Time to plan for an ecoadventure.
Trekking through the jungles of Borneo, snorkeling off the coast of the Galapagos Islands and paddling a canoe down the Amazon River are popular trips for ecoconscious adventure-seekers. Planning a trip that combines adventurous activities with a commitment to protecting the environment does not have to mean spending a week in the middle of nowhere, slathering on mosquito repellant and noshing on foraged berries. In fact, as ecotourism has become more popular, the options have grown to include big cities and small villages, accommodations ranging from primitive ecolodges to luxurious five-star hotels, and world-class sights as well as off-the-beaten-path attractions.
Ecotourism involves conserving the environment and improving the welfare of local communities while you travel. The trend, also known as sustainable travel or green vacations, has surged over the past decade. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, in 2006 research found that women make up the largest group of ecotourists and are responsible for the growing demand in adventure activities.
To meet these needs, an increasing number of outfitters are offering trips catering to women, and several have begun scheduling trips for queer female travelers. Ontario, Canada-based Wild Women Expeditions began offering LesBi trips in 1991 and now schedules up to 50 trips per year throughout Canada.
“The male model of survival-of-the-fittest is such a turnoff,” notes Beth Mairs, owner of Wild Women Expeditions. “On our trips, we focus on the idea that adventure travel is about community, about women helping and supporting other women. The women who choose ecoadventures want to do more than soak up the sun and the tequila. These are women who are seeking out an adventure that is unpredictable and exciting, and they want to share their experiences with a group of other women.”
Planning a green vacation is easier than ever: Pack a picnic lunch of farm-fresh fruit to eat beneath the Eiffel Tower, ride the streetcar in San Francisco instead of renting a car, and leave no trace during a camping trip in Colorado. Need more suggestions for an ecoadventure? Check out these popular options.
Raise Hell on Wheels
Break a sweat on some of the hottest—and hardest—mountain bike trails in the United States. Marquette, Mich., is part of a 384-mile stretch of land that makes up the Upper Peninsula, or the U.P., which lies along the shores of Lake Superior and is dotted with sandstone cliffs, thundering waterfalls and acres of pristine wilderness. Bike magazine named Marquette one of America’s Top Five Mountain Biking Towns, and the combination of rugged trails and paved bike paths helps it live up to its reputation.
“We have great terrain for mountain biking that is quite technical,” notes Susan Brian, a former pro mountain biker and the executive director of the Noquemanon Trail Network.
“There is such a beautiful and vast wilderness that surrounds Marquette and it is known for having some premier trails.”
There are several bike trails that run straight through Marquette. A 12-mile paved trail runs along the shores of Lake Superior, past boating marinas and docks to 328-acre Presque Isle Park, with its gorgeous views of downtown Marquette. A section of the North Country Trail, which stretches from New York to North Dakota, also runs right through Marquette.
Experienced mountain bikers and adventure-seekers can travel a few miles outside of Marquette where pine trees and rushing streams replace brick buildings and asphalt streets. A series of trails cuts through the wilderness with runs that challenge even the most experienced mountain bikers. One of the best is a trail on Grand Island’s National Recreation Area, 40 miles off of the coast of Marquette; it was designed for expert riders and is reputed to be the best place in the U.P. for mountain biking.
Take a Hike
North Carolina is one of the most geographically diverse states in the nation. Its scenery ranges from sand dunes and coastal plains in the east to rolling hills and mountains in the west.
The hiking trails in North Carolina are as diverse as the state itself: There are short urban hikes in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham as well as an extensive network of challenging trails in the mountains and along the coast.
There are 750 hiking trails totaling more than 2,500 miles scattered throughout the Tar Heel State. The most popular trails are located in the mountains. A narrow corner of the state is home to thousands of acres of wilderness, numerous national parks and the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. One of the most challenging hikes leads to the top of Mount Mitchell, which at 6,684 feet is the tallest mountain in North Carolina and the highest peak east of the Mississippi. It is a strenuous 11.5-mile hike to the summit, but the spectacular views are worth the climb.
Paddle for Pleasure
Getting up close to otters and harbor seals is as simple as hopping in a kayak and gliding across the water in the San Juan Islands. The San Juan Islands are off the coast of Washington state and offer spectacular views of Mount Baker and the Cascades. The islands are sheltered from the swells of the Pacific Ocean, making them one of the best paddling destinations in the United States.
Admire orcas frolicking in the waves and watch bald eagles soaring overhead on a morning paddle, or go out in the evening for a sunset paddle and spend hours stargazing from the water. The waters off the shores of the San Juan Islands are calm enough for beginners but offer enough of a challenge for experienced paddlers. Dozens of outfitters like Adventure Associates of Washington offer paddling trips on the San Juan Islands with tours ranging from hour-long outings in double kayaks to overnight adventures in sport kayaks. Going with a guide is helpful for learning about the area, spotting wildlife and learning about the flora and fauna.
The power of Mother Nature is enough to carve tracks through the waves, launch riders into the air and send them off into the sunset on the deck of a kiteboard. Kiteboarding is a hot new adventure sport that combines parasailing and surfing. Riders use harnesses to attach themselves to oversized kites and hit the waves with their feet strapped to a small surfboard.
“The word people use most often to describe kiteboarding is ‘freedom,’” notes Stefan Pantu, manager of South Florida Kiteboarding, a school with several locations in Florida. “It is such a rush to be out on the water letting the wind power the kite.”
Despite the high-caliber adrenaline rush, kiteboarding is less complicated than surfing—and a lot more fun than flying a kite. Unlike other airborne sports, kiteboarding doesn’t require a gas-guzzling engine or a paved landing strip, just a body of water and a gust of wind—and Florida has a lot of both.
There are kiteboarding schools along the Atlantic Coast and on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Some schools offer single lessons and week-long kiteboarding schools; several also offer women-only classes.
“There is a learning curve involved in controlling the kite and riding the board,” explains Pantu. “You wouldn’t give someone the equipment and put them out on the water without lessons. It’s a sport that requires some one-on-one instruction.”
Surfing is not for the faint of heart: Racing into the ocean, plunging into the surf and battling giant waves requires courage. Riding a wave for the first time—or the 101st time—is worth the challenge.
Surf schools for women dot the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego, where wannabe surfer girls learn the art of the pop-up (moving from paddling the board into the waves to standing up and surfing), and how to ride the waves.
It can take hours for the perfect wave to appear, but in California, waiting means sitting on a surfboard in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, admiring the views of the rugged coastline—a perfect chance to feel at one with nature. Once the perfect wave does appear, the thrill of catching it and riding its crest makes the wait worthwhile.