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Have you been missing the great outdoors? In our busy lives, we do not have nearly enough time to appreciate the true beauty, and importance, of the flora and fauna around us. And when we do take the time, we tend to want to spend it places where humans are scarce and wildlife is king. U.S. eco-tourism destinations offer the perfect balance of peace and adventure, making them quite popular in the last few years.

Eco-tourism in the U.S. is abundant from coast-to-coast—you just have to know where to look, or what to search for online. Consider this list as a great starting point for your next eco-adventure. Below, you will find must-know information on the nation’s top 15 eco-tourism spots. Happy exploring!

Mojave National Preserve

Nestled in the California foothills is the Mojave National Preserve, a grand expanse of sand dunes, volcanic formations, and wildflowers. Boasting impressive (and intimidating) features such as the Devils Playground and the Cinder Cone Lava Beds, this diverse preserve hosts a little over 1.5 million acres of desert and forest to explore! Just remember to bring plenty of water during the summer months, as temperatures can easily reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Everglades National Park

Every year, approximately one million people visit the nation’s largest tropical wilderness, known as the Everglades. This preserve, located on the southern tip of Florida, exists to protect the fragile tropical ecosystem it contains. It is also home to 36 protected and/or threatened species, which include the American crocodile and the Florida panther. Luckily, sunbathing crocodiles are a much more common encounter than panthers.  

As one of the most diverse ecosystems in our country, it comes as no surprise this amazing park makes the list of top U.S. eco-tourism destinations. Every trip offers something new for the adventurous spirit to discover.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Florida is also home to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area of mostly undisturbed wildlife. Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River are the main freshwater sources for this seaside marshland, making it possible for a variety of freshwater and saltwater wildlife to thrive.

The majority of the island isn’t accessible to visitors, but most of its attractive features can be seen from multiple hiking and driving paths. Patient explorers can catch a glimpse of sea turtles, alligators, eagles and even bobcats.

Gates of the Arctic National Park

Ecotourism in the U.S. is considered to be abundant thanks in part to preserves such as the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Imagine an 8.4 million-acre expanse of some of the wildest and most ruthless territories our ancestors have traversed, and you have the Gates of the Arctic. Its natural, quiet beauty is considered a truly captivating sight. However, visitors should come prepared, as there are _no roads _in this Alaskan park.

Sadly, this makes the Gates of the Arctic one of least visited U.S. eco-tourism parks. But that does not mean it is not one of the best for those brave enough to stray from the paved path. Adventurers are rewarded with rare sights of tundra landscapes filled with caribou, foxes and approximately 132 brown bears. That is about one bear per 100 square miles, for the cautious explorers.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a Maryland waterfowl sanctuary, making it a little different than the rest of the list. But it is just as interesting and important. It serves as a safe place for migrating birds along the Atlantic Flyway, a migration ‘highway’ for Canadian geese, cranes, bald eagles and various other migrating birds.

It owes its name to the local rivers darkened by tannin, a chemical byproduct of decaying marshland vegetation. The tannin gives the water a dark, tea-like color, but the birds do not mind. Birdwatchers can snap great photos of migrating birds along Wildlife Drive, a paved road through the refuge hosting drivers, bikers, and hikers.

Rancho Palos Verdes Nature Preserve

Our list returns to California with the Rancho Palos Verdes. Very small in comparison to other parks on the list, it is still the largest preserve of coastal land in the U.S. 30 miles of trails await visitors, offering stunning views of landmarks such as the Vicente Bluffs and Abalone Cove. Interestingly, Rancho Palos Verdes is also where the Portuguese Bend landslide is located, a large and continuously moving landslide.

Cosumnes River Preserve

A mere 20 miles south of Sacramento lies the Cosumnes River Preserve. This unique park protects the last free-flowing river in the Central Valley, which supports diverse wildlife. Only here can explorers find the California black walnut, which is specific to the area. The sandhill crane fall migration is another feature that draws visitors and photographers every autumn.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is split between two states: Georgia and South Carolina. The park is visited most during the summer when the humidity supports the area’s rich vegetation. It is also another stop along the Atlantic Flyway for a wide variety of bird species. Even in winter, approximately 13 species of migrating ducks join resident ducks until spring. Visitors may even be lucky enough to spot the endangered Florida manatee.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Nevada secures a spot on the list with the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. An outcropping of red-hued sandstone peaks known as the Keystone Thrust serves as the major attraction of this park. Hikers and rock climbers are sure to enjoy the rocky, dry terrain, where breathtaking views and photo opportunities await. Be sure to hit Bonnie Springs, a western ghost-town replica, on the way out. 

Joshua Tree National Park

By now, it probably seems like California hoards the best eco-tourism destinations, such as our next recommendation: Joshua Tree National Park. Within its 790,000 acres, it includes parts of both the Mojave and Colorado desert. For a park with ‘tree’ in the name, there does not seem to be many, but the preserve makes up for it with rock formations up to 1.7 billion years old. The park also hosts six mountain ranges ready for hiking.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park may be hard to pronounce, but it is worth the visit. Located on Hawaii’s big island, it protects cultural and wildlife landmarks unique to this small portion of the Pacific. Exciting archaeological sites await visitors, such as temple ruins and royal fish pond remnants. The area’s intriguing history makes it a coveted park among both residents and tourists.

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Mount Rainier National Park

Few mountain ridges are more iconic than Mount Rainier, and the park itself is a gem of its own.  A premier feature of Washington state, those with an itch for the great outdoors can escape to literal paradise; as in Paradise, the popular location of the historic Paradise Inn. Paradise is one of 42 locations of interest in this massive park, so visitors should get an early start. Natural features such as caves, hot springs and waterfalls are abundant here.

Yellowstone National Park

What kind of eco-tourism destination list would this be without Yellowstone National Park? It is the very first national park in the U.S., and most likely the world. Awesome geothermal features are common here, with the Old Faithful Geyser being the park’s second most popular attraction. Native Americans still inhabit the park today, despite it being the home of the continent’s largest super volcano: the Yellowstone Caldera. The park and its incredibly intricate ecosystem is a must-see for the ultimate eco-tourism experience.

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