The Best Destinations for Ecotourism in the US

Footbridge across Merced River, on The Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
Footbridge across Merced River, on The Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California | © David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo
Alexia Wulff

Now more than ever, travelers are aware of their environmental impact and the measures they can take to reduce it. That’s why ecotourism, wherever we choose to go, can and should be central to our travel plans. If you’re looking for the most sustainable places to visit in the United States, here’s our pick.

Ecotourism provides a means of accessing the world’s most remarkable places without destroying what makes them so special in the first place. By way of conservation, alternative energy, sustainable practices, awareness and environmentally sound methods, you’re now free to take that vacation with a clear conscience.

Alaska

Alaska has been leading the way when it comes to environmentalism, and with more than 100 national and state parks, plus dozens of threatened or endangered species in the state, this comes as no surprise. Ecolodges, which run solely on alternative power sources, have emerged throughout, and many ecotourism operators offer ecotours and adventures to explore the vast tundra, colossal glaciers, soaring mountains and pristine wilderness of the majestic landscape. Big, remote and wild – Alaska calls to naturalists.

Denali National Park and Preserve is one of many protected spaces in Alaska

Hawaii

Hawaii has been practicing sustainability for millennia. So, for residents and Natives who hold fast to the notion of malama ‘aina (to care for the land), staying green comes easy. A long-time member of the International Ecotourism Society, Hawaii offers more than just ecofriendly beach activities, such as surfing, snorkeling, kayaking and scuba diving. You can also learn about ancient sustainability methods at Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, hike to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park or learn about Hawaiian culture at a hula festival. Ecolodges are aplenty, but if you’re looking for a hotel that satisfies all of your travel needs, check out Culture Trip’s curated selection.

Go kayaking on the Wailua River in Kauai, Hawaii

California

Green travel is as much a part of the Californian culture as açai bowls and staying fit. The western state, which already has hundreds of thousands of green jobs, has shifted the tourism landscape. For example, about 95 percent of Yosemite National Park is protected from urban activity, while efforts to decrease emissions for the other 5 percent include hybrid shuttle buses and green concessions. Meanwhile, in Palm Springs, you can go on eco-friendly excursions to the San Andreas Fault, Indian Canyons and Joshua Tree National Park.

It’s easy to make your stay in California eco-friendly, especially with sustainability-focused hotels like those we’ve curated here.

When in California, take an eco-friendly tour of Joshua Tree National Park

Oregon

The Pacific Northwest has always been a pioneer in the green movement. Surrounded by miles of natural beauty, there is plenty to explore by foot, and with efforts to support its growing cycling population, Oregon has made way for tons of trails and bike routes – so there’s no need to start that engine. Amity Vineyards, a sustainable vineyard since 1991, produces three “eco-wines” that are both organic and sulphite-free. Portland offers ecotours of its surrounding area and is also home to Hopworks Urban Brewery, an eco-pub that operates under the motto of reduce, reuse and recycle.

For somewhere to stay, we’ve handpicked the state’s best boutique hotels – many with a firm focus on sustainability.

Oregon is home to several eco-friendly wineries

Montana

While it’s home to wildly diverse terrain, including Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, Montana has been targeted for natural gas drilling in recent years. However, in places such as Missoula, Whitefish and Bozeman, efforts have been made to bring the region back on the eco-track. Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, the first LEED-certified hotel in the state, uses water conservation systems, alternative energy and 100 percent organic towels, mats and bathrobes. And the Grand Teton Lodge Company, which owns several luxury ecolodges across Montana, purchased wind credits to conserve energy and diverts half of its waste by reusing and recycling.

If you’d like to keep your carbon footprint down while touring the Treasure State, you’ll find a wonderful range of eco-friendly cabins and cottages in its most beautiful towns.

Pack your hiking gear to explore Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

Colorado

Traveling in Colorado as an ecotourist is hardly a challenge. In a region where diverse landscapes are ubiquitous, residents are understandably keen to preserve the state’s natural beauty. Many Colorado attractions and lodgings are dedicated to the LEED Certification Program, with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver being the first gold-certified museum in the nation. Element Denver Park Meadows has implemented energy conservation and recycling practices, while local tourism companies offer eco-friendly adventure activities – whether that means rafting through river canyons or exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.

For more great accommodation options in the state, browse our selection of the best hotels in Colorado for every traveler.

The Colorado River is an excellent place to go rafting

Washington

At Mount Rainier National Park, ecotourism is king. Stay at Adrift Hotel, a certified Social Purpose Corporation on the Washington Coast, for an eco-first approach to boutique hospitality. Hiking, rock climbing and kayaking are popular eco-activities, while a visit to Seattle offers visitors the chance to sample sustainably sourced produce, such as seafood, coffee and beer. There are some fantastic places to stay in the Emerald City – we’ve rounded up the best boutique hotels and the best pet-friendly hotels in case you can’t bear to leave your best four-legged friend at home.

Mount Rainier National Park is a top ecotourism site popular with adventurers

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