From painted deserts with towering buttes to spacious skies full of waterfowl, some of the most memorable tours contain natural phenomena just as awe-inspiring as the natural beauty. Pack hiking shoes and cameras for photos among majestic caverns, rolling grasslands and some of the world’s best biodiversity. Rest assured — these nature tours leave the Earth unharmed and more loved.
Creole Nature Trail
The Creole Nature Trail is one of only 43 All-American Road scenic byways in the United States, allowing groups to reconnect with nature.
“Over 400 bird species are spotted on the trail each year, along with the largest population of American alligators — and it is all natural with no cages and no feeding times, as mother nature made it,” said Anne Taber Klenke, tourism director for Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The marshlands of south Louisiana are not only incredibly beautiful; they are home to the ecosystem which supplies our amazing seafood and should be actively protected.”
Although there are no set tours, the Convention & Visitors Bureau can provide step-on guides and customized itineraries. A complimentary personal tour guide app auto-plays audio and video content based on GPS triggering.
Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, Colorado
A registered National Natural Landmark, Garden of the Gods offers dramatic views, 300-foot towering sandstone rock formations and brilliant blue skies. Groups learn how the red rocks got there with a new Geo-Trekker theater experience, shown every 20 minutes.
Groups also may book a step-on guide or a guided walk brimming with tailored information. While eating in the cafe, visitors delight in one of the most-photographed Colorado landscapes. Each visitor may order individually off the menu or box lunches can be prearranged.
Haleakalā National Park
For more than 150 years, visitors to Maui have ascended Haleakalā to experience enchanting views. Groups also can awaken with Haleakalā National Park during a breathtaking sunrise tour, offered by several local companies. With a professionally trained guide during early morning hours, groups traverse winding mountain roads up to the highest peak on the island to see fiery colors illuminate the clouds. Several tour companies add on an island-style breakfast.
The largest series of caverns in the eastern United States, Luray Caverns offers daily guided tours along lit, paved walkways. Groups are led through cathedral-sized rooms with ceilings 10-stories high and towering stone formations. Visits can include food packages with access to the Gem Sluice, Garden Maze and Rope Adventure Park.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
The 37,000-acre Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge cuts through ancient flood plains, creating vast expanses of coastal marsh and prairie bordering Galveston Bay. Management protects the marsh for migrating, wintering and breeding waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds. Neotropical migratory songbirds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico find crucial nesting areas at the refuge.
“It’s peaceful, beautiful and exciting, as you never know what you are going to see,” said Stephanie Martinez, outdoor recreation planner for Texas Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuges Complex. “It is one of the best places in the world to view birds.”
Martinez said staff and volunteers are always happy to provide complimentary tours for groups of 15 or more if booked in advance. If a tour company charges for its own refuge tours, they must contact the manager for a special-use permit.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sustainability is at the core of Spring’s Preserve missions, and in the middle of Las Vegas, the site offers 180 acres of natural adventure, and sustainable design and architecture. Group tours are available by request.
Stand face-to-face with Nevada’s state fossil, step inside a stalactite cave, trek along trails that meander through a wetland habitat and learn about “green living.” The preserve is built around the city’s original water source, the Las Vegas Springs.
“As humans, we are tied to nature; it sustains us,” said Pietra Sardelli, group sales supervisor for Springs Preserve. “Learning about your environment and how to protect it is imperative. In the desert, even more so.
“It is easy to look at the desert and just see dirt, but learning to look closer, to see the delicate plants with an unequalled will to survive — that is something. To learn about the importance of clean water and the power it holds is vital for our future. What happens in nature is a clear indicator of what we are doing to our environment.”
Blue Spring State Park
Orange City, Florida
In 1970, two years before Blue Spring State Park was established, researchers tracked 14 manatees along the St. Johns River. By 2005, after years of manatee protection efforts, the numbers exceeded 200. And last year, the numbers skyrocketed to a record 485 manatees. Visitors are encouraged to call the park before a visit for the latest manatee count.
Groups can see the park’s wonders during a hike on the 4½-mile Pine Island Trail. Visitors also may rent canoes or kayaks, or take a two-hour, narrated Nature and Ecological Cruise with St. Johns River Cruises. For land-lovers, the company also offers Guided Wilderness Escape Segway tours.
Coming soon: Pacific Flyway Center
In Northern California’s Suisun Marsh, the highly anticipated Pacific Flyway Center will serve as a major interpretive and educational facility to introduce groups to the wonders of the Pacific Flyway. Construction is expected to begin this year, but no specific timeline is set. The flyway stretches for 10,000 miles, from the Artic to Patagonia. Each year, more than 1 billion birds travel the flyway during their annual migrations.