Watersports and eco adventures are fantastic ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Adrenaline-pumping activities, like whitewater rafting, is a natural accompaniment to an ecotourism trip featuring snorkeling and hiking. The following cities offer a unique combination of thrilling watersports, fascinating habitats and breathtaking views of nature.

Northeastern Destinations

Old Orchard Beach, Maine
This 7-mile stretch of the Atlantic coastline has attracted outdoor enthusiasts for more than 170 years. Consistently chosen as the state’s best beach, Old Orchard Beach offers swimming, bay cruises and lobster boat tours. Novice and skilled anglers can experience a variety of deep-sea fishing charters. You can also head offshore for a whale watching adventure. The nearby Scarborough Marsh Nature Center and Saco River feature kayak and canoe trips. Bird watchers will enjoy the marshland, which is home to large communities of indigenous and migratory aquatic species. Seals and porpoises can be seen hunting in the Scarborough River. The nature preserve’s Eastern Trail is a multipurpose hiking, biking and cross-country skiing path. Along with shops and eateries, you can also enjoy the rides and arcade games of the Palace Playland, New England’s only seashore theme park. The best time to visit is late spring through early fall.

Southern Destinations

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Situated on the Tennessee River, Chattanooga was proclaimed the “Best Town Ever” by Outside Magazine in 2015. This premiere outdoor recreation destination offers whitewater kayaking and rafting as well as easy access to some of the country’s top venues for hang gliding, horseback riding and rock climbing along with miles of hiking and biking trails. The sandstone climbing and bouldering sites on Signal Mountain are rated among the top venues in the nation. You can launch off Lookout Mountain or explore the forested hills of the southern Appalachians. Hikers and mountain bikers enjoy the scenic trails of the Raccoon Mountain and Stringer’s Ridge Trail systems. The Riverwalk is a 13-mile scenic pathway along the bank of the Tennessee River. Chattanooga also features historic districts, Civil War sites and museums. Dining options in Chattanooga include street food, cafes and fine dining restaurants. Visit from September to November to enjoy cooler temperatures and smaller crowds.

Key West, Florida
As a year-round travel destination, the southernmost point in the continental U.S. is widely known for its colorful sunsets and epic variety of water and eco tour adventures. The serene backdrop includes the famed restaurants of Duval Street, historic sites like Ernest Hemingway’s House and the open space of Mallory Square where locals and visitors gather for the nightly Sunset Celebration. Outdoor enthusiasts can experience Key West’s clear water and refreshing breezes during various excursions offered by Fury Water Adventures. In addition to jet skiing, parasailing and snorkeling, you can spend a few hours or the entire day exploring the lush mangroves and other scenic spots in the area’s backcountry. Or head 70 miles west of Key West aboard the Yankee Freedom III ferry for a trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park. You’ll explore the  hidden gem’s natural beauty and tour the historic Fort Jefferson. While anytime is the best time to visit paradise, a trip to Key West in the spring or summer offers the warmest water temperatures.

Snorkeling Key West Waters

Midwestern Destinations

Lake City, Minnesota
Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Minnesota is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and eco-tourists. The birthplace of water skiing, Lake City provides some of the Gopher State’s best fishing, excellent sailing and an almost endless array of other watersports. Stroll along the 2.5-mile-long scenic river or the miles of hiking and biking nature trials where you can observe majestic bald eagles in flight as well as other migratory birds. Enjoy colorful drives around the Lake Pepin area on the Great River Road during autumn. In the winter, skate beneath the starry cosmos, ice fish or explore the backcountry by snow mobile or cross-country skis. July highs can reach the low 80s, and January lows dip into the single digits.

Northwestern Destinations

Valdez, Alaska
Valdez is situated near the head of a deep fjord on Prince William Sound. During the long summer days, Valdez offers outdoor adventurers the opportunity to paddle Mineral Creek and the Lower River and sea kayak around the Shoup Glacier. Trek the Valdez Glacier and sport fish on the Robe River, or test rock climbing prowess at popular bouldering sites. Blueberry Hill is the northernmost point of the coastal Pacific temperate rainforest. After the snow falls, take a ski, snow machine or helicopter adventure into the powder-covered backcountry to view the frozen waterfalls of Keystone Canyon. Fly into Valdez Airport, or see the sites while traveling on Richardson Highway. On a clear day, the flight affords excellent views of the Chugach Mountains. Valdez can receive approximately 300 inches of snow per year and the temperatures can dip well below freezing. Summer highs average in the low 60s.

Oak Harbor, Washington
Situated on idyllic Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor’s natural surroundings offer everything from swimming and whale watching to hiking and biking excursions. Relax as you sail around the island on the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound, or experience the thrill of kayaking the nearby rapids. Watch migrating gray whales in the spring and orcas during the fall. Oak Harbor has several excellent dive spots, including the undercuts and current-carved caverns of Deception Pass. Whidbey Island encompasses hundreds of miles of country roads and scenic trails for on- and off-road biking as well as hiking through the backcountry. Common sightings include a range of shorebird species, migrating salmon and otters as well as seals, sea lions and porpoises. The best time to visit is from spring to fall so that you can also enjoy the island’s cultural festivals.

Western Destinations

San Diego, California
Featuring mild year-round temperatures, San Diego is a popular vacation destination for families, young couples and adventure-seekers. Watersport activities like kite surfing, jet skiing and kayaking take place at San Diego Harbor, Mission Bay and Oceanside Harbor. Local eco trips feature snorkeling and scuba diving offshore as well as whale and dolphin watching cruises. Explore the local ecosystem by hiking in Torrey Pines State Park. You can also enjoy the shops and restaurants of the Gaslamp Quarter, the museums of Balboa Park and the historic architecture of Old Town. A great way to enjoy the sights in relaxation while learning fun facts about the area is aboard a San Diego SEALs Tour. This exciting land and water sightseeing excursion passes by several well-known landmarks and then enters the bay for an unobstructed view of the cityscape.

San Diego Beach

Las Vegas, Nevada
While most people think of the casinos, glitzy shows and endless buffets, Las Vegas can also serve as your base camp for numerous water and eco travel adventures. Las Vegas is situated near Lake Mead, the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert. One of the most-visited national parks in the country, Lake Mead National Park offers breathtaking water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing opportunities. Adventure trips to the Grand Canyon include viewing the Joshua tree forest, standing on the glass floor Skywalk, trekking down the canyon wall and rafting trips along the Colorado River. Jeep and horseback tours of the desert introduce you to the Native American culture as well as the plants and animals that thrive in the harsh environment. The best time to visit Las Vegas is during the March to May and September to November off-seasons. The weather is still warm and the crowds are less intrusive.

Central Pacific Destinations

Honolulu, Hawaii
Situated on the island of Oahu, Honolulu is famous for surfing and other watersports. The city is also renowned for its onshore wonders. Outdoor adventurers can experience a variety of watersports, including snorkeling, scuba diving and jet skiing as well as kayaking, wind surfing and parasailing. While sea kayaking is geared toward those with more experience, novices can easily paddle on the placid Waimea River. Guided eco tours of Oahu pass by scenic waterfalls and extinct volcanoes. The trail through the tropical forest is lined with Hawaii’s unique indigenous flora and fauna. These interesting tours celebrate the ecology and natural beauty of the island’s diverse landscape. The majestic scenery includes famous beaches, lush valley and ancient tribal grounds. Honolulu also has a creative restaurant scene and vibrant nightlife. The best time to visit Honolulu is during the period of mild temperatures from September to November.

Whether you are looking for adventure or relaxation, combining eco adventures and thrilling outdoor sports is a great way to reinvigorate your mind and body. Along with breathtaking ecosystems and activities, these exciting destinations also offer unique shopping, dining and cultural attractions. Get ready to experience the most incredible adventure of your life while surrounded by the some of the breathtaking scenes in nature.

Last Updated 08/03/2023