Eco-Conscious Travel & North American Wilderness Trips

May 7, 2024

The great North American Wilderness is surely home to the world’s most iconic landscapes. Thanks, in no doubt, to countless movies, America’s big skies, rolling plains, mountainous peaks and sun-kissed coastlines have become unmissable for lovers of the great outdoors.  Whether you’re following your favorite Hollywood star or striding out alone, you’ll find plenty of epic North American Wilderness trips to choose from. These days, as you make your selection, you might be drawn towards eco-conscious travel. North America, after all, is not immune to the effects of climate change and habitat destruction.

In this blog, we’ll look at how six areas of North American Wilderness approach eco-tourism and how you can play your part as an ethical traveler. We start with the mighty Yellowstone National Park, head to the San Juan Islands and the coastal community of Mendocino before experiencing the Grand Teton National Park, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Northern Arizona's deserts. So,  if you’re all packed, we’ll begin.

The Allure of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is surely the most famous example of a North American wilderness. Trips to Yellowstone began in earnest in 1872 when the area became the world’s first National Park. Before then, of course, the land had been occupied for thousands of years by over 25 indigenous peoples. This list includes the Blackfeet, Cheyenne River Sioux, Coeur d’Alene, Comanche and Eastern Shoshone tribes who were custodians of their ruggedly beautiful land.

Today, Yellowstone’s untouched expanse of majestic wilderness spans three US states; Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It offers a spectacular sanctuary for wildlife and a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. It owes its mountainous nature to unparalleled geothermal activity. The region is, technically, one big super volcano. Fortunately, it is largely dormant except for thousands of geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pots dotted throughout the landscape. For fans, it is worth noting the iconic Old Faithful geyser, which regularly spurts gallons of water 180 feet into the air, has its own National Park Authority webcam.  

The unique features of Yellowstone have meant a wide range of species call it home. Some, sadly, are dwindling worryingly in number. Endangered mammals vary from the native gray wolf and fabled Grizzly Bear to the tiny Pika, a distant mountain-dwelling relative of the rabbit. In the plant world, many ultra-rare species are only found in Yellowstone including grasses, orchids and perennials.

Yellowstone’s unique flora and fauna are a great example of why all North American Wilderness trips ought to be managed responsibly. Sticking to approved trials, using renewable energy sources and ‘Leaving No Trace’ have become the norm for exploring Yellowstone National Park.  Fortunately, there are many approved and certified travel providers you can turn to for help. So, whether you are fly-fishing, horse-trekking or simply camping under the stars, you can ensure you leave Yellowstone intact for future generations.

San Juan Islands: A Model for Eco-Tourism

The San Juan Islands make up an archipelago of 170 islands and islets off the Pacific Northwest coast of Washington State, USA. They offer a haven forego-tourists seeking breath-taking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and environmental sustainability. The islands are rightly famous for their pristine beauty and ecological richness. This is thanks to sweeping vistas of emerald green untouched forest, dramatic snow-capped mountains, and the endless crystal-clear expanse of the Salish Sea. Home, incidentally, to killer whales, seals, dolphins, and migrating humpback whales. As North American Wilderness trips go, visiting the San Juan Islands is amongst the very best.

Visitors to the island typically spend their days kayaking through tranquil bays, hiking through old-growth forests or traversing coastal bluffs. As they do, they might glimpse bald eagles soaring overhead or deer herds grazing in sun-dappled meadows. Fresh, locally sourced ingredients are a delicious feature of food and drink on the islands while quaint artisan shops and galleries highlight the vibrant culture and creativity of the island communities.

Beyond their undeniable natural splendor, the San Juan Islands have gained a reputation for innovative eco-conscious travel.  North American visitors who value the natural world have flocked there in recent years as a result. Uniquely, San Juan Island tourists have the opportunity to take part in eco-friendly activities including cataloging local marine wildlife, cleaning up beaches and woodland management tasks. Shopping from the island’s craftspeople also makes a valuable contribution to the local economy and, it follows, helps care for the island’s natural wonders.

The San Juan Islands prove that if you follow sensible guidelines such as sticking to agreed trails, staying in approved accommodation and taking your trash with you, tourism is not necessarily a problem.  Far from it. The San Juan Islands provide exciting proof that carefully managed eco-conscious travel can make North American Wilderness trips part of the solution.  

Mendocino's Commitment to Sustainability

Northern California’s rugged Mendocino Coast beckons eco-travelers searching for the excitement of a North American wilderness trip by the ocean. It combines dramatic cliffs, secret coves and untouched beaches with ancient Redwood forests and spectacular windswept headlands. It is a coastal paradise rich in biodiversity that offers unrivaled views and encounters with wildlife.

The town of Mendocino itself is a treasure trove of 19th and early 20th-century history. Visitors can enjoy the local Ford House Museum and the nearby Point Cabrillo Light Station. Dating from 1909, Point Cabrillore mains one of the most complete historic lighthouses in the US. Each year, more than 100,000 people experience Mendocino Coast’s Botanical Gardens too. They are well known for Rhododendron blossoms that fill the air with spectacular color and fragrance between December and June.

The real value of the Mendocino Coast, however, is its wildlife. Its untouched forests provide a stomping ground for Roosevelt elk and a nesting site for soaring ospreys. You can also spot migrating gray whales, orcas, and humpbacks as they journey along the Pacific Coast to new feeding grounds.

Talking of feeding, Mendocino is a delight for gastronomic adventurers. The freshest possible seafood combined with local home-grown produce is unbeatable. From formal dinners in world-class restaurants to sunset picnics in hidden beach havens, you’re bound to eat well.

The area is known for its eco-friendly lodges and tenten campments. There is truly nowhere better to enjoy life close to nature. Mendocino County’s commitment to sustainability means visitors are asked to leave no trace, stay in approved accommodation and use approved wildlife guides. This is hardly a hardship. It is still easy to lose yourself in wondrous nature without venturing too far off the beaten track. Our tip, as with any North American Wilderness trip, is to use a reputable eco-travel company to arrange your itinerary.

Grand Teton National Park: Majestic and Mindful

Most people, if asked to imagine a North American Wilderness trip, would immediately think of the Rocky Mountains. Of them, Wyoming’s majestic Teton Range has a strong claim to be the most untouched and ecologically diverse. With its towering Alpine peaks, glacial valleys, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife, it offers eco-travelers a playground of sustainable adventure and unparalleled natural wonder.

Beloved by skiers, snowboarders, horse riders, mountain bikers, and hikers alike, the Teton Mountains also provide a year-round opportunity to get close and personal with iconic species such as grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk, bald eagles, and ospreys. Approved, eco-friendly wildlife safaris and tours provide visitors with the chance to learn about Teton's diverse ecosystems without spoiling them for future generations. Through understanding the conservation efforts of committed local guides, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation of the Grand Teton National Park and what it stands for.

The safety and well-being of Teton’s hikers and campers is paramount. Immersing yourself in the tooth and claw of nature comes with arange of risks including altitude sickness, animal attack, avalanche, lightning strike, forest fire, dehydration, hyperthermia and more. The good news is The National Park Service provides a huge amount of guidance for visitors. This includes where to go, who to follow, what to travel with, and, importantly, how to protect the region’s unique flora and fauna.

Staying in approved sustainable lodges, campgrounds or rustic cabins and leaving no trace by taking your trash with you means you can experience the park's bounties up close while supporting responsible tourism practices. The Grand Teton National Park offers those looking for the ultimate North American wilderness trip a valuable chance to look beyond the travails of modern life and reconnect with nature. Adventure, relaxation, inspiration, and the spirit of conservation await in this remarkable, quintessential US National Park.  

Sierra Nevada: Embracing Sustainability Amidst the Mountains

Starting in California and stretching deeply into Nevada, the Sierra Nevada Mountains are surely on every right-thinking traveler’s list of North American Wilderness trip destinations. Renowned for its towering peaks, alpine lakes, and ancient forests, this majestic range offers some of the planet’s most diverse ecology.  From the rugged terrain of the region’s high alpine slopes to the verdant forests of its deep valleys, eco-travelers can immerse themselves in a mosaic of habitats teeming with life.

In summer, hiking expeditions allow visitors to explore remote wilderness areas, camp beneath star-studded skies and wake to the sounds of nature. Rock climbing enthusiasts can test their skills on granite cliffs and crags, while mountain bikers can traverse scenic trails through ancient woodland and clearings ablaze with wildflowers. Fans of the water can kayak, canoe, and paddleboard on pristine alpine lakes and rivers and anglers can lose themselves catch-and-release fishing for native trout on crystal-clear mountain streams.

As the snow falls, the Sierra Nevada Mountains transform into a winter sports wonderland. World-class skiing and snowboarding resorts attract enthusiasts from around the globe. Eco-friendly ski resorts stand out thanks to practices such as choosing renewable energy sources, adopting zero-waste operations, and actively restoring habitats. As with any North American wilderness trip, it is worth understanding how your ski trip will impact the area’s precious ecology before booking.  

Cultural experiences, including approved eco-friendly guided tours, abound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Visitors can learn about the region's rich Native American heritage, pioneer history, and conservation legacy directly from the communities involved.  Artisan workshops and local markets showcase the talents of the region's crafts people and artists, providing opportunities to support the local economy and preserve traditional customs for future generations.  By choosing wisely and acting responsibly, tourists and travelers can play a vital role in the conservation of America's most iconic mountain habitats.

Exploring Northern Arizona with a Light Footprint

Surely, there are few places better suited to a North American Wilderness trip than Northern Arizona. It is home, of course, to the grandest of all US natural wonders, The Grand Canyon. With spectacular vistas of the Painted Desert and the cinematic panoramas of Monument Valley to enjoy too, it all adds up to the epitome of the Great American Wild West.

Exploring Northern Arizona provides eco-travelers with countless opportunities to saddle up, live out their cowboy dreams and literally ride off into the sunset. The region’s colorful rock formations, mountainous peaks, and high desert plateaus are ideal for nights spent under the stars. They create an atmosphere in which telling tales around a campfire comes naturally and the stresses of modern life melt away. In short, Northern Arizona provides everything you’d wish for in a North American wilderness trip and more.

The ecology of the area is, however, fragile. Rising global temperatures mean the delicate balance on which the region depends is at risk. Today, more wildfires, drier soils and less melt-water reaching the Colorado River are all adversely affecting the region’s flora and fauna. It is more important than ever that visiting the region as a tourist minimizes environmental stresses and leaves the lightest of all possible footprints.

This means choosing your travel options wisely. Can you use local shuttle services to get around rather than a rental car, for example? How much water does your accommodation use? Is it powered by renewable energy? Can you forgo some of life’s luxuries? Our tip is always to get advice from local guides and, where possible, book through recognised eco-travel specialists.  

Today’s travelers need to work hand-in-hand with custodians of North Arizona’s desert lands. Visiting and leaving no trace is vital if future generations are going to enjoy them in all their majestic glory.

Conclusion

The allure of North American Wilderness trips is clear. The desire to leave our hectic lives behind, commune with nature and experience the world’s great landscapes is compelling. It is increasingly obvious, however, that visiting sites of outstanding beauty comes with responsibilities. It is incumbent on all of us to think of the future as we enjoy the present.

Fortunately, the modern eco-traveler has plenty of options. Responsible local tourism industries, often centered around indigenous people’s traditions,  have sprung up across America in recent years. International eco-travel companies can help you plan trips, expeditions and adventures too. The secret is to view your journey as a collaboration. The natural world needs teamwork to protect it.

At Far & Few, we love sharing the world’s natural wonders with our clients. Of course, this guide to North American highlights is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s plenty more world to see! Wherever, and however, you choose to visit the wilderness, we wish you well. Bon Voyage!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How can I minimize my environmental impact while visiting national parks?

Each visitor plays a vital role in protecting US National Parks. To help you minimize the impact of your visits, the US National Park Service has devised 7 ‘Leave No Trace’ principles to follow. These include careful preparation and planning, traveling and camping in approved places, disposing of waste responsibly, leaving what you find in place, minimizing the use of campfires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate to other park users. Following those is a great start to enjoying the natural world responsibly.

2. Are there eco-friendly lodging options in these destinations?

Yes! You can certainly lodge overnight during your North American wilderness trips. There’s nothing better than falling asleep under the stars and waking up to a misty morning in the great outdoors. There’s plenty of choice too, from cozy cabins and rustic lodges to luxurious tented campsites. The important factor when choosing eco-friendly accommodation is its footprint. Is it in an approved location? Does it use natural resources responsibly? Does it leave no trace? If the answer is yes, then enjoy your stay!

3. How can I support local communities while traveling sustainably?

The best way to support local communities while traveling sustainably is to view your visit as a collaboration. Local guides, artists, craftspeople and tradespeople are the best custodians of the environments they live and work in. Sharing the load with visitors helps everyone. Spend your money locally, invest time in local projects and travel with local issues in mind. A responsible and reputable travel company should be able to help you do all these things during your trip.

4. How can I stay informed about sustainable travel practices?

The best way to stay informed about sustainable travel practices is to get online. There are plenty of web resources freely available from The US National Park Service, for example. You can follow them on all your favorite social media channels too. Joining the National Park Foundation ensures their latest news also lands in your inbox. If that’s not enough you can join the Far & Few community through our mailing list. We promise to keep you up to date!

5. Can I participate in conservation efforts while traveling in these areas?

Yes! Participating in conservation efforts while traveling in the North American wilderness is one of the true benefits of eco-travel. The satisfaction you get from visiting an area of outstanding natural beauty and feeling you’ve contributed to its future is hard to beat. The easiest way to help local conservation efforts is to talk to local guides or a reputable eco-travel company. They’ll be able to advise you as to the best way to help.

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