Crescent Lake NWR

Welcome to the Great Plains! One of the Center's biggest projects is ecotourism. Often disparaged as “fly-over” country, the Great Plains is, in fact, filled with biodiversity, critical habitats, and wonderful opportunities for you to have fun while deeply engaging with nature. You just have to find it. On this page you're find all our work related to the growing field of nature-based travel called ecotourism. We argue that conservation that works with, instead of against, business, landowners, and communities is a way forward in preserving our rural communities and dwindling wild places. For many locations around the globe, nature-based tourism has provided a way to enrich human communities while protecting cultural heritage and natural areas.

Ecotourism Coalition

Ecotourism Coalition seal

The Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition is committed to promoting environmental conservation and building thriving communities through nature-based tourism in the Great Plains. The Coalition includes both non-profit and for-profit members and is coordinated by staff at the Center for Great Plains Studies. Its mission is to market the region, share information, and connect nature-based entrepreneurs with one another, creating opportunities for collaboration, learning and cooperation.

The Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition

Center for Great Plains Studies crafts ecotourism campaign

Purchase the Ecotourism poster series

Purchase "Roaming the Great Plains: Eight Great Ecotourism Sites in Nebraska" (Created by the Coalition)

Purchase "Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: An Ecological Perspective" (in cooperation with Prairie Fire Newspaper)

Order GPEC items through the Center

Red Cloud Workshop coverage

Africa Notes: Reflections of an Ecotourist, by John Janovy, Jr., produced by the Center

Ecotourism Sites Map

Ecotourism map

In 2012 the Center for Great Plains Studies conducted a two-phase survey of 51 naturalists in nine states with knowledge of Great Plains ecotourism; we surveyed field personnel from non-profit organizations, managers of private ecotourism companies, state agency officials, and others. These individuals were asked to identify 20 Great Plains sites which in their opinion are those sites you consider to offer the best, most powerful environmental experience and/or the ones that are ecologically the most important. These are the places you would definitely recommend to your best friends to visit. The end product was a printed map.
If you'd like a print copy of the map, email

The Top 50 map now joins a map of Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition members to show an expanded network of ecotourism sites. See all of the sites and some sample routes with the button below.

Ecotourism Sites in the Great Plains

Journal Star article on the map

Mother Earth News article on the map

Ecotourism Research

Ecotourism research

This work tries to promote ecotourism as a strategy for preserving the enormous and precious biodiversity of the Great Plains grasslands. The work is inspired by the highly successful models of ecotourism-driven conservation in Namibia and Botswana where high-value, low-volume ecotourism incentivizes private-landowner conservation, resulting in stable or growing species populations, thriving nearby human communities, and a deepening national consciousness of the economic and aesthetic value of their natural environment.

Guidelines for Ecotourism Operators by Dr. Larkin Powell (download)

Ecotourism materials for providers

Geography of Ecotourism Potential in the Great Plains: Incentives for Conservation
Larkin A. Powell, Richard Edwards, Kelly D. J. Powell, and Katie Nieland (Great Plains Research Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2018)

Ecotourism Landowner Liability & FAQ By Prof. Anthony Schutz, UNL Law

2017 Sandhill crane economic impact study

"Can ecotourism Save the Great Plains?" Prairie Fire

"The Role of Conservation Research and Education Centers in Growing Nature-Based Tourism", Great Plains Research

"Saving the Prairie" Mountain West News

Namibian Models of Ecotourism and Conservation

Return to Africa

African Lessons for Saving America's Prairie

Gracie Creek Implementation Project: Restoring Habitat for Priority Species

Destination: Central Nebraska

"Ecotourism: A Big, Interdisciplinary Idea," Katie Nieland, Center for Great Plains Studies (Great Plains Research)

Ecotourism invites us to do more: it puts us in an intimate encounter with nature, encouraging us to learn about the environment and how we can act to preserve it. Richard Edwards Former Director, Center for Great Plains Studies