Ecotourism in the United States represents a large proportion of the tourism industry. Tourism in general in America is a crucial industry in many states, thus ecotourism initiatives are important to the overall sustainability of this country’s tourism industries. To make ecotourism decision-making more simplified, here are the top ten ecotourism states in the grand ol’ US of A.
Surprised? I was too, but just because everything is bigger and better in Texas, doesn’t mean it can’t be eco-friendly too. In fact, Texas is home to a number of eco-tour companies, like Eastex Canoe Trails, and plenty of ranches and resorts, like Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet. Even George Bush’s ranch is off-grid and eco-friendly – who’d have thought?!
Texas is also the best state for bird-watching, and some of the best bird-watching in the state can be found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The World Birding Center offers nine unique locations for bird-watching in this special place where two major flyways from Mexico converge on their way north.
With a lot of nature to draw tourists in, it’s fantastic to see that Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection encourages ecotourism behaviour and practices. The DEP prompts visitors to do their research prior to visiting Maine, follow established ecotourism guidelines, and seek and support local businesses and environmentally conscious properties and operators.
One of the greenest properties in Maine is the Inn By The Sea, in Cape Elizabeth, an LEED hotel that has incorporated a long list of eco-friendly initiatives such as the use of recycled materials in building, procuring local produce for the restaurant, and solar heating for the pool.
In addition to the DEP and individual business efforts, the Appalachian Mountain Club developed the Maine Woods Initiative, a land conservation strategy for the 100-Mile Wilderness region, designed to promote both ecological and economic resource protection, sustainable forestry, and community partnerships. The Maine Woods Initiative is also designed to facilitate ecotourism in Maine.
8. New York
I Love New York, the official state tourism organization, has recently begun to shine the spotlight on the fabulous ecotourism options New York State has to offer. New York has one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the US, and I Heart New York aims to get both its visitors and residents thinking sustainably and going green. The organization has introduced new measures of sustainability for attractions, restaurants, and accommodation, and the I Love New York program has a sustainability element incorporated in it.
In New York State, eating out is eco-friendly too, as the state has more Green Certified Restaurants than anywhere else in the US, offering visitors a wealth of local produce and ethical choices while they dine out across the state. You can also sleep greener too, by staying at one of New York State’s Green Certified Hotels, those committed to environmentally friendly practices, as considered by the Audubon Society and Green Leaf.
To round out the New York ecotourism experience, travelers can utilise eco-friendly transportation options to get to their ecotourism destinations, such as Amtrak trains and the fuel-efficient fleet of Enterprise, a carbon-offsetting rental car company.
Dubbed Big Sky Country, Montana boasts six tourism regions with loads of spectacular outdoor adventures to be had. Between two National Parks – Yellowstone and Glacier, sixteen ski areas, high plains, and seven Indian Nations, Montana is no doubt an adventure state. The state boasts an impressive array of outdoor activities, like fishing, hiking, golf, and hot springs; Montana is also famous for its photography opportunities, scenic driving routes, and wildlife watching.
To make your Montana adventure complete, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, vacation homes, lodges, campsites, and cabins to accommodate you. For an architecturally unique and ecologically cool sleeping experience, consider Stone Creek Camp on Flathead Lake in Bigfork. This eco-friendly property occupies fifteen acres, including over 700 feet of shoreline, and was designed to optimise indoor/outdoor living. There’s a tree house cabin and a lake house cabin, all the wood finishes are Douglas fir, and the roof is covered in grass. How much greener can you get?!
Part of the green-conscious Pacific Northwest Region, it’s not surprising to see Oregon on the list of America’s best ecotourism states. Outdoor adventure lover? Kayak the Deschutes Paddle Trail in the High Cascade Lakes near Bend, or hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the Central Cascades. Oregon is also an uber-friendly state for cycling, with loads of trails and road routes to choose from. Travel Oregon has even developed a Daredevil’s Map of adrenaline fixes throughout the state. Awesome.
But what if you’re not an outdoor adventurer? Worry not. Oregon hasn’t forgotten about you. The state’s Willamette Valley has become known for its quality wines, particularly pinot noirs. Amity Vineyards, one such winery, has been engaged in sustainable winemaking and organic farming since 1991, when it first released Eco-Wines, Oregon’s organic, sulfite-free pinot noir. They now produce three Eco-Wines, including a pinot blanc and marechal foch. Amity is just over an hour from Portland, and with a tasting room and picnic area, its well worth a visit for those ecotourists who prefer drinking to hiking.
Naturally, as Oregon’s neighbour, Washington State had to make a neighbouring appearance on the list. Boasting the rest of the Cascade Mountains, plus National Parks, and a city dubbed the Emerald City, this state is a pretty green place. If you delight in being outdoors, Washington is your state. Mount Rainier National Park, southeast of Tacoma, is an ecotourism hot-spot, with hiking, mountain biking, and scenic drives.
Just outside of Mount Rainier National Park is Cedar Creek Treehouse, an eco-friendly bed and breakfast cabin that is literally up in the trees. Head further south into the state and you’ll come across Mount St. Helens, famous for its eruption in 1980, but also known for its Ape Cave National Monument, where you can explore deep into the cave. On the Washington-Oregon border, Wet Planet organises impressive rafting and kayaking trips on four different, spectacularly scenic rivers.
Staying in the city? Seattle is one of the most eco-friendly cities in the US, and there are loads of opportunities to sample local produce and craft beers from the plethora of microbreweries in the region. Pike Place Market is always a good place to start (beware the flying fish!), and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is an unbelievably delicious locale just down the street. For great brews, choose from all these fantastic breweries, and for a quick excursion outside the city, grab the ferry over to Bainbridge Island for some wicked, locally caught fish and chips.
With all the natural beauty tucked inside Colorado’s borders, its residents are keen to live eco-friendly lifestyles, something that extends to ecotourism. Many aspects of Colorado’s tourism industry, including attractions and accommodations, are dedicated to greening through the LEED Certification Program. Not only that, Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art is the USA’s first museum of its type to achieve gold certification.
Famous for the snowy Rocky Mountains, including Vail, Beaver Creek, and Crested Butte, Colorado is a haven for skiers, snowboarders, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Ecotourism opportunities are everywhere in Colorado, from hiking and climbing, to biking and fishing, but some of the more unique adventures to explore include llama-trekking adventures with Southwest Wilderness Outfitters, and the adrenaline-soaked canyon ziplining with Captain Zip Line Adventure Tours.
Interested in learning more about sustainability and nature? The luxurious and eco-friendly Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass provides educational programs in conjunction with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which include one- or multi-day programs for kids, families, and adults. No matter what your preference, Colorado has every kind of ecotourism activity to engage all different types of travelers.
Obviously. At this point in the list, you can hardly be surprised at the top three, can you? The state of California has 125,000 green jobs, the most in the entire USA. As such, green travel and ecotourism are important parts of the tourism industry in California. While it’s not often that urban travel is associated with ecotourism, San Francisco breaks that stereotype, offering marvellous ecotourism opportunities in an urban setting. There are walking and cycling trails throughout the city, the conservation-minded Aquarium of the Bay, locally and sustainably produced food at the Ferry Building Marketplace, and the beautiful Golden Gate Park to explore.
Heading out of San Francisco, many visitors are attracted to the sky-high redwoods and plunging ocean views of Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway. The PCH is a segment of State Route 1, and while it can take you almost the entire length of the state, most people would agree that the best bits are along the central coast. Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey are the names commonly associated with this stretch, but other areas worthy of stopping are the Bixby Creek Bridge, and Half Moon Bay. There are also great hiking and food experiences throughout the area, so be sure to bring your hiking shoes and an empty stomach!
Outdoor recreation is a big draw for many visitors to the state of California, and between the mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, rock climbing, hiking, fishing, kayaking, etc, you’ll always be able to find something exhilarating to do. For some Indiana Jones-esque adventures, Desert Adventures will take you on all sorts of eco-tourism excursions. They offer eco-tours to places like the San Andreas Fault, Mystery Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Park, all of which are accompanied by a naturalist guide. They operate out of sizzling Palm Springs, and will take you on a crazy adventure you won’t soon forget.
It’s nearly impossible to write about all of the ecotourism opportunities in Hawaii, but it is important to acknowledge the extensive amount of government initiated ecotourism strategies for all of Hawaii’s islands. Both Native and local Hawaiians are firm believers in the notion of “malama aina“, meaning, to care for the land. This inherent approach to life in Hawaii has extended into its tourism industry, yielding a very thorough and comprehensive ecotourism industry in Hawaii.
Visitors to Hawaii can engage in typical beach ecotourism activities, such as whale watching, kayaking, surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving, and boating. Additionally, Hawaii is home to some magnificent botanical gardens, opportunities for animal conservation education, and cultural engagement.
Hawaii’s culture is very different from the rest of the American states, and while it is often commercialised, there exist opportunities to engage in cultural activities in a more sincere manner.
Consider the art of Hula dancing, which preserves and communicates stories, traditions, and the culture of Hawaii. Why not attend one of Kauai’s festivals, or the Merrie Monarch Festival, where hula competitions, performances, and cultural workshops can further enhance and enrich your cultural experience in Hawaii.
The vast expanse of Alaska offers some unbelievable ecotourism opportunities, and one of the most sustainable tourism industries in the USA. The state is serious about its environmentalism, as are many of its residents and businesses.
The wilderness is what attracts most people to Alaska, something that is easy to understand, considering the state is home to bears, beluga and orca whales, sea otters, moose, bald eagles, mountain goats, puffins, and some extraordinary bird watching. Another massively popular Alaskan activity is fishing, particularly salmon fishing. Alaskan rivers are home to some of the best tasting salmon in the world, and countless other prime species. Be sure to follow the proper procedures and regulations should you wish to go fishing in Alaska.
Some excellent wilderness eco lodges have emerged throughout the state, but consider staying at Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, recipient of numerous accolades, including one of North America’s top ten eco resorts, and the 2009 & 2010 winner of the World Travel Award for Leading Green Resort in the US. The lodge is entirely run on alternative, non-polluting power sources such as wind and hydro, and is dramatically situated in the Sadie fjord, with spectacular scenery and activities available to guests.
There are a number of outfitters that lead eco-tours and adventures through Alaska, and to make your excursion as sustainable as possible, it is highly recommended you go with an operator. These ecotourism operators are designed to help minimise tourism impacts, something that may be more difficult to control as an independent traveler. Companies that are members of the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, like Alaska Outdoors, are excellent options to facilitate ecotourism in Alaska.
So whether you’re climbing Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, and exploring the rest of Denali National Park, reliving the Gold Rush in Skagway, or viewing some spectacular wildlife, Alaska has all the natural attributes to thoroughly impress you. It’s also got the sustainable mindset, too.
Whatever state you choose, there are plenty of fantastic ecotourism experiences awaiting you in America’s vineyards, cities, and wild outdoors. Get out and go green!