The most environmentally conscious holiday would be camping in a field down the road from your house, but we all need something a little more exotic – and a little less muddy – from time to time. The places listed below have made substantial contributions to the lives of local people and work hard to improve the surrounding land, wildlife and country as a whole. You may feel guilty about your air travel but you don’t have to about your lodging.
The USA hasn’t embraced the concept of eco-friendly accommodation with quite the same gusto as some of its neighbours: here it usually means a place with a spa or health resort, not necessarily suitable for children, often set in a national park and on the luxurious/expensive side. Glamping seems to be taking off in parts of the country, however, albeit with the emphasis more on the ‘glam’ and less on the camping. There is also a number of ground-breaking eco-hotels in large cities.
It is of course easier to be green in a jungle than it is in New York City - just sling up a hammock and eat what you can catch. Do bear in mind, however, that ‘eco’ in a remote setting often means very basic – no electricity, no air-con, lots of insects and only locally grown food. But as long as you and your children are happy with this, you’ll have an amazing holiday.
The Canadians know a thing or two about comfort after a day out hiking, skiing or bird-watching, and these lovely cabins in the mountains provide it in spades. There are rough-cut log cabins with wood-burning stoves or a more luxurious main lodge with warm, comfy beds. The air is fresh, the snow is crisp and the mountain streams taste wonderful. Electricity is from solar or micro-hydro and the focus is on low-impact activities – kids are encouraged to use the wood-burning hot tub, skate on the pond in winter and ski (one of the owners/ski instructors used to coach the Canadian Olympic team!).
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, British Columbia
A much-loved resort of luxurious tents near Vancouver, reached by seaplane and offering bear-watching, kayaking and other customized family fun, plus fabulous food.
Herkimer Diamond Koa, New York State
Offering a serious dose of Americana, this incongruous mix of diamond mines, campsite (for tents and motorhomes), themed cottages and solar-powered lodges has won awards for its innovative design and success in revitalising a disused site. The three mines contain quartz crystals dating back about 5 million years – get your kids kitted out in miners’ hats and let them loose with a pick (any gems you find, you keep!). Other activities for the family include fishing, tubing and kayaking, and there are swimming pools.
One of the first eco hotels in the Big Apple, stylish and hip yet family friendly, this SoHo hostelry with its rooftop kitchen garden offers children's menus, board games, kids' bathrobes and other tempting treats for junior guests.
The Hostel in the Forest, Georgia
This famous volunteer-run eco-friendly youth hostel deep in sub-tropical forest offers accommodation in geodesic domes and treehouses.
San Francisco’s first green boutique hotel welcomes families, for whom there are rooms with two double beds.
A luxurious boutique hotel with serious eco-credentials, this offers beautiful rooms (some with two queen beds) in an Arts & Craft style, enormous organic gourmet breakfasts, recycling containers in every room, and hybrid rental cars.
El Capitan Canyon, near Santa Barbara, California
This glamping site on the Californian coast two hours north-west of Los Angeles has a choice of cedar cabins, safari tents or canyon yurts, plus a heated pool and activities including storytelling, stargazing and BBQs.
Strawberry Creek Bunkhouse, Idyllwild, California
Overlooking San Jacinto State Forest, this rustic family-friendly property an hour from Palm Springs offers camping-themed rooms and cabins with easy access to hiking trails and local activities for children.
Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast, Idaho
This private wilderness site offers Feather Down Farms style accommodation along with nature trails, canoeing and foraging - and no internet!
Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, Alaska, USA
An award-winning lodge, beautiful and remote, Sadie Cove has hand-crafted cabins plus activities including beachcombing, clamming, salmon fishing, wildlife-watching, berry picking and campfires.
For quirky accommodation for families in the USA, see our feature Unusual Places to Stay Outside Europe.