It’s no surprise that tourism is a huge global industry. People love to experience new surroundings, from basking on tropical beaches to exploring ancient ruins. There’s a new trend in travel — ecotourism — that appeals to those who want to submerge themselves in the natural environment.
What is ecotourism? According to The Nature Conservancy, “Ecotourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.” In other words, ecotourism is about respecting natural environments and keeping them intact.
More and more businesses describe themselves as offering ecotours, but you don’t have to join an official tour to be an ecotourist. All you need to enjoy ecotourism is an appreciation of nature’s beauty and the desire to leave a small footprint behind. Feel the sunshine, breathe in fresh air, be part of the local habitat, and when you leave take your trash away with you and leave everything as you found it, for the next person — and generation — to enjoy.
Sonoma and Napa offer a bounty of unspoiled countryside and opportunity for outdoor fun. Wine Country and ecotourism go hand in glove. There’s a large movement toward environmental awareness in Northern California; people want to preserve the beauty. There are plenty of opportunities to get close in to nature and dive into the eco-experience.
Ways to Experience Wine Country au Naturel
Take a hike
The nonprofit organization, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, was founded on the principles of ecotourism long before the term was even coined. They partner with California State Parks, offering eco-classes and managing the preservation of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, more than 800 acres of majestic Coast Redwoods, and the nearly 6,000 acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area. This pristine natural habitat includes shady redwood forests and meandering streams. Austin Creek offers twenty miles of trails and magnificent vistas as you traverse the rugged hillsides. An eco-paradise for hikers — and equestrians.
Gorgeous Lake Sonoma spreads across 2,700 acres of rolling, oak-studded hills in northern Sonoma County, just a short jaunt from downtown Healdsburg. Check out The Ranch at Lake Sonoma to enjoy the area on horseback. They provide all the gear and lead you on guided rides along gentle trails. Wine Country horseback riding is a one-of-a-kind experience of untouched countryside that you just can’t see any other way.
Kayak coast and river
Want to submerge yourself in Wine Country’s natural environment? Rent a kayak and experience life outdoors. Guaranteed to slow down your pace and relax you, skimming the waters of the Sonoma Coast and Russian River offers a unique perspective of the environment that’s not to be missed. Keep your eyes open for egrets, deer, seals, and a large variety of wildlife as you quietly paddle through the water — a sublime eco-experience!
Cycle the backroads
To fully engage yourself in your surroundings, hop on a bicycle and peddle the roads of Sonoma, Calistoga, Napa, and Healdsburg. And there’s so much to see — lush vineyards, bright sky, undulating hillsides. Bicycling puts you up close and personal with the environment. It’s low-profile ecotourism that always satisfies. Rent the bike you like,
and hit the roads. You can take a guided tour or explore on your own. Cycling barely disturbs the environment, but be sure to leave nothing behind for a lightweight footprint.
Visit a working farm
Sonoma County's Farm Trails invites you to learn from local farmers. Every year, Farm Trails farmers open their gates to offer a behind-the-scenes peek at life on the farm. This year the farms are open to the public during the weekend of October 13 and 14. At other times of year, many of the farms let you schedule an appointment to visit the farm in person. Their website has a detailed map that you can filter by product or region. Visiting farms makes for a fun experience for the entire family. It doesn’t get more eco and educational than visiting an active farm — often organic, always local, with high-quality produce of all types, from fragrant lavender to the plump berries.