Why stay in a faceless -- and expensive -- hotel when you can mingle with like-minded travelers in an eclectic, eco-friendly environment? At a green hostel, your shower may be solar-powered or your breakfast organic, and active pursuits like hiking and biking are generally close at hand. From city centers to the great outdoors, we pick a dozen of the best places in North America for backpackers to lay their heads in sustainable style.
What are your favorite green hostels in the United States, Canada, or Mexico? Let us know in the comments section. And keep an eye out next month for our list of excellent eco-friendly digs in Europe and other parts of the world.
1. Best View: Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, Pescadero, CaliforniaGuests at this hostel on the California coast not only get to enjoy a hot tub with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, they also get to sleep in a lighthouse. How cool is that? Close to whale watching and tide-pooling opportunities, redwood forests, a bird sanctuary, and an elephant-seal breeding area, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel was certified last December through the Bay Area Green Business Program.
New aerators and low-flow showerheads conserve water while a propane furnace in one of the guest houses has brought the building's heating efficiency up to 90 percent. Old fluorescent lights got the heave-ho for the mercury-free, energy-efficient variety, while new Energy Star appliances shine in the kitchen and laundry. Solar-powered LEDs light the hostel's outdoor pathways and guests are encouraged to participate in the comprehensive recycling and on-site composting programs -- and to hang their laundry out on the line.
2. Best Active Urban Vacation: HI-Austin, Austin, Texas
Guests at this hostel don't have to go far to get their active pursuits on: Hiking and biking trails within the Austin Greenbelt start right outside the door, where the Colorado River runs by. You can even rent a canoe. But Hostelling International-Austin is also just a quick bus ride away from all the music, film, and urban fun the capital of Texas has to offer.
An early adopter of recycling, the facility has also been collecting solar energy through rooftop panels for more than 11 years and buys the rest of its power from wind farms in west Texas. The building is painted a light color that helps reflect solar heat and the "wall of windows" overlooking Town Lake is tinted and solar-screened for maximum efficiency. Plus, they never, ever water the lawn, boasting: "In the few times it has turned yellow, the hearty native grass sprouts back with the first rain.
3. Best Art Hostel: Auberge Alternative, Montreal, Canada
This renovated 1875 warehouse in Old Montreal is decked out in found furniture and handmade beds, with doors that were recovered from the street and restored, while the work of participants in the hostel's artist-in-residence program keeps the decor lively.
The Auberge Alternative (after the French word for "inn") includes a commitment to using local products and eco-friendly cleaners and taking a strong stance against commercialization: "There is no coke/pepsi machine, no vending machines, no TV and there never will be," they promise. There are, however, organic breakfasts with free fair-trade coffee.
4. Best Hostel with a Green Roof: Portland Hawthorne Hostel, Portland, Oregon
Four species of native sedums and yarrow adorn the green roof at the front of the Portland Hawthorne Hostel, which will eventually spread across the rest of the top of the building for all passers-by to see and be inspired by.
The Oregon hostel buys in bulk, uses scent-free laundry detergent and green office and cleaning supplies, prints its brochures on post-consumer paper with soy-based inks, has installed low-flow showerheads and toilets, and buys its electricity from renewable sources. Guests arriving by bicycle get a discount, and staff tending the grounds skip the motorized mower in favor of old-fashioned push-power.
Check out the hip green hostels in Hawaii, Alaska, California, and D.C. on page 2.