Ecotourism Attractions in America That You Can Visit Today

People spend more time on things that benefit them, right? After all, that’s the basic law of a market economy. And ecotourism is a lot like that, too. Namely, everybody benefits. That’s because the tourist has a wonderful time. And the business gains a healthy profit. Also, the local population benefits from fair business practices.

But do you know who benefits the most from ecotourism?

Every single human on Earth. That’s because when done right, green sustainable tourism has zero impact on the natural environment.

That’s called a win-win!

Just think about it. The standard deal with tourism goes something like this:

  • Cram as many passengers as possible into an airliner.
  • Fly them somewhere warm and sunny.
  • Then employ locals at subsistence wages to serve those tourists.
  • Use old diesel-burning buses for tours.
  • Don’t forget to load natural underwater reefs with garbage-spewing boats and catamarans.

Thousands and thousands of people all eating mass-produced food and throwing garbage everywhere. In addition, they’re using carbon-burning vehicles and exploiting local labor. It’s all to maximize profits in an $8 trillion industry.

And it only gets worse.

You see, the number of tourists jet setting around the globe grows annually. We’re talking five percent a year. Once pristine landscapes are covered in litter and drunk tourists today. Simply look at Koh Phangan, Thailand. Do you remember that idyllic lagoon from the movie The Beach?

Well, thanks to being trashed by tourists, it’s closing down. Good job, humans.

But there’s another way.

It’s the way of ecotourism, and it may be the future of travel.

What Exactly Is Ecotourism?

By now you’ve probably heard the term “ecotourism” from various places, whether that be the news or online. But what is ecotourism really?

According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is defined as

“…responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

But what does that mean in plain English? Do we need education on our travels?

Actually, it’s a little more complicated. But first, remember when we said that ecotourism done right is win-win? That’s what we’re talking about here.

First off, ecotourism needs to be sustainable. Whether that’s from using renewable energy to ensuring a completely neutral carbon footprint. It means not littering and having no impact on the surrounding natural environment.

Second, it also means being responsible tourists. So no raves on the beach or carbon-belching diesel buses built in 1974.

And third, ecotourism means having a pleasant time. After all, if your vacation is more like a Cambodian re-education camp than a relaxing holiday, people aren’t going to go.

Finally, any eco-friendly tourism has to be fair for the local population. They must benefit in a positive way from tourism.

And if tourists learn something about the local history and natural habitat while they’re there, that’s even better.

Let’s take a closer look.

Sustainable

Have you ever wondered what is meant by “sustainable?” After all, we hear that word a lot.

Basically, sustainable tourism means using eco-friendly building methods. But more importantly, it means using sustainable energy to power the operation — whether that’s wind or solar energy, natural water heating, or living rooftops.

That is the responsibility of the tour operator in how they build and power their operation.

But there’s more to it.

You’re choosing sailboats over motorboats — electric cars and bicycles instead of tour buses. And where fossil fuels must be burned, ensure public transit is involved rather than private car rentals.

Responsible

Next, the tourists must be responsible. For instance, if you want to visit an eco-friendly attraction, then you must take it upon yourself to be eco-friendly.

That means no pollution. Hike and bike. Recycle your litter. Don’t use plastic bottles.

And you know what else?

Keep the noise pollution down. Loud yelling and loud music disturb local wildlife and the local population. So be a responsible tourist and keep quiet.

Pleasant

But there’s more to just being energy-efficient and not littering. You see, if your ecotour is unpleasant, you’re not going to go again. In fact, that’s an operation that isn’t long for this world!

And as ecotourism gains negative notoriety, it’s sure to dwindle. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

That’s because smart ecotourism operators know that keeping their guest happy is all part of the business of tourism. So a pleasant vacation for the paying guests is key.

Fair

Lastly, ecotourism needs to be fair for the local population. Workers must be paid livable wages. In fact, the presence of a tourism operation must improve the lives of the local population, without supplanting their local culture and way of life.

Which means local farmers should be paid fair prices for their products. Health and retirement benefits must be guaranteed to all the employees. And there should never be downward economic pressure on local markets due to tourist competition.

In short, the business needs to be fair.

Why Choose Ecotourism?

Choose ecotourism because it shows respect to the world and to people. Be an ecotourist because it supports sustainable economic development. And without impacting the natural environment.

But more importantly, choose ecotourism because it’s fun!

That’s right.

Spending your nights in a luxury treehouse in the canopy of Costa Rican rainforest beats drinking yourself stupid at a resort in Mexico any day. Ecotourism is whatever you want it to be.

For instance, you can have a relaxing, enjoyable stay and feel the stress lift off your shoulders. Or perhaps you can eat gourmet food every night of the week. And if you want thrills, try an adventurous tour. There’s something for everyone.

And it gets better.

You see, you don’t even have to leave America to go on the ecotour of a lifetime. Thanks to a growing ecotourism industry right here at home, there’s something for everyone.

Best of all, America has an environment for everyone. Vast deserts, lush rainforests, mountains, tropical beaches, and even arctic wonder. And did you know that you can be an ecotourist right in the center of one of America’s biggest cities?

It’s true!

Let’s dive right in.

Ecotourism in the U.S.

Nothing captures your imagination quite like America’s geography. This country has something for everyone. There’s a reason America is the third most popular tourist destination in the world.

But growing up alongside the trendy tourist traps is a booming ecotourism industry. And get this: U.S. Department of State estimates that there are over 900 million visits to natural areas of the U.S. per year.

That represents billions of dollars on US Federal parks alone!

So what does that all mean?

Basically, it means that ecotourism is a viable and growing industry in America. Although it hasn’t managed to brand itself in the same way as Costa Rica, there’s plenty of room to grow.

And as people grow aware of their own ecological impact, we can expect to see American ecotourism expand in the future.

But there’s already so much to see right now.

Ecotourism Attractions in America

Are you wondering where America’s ecotourism hotspots are? If so, that’s okay, because it’s not always easy to find them.

Right off the bat, you should know that ecotourism is more of a western trend. That is, the vast majority of eco-friendly attractions are found in the west. Why is that?

Perhaps there’s more available land. Perhaps the east is more conservative. Or maybe the west has more natural opportunities, given the amazing geography of the region.

Whatever the reason, if you want a real ecotourism vacation, head west.

Hawaii

Did you know that the Hawaiian people have a word for green living? It’s “malama aina,” and it means “care for nature.”

For 1,000 years, the people of the Hawaiian islands have practiced malama aina, so it’s no surprise then that Hawaii is a haven for ecotourism.

In fact, Hawaii kind of kicked off the ecotourism industry in America by joining the fledgling International Ecotourism Society in 1996!

Today, you can surf, snorkel, and kayak on pristine beaches following simple green guidelines. Or you can visit the Kona Coffee Living History Farm and see how early American pioneers settled on Hawaii and learned native cultivation practices.

Finally, you can stay and any number of beautiful eco-lodges, whether they’re next to a volcano or in lush jungle overlooking the ocean.

Alaska

Are you ready to explore the largest state in the union? Because when it comes to ecotourism, Alaska leads the way.

Get this.

In addition to more than 100 national and state parks, Alaska has more ecotourism operators than any other state!

Check out Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge. Because they run solely on renewable energy, yet offer all the comforts of modern vacationing.

Also, you can explore thousands of miles of glaciers, mountains, and wilderness with different eco-friendly tour guides.

The Pacific Northwest

Have you ever wondered why the Pacific Northwest is the home of ecotourism in America? If you think about it, Washington State, Oregon, and northern California share a unique coastline. Also British Columbia, just north of Washington.

Moreover, the Pacific Northwest is rugged, with large tracts of beautiful wilderness. In the background, a couple of large cities and many small towns can be found.

Consequently, the region is perfect for ecotourism. Bike trails abound, as do campsites. Technically you could bike from San Francisco to Seattle and all the way up to Vancouver, Canada without ever sitting in a car.

Stop at Amity Vineyards in Oregon along the way. Also, check out Half Moon Bay in California for some jaw-dropping scenery. And don’t forget to book a night or two at the Cedar Creek Treehouse in Washington.

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, South Dakota

Next up is the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, south of Hot Springs, South Dakota. More importantly, here is where you get a truly American experience.

That’s because, in 1988, a rancher from Oregon started the sanctuary. He wanted to preserve a part of the land as it was hundreds of years ago.

Wild mustangs roam free on over 300 square miles of pristine prairie and hills. Also, you can visit canyons, pine forests, and jagged desert peaks.

Finally, at the Sanctuary, you’ll experience what the Cheyenne Indians and the brave settlers from the east experienced as they made their way through the region.

Florida Keys National Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, Florida

Were you expecting all of these ecotourism attractions to be in the west? That’s understandable. But thankfully, there’s a handful in the east, and the Florida Keys National Marine Wildlife Sanctuary is top of the list.

However, the Sanctuary isn’t one continuous plot of land. Instead, there are 15 separate areas designated as a federal sanctuary.

That makes up 2,900 square miles of water surrounding most of the Florida Keys. And really, the Keys themselves are almost ecotourism-worthy, if it wasn’t for all the condos and resorts.

Nevertheless, visit the sanctuary to see America’s only coral barrier reef. Also, there are thousands of species of fish, birds, marine mammals, and aquatic plants to check out.

Indigenous Roots LLC, Colorado

Picture this: You wake up in your genuine Indian tipi and step outside to a crisp Colorado morning. At Indigenous Roots LLC, you’ll live life just like the natives of the land. Of course, we’re talking about pre-contact life here.

You see, if there’s one group of people who’ve been practicing ecological responsibility for a long time, it’s the native North Americans. Immerse yourself in living history.

It is one ecotourism adventure where you’ll enjoy yourself immensely and learn a great deal.

For instance, you’ll learn about the native American way of life. You’ll also learn about nature and conservancy. And don’t forget some history. Plus there’s a wild animal sanctuary, a bunch of family attractions, and you can even volunteer to help repair the Colorado Trail!

Chicago, Illinois

Finally, head to the big city for a fun urban ecotourism adventure.

That’s right.

You don’t need to sit in a tree on a deserted beach to be an eco-tourist. That’s because Chicago is one of the first truly ecotourism-friendly cities in the world!

Did you know that Chicago is one of the first green cities in America? Truly, from the living roof on top of City Hall to the largest network of bike lanes in the country, Chicago leads the pack. There’s even a Chief Environmental Officer on city staff.

And when it comes to your vacation, you can stay at the Hotel Felix or InterContinental Chicago. Both of these are Green Seal certified for using renewable energy and having net-zero carbon emissions.

And enjoy your visit to countless museums and galleries, many of which use Chicago’s renewable energy network. Or indulge in one of several farmers markets where fresh produce gets brought in daily from surrounding Illinois farms.

There’s so Much More!

By now you’re probably ready to hop on a train and head to the nearest ecotourism attraction. And good for you! Because we just gave you a very small taste of what’s out there.

A quick Google search will bring up any number of local ecotourism attractions you can visit today. And even if there’s nothing in your area, why not create your own?

For example, head to the forest on a bicycle. Or have a picnic near a river. Remember, ecotourism means being a responsible tourist.

That being said, when you do support an eco-friendly business, you help the industry grow. So the next time you’re planning a vacation, choose to make an impact on green business and not on the environment.

Do you know of any great ecotourism attractions in your area? Let us know in the comments!

Shannon Minnis

Shannon is a writer at Green and Growing. She enjoys spending her time in the great outdoors, and her favorite adventures are spent hiking.She likes to focus on the perks green living and strives to reduce her carbon footprint. She feels that it has never been more important to take care of our earth! Therefore, she continues to write in order to spread awareness on small changes that are making a big difference in our sustainability efforts.

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