Ecotourism in America: Fantastic fall destinations for people who love nature

Autumn is undoubtedly one of the best times to visit the northeast; the weather is perfect for hiking and the foliage is breathtaking. Whether you are planning a trip to New England soon, or are just daydreaming about the natural beauty of the northeast, these destinations are sure to delight you.

Delaware Bay

Dover, Delaware

Source:  Visit Delaware

The Delaware Bay is not only a popular ecotourism destination, but also an incredibly important conservation site. The Bay is really an estuary where the Delaware River meets the Atlantic Ocean, and the shores that surround it are comprised of salt flats, sand dunes, and marshes (all of which are undergoing careful conservation efforts). It is home to the largest population of spawning horseshoe crabs in the world, as well as the second-largest gathering of migrating shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere.

One of the best ways to experience the Bay is to drive along the shoreline, stopping along the way to take scenic hikes and visit the several wildlife preserves and beaches. However, do note that the ‘beaches’ are less locations for swimming and sunbathing than they are destinations for birding, fishing, and crabbing.

Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor, Maine

Known as the ‘Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast’, Acadia National Park encompasses more than 20 rocky peaks that grace the coastline. Ancient glaciers formed Acadia’s rocky ‘cobble beaches’ and unique geologic formations. The woodlands in the park span the border between the northern boreal forest and the eastern deciduous forest, providing a wide range of tree species for visitors to enjoy.

Hiking is a popular activity in Acadia with its 158 miles of trails. Other activities include rock climbing, horseback riding, tidepooling, and birdwatching. Acadia is considered one of the top bird-watching areas in the country and is home to over 300 species.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Cape Cod National Seashore was created by President Kennedy, and encompasses over 43,000 acres. In addition to its nearly 40 miles of seashore, the park includes ponds, forests, and wild cranberry bogs. Hundreds of plant and animal species make the park their home, including 25 federally protected species, as well as 34 species that are rare or endangered in Massachusetts.

In addition to observing wildlife, visitors can spend time walking by the seashore, or hiking and biking any of the twelve trails weaving throughout the park. Canoeing, swimming, snorkeling, and lighthouse tours are also available seasonally.

Franconia Notch State Park

Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Source:  Sakeeb Sabakka

Franconia Notch is a mountainous region located in the center of White Mountain National Forest. Made famous by individuals such as Daniel Webster and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the park once included the cliff structure nicknamed ‘Great Stone Face,’ the structure sadly collapsed in 2003 due to repeated freezing and thawing.

However, many well-known sites remain, including the 800-foot Flume Gorge and Echo Lake. Visitors can take in the mountain views while riding the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, and can even hike parts of the Appalachian Trail.

The Palisades Cliffs

Alpine, New Jersey

In 1900, the Palisades Cliffs were saved from destruction by stone quarries, and since then they have towered imposingly over the Hudson River, delighting visitors who come to see these dramatic geologic structures.

The Cliffs are a part of Palisades Interstate Park, which hosts a variety of activities for visitors, including canoeing, hiking, and skiing, as well as crabbing and fishing. In addition, the Palisades contain several sites of historic importance; they were even the setting for the famous Burr-Hamilton duel.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, New York

Public Domain

Public Domain

Niagara Falls truly needs no introduction. Considered one of the top natural wonders of the world, the Falls are an incredible example of the power and beauty contained in nature. The Falls span the border between New York and Ontario, with two of the three falls on the U.S. side.

Niagara has the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America (at times it has been up to 68 mph!), and its vertical drop is an incredible 188 feet. Observation platforms and boats allow visitors to get close enough to feel the mist on their skin, and have their voices drowned out by the thundering of this natural wonder.

The Poconos

Northeastern Pennsylvania

This beautiful mountainous region in Pennsylvania is dotted with tree-covered peaks and wooded valleys. The highest peak is Camelback Mountain, which stands at just over 2,000 feet. The Poconos are home to seven state parks as well as one national park, and the region is an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Activities range from hiking and skiing, to exploring caves and waterfalls, to enjoying the beaches along Lake Erie. Of course, there are plenty of cultural and entertainment sites scattered throughout the region as well, making it a popular destination for virtually any traveler.  

Newport Cliff Walk

Newport, Rhode Island

This 3.5 mile walk along the eastern shore of Newport, Rhode Island combines the natural beauty of the shoreline with historical landmarks dating back to the Gilded Age. With deep blue waters stretching as far as the eye can see, it is not hard to believe the views of the shoreline are considered some of the best in New England.

The Cliff Walk is unique in that it is both a National Historic District and a National Recreation Trail. This combination allows visitors to observe gorgeous wildflowers, fascinating geology, and birds of all kinds as well as many of the famous Newport mansions.

Lake Willoughby

Westmore, Vermont

Lake Willoughby is a gorgeous glacial lake located in northeastern Vermont. Surrounding the lake is the nearly 7,000-acre Willoughby State Forest, as well as Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor, which provide perfectly picturesque backdrops.

The lake itself is known for its chilly temperatures and crystal clarity. Delving beyond 300 feet, Willoughby is the deepest lake in Vermont and is home to fish species such as rainbow trout and salmon. Visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, and exploring the stunning quarter-mile beach.

Traveling all throughout America, you will encounter breathtaking natural beauty, and the northeast is no exception. As a general rule, if you love the outdoors, you simply can’t go wrong with any National or State Park. Hopefully this list, however, has helped you narrow your destination list down to the highlights in each northeastern state. What are you waiting for? It’s to get those hiking boots packed!

Meghan Miller