Best Destinations for Green Travelers

by on July 16, 2013

66% of Americans plan to travel this summer, which can add up to a huge environmental impact. Travelers are looking for greener ways to explore the world. For example, more than 44% of travelers look for environmentally-friendly programs when choosing hotels, and hotels are listening. TravelNerd highlights the ten top destinations in the U.S. for green travel options. We specifically looked for cities that have initiatives to green the city as well as access to a plethora of nature and eco-friendly activities.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Tourists flock to Hawaii and Honolulu for the area’s majestic natural scenery and outdoor activities, so it’s no wonder that Honolulu is dedicated to maintaining its environment. Honolulu was a finalist for Waste & Recycling News’s Green City Award in 2012 due to its excellent green educational programs. Stay at the Aqua Bamboo in Waikiki, which won a Hawaii Green Business Award in 2010 for its conservation efforts.

Be sure to head out to the outdoors and explore the natural wonders Honolulu has to offer. Head outside the city to Kualoa Ranch, run by certified eco-tour operators. Film buffs can experience the movie sites tour to see where Jurassic Park and Hawaii 5-0 were filmed, while adrenaline junkies can take a 2-hour ATV or horseback tour. Or swim with dolphins with Wild Side Hawaii, which offers whale watching, dolphin encounters and snorkeling with sea turtles, all run by researchers and naturalists from the Wild Dolphin Foundation. Thrill-seekers can get up-close and personal with sharks with Hawaii Shark Encounters, which is dedicated to shark conservation, education and research. Find other eco-tourist activities in Hawaii with the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.

Fairbanks, Alaska

While Fairbanks is Alaska’s second largest city and the northernmost metropolitan area in the U.S., it’s surrounded by some of the most dazzling natural scenery in the world. Head into the Alaskan wilderness with Arctic Wild, which has excellent summer adventures like canoeing in the Arctic National Park, backpacking in the Brooks Range and photography trips to spot wildlife. Take tours into Denali National Park with Natural Habitat Adventures, which is a 100% carbon-neutral tour operator so your trips won’t damage the environment. Discover other eco-friendly activities in Fairbanks at Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association, which emphasizes responsible and sustainable tourism practices for all its members.

Fairbanks is focused on maintaining its environment through memberships in programs such as Interior Alaska Green Star to focus on recycling, outreach and education. Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District emphasizes conservation education to preserve Alaska’s natural resources and environment for future generations. Stay at Pike’s Lodge, near Fairbanks Airport – they use solar energy from solar panels on the roof, and their food comes from a hydroponics-based greenhouse.

Deep Creek Lake Area, Maryland

The Deep Creek Lake Area in Garrett County is only a couple hours drive from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, but it feels like a totally different world. Set in the Allegheny Mountains, Deep Creek Lake is the largest freshwater lake and the only alpine ski resort in Maryland. Garrett County is committed to introducing energy-efficient technology for a greener county. The county even gets its students involved with projects like the Cove Run Brook Trout Restoration Project where Northern Garrett High School students participate in the restoration of Brook Trout.

Deep Creek Lake has plenty of outdoors activities for all types of travelers, from families to adventurers. Check out the full list of activity providers at the Chamber of Commerce. Deep Creek State Park holds programs like campfires, talks and hikes at the Discovery Center. Excellent hiking trails and a campsite can be found on Meadow Mountain. Take a kayaking or hiking tour with All Earth Ecotours, where all tours are family-friendly.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando is one of America’s most popular cities, but there’s more to this central Florida city than just Disney World. Orlando is pushing a green agenda with Green Works Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer’s initiative to help businesses and residents become more sustainable. Stay at Rosen Centre Hotel, which has received a Green Lodging Designation from Florida’s Green Lodging Program.

Head into the green side of Orlando’s surrounding nature with Florida EcoSafaris, a eco-ranch and wildlife conservation area where visitors can take a horseback safari, soar over the trees on the Zipline Safari or take a riding trip with the Cypress Canopy Cycle. Or take in the Everglades with Orlando Airboat Tours – airboats are propelled by an aircraft-type engine commonly used in the Everglades as they can go on both air and water.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison has kicked off its ambitious Madison Sustainability Plan to turn Madison onto renewable energy and energy efficiency, with plans to add green facilities in their public schools. Stay at Arbor House, an environmental inn that uses non-toxic, recycled materials wherever possible, energy-efficient appliances and landscapes with native plants. Conservationists can head to Aldo Leopold Nature Center, just outside Madison, to see an interactive exhibit on Global Warming by the National Academy of Science and the Madison Gas & Electric Renewable Energy Center where visitors can learn about the alternatives to fuel.

The University of Wisconsin Madison has a must-see arboretum as well as events and classes for travelers to learn about the native plants of Wisconsin and night walks to see midsummer flowers. Families should see the Madison Children’s Museum – the Rooftop Ramble is a fun introduction to ecology and includes a greenhouse, live-animal terrariums and an urban ecology exhibit. Gardeners should visit Troy Community Gardens and take a tour of the organic CSA farm, community gardens and the urban natural area. Lastly, stop by Olbrich Botanical Gardens to see everything from exotic tropical plants in the Bolz Conservatory to summer concerts at night in June and July.

Santa Rosa, California

Santa Rosa, in California’s Sonoma Valley, is famous for its wineries. However, Sonoma should also be known as a green destination for Santa Rosa’s dedication to environmental initiatives as an early adopter of GreenPoint. Santa Rosa’s Built It Green was adopted in 2004 and promotes building and remodeling buildings with a sustainable approach. Visitors should stop by the Laguna Environmental Center to learn about the environmental history of Northern California.

Rent a bike with Bike Partners, which will drop off a folding bike anywhere in Santa Rosa so you can head off whenever. Getaway Adventures provides plenty of tours for every kind of traveler – wine enthusiasts should try the Sip ‘N Cycle, a biking day tour to various wineries in the area. Sonoma Canopy Tours provides 2.5-hour eco-tours with ziplines, sky bridges and staircases and, of course, Northern California Redwoods. Then stop by the Community Market, a worker-run natural food store for anything you need, including 100% organic produce sourced from Sonoma County farmers.

Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville was named one of the top Green Cities in the U.S. by The Green Guide because of its green initiatives. Operation Green Team was founded in 1977 and is focusing on reducing the amount of electricity and water used by the city buildings by more than $3 million over the next 20 years.

Visitors at the Huntsville Botanical Garden will see thousands of native Alabama species such as butterflies, frogs, quail and turtles. Be sure to see Alabama’s state tree, the Dogwood, on the western corridor of the garden – in full bloom, this is not to be missed. Harmony Park Safari offers visitors a chance to see antelope, buffalo, ostriches and crocodiles free-range.

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington is famous as the “Horse Capital of the World”, but this horse town has much more to offer. The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky has a robust program in Lexington, hosting students in their Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future Program (LEAF) to help develop Lexington’s future environmental programs.

Animal-lovers should stop at Old Friends Equine Center, a facility for retired thoroughbreds, to learn about racing and how to help with the aftercare of thoroughbreds. Boone Creek Outdoors provides eco-friendly ziplining and canopy tours as well as conservation education. The Floracliff Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful example of the Inner Bluegrass watershed of the Kentucky River, where you can see the gorges and uplands. Raven Run Nature Center is dedicated to preserving the Kentucky River ecosystem. Visitors can see remnants of early 19th-century Kentucky settlers as well as native flora and fauna. Hikers and adventurers can find more trails near Lexington from the Kentucky Tourism site.

Syracuse, New York

Syracuse’s universities have led the green movement in this New York city. Syracuse University is committed to building a sustainable campus with their Sustainability Division. They host a Farmers’ Market during Central New York’s growing season and source local producers and vendors to provide food for the school dining facilities. The State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry has launched a Green Campus Initiative to reduce waste, provide sustainability training and implement green practices on campus.

Syracuse was named one of the top 10 green communities by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2011 for its dedication to cleaning up Onondaga Lake, replacing asphalt with rain-capturing surfaces and launching other pilot programs. The Syracuse Center of Excellence aims to innovate in environmental and energy technologies to build sustainable urban environments. It hosts many research and technology forums on academic and industry trends and ideas. Stay at the Hotel Skyler, located in a historic building restored to meet LEED Platinum Standards with a Geothermal Heat Pump system to provide heating and cooling.

The Oncenter is home to international and national conferences, concerts and performances – be sure to check out their upcoming shows. Additionally, the center is also focused on using eco-friendly practices to conserve waste and energy in all its activities. Outdoor enthusiasts should head to Morgan Hill State Forest for cross-country skiing, bird watching, camping, hiking and mountain biking. Green Lakes State Park has two glacial lakes surrounded by forests. Because of the unique composition of the lakes, there is plenty of evidence of ancient plant and animal life. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is perfect for families, with kid-friendly activities like the Edventure Academy, where kids and parents can learn about the animals at the zoo. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo focuses on on-site conservation programs like a species survival plan for endangered animals like the Amur Tiger, Asian elephant and the Humboldt penguin.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ann Arbor has set 10 environmental goals to measure the progress of their green initiatives with variables such as sustainable energy, stable climate, responsible resource usage and clean air. With these ambitious goals, it’s no wonder that Ann Arbor was named one of the top medium-sized cities by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Other local institutions devoted to green initiatives include the Leslie Science & Nature Center, a non-profit dedicated to providing environmental education and experiences. Additionally, the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History has four floors of exhibits on dinosaurs, Michigan wildlife, geology and anthropology for a full look at Michigan’s natural history. Space-lovers should stop by the Planetarium for talks and shows on our universe.

Thurston Nature Center is located in northeast Ann Arbor, and is dedicated to conserving the biodiversity of aquatic plant and animal life in Thurston Pond. Its efforts can be seen in the lush trees, flowers, birds and fish in the ecosystem today. Hikers and bikers should enjoy the outdoors in Bluffs Nature Area, where they can explore amongst open fields, oak forests and wood ravines. Great Lakes Zoological Society is an indoor zoo that features reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and more. They rehabilitate animals in their rescue room, complete with terrariums for snakes, bearded dragons and turtles to conserve the indigenous species of Michigan.

Photo Credit: Everglades by Jack Liddon

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