like with a picnic at a park after a trip to a museum. 

Girl in front of a pond with a gazebo and a museum building in the back
Taking a nature walk on the grounds of the National Museum of Korea

Finding fun things to do outside is a great way to explore a new city. When you hike on an urban trail or bike on a city pathway along the river, you get to see a different aspect of city life that you might otherwise miss. Exploring the green spaces in a city can give you a totally different perspective of a city and can help you teach your children about the value in getting outside no matter their location.

Think Big (City)

When you start your search for urban outdoor adventures, it is important to change your mindset a bit to think big city by managing expectations, thinking outside the box and keeping an open mind. This will allow you to find some amazing adventures and to enjoy all a city has to offer.

Manage Expectations

Managing expectations is an important first step, especially if your family is not used to an urban environment. Doing outdoor activities in a big city is not the same as going wilderness camping. Preparing your kids for an urban adventure is just as important as preparing them for a hike in a national park, and you can talk ahead of time about what to expect and be ready for, like city noise and places being more crowded. 

Think Outside the Box

With some creative thinking, you can find ways to do many of your favorite outdoor activities in a big city. We used to drive to large state parks to go hiking, and now we can take the city bus to a variety of urban hiking trails. The view from the summit sometimes looks very different, but being outside and reaching the top is still a great feeling.

Man and woman on a mountain summit with a city view and more mountains in the background enjoying urban outdoor adventures.
View from the summit of Ansan Mountain in Seoul

Find ways to use what you have. We traded our large backyard for a tiny outdoor space that has a concrete floor, and we have found ways to include our favorite backyard things in our new, smaller space. Our water play is a laundry tub, our mud kitchen packs up into a basket and our garden is now in containers, but we still have hours of fun out there and even added the fairy garden of our dreams in all the nooks and crannies.

Two children sitting in camping chairs in a backyard with their feet in a laundry bucket filled with water
Cooling off on a hot day in the backyard of our apartment in Seoul

Be Open Minded

When planning urban outdoor adventures, it is important to keep an open mind. Smaller parks and playgrounds are still fun, and you can incorporate outdoor activities into your daily routine. We like to bike to a nearby restaurant or stop at a local playground on the walk to the grocery store. 

Expand your definition of “backyard”. We live adjacent to a nice little playground that, while small, has an impressive variety of ways to use the space. The area has a nice smooth surface for practicing on roller blades and scooters, a play structure for climbing and sliding, a series of exercise machines and even a covered seating area, and since we can see it from our windows, we consider it to be part of our “backyard”.

Expand your definition of outdoor time to incorporate your favorite indoor activities like sketching on the hiking trail or reading at a park. For more activity inspiration, you can check out this list of over one hundred ideas for outdoor family fun and some other backyard adventure ideas.

Try out a new activity or game to enhance your urban adventuring. Plan a biking scavenger hunt or another kind of treasure hunt like letterboxing or geocaching. You can often find these types of activities already prepared by businesses and tourism offices in big cities, and my kids were thrilled recently to complete a stamp challenge in an art and culture village in Busan, South Korea, that had us outside and walking around for hours and required no advanced planning or set up on my part!

Search for Green Spaces

Green spaces are not the first thing that usually comes to mind when we think about big cities, but actually most cities have some really cool parks and lots of ways for residents to get outdoors. Checking for landforms, doing a Google search and talking with locals can help you find the best places to adventure outdoors in the city.

Check for Landforms

Landforms are good places to start looking for green spaces, and many large cities have rivers, lakes, mountains or sea access. Cities often have parks along those landforms that are great for outdoor activities, and those parks also tend to have festivals and other fun things like food trucks and cafes.

Here in Seoul, we have a big river that crosses the city. An extensive system of fitness trails follows the Han River with numerous parks interspersed along the trails as well as exercise equipment, places to play sports, cafes and restaurants. We also have numerous mountains in the city with well marked and easy to access hiking trails.

Girl biking on a fitness trail along a stream with a freeway overpass above
Biking in the city

Search “City Name” + Your Favorite Outdoor Activities

Often when you search for things to do in a city, you find lists of indoor places like shopping centers and museums. Before my family and I moved to Seoul, when we traveled to cities, I always focused on finding things like the best science centers or children’s museums for my family to experience, and we tended to spend most of our time indoors.

However, cities have a lot more to offer than just indoor activities. Outdoor activities are not always as visible at a first glance or during a short visit, but you can find a surprising number of bike trails, hiking paths and even kayaking and more within urban environments with a quick Google search. 

Live Like a Local

People who live in big cities like doing outdoor activities too, so asking locals for recommendations can be a big help in getting started. Cities have lots of people, and you can probably find a group of people who like to do basically any outdoor activity that you enjoy.

Joining local groups that do the activities you like is a great way to find information and to make adventurous friends with similar interests, and you can join these groups online in advance to ask for advice as you plan your activities. If you are a member of an outdoor group in your area, check to see if they have a branch in other places. Once when my kids and I tagged along on my husband’s business trip to Austin, Texas, we were able to meet up with some members of the Hike It Baby branch there and join a couple of their hikes.

Locals can help you find the best places to do outdoor activities in the city. One of my Korean friends taught me the correct search term in Korea to find hiking trail heads and also gave me some recommendations on some routes she loves. Another friend told me the best place in the city for kids to play in water and then we planned a trip there together with our kids.

Two kids in the foreground wearing sun hats relax in a shallow pool with the city skyline in the background
Water playground along the Han River in downtown Seoul, South Korea

Discover Advantages of Urban Adventure

Cities have unique aspects that can provide many advantages to helping your family prepare for and enjoy urban outdoor activities. Factors such as accessibility, convenience and the abundance of resources and options can really make it easy for your family to get outside.


In many cities, outdoor spaces can be accessed via a short walk or by public transportation, making them convenient to people with mobility concerns or those who do not have their own vehicles. The proximity of a variety of outdoor activities in the city makes it easier for my family to get out even when we do not have an entire day to go somewhere far away. When we lived in Michigan, we had to load up into the car and drive to hiking trails, but now we can just walk a couple of blocks to enter a variety of trail heads.

In addition, within the city, most times outdoor spaces are set up for people of all abilities to be able to enjoy. My favorite local trail here in Seoul goes up Ansan Mountain, which is completely within the downtown area, and there are varying types of trail surfaces throughout the park so people of all abilities can spend time in nature together.

Convenience of Urban Outdoor Adventures

When you are on an outdoor adventure within the city, you have access to many things that make family adventures more convenient. One of my favorite things about adventuring in the city with kids is that you are never far from bathrooms. This is super helpful when you have small children.

The easy access to food in a big city is another huge convenience when you are adventuring with your family. As with bathrooms, in a city you are never far from some type of convenience store or cafe, and large cities often have a variety of food delivery options. We really love being able to order a meal to whatever park we are at if we are having too much fun to go home, and not having to plan for, prepare and carry all of the food and snacks my family could possibly need for a day out is one of my absolute favorite aspects of city life.

Picnic of carryout items on a raised platform in a park with a girl and two other kids
Everyone was having too much fun to leave, so we ordered food delivery to the park!

The availability of public transportation options makes urban adventuring very convenient. Being able to hop on a bus or subway when the kids are too tired to bike or hike back home after a long day is another huge convenience that we really love. Knowing that we always have a built in backup plan to make it home allows us to go further and do more.

Abundance of Resources and Options

Cities have an abundance of resources to assist with getting your family prepared for outdoor adventures. Information about where and how to enjoy the outdoors is usually well developed and easy to find. Tourism boards, recreation departments and park systems all provide lots of information.

Many cities have rental gear options for outdoor activities which can be really helpful if you are just passing through a city for a visit and do not have all your own equipment with you. Grab and go style rentals for bikes and scooters are very common in cities, and being able to pick up a bike from one location and leave it at another for a small monthly or hourly fee is a great option. Other types of gear can be available too, and here in Seoul we can rent kayaks at the river, hiking gear at some trailheads and even winter coats and other cold weather gear.

The wide variety of outdoor spaces provides interest so your family will never get bored. Big cities have an endless number of playgrounds and parks to explore. My kids love “playground hunting” around town.

Favorite Gear for Urban Adventures

When I am headed out for a day of urban adventuring, my pack is always way lighter than it would be for a day in a rural setting due to all the easily accessible resources in the city, but there are some important things I try to never leave home without.


Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Hiking shoes are good for cities too, and here are some recommendations for hiking shoes for women and kids. In warm weather, I love to wear sandals, and my Teva Hurricane sandals are my favorites.


I do not pack much for a day out in the city, but I always have some sort of bag with me to carry the basics. My kids love their REI Tarn 18 packs, and you can check out the best hiking backpacks for kids for other options too. I like using a bag around that size for my day out in the city too, and the Cotopaxi Batac 16L is a fun bag for adults or older kids.

Safety Items

Staying hydrated is really important, and my family prefers to use insulated water bottles when we are out on urban adventures. If you do not have a favorite water bottle yet, you can check out this list of the best water bottles for kids for some great recommendations. We are big fans of the Contigo brand in my house. 

I have several first aid kits, and for city adventures I only bring a very small and basic one because we are always close to medical services. This article about first aid kits for the outdoor family can help you find the best pre-made kit or make your own to fit your needs.

Urban Family Activities

Getting outside in the city might seem difficult, but with some planning and an open mind, you can find amazing urban outdoor adventures. Planning outdoor adventures might not be the first idea to come to mind when you consider a visit to a big city, but cities actually have a lot to offer outdoorsy families.

Living in a big city has taught me that we can really find ways to enjoy the outdoors regardless of our location, and we plan to keep looking for new ways to do activities outside in cities and hope to inspire others to do the same.

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How to Find Urban Outdoor Adventures

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  • Elaine Mantinan is a Michigan native who loves to adventure outdoors all over the globe and tries to inspire others to do the same. She is currently based in Seoul, South Korea, with her husband and two kids, Aurelia (7) and Nico (5). Elaine has been having lots of fun discovering new places and ways to do her favorite outdoor activities while living in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. She loves hiking, biking and camping but is always up for trying any kind of outdoor activity, especially if there is a picnic involved. You can follow her adventures on Instagram: @adventurousmantinans

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