By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

skywalkSummer is here — the time to dive in sun-warmed water, to share strawberries piled high on shortcake and cream and to walk in the shade of a breathtaking forest. As you prepare for your summer getaway, keep in mind these tips on vacationing in a forest friendly way.

Picking Your Destination

Whether you prefer to relax on an isolated beach, explore the culture and nightlife of a city or cool off by a mountain lake, a little digging can reveal more sustainable alternatives to the typical destination that will also allow you to explore some of the most beautiful forests in the world.

  • Bald Head Island, North Carolina
    For example, if you prefer a beach getaway, consider Bald Head Island, the southernmost of North Carolina’s cape islands. Accessed by ferry, the island requires biking, walking, or golf-carting to traverse. This not only saves carbon emissions while getting around, but also aids in relaxation and lets you explore the 10,000 acres of nature preserves on the island. Beaches stretch for 14 miles, a tidal creek winds through the salt marsh and a lush maritime forest stretches across the northeastern section of the island. Miles of trails serpentine among dogwoods, cedars, oaks and palms. American and Yaupon holly, wild olive and catbrier entangle beneath the canopy. Home to painted buntings, cardinals, and Carolina wrens, the forest also shelters migratory birds in the fall, including blue jays, catbirds, towhees, and twenty-two species of warblers. Sea turtles, foxes, otters and even alligators abound on the island.
Bald Head Island.
Bald Head Island. Credit: Richard Ricciardi via Flickr.
  • Lapa Rios, Costa Rica
    If a tropical and exotic location is more your style, consider Lapa Rios in Costa Rica. While tourism in the rainforest usually means supporting unsustainable practices that harm the forest, the Lapa Rios ecolodge is a private 1,000-acre nature preserve that protects virgin rainforest from deforestation and serves as a model of sustainable ecotourism. The preserve is home to the nearly extinct Sangrillo Colorado tree, as well as jaguars, monkeys, poison dart frogs and toucans. Accommodations include screened, open air bungalows that immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of the breathtaking rainforest.
Banff National Park.
Banff National Park. Credit: Shane Lin via Flickr.
  • Kicking Horse River Lodge, Canada
    If a cool mountainous adventure is your preferred summer getaway, consider Kicking Horse River Lodge in Golden, British Columbia, Canada. Nestled between the Canadian Rockies and Purcell Mountains, the lodge uses geothermal and hydroelectric energy to shrink its footprint to a minimum. With accommodations ranging from dorm-style bunks to comfortable private rooms, the lodge can be a bargain hunter’s inexpensive launching pad for exploring the nearby national parks. Banff, the nearest national park, boasts turquoise lakes, jagged peaks and subalpine forest which are prime habitat for elk, moose, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, grizzly and black bear and the threatened caribou.
Endangered Owl Butterly in Lapa Rios
Endangered Owl Butterly in Lapa Rios. Credit: Grant Folin via Flickr.

Whatever your ideal summer plans include, look for cities that are known for their urban forests, golf courses that reuse their water, spas that favor natural products, hotels that have shrunk their footprint and, of course, nearby forests to explore.

Traveling to Your Destination

There’s an obvious rule of thumb when it comes to starting your vacation in a carbon friendly way — don’t fly if you can drive. But, if getting to your destination requires air travel, you can book flights that use larger and newer planes and don’t have layovers. One quick way to start an eco-friendly flying search is by using a search engine that includes the carbon footprint in the results shown, such as Gooby, where rankings are given for “quickest,” “cheapest,” “most popular” and most importantly, “greenest.”

While on Vacation

Once you’ve booked an eco-friendly destination and figured out how to get there with the smallest carbon footprint, remember to take a few steps to ensure that you continue to have a minimal impact on the environment.

Instead of taking a cab to recreation spots, explore the area on foot, bike or by public transportation. You will experience much more of the area and may even discover some hidden gems that are unlisted on Google results and unknown to the concierge.

Offer to reuse your towels and linens during your stay, or opt in to an environmental plan that your hotel offers. You can also turn off the thermostat when you’re not in your room, shower instead of bathing and explore local dining options that offer farm to table cuisine.

Coming Home

An important part of an eco-friendly vacation that often goes unmentioned is in what you bring home. Souvenirs are reminders of the extraordinary memories that were made and tokens of the culture or nature experienced. But often, tourist souvenirs don’t benefit the local community that was visited. Avoid purchasing products by big-name brands that can be found in shopping malls and airport terminals that won’t benefit the local community. Instead, search out locally and responsibly made products sold by small businesses, just be careful to avoid products made out of rare wood or animal parts that may have been harvested unsustainably or are a result of poaching.

There are endless enticing forests to explore this summer — find a destination that will allow you to experience the trees and wildlife of a beautiful tranquil forest in a more sustainable way.