All reviews by Jody McCutcheon, Chere Di Boscio and Wendy Altschuler
It’s that time of year again–in the northern hemisphere, at least–when the weather is warming up and you just want to spend every minute you can outside. There are loads of outdoor activities to help you move your butt whilst you enjoy immersing yourself in nature, but if you ask me, hiking is the best. It’s perfect for people of all fitness levels; just choose a route that matches your ability, and enjoy the fresh scents of trees, flowers, and streams.
Want to raise the stakes? Try hiking unfamiliar trails. Sure, you could try that one in the conservation area you’ve always wanted to visit just outside the city. But wouldn’t it be so much more adventurous to travel to a place you’ve never been and explore the trails there?
Here are some eco hotels for hiking that offer excellent trails, plus award-winning sustainable lodging with wonderful spas to help you relax and indulge after a long day on the rocks.
1. Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa, Bhutan
Looking for a place where the architecture is just as exotic as the surrounding mountain scenery? You’ll want to experience the Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa in Ngoba Village, Bhutan. On sight, Naksel will wow you with its traditional Bhutanese architecture, from its hand-carved pillars and gorgeous stonework to the simple yet sturdy mud brick walls that insulate for sound and heat.
Voted Bhutan’s Leading Hotel 2012, Naksel offers several accommodation options, with signature suites as well as “deluxe” and “superior” rooms. All offer terrific views of the surrounding, rugged mountains and valleys. Naksel’s various eco-friendly, energy-efficient features include Swedish under-floor heating, LED lighting and solar-powered, high-efficiency water heaters. All construction materials have been locally sourced and all furniture is locally crafted.
From your home base of Naksel, take a hike through the endless trails and virgin pine-covered hillsides of the National Forest. It’s worth it just to breathe the clean mountain air, but there are plenty of sights to see, as well–if you haven’t already seen them from your hotel room. Tour through nearby Paro Town in the Paro Valley, or visit the ruined fortress of Drugyel Dzong. Hike up to mountaintop monasteries like Sangchokhar Monastery or the prized pilgrimage destination Taktsang Monastery, aka Tiger’s Nest, located 1000 meters above the valley floor.
2. Desert Pearl Inn, USA
With its jagged, red rock formations, the breathtaking vistas of southwest Utah are great American eye-candy. The region is also ideal for hiking and other outdoorsy activities, including biking, canyoneering, horseback riding and rock climbing. And a great place to stay on your visit is the Desert Pearl Inn, located near Zion National Park.
Another award winner, the Desert Pearl is as green as the surrounding landscape is red. First and foremost, much of the building is made of reclaimed railroad trestle wood from the twelve-mile rail trestle that once spanned Great Salt Lake to the north. Not only does the rescued, old-growth redwood and Douglas Fir timber look awesome as design material, but using it obviously eliminated the need to cut down any more trees.
The Desert Pearl also boasts other eco-friendly touches, including assiduous recycling and conservation programs, a commitment to solar and geothermal water-heating, energy-efficient lighting, organic cotton blankets, green laundry and cleaning products, linen reuse and an eco-friendly saline pool. Choose from several different riverside (or poolside) rooms and suites, all of which offer luxury, convenience and a kitchenette. There’s even an in-room massage service.
Nearby Zion National Park belongs to the region’s Grand Circle of national parks, historical sites and recreation areas, so there’s plenty for you to do. Don’t miss Zion’s gorgeous scenery, and be sure to hike through Zion’s Navajo Sandstone canyon. Learn some geology at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center or visit the Zion Human History Museum–the Desert Pearl Inn is within striking distance of it all.
3. Hotel Alpin Royal, Italy
Whether you visit the award-winning, 4-star Alpin Royal hotel in summer or winter, whether you come with your family or on a romantic getaway, there’s always something to do–especially if you’re the sporting type. South Tyrol’s Ahrntal Valley, located in Northern Italy at the very top of the boot, offers terrific mountain hiking, biking and skiing for discerning athletes. As an added bonus, the natural alpine air contributes to a health-boosting experience that’s both restorative and relaxing. Or simply practice some yoga in the Alpin Royal spa garden.
As a member of the “Small Luxury Hotels of the World” group, Hotel Alpin Royal offers an irresistible combination of “exclusivity, elegance and uniqueness.” Yet the hotel still succeeds in treading lightly on the planet. Its efficient use of power incorporates a computer-controlled, individual-room regulator system, while the use of local biomass from the district heating supply reduces greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions. Further energy savings are achieved through the use of LED and energy-saving lights and individual refrigeration for mini-bars. Finally, a rigorous waste recycling program and efficient resource planning complete the hotel’s holistic approach to sustainability.
Hotel Alpin Royal also supports local businesses. Their furniture comes from South Tyrolean carpenters, while their menu ingredients are sourced from local, sustainable farms, alpine pastures and dairies, with fish, lamb and game all locally sourced, flavoured with herbs from the hotel’s own herb garden.
Designated as a Respiration Health Hotel, Alpin Royal also caters to guests with asthma and allergies by guaranteeing an allergy-free stay. They achieve this by offering special, hypoallergenic rooms as well as by meeting specific dietary needs.
4. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Canada
As a non-Albertan Canadian, I hear ‘Lake Louise’ and I think skiing. It turns out I am so wrong.
Outdoor activities in Alberta’s Banff National Park are entirely seasonal, and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise caters to just about everything. In the summer you have your hiking, guided mountain tours, biking, canoeing, horseback riding, fishing and river rafting. In the winter, it’s skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating and snowshoeing. And no matter what time of year, drop in to the Chateau’s luxury spa in the afternoon before indulging in some gourmet dining at one of the many restaurants on offer.
Over a century old, the accolade-heavy, luxury resort is more than just a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nestled among majestic mountains, the Victoria Glacier and a shimmering emerald lake, the hotel has achieved global recognition for its environmental care and dedication to sustainable tourism. Unsurprisingly, the hotel’s core value focuses on “preserving the natural environment for future generations.”
For over a decade, the hotel’s operations have employed “No Negative Net Environmental Impact” practices. Energy-saving strategies include energy-efficient lighting as well as the use of wood biomass-generated Green Power for fifty percent of the resort’s electricity. Chateau Lake Louise also practices water conservation, the serving of sustainable food items, toiletry recycling and wildlife conservation.
This green conscience also extends to the sharing of knowledge, with education sessions on local ecological and heritage issues available to staff and guests alike. Finally–and perhaps the nicest touch–guests who drive hybrid vehicles are given complimentary overnight valet parking.
All these efforts toward sustainability have paid off. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the first Canadian hotel to have received a 5 Green Keys rating (the program’s highest rating). They’ve achieved it twice–in 2005 and again in 2016.
5. Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo, Peru
Set within the stunning surroundings of a thundering river and the mountains bordering Machu Picchu you’ll find Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. Whilst most people come here to do the ultimate hike – climbing the famous Inca Trail – there are plenty more paths to explore from this fabulous eco-hotel.
For example, their Eco Centre will send a guide to take you through their orchid forest, which houses well over 300 species of the exotic flower, most of which are quite difficult to encounter without an expert. If you prefer fauna to flora, you can also opt to be guided to their Spectacled Bear sanctuary, housing 5 animals rescued from circuses and abusive households.
A member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, the property is also home to 214 rare bird species, including the golden-headed quetzal and the iconic Andean cock-of-the-rock, making it the ideal destination for ornithology buffs. Of course, you’ll not want to miss a climb up Machu Picchu while you’re here, but make sure you hire one of Inkaterra’s expert guides to ensure you learn all about the ancient Incan mysteries surrounding this mystical place.
When you return, relax in your whitewashed adobe casita in front of a toasty fire; get your aching muscles relaxed by magical hands in the Intakerra spa, or chill out in the on-site hot pools and sauna.
6. EcoCamp Patagonia
EcoCamp Patagonia occupies the remote Torres del Paine National Park, at the southern tip of Chile’s Andes Mountains. As well-lauded as the other hotels on this list, EcoCamp opened over a decade ago and offers the region’s first fully sustainable accommodations. The idea behind it is to ensure “environmentally responsible travel to areas of fragile natural resources” by minimizing every visitor’s eco-footprint.
The surrounding environment offers outdoor exercise aplenty. Spend your days on guided hikes or wildlife excursions, surrounded by ancient forests, glaciers, waterfalls, rivers and fjords – but take note: the really interesting thing about EcoCamp is the domed accommodations. Community Domes are for eating (all meals are included), sleeping, socializing and doing yoga, while the Sleep domes are for–you guessed it–snoring and sweet dreaming.
All domes have been designed to maximize wind protection and the use of natural light and heat, and were constructed using minimal excavation and erected on a raised platform to leave underlying vegetation undisturbed. The design comes from the Kaweskars, the indigenous people (now largely wiped out, thanks to Spanish colonisation), who arrived in Patagonia in the fifteenth century and whose idea of happiness resided not in material possessions, but in nomadic movement and treating nature with the respect it deserves. EcoCamp is essentially a tribute to how the Kaweskars lived in harmony with their natural environment.
EcoCamp owners Javier Lopez and Yerko Ivelic have executed their sustainability plan to perfection. Their low-impact design incorporates several facets: buying all food and supplies locally; meeting EcoCamp’s electrical needs through off-grid hydro and solar power; initiating a rigorous waste management program to ensure all waste is properly disposed of (in fact, EcoCamp boasts the world’s southern-most composting device, the first in Chilean and Patagonia hotel industry); and by achieving a carbon-neutral environment, with an eye on ultimately becoming carbon-free. All these efforts have resulted in EcoCamp’s certification for high environmental standards.
7. The Resort At Paws Up
Located in Montana near the snaking Blackfoot River in the USA is The Resort at Paws Up. One of the Readers’ Choice 2014 top-20 family resorts, this 37,000-acre luxury ranch resort is bursting with lodge pole pines teeming with birds of prey, black crows and singing birds. Well-known locally for its year-round culinary and celebrity chef events with interesting names (e.g., BBQ-U, The Elements of Pizza, Wine and Bitch Dinner, Art of the Pie), Paws Up now also hosts an adventure-heavy health and wellness retreat, called AdrenZen.
Beyond the regular fitness-friendly activities Paws Up offers–such as hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, rafting, even paintball games–AdrenZen also provided a seamless mix of added thrills and relaxing, meditative experiences. In accordance with a visit to a place that once was called the wild west, unorthodox excitement abounded. Guests drove four-wheelers with celebrity trainer and The Biggest Loser star, Jen Widerstrom, through cow and bison pastures; they rappelled 167 feet down the face of Lookout Rock, the same rock on which famed Meriwether Lewis once stood; they troubleshot among the treetops on The Sky Line Aerial Adventure and Challenge Courses; and, naturally, they rode horses along the Blackfoot River through the sage brush.
Combine these heart-starting activities with amazing spa treatments in luxury tents; yoga and meditation provided by guest yogi, Lauren Taus; salubrious food created by celebrity chef and James Beard-award recipient, Kelly Liken; juice brought in from Suja; and guests relished a complete health and wellness weekend. If you missed it, AdrenZen will again be offered next spring.
The Resort at Paws up is a conscientious green resort that utilizes earth-friendly cleaning products, energy efficient lighting and organic bath products offered in refillable containers in lieu of single-use plastics. The resort encourages guests to re-use linens for water conservation and supplies guests with reusable water bottles. Fishing practices are catch-and-release and farming practices are, of course, sustainable. Other implemented eco-friendly initiatives include farm-and-ranch-to-table dining, development of safari-style tented lodgings that operate with minimal carbon footprint and have a leave-no-trace construction, and a stewardship and love of Montana that cuts deep into the resort’s ethos.
As with all the other places on this list, come for the outdoor activities, and leave with a finer appreciation of environmental care and protection.