Explore the Great Outdoors With These Conservation Groups

Look beyond traditional travel companies to book your next outdoor adventure.

Explore the Great Outdoors With These Conservation Groups

Snorkeling in Belize is one of many ways to investigate the oceans on trips sponsored by conservation organizations.

Photo by Ventu Photo/Shutterstock

For many U.S. travelers, 2021 has been the year of the national park. With the pandemic continuing to disrupt international travel, it has also sparked wider interest among Americans for exploring the Great Outdoors in their own country.

Maybe you got to Glacier or the Great Smokies this year only to find yourself struggling to maintain any social distance. Dodging selfie sticks at scenic points is not the kind of problem John Muir ever faced. (He became the first leader of the Sierra Club in 1892.) Or maybe you got shut out. To improve your chances in 2022, you might consider a tour company, such as Backroads, REI, Smithsonian, or National Geographic. But you may find that trips with those well-known and highly regarded companies are full already. Instead, pivot to organizations you may not associate with travel. A variety of conservation groups nationwide offer lots of options for outdoor trips.

Getting off the well-trodden trails with such outfitters could be your solution to seeing national parks, wildlife, and other natural wonders in 2022. The following conservation groups feature a range of trip options, from luxury to camping, international and domestic, for every level of experience.

Oceanic Society

The nonprofit Oceanic Society has been devoted to ocean conservation for more than half a century. Its “blue habits” program takes action to address such issues as plastic waste in oceans. Its roster of journeys for 2022 include snorkeling in Belize, Baja (whale sharks!) Komodo Island (dragons!), Indonesia, the Bahamas, and Palau. The 12-day Komodo trip, one of several that involve living aboard a ship, is limited to a dozen passengers. Family-oriented trips include wildlife in Costa Rica and the Galápagos. More wildlife is on tap on its Kenya safari, which includes time on the coast for whale watching and snorkeling.

If international trips aren’t on your radar yet, the Oceanic Society also offers a daylong whale-watching trip from its home base, San Francisco, April through November to the isolated Farallon Islands. With a helpful naturalist onboard, it’s a boat tour that will also appeal to bird-watchers. (The 250,000 pelagic birds on the islands include cormorants, auklets, and even a few tufted puffins.)

Appalachian Mountain Club

The Appalachian Mountain Club, founded in 1876, has decades of experience offering Adventure Travel trips in the U.S. and overseas. In spring 2022, its international trips include a Spain-Morocco tour, plus hiking in Sardinia, Germany’s Rhine Valley, Ireland, and Luxembourg (with two trips to the Azores already full). Summer 2022 trips in North America include exploring Alaska and hiking in Glacier and Olympic National Parks and the Canadian Rockies. Throughout New England, the AMC has a variety of lodges, cabins, and campgrounds for hikers’ use. While most trips focus on hiking, the excursion to the San Juan Islands is for cyclists.

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club offers close to 200 trips, including over two dozen hiking adventures in Europe from April through September, plus 18 trips in Latin America throughout 2022. Many of these international outings are already booked up. With almost 100 U.S. trips, appealing options include birding in Puerto Rico or rafting and hiking in Canyonlands National Park. Among the Sierra Club outings aimed at specific groups are those for grandparents and kids, people over 50, and families, as well as some service, or volunteer, offerings. In 2022, service trips include trail restoration in northern Idaho, garden and park work in New York City, and conservation on Hawaiian islands.

open-uri20211208-48-pp3f88

Isolated Isle Royale National Park reopens from its annual winter closure in mid-April.

Photo by Steve Lagreca/Shutterstock

National Parks Conservation Association

For more than a century, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association has advocated protecting U.S. national parks. Recent and upcoming offerings include Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior; a one-week exploration of the Civil Rights Movement starting in Birmingham, Alabama, continuing to Jackson, Mississippi, and ending in Memphis; and roaming the backroads of Big Bend National Park in West Texas. It also offers small ship cruises in Alaska and to California’s Channel Islands National Park.

World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund (in conjunction with Natural Habitat Adventures) has dozens of U.S. and international trips. These “conservation through exploration” trips include a week exploring coastal Maine (including Acadia National Park), Alaska, Yosemite, and canyons of the Southwest (Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks), all with multiple offerings of each trip, giving you more options. Most WWF trips are overseas, including Tanzania, India (tigers or snow leopards), Patagonia, Madagascar, Costa Rica, and Borneo. Also available: nearly two dozen cruises from the Arctic to the Antarctic and points in between (Mexico, Tahiti, Easter Island).

These are not voluntourism trips (though several of these organizations offer them). Many are available only once a year and nearly all are limited to small groups, so planning ahead is key. For example, the Nature Conservancy’s Legacy and Conservation trips for 2022 are already sold out, although they do have waitlists.

If your schedule and these trips don’t mesh, you can always help the organizations through donations and membership. “Adopting” an animal is a fun way to spur your kids’ interest in a good cause. And if you do travel with them, besides gaining access to memorable locations, you’ll also help support worthwhile conservation groups with your trip: a win-win situation.

>> Next: Epic Trips That Give Back

More From AFAR