Wellness Escapes: Amazing Hiking Destinations to Boost Your Health

Looking for the latest wellness trend to boost your health and fitness? Forget expensive spa treatments and extreme juice diets — the best thing you can do for your health today is to get out into nature and onto the trail!

In recent years, hiking has received a great deal of attention as a result of its holistic health benefits. In addition to being a full body, challenging workout, hiking has been shown to have fantastic benefits for mental health, physical health, and general wellbeing. Heading for the hills can boost your mood, reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, help you get a good night’s sleep, and leave you feeling reinvigorated and re-energized. And many hikes can be accomplished while “social distancing” from other hikers.

Hiking is a highly accessible physical activity that can be taken up by most people, whatever your fitness level. As well as improving your physical and mental health, hiking is an excellent way to reconnect with nature, allowing you to immerse yourself in the natural environment and become more self-aware and present in the moment. It’s the perfect antidote to our busy, stressful, urban lives.

What’s more, the United States is known for its incredible hiking destinations, packed with epic landscapes and views that will make your heart soar! Here are some of the most amazing hiking destinations in the U.S., together with tips on how a visit here could seriously boost your health.

Be sure to check with parks before visiting, and some parks are completely or partially closed at the time of this writing due to the coronavirus.

Glacier National Park

Glaciers National Park
Glaciers National Park (Shutterstock)

Looking for a way to combine a wilderness escape with a wellness retreat? Head for Glacier National Park, where you’ll find plenty of yoga and relaxation retreats combined with epic hiking opportunities in one of North America’s greatest wildernesses. This majestic corner of the Rocky Mountains is the ideal place to come to gain a little perspective — the sight of these colossal, craggy mountains will make all your problems feel very small indeed.

Glacier National Park covers nearly 1,600 square miles of stunning terrain. You’re sure to see plenty of the eponymous glaciers, which have shaped the region over the millennia and which can be heard creaking as they slide inch by inch down the mountainsides. Hiking in Glacier National Park is pure paradise for adventure seekers, with thrilling ridge walks, expansive wildflower meadows, and glittering alpine lakes. Expect jaw-dropping views around every corner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Glacier National Park has emerged as a hub for wellness retreats, as more and more people discover the benefits of spending time in natural spaces. If you’d like to try your hand at yoga or meditation, these activities can easily be combined with a hiking trip if you head for Whitefish, a lively town that operates as the gateway to the park.

Whatever you choose, a hiking trip in Glacier National Park is the ideal way to shake off the cobwebs, stretch your legs, and clear your mind. To give you a little inspiration, here are some tips on all the best hikes in Glacier National Park.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

The North Window stone arch formation at the Arches National Park
Arches National Park (Shutterstock)

The southeastern corner of Utah might seem like a strange destination for a wellness escape, but the area around Moab has recently emerged as a hub for fitness enthusiasts. The Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just a stone’s throw from Moab and both offer fantastic possibilities for hiking, mountain biking, trail running and climbing.

Visiting this region can feel like a journey to another planet. Gravity-defying sandstone arches tower over the trails, glowing deep red under the strong desert sun. In some places, the ground gives way to plunging canyons, carved over centuries by the relentless passage of the Colorado and Green Rivers. You’ll find otherworldly rock formations, endless forests of sandstone pinnacles, and unusual desert flora everywhere you go.

If you’re looking for a good destination for an active vacation, a chance to try a new sport, or a fun fitness challenge, Moab is the ideal choice. You’ll find plenty of fun activities here, with excellent tour guides and local companies that will help make your trip a memorable one. What’s more, the trails in Moab are easily accessible and suitable whatever your age or fitness level. Whether you’re seeking a strenuous challenge to help you hit those fitness goals, or simply want to take a stroll in some remarkable landscapes, there’s a trail here for you.

Check out this guide for details of all the and start planning your next activity holiday today!

The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park

Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park
The Hoh Rainforest (Shutterstock)

Recent studies have shown that hiking in natural spaces, and forested or wooded environments in particular, can have fantastic effects on our mental health and general wellbeing. In fact, several cultures have a long history of forest immersion as a way to promote relaxation. Most notably, the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has recently come into vogue in North American wellness circles, but this is a tradition that has a long history in different parts of the world.

If you’re looking for a truly special forest that will stimulate your senses, reconnect you with nature, and help you to unwind, head for the Hoh Rainforest. This lush, temperate rainforest can be found in Washington State’s Olympic National Park, and walking through it will transport you to a land of myth and mystery. The ancient trees are clothed in thick, fragrant lichen, and a wide variety of mosses and ferns hang from the forest canopy. This unique forest sustains a rich ecosystem, and if you linger beneath the trees you’re likely to see a wide range of plants, birds, mammals and insects.

Hiking through the Hoh Rainforest is a deeply meditative, peaceful experience. This is a wonderful way to experience the diverse wildlife of the Olympic National Park, from the smallest tree frog to the imposing elk that come to nibble at the lettuce lichen growing on the ancient trees. See this guide to the Hoh River Trail for more information, and don’t forget to factor in a night camping at the popular Five Mile Campground, where you’ll be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the forest.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lass Volcanic National Park
Lassan Volcanic National Park (Shutterstock)

Formed in the crucible of volcanic activity, the dramatic landscapes of Lassen Volcanic National Park form the perfect backdrop for an epic hiking trip. This strange terrain, shaped over millennia by fiery volcanic eruptions, is littered with accessible hiking trails, perfect for hikers of any ability and fitness level.

Lassen is a land of fire, and wherever you go in the park, you’ll come across steaming fumaroles, vents, mud pots, and hot springs. For millions of years, volcanic activity has shaped this landscape, creating towering peaks and lava beds, such as those around Cinder Cone. However, you may be surprised at how green and lush some parts of the Lassen wilderness are — this is a region of gushing waterfalls, crystal clear lakes and rushing streams, all fed by the annual snow melt from the higher peaks.

Lassen is one of California’s great wilderness areas, which means it’s one of the best places in the world for stargazing. No artificial light will interrupt your view of the night sky, and this is a fantastic place to come to learn more about astronomy. Every year in August, scientists, astronomers and enthusiasts flock to Lassen for the Dark Sky Festival, making it a wonderful time to visit on a hiking trip. Enjoy the hiking trails and volcanic features by day, and at night you can sit back and contemplate all the mysteries of the universe.

North Cascades National Park

Man standing on a mountain ledge in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park (Shutterstock)

Want to really get away from it all? The United States is home to some vast areas of wilderness, but arguably none are so beautiful as the North Cascades National Park. With over 400 miles of trails set in 1000 square miles of uninterrupted backcountry, this is the place to come if you want to leave the daily grind behind and head out into the wild.

The North Cascades range boasts thrilling peaks, ridges and valleys, with opportunities for some seriously spectacular views. You’ll be hiking through meadows strewn with wild flowers, scaling craggy ridges, and relaxing by the side of glittering alpine lakes. You might be accompanied on the trail by a few bighorn sheep or curious deer, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive gray wolf, wolverine or black bear.

The North Cascades is a wonderful place for a truly immersive hiking trip. Getting out on the trail here could give your health a serious boost, allowing you to improve your fitness, boost your mood and sense of wellbeing, and reconnect with the majesty of nature. For a little inspiration, check out some of the best hikes in the North Cascades National Park, and start planning your next hiking trip today!

Featured image: North Cascades National Park (Shutterstock)

National Parks at 100

The long lonely call hung in the night, with notes from a musical scale known only to canines. The next morning, a ranger would tell me it was a coyote, but at that moment — and even now, remembering — I’d swear it was a wolf: one call, not many, and lower-pitched than the coyotes I’d heard before. The difference between a cello and a chorus of pennywhistles.

I was more than 2,000 miles into a 3,000-mile walk along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, hiking from Mexico to Canada through five states, 25 national forests, and Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. After more than four months, the routines of wilderness living — sleep eat walk eat walk eat sleep — were as comfortable as my broken-in boots; so were the daily chores of route finding, fording rivers, stepping around rattlesnakes, and hanging food in trees where bears presumably couldn’t requisition it. But the wildness of northern Wyoming was a different order of magnitude, and something had shifted inside me. For the first time, I was acutely aware of just how thin the nylon barrier was that separated me from whatever lurked outside.

The next morning, the ranger talked wildlife. Moose injured more tourists than bears, he said, and buffalo were dangerous, too. Visitors got gored, or stomped on: 1,500-pound animals with unpredictable temperaments made lousy selfie-plus-a-wild-beast subjects. As for bears: According to the National Park Service, between 1980 and 2014, there were 45 human injuries caused by grizzly bears in the backcountry, an average of one per year — which means, according to some statistical modeling magic, that the odds of a visitor being injured by a bear in Yellowstone are 1 in 2.2 million.

But statistics are only reassuring in theory. Back in reality, the trail I’d wanted to take was closed because a grizzly mom and cubs had been sighted in the area. A parallel trail was still open. I wondered aloud if the bears knew which trail was for them and which trail was for us. The ranger laughed and sat back looking unworried, but then he carried a gun. I carried a can of bear mace, holstered in a pouch attached to the hipbelt of my backpack. I considered just how fast I could pull it out, pop the safety, aim, and spray. Even if I were the fastest draw in the West, as a defense against the contiguous 48’s most fearsome predator, my weapon felt as insubstantial as the tent I’d lain awake in the night before.

The trail I’d wanted to take was closed because a grizzly mom and cubs had been sighted in the area.

I headed up the Snake River, presumably away from the mother bear. The trail loosely paralleled the Continental Divide through the remote southern borderlands of Yellowstone National Park. A bush shifted in the breeze — or was that a bear? A cloud made a shadow on a boulder — or maybe it was a bear cub? Ahead, a plume of smoke drifted lazily upward. A forest fire? Campsite? But no: It was a backcountry geyser basin spouting sulfurous steam; a faint odor of rotten egg hung in the air. You could believe the border between Earth and hell had broken open here, that the cauldrons of the underworld spewed their stinking concoctions into the clear mountain air. With my mind on grizzly bears, I’d completely forgotten where I was. There were no signs, no boardwalks, no warnings, no guardrails: I saw my first Yellowstone geyser much the same way John Colter, usually credited with being the first European to explore Yellowstone, might have seen it: as a complete surprise.

We have only handed-down hearsay for the details: Colter had earlier been a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which passed north of Yellowstone in 1806 but missed it entirely. A few months later, as the expedition was drawing to its close, Colter was honorably discharged in order to guide a trapping party back west toward the Upper Missouri. He spent the next four years exploring the northern Rockies, including the region we now know as Yellowstone. Colter was among that self-selected subset of people who think that walking across half a continent and back was a fine way to pass a year or two. When he finally returned east in 1810, he brought stories of adventures and close brushes with death. Audiences thrilled to his tale of Blackfoot Indians who killed Colter’s traveling companion and then stripped him naked and told him to run, telling him if they caught him, he would die. But Colter’s descriptions of the landscape were so over-the-top that they were greeted with skepticism and the mocking name “Colter’s Hell”; audiences were more apt to believe tales of Indian attacks than stories of gushing geysers and foaming fumaroles.

Steam engine:
Yellowstone is home to half the world’s geysers. One of 500 in the park, Lone Star Geyser erupts every three hours. (Shutterstock)

Jim Bridger, who explored Yellowstone in the 1820s, fared no better where believability was concerned. In part, that was his own fault: His descriptions of waterfalls falling upward and “petrified trees with petrified birds singing petrified songs” were embellished — okay, slightly more than embellished. But there was truth at the core: What Bridger called a mountain of glass we now know as Obsidian Cliffs, and there is indeed a place where a fish can swim across the Continental Divide — I’ve seen it with my own eyes how the water of Two Ocean Creek runs down the Divide, slows at a saddle, then splits in half, although the only thing that crossed the divide when I was there was a little twig I had tossed in the water to see which ocean it would turn toward.

And so it went. The few people who made their way to remote northwestern Wyoming and returned with stories of geological oddities were roundly thought to be liars. Philadelphia’s Lippincott Magazine rejected one expedition’s story about Yellowstone, saying, “We don’t print fiction.”

And then, in the way of tectonic plates that rearrange themselves to create a new reality, the weight of evidence shifted. Finally, there were too many reports to ignore. Fact was, indeed, stranger than fiction: In a little-known corner of northwestern Wyoming, rivers boiled, mud pots bubbled, and geysers spouted, all in a mountain landscape rich with wildlife and forests.

Here’s the part I find remarkable: Those in the know — the explorers and surveyors and expedition members who were there first — the ones who could have claimed the land, built it up, maybe even ruined it, didn’t.

Instead, there was a consensus of sorts, so widespread that historians still argue whose idea it was, that Yellowstone should be protected for future generations. In 1872, it became the first national park. Not an amusement park. Not part of some commercial boondoggle. Simply a park, with essential services and infrastructure to handle visitors, and the goal of protecting the landscape, unspoiled and undeveloped, for the future. Over the next 44 years, another 34 national parks and monuments would be established and then gathered together into the National Park Service, established by an Act of Congress in 1916. Wallace Stegner called the national parks America’s “best idea,” one that inspired national park systems around the world. Today, 100 years later, America’s National Park Service manages more than 400 units ranging from caves to coral reefs to the St. Louis Gateway Arch to former Japanese internment camps to enormous country-sized swaths of Arctic wildlands — including examples of virtually every environment, ecosystem, and landform to be found in the country.

Into thin air: At 13,153 feet, Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevadas is the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Shutterstock)

I can’t think of a single thing in my daily routine that is the same as it would have been when the National Park Service was founded 100 years ago: I heat my house with oil, I make coffee in an electric espresso machine, I bank by computer, and I read books on a tablet. But the national parks seem to be places where time stands still: the ranger uniforms, the appropriately rustic buildings, the wooden signs; everything covered with park-service brown-and-green. And the backcountry, where hiking trails act as a sort of time machine, leading us to a world stripped to simple essentials. In modern life, we forget what it means to travel the way most of humanity did for almost all of history, at two or three miles an hour. We forget what a mile actually means. Walking into the backcountry of our national parks, we remember.

Consider this: In the High Sierra of California, following the Pacific Crest Trail across Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia national parks, you can hike a full 200 miles — the entire straight-line distance between Washington, D.C., and New York City, and considerably more than the distance between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington — without seeing a single road, car, cell tower, fence, electric line, or human settlement.

It’s the oldest cliché in the book: largeness of landscape, smallness of human. But when you’re standing atop a high pass looking ahead to the prospect of walking some 500,000 steps, give or take, over mountains, feeling small isn’t so much a cliché as an acute realization of exactly how your all-too-human body measures up against an untamed landscape of high peaks and passes.

Going to Extremes

Facts and figures about our national parks

Oldest Youngest
Yellowstone: 1864 Manhattan Project: 2015
Largest Smallest
Wrangell-St. Elias: 13,005 square miles Hot Springs: 8.7 square miles
Highest point Lowest point
Denali: 20,320 feet Death Valley: 270 feet below sea level
Hottest annual temperature
Coldest annual temperature
(excluding Alaska)
Death Valley: 134 degrees at Furnace Creek Yellowstone: 33 degrees
Most annual visitors Fewest annual visitors
Great Smoky Mountains: 10 million Gates of the Arctic: 13,700


So: Forester Pass on the border of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, which, at 13,200 feet, is the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail. Standing there (really, gasping for breath), I felt a curious mixture of superhuman strength (I’d climbed up here from down there, hadn’t I?) and heart-racing terror (between me and the next piece of pavement, I’d have to climb another five snow- and ice-covered passes, each between 10,000 and 13,000 feet). Below the pass, the mountain dropped away like a chute in one of those extreme-ski videos where a good run means cheating death. In July and August, the trail clings to the steep pitched wall via a corkscrew series of hairpin switchbacks, but I’d arrived in mid-June, and a blanket of snow still covered any slopes gentle enough to hold snow; on the steeper slopes, the rock was bare. Avalanches were a possibility. And if I fell — forget about calling for help. In this zero-bar zone, I’d be better off with carrier pigeons. The nearest road was at least two days’ walk away. I looped the ice ax strap around my wrist and gripped the adze. In the rest of the world, computers connected people and businesses, jet planes carried travelers across oceans, and bank transactions occurred at the speed of light. Here, atop the pass, it may as well have been the year 1868, when John Muir first came to these mountains.

I hasten to add that it’s not necessary to take your life in your hands to experience the High Sierra, or any other backcountry in any other national park. I’ve crossed these parks in July and in August, when the snow is down and the crowds are up, when it’s easier to put one foot in front of the other, not to mention safer. Either way, I marvel at the fact that in a world as protected and regimented as ours, our national parks and our wilderness areas make it possible, within a few hours’ drive of a major metropolis, to walk into a world of ice and snow and high mountains, where civilization is so far away that for all practical purposes — rescue, resupply, a hot bath, a Wi-Fi connection — it might as well not exist.

Perfect form: Celebrated photographer Ansel Adams is best known for his iconic black-and-white images of the American West, including this one, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, 1940. (Photograph by Ansel Adams/Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust)

Nor do you have to sleep in a tent to get the full experience: an eyeful of more than you can possibly absorb. I remember my own first visit to Yosemite Valley, when I was young and jaded. I’d just gotten off another long hike in the high country, and I was taking a short detour by car into the Valley. I’d been overwhelmed in the high country; at every single step, you could trip and fall and your camera would shoot off a picture that could, today, make you an Instagram star. I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed on a busy road with cars and tourists and buildings. But then the road bent and the trees opened and I saw the view — that view — Ansel Adams’ view of El Capitan among the swirling black-and-white clouds, the view that each of Yosemite’s annual four million visitors gets to see smack as they enter the park. It stopped me in my tracks. I had to pull off the road for fear I’d wreck the car.

Which was pretty much the same reaction (minus the car) John Muir had when he arrived in Yosemite in 1868, four years after the federal government deeded Yosemite to the State of California for permanent protection. Muir had been peripatetic for a while; he’d explored the northern United States and Canada, then walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. He’d sailed to Cuba, hopped over to Panama, crossed the isthmus (there was no canal then), and caught a steamer to San Francisco, where he asked directions to “someplace wild.” That sent him 200 miles east on foot to the Sierra Nevada, where a rancher offered him a job as a sort of shepherd supervisor: He was to keep an eye on the guy who kept an eye on the sheep.

Muir fell in love with the land, and as lovers tend to, he spent those heady early days obsessing. He took notes on everything from the habits of marmots to the cycles of alpine flowers. He described glaciers and pine cones and the destructive grazing habits of the sheep (which he referred to as “hoofed locusts”). Arriving in Yosemite, he wrote, “Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty.” Muir would travel widely for the rest of his life; he once wrote, “The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” But he would always return to the Sierra. It inspired not only his writing, but his activism: founding the Sierra Club, helping to establish Yosemite as well as Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks, and lobbying for the formation of the National Park Service.

My response to the same view was more ordinary: I took pictures and I drove to the main viewpoints, every inch a tourist. I did climb to the top of Yosemite Falls, where too much curiosity about what lies just over the edge can send you falling to your death. It’s a hike well worth the huffing and puffing. The view can make you understand how a landscape can be so powerful that you’d change your life to save it for the next generation.

The next generation needs it.

Desolate beauty: Petrified Forest National Park, one of the many sites championed for preservation by John Muir.
Desolate beauty: Petrified Forest National Park, one of the many sites championed for preservation by John Muir. (Shutterstock)

Years ago, I used to lead small groups of Washington, D.C., city kids into the wilds of Shenandoah National Park. We’d sleep in an Appalachian Trail shelter not more than a couple of miles’ walk from Skyline Drive, and the kids would marvel, and sometimes cower, at the great wilderness they thought they’d entered.

At night, the wind would send tree branches rattling against the corrugated iron roof, and deer would snort outside. It’s a startling sound, if you’ve never heard it, somewhere between a bark and a cough — less like Bambi, more like something that could eat you for dinner. The Shenandoah backcountry isn’t true wilderness, what with the highway and the resort and the restaurant and the parking areas and even the lean-tos themselves, but that didn’t matter: The definition of wilderness is very much in the eyes (in this case the ears) of the beholder. A perhaps apocryphal quote from early American settlers came to mind: “Wilderness is a dark and dismal place where all manner of wild beasts dash about uncooked.” I knew what the kids felt like. In Yellowstone, with the howling wolf and the unseen grizzly, I’d felt that way myself. Being in the wilderness makes you reexamine your place on the food chain — an unsettling feeling, even if the only thing outside your tent is a white-tailed deer.

The kids were usually sleepless the first night. By the second night, they were ready to collapse. Hiking in the woods for two days straight can have that effect. The kids learned to work the camping stoves, and we hiked around looking for animal tracks. I was just a hiking guide, not a social worker or a psychologist, but it seemed to me that some of these kids had tough lives back home, and that the outdoors acted as a gentle tonic. “I like it here. I have to breathe harder, but it feels like I can breathe better,” one of them told me. Which nicely sums it up.

In 1916, when Congress was considering the bill that would ultimately establish the U.S. National Park Service, the Post repeatedly showed its support. That year, a quick succession of editorials from Post editor George Horace Lorimer laid out his arguments for passage of the bill in the issues for January 1, February 12, and March 18.

National Park Service — January 1, 1916

In 1916, Post editor George Lorimer wasted no time voicing the magazine’s support for the formation of a National Park Service to unify and manage the nation’s four dozen or so parks and monuments, which at that time were maintained separately. The following editorial appeared in the Post on New Year’s Day of that year.

National Park Service

January 1, 1916

Mirror Lake, Yosemite
Mirror Lake, Yosemite, c. 1865 (Photo by Carleton E. Watkins, via Library of Congress)

A very simple bill to unify the management of the national parks will come before Congress this winter. It provides for a bureau in the Department of the Interior, in charge of a director who shall receive $6,000 a year, with such clerical, technical, and other assistance as the Secretary of the Interior deems necessary; and for an advisory board of three members, to serve without pay, on whom the director may call for engineering, landscaping, and like advice.

There are 12 national parks, besides some 30 national monuments. Each of them is appropriated for and managed separately. Something over a year ago, the superintendent of Yosemite Park was an army officer. A movement of troops ordered by the War Department would have taken him away, and there was nobody to take his place. An electric-power concern, with a concession in Sequoia Park, wished to make a change in its installation. Nobody in the Interior Department, 3,000 miles distant, knew whether this change ought to be permitted or not, nor was there an expert available to send there. Problems of engineering and of landscaping, the right solution of which requires the best expert advice, are continually arising in the various parks. It would be rather extravagant for any one park, operated as a separate unit, to maintain a staff adequate to deal with these problems, and under the present system, with each park appropriated for and managed separately, there can be little cooperation. But one staff under a unified management could serve all the parks.

President Taft, Secretary Fisher, and Secretary Lane heartily endorsed a unified park management such as this bill proposes to create, for the new bureau would have all the parks and monuments under its charge. The chief obstacle seems to have been merely congressional carelessness; but the national parks are too valuable a possession to be careless about. We trust the present Congress will see it that way.

Read more about how the Post showed continued support for the National Park Service through George Lorimer’s editorials in “The Post and the Parks.”

Beautifully Green Travel: 12 Ecotourism Destinations

Photo by Dylan Walters.
Photo by Dylan Walters.

Ecotourism has become a hot buzzword when it comes to travel. Defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” it’s part of the wave of green initiatives sprouting up all over the world. Ecotourism also tends to focus on getting out of the hotel and into the natural world, away from the beaten path and into areas that sometimes get missed, to learn about native cultures and ecology and help preserve the natural beauty and wonders of the planet.

From exotic, far-flung locales like Belize and Iceland to surprisingly green destinations closer to home, we’ve tracked down 12 of the best green travel spots in the world. Start planning your next trip… or just be an armchair tourist!


Belize, Photo by Dennis Redfield.
Photo by Dennis Redfield.

Located on the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize has become a popular ecotourism destination. With thick forests and a gorgeous tropical coastline, the country packs more than 87 distinct types of ecosystems into less than 9,000 square miles, an area about the size of New Jersey.

Tourism in general and ecotourism specifically are among the most important industries in Belize, and it’s no surprise. With a spectacular barrier reef (and the world-famous Blue Hole), over a thousand cays (islands), abundant wildlife, and excellent waters for fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking, there’s no end to the adventures waiting to be had.


Iceland, Photo by O Palsson.
Photo by O Palsson.

On the other side of the spectrum from tropical Belize, Iceland offers a surprising array of ecotourism options. This land of fire and ice is known for its volcanoes, fjords, hot springs, and a nationwide commitment to sustainable and environmentally conscious living. Virtually all of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable resources, including geothermal, wind, and hydroelectric power, and the Icelandic Tourism Board rewards hostels, hotels, tours, and attractions for green practices.

While you might think of Iceland as a cold and inhospitable environment, quite the opposite is true! The choice is yours, whether you want to spend your vacation relaxing at a geothermal spa, enjoying a whale watching boat tour, or horseback riding in the mountains. You’ll certainly not lack for fun things to do on this northern island. We can’t promise that Eyjafjallajökull won’t spout more travel-disrupting plumes of ash, as it did in 2010, but at least you’d get to witness some striking visuals!

Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas, Photo by Hayden.
Photo by Hayden.

Located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, the Dry Tortugas islands and the waters around them make up Dry Tortugas National Park, a location only accessible by boat or seaplane. You won’t find a single car on any of these islands, and you won’t find any naturally occurring fresh water, either, which is where the islands’ name comes from.

The islands are famous for sea life, coral reefs, shipwrecks, and the unfinished Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Popular activities include birdwatching, scuba diving, picnicking, camping, and saltwater fishing. Just don’t forget to bring plenty of water, but you’re on your own if the rum is gone, too.

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Michael Whitney.
Photo by Michael Whitney.

This small New England city, located on the shores of Lake Champlain, is proud of its eco-friendly culture. More than a third of Burlington’s energy comes from renewable resources. Pesticides aren’t allowed on public parks, land, or waterways, and residents have formed an extensive network of citizen-based environmental initiatives. Even the school systems use locally and organically grown food in their cafeterias.

With cold, snowy winters, warm summers, and gorgeous fall foliage, Burlington offers a wide range of activities to suit every interest. Local events include the Festival of Fools (yes, that’s “fools,” not “foods”), the Vermont Brewers Festival, and the Giant Pumpkin Regatta and Festival; Burlington is also home to one of the largest year-round farmers’ markets in the state.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, Photo Courtesy of First Baptist Nashville.
Photo Courtesy of First Baptist Nashville.

With 20 national parks, it’s not surprising that the Central American nation of Costa Rica has a thriving ecotourism industry. It was also cited by the United Nations Development Programme for attaining high human development and equality as well as environmental sustainability, ranking fifth in the world and first in the Americas in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.

One of the greenest countries in the world, Costa Rica was a pioneer of ecotourism and offers a huge range of tours, volunteer opportunities, and activities.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California. Photo by Jeff Gunn.
Photo by Jeff Gunn.

Long a bastion of counterculture icons and progressive thinkers, San Francisco is considered to be the second greenest city in America (after Portland, Oregon). You don’t need a car to get around most parts of the city, with most tourists and residents alike opting to bike, walk, or take public transportation to get where they’re going.

The city also maintains more than 200 parks, from the iconic Golden Gate Park to the Japanese Tea Garden. You’ll find many excellent environmentally-conscious hotels and businesses in the area.


Switzerland, Photo by Francisco Antunes.
Photo by Francisco Antunes.

Switzerland might be best known for its skiing and alpine views, but this European country is also one of the world’s most environmentally-conscious. Hydroelectric and nuclear power provide most of the country’s electricity, and a far-reaching rail network makes it easy to get around without needing a car.

A little bigger than Maryland, Switzerland is home to biodiversity of both landscapes and climates. From alpine glaciers to lakes, forests, pastures, and the headwaters of several famous rivers that flow across Europe, there’s definitely something for everyone.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon. Photo by Sam Churchill.
Photo by Sam Churchill.

The citizens of Portland like to say that their city, regularly named one of the greenest cities in the world, was green before green was cool. Public transportation, bicycles, and walking are the most popular modes of transportation within the city limits. Green-certified buildings and businesses are on every street corner, and numerous parks dot the landscape.

Forest Park is the largest wilderness park within any city’s limits in the United States; you’ll also find a world-famous zoo, Japanese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden. With more than 40 breweries calling Portland home, it’s also been named the best city in the United States for happy hour!

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Photo by Larry Johnson.
Photo by Larry Johnson.

Jackson Hole is actually the name of a valley near the border of Idaho in the Teton Mountains. The town of Jackson is its only incorporated town, and the valley is a mecca for tourists exploring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and the Snow King and Grand Targhee Resort ski areas.

Jackson is alsohome to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and the Center for the Arts, as well as a thriving downtown shopping and entertainment district and a wide variety of sporting activities, from dogsledding to parkour. Many local businesses strive to follow eco-friendly guidelines and green practices, since much of the region’s economy is based on preserving its natural beauty.


Alaska, Photo by Alan Vernon.
Photo by Alan Vernon.

America’s largest state is an outdoor lover’s paradise. This state of sweeping vistas, vast wilderness, and spectacular scenery is a prime destination for travelers seeking a connection with nature at its wildest.

The Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association represents more than 300 nature-based tourism businesses, individuals, and organizations offering natural history tours, rafting, fishing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, wilderness lodges, hunting, and day ocean cruises and charters trips. The association also advocates for sustainability of the state’s natural and cultural resources.

New Zealand

New Zealand, Photo Courtesy of Trailsource.
Photo Courtesy of Trailsource.

New Zealand is located in the Pacific Ocean, across the Tasman Sea from Australia. It’s a remote nation comprised of two large islands and numerous smaller islands, a place of distinctive biodiversity that includes a number of species unique to the island. With a geography ranging from steep, snow-covered mountains to tropical beaches, New Zealand’s range of available activities is incredible. Given the country’s distance from the rest of the world, it’s not surprising that sustainability and eco-friendly practices are widespread. Some 31% of New Zealand’s energy supply comes from renewable sources, primarily hydroelectric and geothermal power.

Ecotourism is a thriving industry in the country, with wildlife tours showcasing everything from whales to parrots and activities from kayaking to mountain biking. Many resorts and tour companies cater to the green traveler, with organic, locally sourced, and environmentally conscious accommodations and activities.

Volunteer vacations

Volunteer Vacations, Photo Courtesy of BTCV Photos.
Photo Courtesy of BTCV Photos.

Looking for a truly rewarding travel experience? Try a volunteer vacation. Driven by people’s desire to do something to give back to the world, volunteer tourism has grown significantly in recent years, offering experiences ranging from weekend trail repair trips in National Parks to journeys to assist with environmental research in Kenya.

There are hundreds of service organizations that conduct volunteer vacations; check the company’s background and credentials before signing up. Well-known organizations like the Sierra Club and Habitat for Humanity provide excellent options, though many lesser-known opportunities exist as well.

Volunteer trip accommodations range from well-appointed hotels to tents in the woods, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for. If you’re willing to work up a sweat or spend some time helping deserving organizations, a volunteer vacation could be just what the doctor ordered!

This story originally appeared on Tecca.com.