Take a Trip Outdoors with These Indigenous-Led Excursions
Alligator boat rides and bear watching hikes, with the best storytelling guides in America.
As a child I spent summers and weekends in Monument Valley, between the Arizona and Utah border. Etched in my head are memories of eating fresh Navajo mutton stew while listening to stories from my elders, splitting sagebrush 'till the oils spilled onto my hands, playing with the wet vermillion dirt outside during a thunderstorm, and staring at the wall of stars at twilight, free of light pollution.
It’s not a surprise that we’re attracted to vivid scenery, ecological wonders, and fields teeming with wildlife, or that we understand our relationship with the natural world through interaction. It makes sense why many travelers flock to national parks and monuments. A recommendation? Next time you plan a trip to the great outdoors, make it an Indigenous-led excursion.
With Indigenous tourism, you’re guided across the wilderness by tribes who know the lands best, with centuries of passed-down knowledge. Going with Indigenous guides also provides a chance to direct your dollars towards a community long-exploited for their homelands. Plus, hearing the stories and traditions of these places also provides a chance to connect with tribal communities and instill a duty to protect the fragile environment of our world.
Here are just some of the Indigenous-led adventures across the US where you’ll surely be more engaged with your surroundings than ever before.
La Push, Washington
Gray whales migrate just off the coast of this beachside village, where the Quileute tribe have lived for over a thousand years. Each spring, the tribal school hosts a welcome ceremony for the whales, which is open to the public. The Quileute Oceanside Resort offers 33 cabins, and guests often see the giant animals—including some orca and humpbacks—from the shore. There’s also an option to take a charter from the tribe’s marina to go whale-watching or day fishing. Visitors can venture to nearby hot springs and Olympic National Park just down the road, or dig into a salmon burger paired with a glass of local Olympic Cellars Chardonnay at the River Edge Restaurant.
Interesting fact: Frank Herbert, author of Dune, was inspired by Quileute environmentalists to put ecological themes in the book, after seeing how drastically climate change and rising tides disproportionately affect Native Americans. Today, the tribe still advocates for the environment and organizes projects to help the community.
For thousands of years, the Seminole have called the Everglades home, which means tribe members have incredible hunting agility and some serious experience navigating the humid swamps. With Billie Swamp Safari, take an airboat ride down the “River of Grass.” Alligators aren’t just swiveling nearby in the emerald waters; their tails also appear on your plate in nugget-form. Rumor says it tastes just like—yes—chicken, but you can opt for traditional Native American fry bread too. Plan on staying past sunset for tribal storytelling. End your night in a chickee, which means “house” in the tribe’s tongue, a traditional open dwelling constructed by a palmetto thatch and cypress log frame.
Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico
If you feel like indulging in luxury, the Santa Ana Pueblo, who refer to themselves as Tamayame, has you covered. At the tribe’s Hyatt Regency’s Resort and Spa, you’ll find heated pools, stables for horse riding, and a spa that applies indigenous practices and native ingredients like blue corn, green chile, and mountain mud. At the resort, you can also take a hot-air balloon tour, bake bread in a traditional outdoor Huruna oven, or try your hand at adobe brick making. In the summer when the red rocks seem to glow from the heat, you’ll know it’s rodeo time, with weekly events from the tribe. And don’t miss mountain biking along the absolutely stunning surrounding landscape full of sagebrush, lizards, and cacti.
The cabins at the Kodiak Brown Bear Center give unparalleled access to a bear habitat created by the Alutiiq people in Alaska. Staff lead visitors on kayaks, catamaran boats, or by foot to four viewing locations around Kurlak Lake to observe brown bears in their natural environment and cubs playing by the shoreline. Built on patience, indigenous teachings, and delicious coffee, the lodge aims to introduce newcomers to freshly-sourced ingredients and the traditional Alutiiq diet with some twists, like reindeer sausage and banana bread french toast. The concentration of salmon and steelheads make for excellent fishing—and perfect bear food.
Utah / Arizona
Spend time on the largest reservation in the Navajo nation. After touring Canyon De Chelly, a national monument millions of years in the making, you can stay in a hogan, a traditional Diné housing structure that stays warm during the winter and cool in the summer. When entering and leaving, it’s important to always walk in a clockwise or “sunwise” direction, according to tradition. During the evening, join a sunset tour, where a Navajo guide shows you natural amphitheaters and petroglyphs. Before you head out, make sure to hit the breakfast burrito trucks along the road in Kayenta. Pro tip: Order the crowd-favorite, corn hash and potato with green chile on the side.
The indigenous-owned Flathead Raft Company offers thrilling, rushing adventures. Take a half-day white water raft on the Lower Flathead River, the warmest in Montana, or a full-day scenic float on the upper canyon, inhaling vibrant notes of the elder pine and seeing wildlife up close. Bison often wander nearby while rafters slosh down the river. As part of the excursion, an elder or tribal member shares the cultural stories of their Salish, Kootenai, or Pend D’Oreilles tribe. Afterwards, visitors can stay in tipis, as well as assist with tanning hides and crafting dreamcatchers.
Great Falls, Montana
In the stunning lands next to Glacier National Park, guides from the Blackfeet Nation take visitors on a multi-day backpacking trip through their homelands. Trekking either on foot or horseback, you’ll cross coulees, foothills, steep inclines, and even rivers, all while hearing the tribe’s creation stories and significance of the surrounding land. The tour also offers backcountry fishing lessons, home-cooked meals, and overnight camping options. In the grandeur of the Rockies, the trees tower, bunnies scurry mighty, and the culture here prevails.
Pipes have an important role as artistic and spiritual expression for tribes across the plains, especially in Pipestone, Minnesota. The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers teach visitors pipestone carving and fire starting with flint, tanning hides, and flint knapping. The four-day retreat includes a flurry of music, dance, stories, outdoor games, and workshops before guests retire to their tipis for the night. Expect traditionally-inspired meals such as locally harvested wild rice, bison burgers, three-bean salad, and berry soup dumplings.
Tuba City, Arizona
While staying on Hopi land at the family-run Moenkopi Inn & Suites in Tuba City, Arizona, take a walk on the not-so-literal Art Trail (more art than trail). The figurative path takes visitors to numerous pueblos sitting atop three mesas in Arizona and is essential for a trip to the southwest. Browse through vendors showcasing Kachina Doll carvings, basketry, sand paintings, and silversmith-crafted bracelets speckled with turquoise. The annual Tuuvi Gathering features more than 200 vendors, a performance of the tribe’s Butterfly Dance, and an opportunity to try Hopi bread, traditionally made out of blue corn and folded into thirds.