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Great Canadian Trails’ East Coast Trail trip leads travellers on day hikes along Newfoundland’s dramatic coastline.Courtesy Great Canadian Trails

When travellers opt for a Great Canadian Trails vacation, they know they’re signing up to spend lots of time outside.

Take the East Coast Trail trip, for example. A nine-day self-guided jaunt through Newfoundland, each day’s itinerary involves a hike through some of the province’s coolest sights, from the old fishing village of Quidi Vidi to the massive sea arch located on the Spurwink Island Path to Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America – a destination that requires both bog and river crossings to reach.

But this isn’t roughing it; Great Canadian Trails arranges for cozy accommodations at local bed and breakfasts, as well as most meals and even a driver who will transport you to the day’s hike and back again. It’s the ideal combination of outdoorsy adventure and relaxing holiday, and according to Nathalie Gauthier, the company’s general manager, it’s a style of travel that’s increasingly popular.

“Last year was really a record year for us with a more than 150 per cent increase over past years,” she says. “And our next season is topping that increase already. I think there’s a growing appreciation of that style of travel.”

Nature-based tourism has been a style of travel for centuries, but it has drastically increased in popularity over the past five or so years. According to a 2017 report from Brand USA, the organization that promotes the U.S. to tourists, two of the top five factors tourists consider when choosing a destination are access to nature and ecotourism opportunities. Meanwhile, market research firm Allied Market Research valued the global ecotourism market at US$181 billion in 2019, and projects it will reach US$333 billion by 2027.

And according to Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Indigenous tourism operators, many of whom offer travel experiences that are designed around access to nature, have “seen a significant change in demand and interest over the last five years.”

Some of that popularity is down to our collective experience during the pandemic, Henry explains. But that’s not the whole story.

“Seeing nature through Indigenous eyes offers a connection to nature and the people that call this place home. It is a special transformative experience”

Chris Tait, tourism manager at Klahoose Wilderness Resort

“There’s two major ingredients: The environment has become top of mind because of the global impacts of changing weather patterns and climate change. And the second, which is what woke up people’s consciousness, is getting locked in our homes for two plus years,” he says. “People are realizing this world is a special and precious place, and I think that’s why they are looking to reconnect with nature and the land around them.”

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Klahoose Wilderness Resort in British Columbia is a prime location for travellers excited to spot wilderness, like bears and humpback whales.Courtesy Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada

One great example of a tourism operator who has built-in access to nature in its offerings is Klahoose Wilderness Resort, which opened in coastal British Columbia. in 2022. The Indigenous-owned, off-grid hotel is especially popular for its wildlife viewing. Think black bear spotting in the spring, grizzly bear viewing in the summer and early fall during the annual salmon run, and the chance to spot hundreds of humpback whales in the nearby Salish Sea.

“Seeing nature through Indigenous eyes is a highlight of the guest’s stay and offers a connection to nature and the people that call this place home,” says Chris Tait, tourism manager at the resort. “It is a special transformative experience.”

Elsewhere in Canada, unique offerings abound. Adventurous types might appreciate the full-moon white water rafting offered by HorizonX, a Quebec-based operator that hosts night-time rafting tours during the summer months. This isn’t just an exciting adventure; it also gives travellers the chance to see wildlife and plants that only come out at night.

Ontario’s Highlands are home to some of the country’s most interesting geological sites, from Bonnechere Cave, which is the most extensive cave system in the province, to Miner’s Loop, a self-guided tour that highlights Marmora, Ont.’s rich gold and iron mining history.

Wherever visitors opt to go, Gauthier says, there’s a nature-based travel option that offers a more personal, slower approach to tourism.

“Travellers are more aware, they’re looking for slow travels and they want to fully take the present moment to absorb all the benefits of the nature escape,” she says. “And I think they’re really seeking that immersion and new experiences travelling like a local and benefit positively to the area.

“Travelling like this allows you to discover somewhere that’s not explored by mass tourism, and you’re really connecting with communities across Canada.”

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