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Courtesy of National Park Service

The NPS has more than 100 parks and recreation areas close to major cities. Here, four to explore.

Great Falls

Nearest City: Washington, D.C., a 30-minute drive.
What It Is: In McLean, Virginia, the park overlooks the Potomac River’s, well, great falls. 703-285-2965.
What To Do: Early in the morning, hike the one-and-a-half-mile River Trail, which runs along the river’s stunning cliffs.

Santa Monica Mountains

Nearest City: Los Angeles, just outside the city.
What It Is: At 154,094 acres, the country’s largest urban national park is in L.A.’s backyard. 805-370-2300.
What To Do: Go beyond Griffith Park: Hike at Paramount Ranch, where dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed.

Harbor Islands

Nearest City: Boston, a 20- to 40-minute ferry ride.
What It Is: A group of 34 islands and peninsulas across the harbor from Boston. 617-223-8666.
What To Do: There are tons of activities: Explore a Civil War–era fort, visit lighthouses, hike, picnic, fish and more.

Golden Gate

Nearest City: San Francisco, within city limits.
What It Is: An urban recreational area that’s home to George Lucas’s headquarters. 415-561-4700.
What To Do: Hide away at lux­ury resort Cavallo Point. Rooms, from $400; 601 Murray Cir.; 415-339-4700; cavallopoint.com.

For more on national parks, see U.S. National Parks (Without the Crowds).

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