Travelers to the Midwest are becoming more environmentally conscious and seeking more sustainable tourism as they opt for eco-friendly hotels, cars, restaurants, and experiences. An estimated 75% of travelers surveyed by Statista within the last year said that traveling more sustainably and reducing their carbon footprint are important considerations for them as they plan trips.
Why Travel Sustainably?
“I am drawn to sustainable travel options because they align with my values of environmental preservation and responsible tourism,” said Bella Bucchiotta, a travel writer who runs the blog xoxoBella. “As a travel and nature enthusiast, I strive to minimize my ecological footprint and support initiatives that prioritize the well-being of our planet. Being a granola girl, I am passionate about exploring the world in a way that minimizes environmental impact and supports local communities.”
Sustainable tourism, also known as ecotourism, started gaining traction in the 1980s and has continued to grow in the decades since. In 2022, the global market for ecotourism was worth $172 billion. The American ecotourism market alone was worth more than $25 billion in 2021 and continues to grow.
With national parks, waterfalls, caves, and pristine forests, the Midwestern United States has become a hub for ecotourism. According to the personal finance website WalletHub, Midwest cities rank among the greenest cities in the nation for 2023 based on factors such as transportation, environment, energy sources, and lifestyle and policy, with Minneapolis ranked 10th, followed by Madison in 15th place, and St. Paul in 18th place. Lincoln, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Omaha also ranked in the top 50.
A Commitment to Eco-Excellence
Ann Arbor, Michigan, a college town about 40 miles west of Detroit, is known as the home of the University of Michigan, but has also gained a reputation in the Midwest as an eco-friendly city.
Affectionately known as Tree Town due to the large number of trees — estimated to be more than 100,000 — along its streets and in its city parks, Ann Arbor lives up to its nickname with dozens of acres of land dedicated to green spaces, pristine local parks, a city recycling program, and sustainability practices, such as the A2ZERO Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at achieving community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030.
Visitors to Ann Arbor can find many businesses committed to sustainability, including vegan and vegetarian restaurants, eco-friendly hotels, first-of-their-kind electric vehicle chargers, sustainable coffee shops, and a bring-your-own-container (BYOC) store, which encourages customers to reduce plastic consumption and bring containers while buying needed household items.
Ann Arbor residents voted last November to pass the Community Climate Action Millage, an initiative to invest $7 million annually to fund programs dedicated to clean energy and waste reduction. In May 2023, Ann Arbor was awarded “gold status” by the Michigan Green Communities program for the third straight year for its efforts in energy efficiency, materials management, and climate resilience.
“Ann Arbor is at the forefront of Midwest ecotourism thanks to initiatives like the City of Ann Arbor’s A2ZERO, which is working to achieve a community-wide goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. This plan has already achieved a lot, such as increasing the number of EV charging stations throughout the city [and] promoting sustainable transportation,” said Chad Wiebesick, Director of Public Affairs for Destination Ann Arbor. “[Many] area hotels are actively participating in green practices, reducing their environmental impact and offering guests eco-friendly accommodations. Ann Arbor is a must-visit destination for those who value environmental stewardship as part of their travel experience.”
Eco-Friendly Options For Exploring the Midwest
In the Midwest, eco-conscious travelers have many options for exploring its metropolises and charming small towns in sustainable ways.
The popular advertising campaign “Pure Michigan” recommends exploring some of the state’s pedestrian-friendly urban centers with transportation other than cars and trucks as Michigan works toward 100% clean energy by 2040. Michigan towns like Grand Rapids and Traverse City have walkable downtowns, and bigger cities like Detroit have the Q-Line streetcar, a bike-share system, and the People Mover monorail.
Outside of urban areas, Midwestern green tourism includes natural attractions, outdoor recreation, and other eco-friendly activities.
- Travelers who want to experience the Michigan countryside can visit Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs, which uses sustainable methods to grow fruits and vegetables and has an onsite winery and brewery with the freshest libations.
- Drivers on Route 66 in Illinois can take a modern trip on one of America’s most iconic highways as more than a half dozen cities in the Prairie State have EV charging stations at restaurants, hotels, and popular attractions along the way.
- Visitors to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin can enjoy year-round beauty and activity. In the warmer months, a ferry ride takes visitors to many of the park’s nearly two dozen islands to explore forests and sea caves, go camping, and enjoy waterfront views. In the winter, cold-weather enthusiasts brave the cold to go camping and enjoy exploring the sea caves up close.
Travelers also paddle inland lakes or along the Great Lakes shoreline, explore the countryside on horseback, visit wildlife refuges, take scenic drives in electric vehicles, and more as they experience the best of the Midwest.
Tips For Sustainable Travel
Traveling sustainably, although challenging at times, is becoming more feasible as ecotourism gains popularity. Tourists to the Midwest can enjoy eco-friendly trips without losing the fun and making memories.
Sustainable Travel recommends several eco-friendly travel tips.
Get Off the Beaten Path
Tourist traps are called “traps” for a reason: They are often victims of their popularity, prone to overtourism, and are too crowded.
An easy way to beat the crowds is to get off the beaten path and visit hidden gems. They tend to be less crowded and offer more rewarding experiences.
Slow Down and Relax
Travelers wanting to make the most of a trip are prone to cramming too many activities into a tight travel schedule. Slowing down and making the most of the experience allows for more meaningful travel and less stress.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Some carbon emissions are unavoidable, even for the most eco-conscious travelers. However, travelers who want to do all they can to reduce their carbon footprint can practice carbon offsetting through acts like recycling and using renewable energy sources.
Online calculators can help eco-conscious travelers tabulate their carbon footprint along their journey.
One of the best ways travelers can be eco-friendly and help local economies is by shopping locally. Eating at locally-owned restaurants and buying goods from local artisans helps prioritize local businesses and keeps money in local economies.
Plan an Eco-Friendly Trip in the Midwest
As sustainable tourism keeps growing, Midwest cities like Ann Arbor and many others continue strengthening their commitment to ecotourism. Travelers can have memorable experiences staying at green hotels, eating locally, and walking to different tourist attractions, all while taking big and small steps to reduce their carbon footprint.