Travelers are raring to hit the road and take in some of the best attractions in the United States. More than 30,980 tour and travel guides are ready to show them the way.
Bounce examined employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find which metropolitan areas employ the most tour and travel guides. In addition to the number of people employed in the industry, the data shows that the top 20 destinations that emerged from the study are located near metropolitan areas and state and national parks—destinations which have gained popularity since the pandemic.
Annual salaries were determined with information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—which showed a mean hourly wage of $15.96—and multiplying that by 40 hours a week for 52 weeks per year. Some things that can be deduced from this information include the length of the tourism season for certain destinations and the intricacies of tours.
Though California, Florida, and Colorado emerged as the states that employ the most tour guides, the top 20 tour destinations listed here only include one California destination. Read on to check out the top 20 destinations and some of the sights that await.
#20. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.69
– Hourly median wage: $13.99
– Annual median wage: $29,100
Located in South Carolina Lowcountry, Hilton Head Island is known for its pristine beaches and lush natural habitats.
Receiving local insight on flora and fauna from naturalists and master birders at destinations like the Audubon Newhall Preserve and Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge enriches a visit. Staff of organizations like Sea Turtle Patrol and Turtle Trackers educate the public about loggerhead turtles who make their home on Hilton Head’s 12 miles of beach. The place to learn more about the island’s culture and history is the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island, which offers tours by reservation.
#19. Savannah, Georgia
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.73
– Hourly median wage: $13.21
– Annual median wage: $27,470
Topping itineraries for many Savannah visitors—time for reveling in the city’s architecture and centuries-old oak trees dripping in Spanish moss. Just right for this pursuit is a 90-minute tour through the Historic Landmark District led by Architectural Tours of Savannah.
While in the area, tour guides can take visitors through the popular Forsyth Park to take selfies by the 1858 vintage fountain, and for a docent-led stroll through the Fragrant Garden for the Blind. Performances are offered at the park’s amphitheater and Saturdays bring the weekly farmers market.
A mere 20 minutes away is Tybee Island, where Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse—Tybee Island Light Station and Museum—benefits from the historical interpretations conveyed by members of the Tybee Island Historical Society.
#18. Monroe, Louisiana
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.77
– Hourly median wage: $11.56
– Annual median wage: $24,040
For tour guides in Monroe, Coca-Cola bring fans from far and near. It was here that Joseph Biedenharn began bottling Coca-Cola back in 1913. Among the top tourist attractions in Monroe is Biedenharn’s house.
Visitors can take a look back at the soda’s original bottling process and check out Coca-Cola memorabilia, including a Ford Model T Coca-Cola delivery truck. There is a tour Biedenharn’s home, exhibits of a Bible Museum, and walled English gardens originated by Biedenharn’s daughter, Emy-Lou.
Should the gardens inspire time in Monroe’s great outdoors, tour guides can take visitors to Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. A suggested way to appreciate the alligators, bald cypress trees, and blue herons is walking the nature trail boardwalk, or by canoe. While there, learn more about Louisiana wildlife through the refuge’s interpretive programs.
#17. Staunton, Virginia
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.79
– Hourly median wage: $12.00
– Annual median wage: $24,960
Nestled into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Staunton is the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson. To pay homage to the 28th President of the United States, tour guides take visitors to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum.
Here, they can take in the home where Wilson was born, a World War I trench exhibit, the Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine, as well as the museum’s historic gardens. For a deeper dive, it’s possible to book a private, behind-the-scenes tour.
Shakespeare fans will want to embark upon a 45-minute tour of the American Shakespeare Center. Friday nights at 5 p.m. thespians, artists, and industry experts are on tap for lectures, workshops, and panels.
#16. Anchorage, Alaska
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.86
– Hourly median wage: $17.88
– Annual median wage: $37,180
Seeing a destination through the eyes of the people who’ve resided there for centuries is priceless.
Anchorage’s Alaskan Native Heritage Center has six authentic life-sized villages that offer a glimpse into the region’s Indigenous cultures. Even more special is embarking on a private tour with a culture bearer, who can shed light on the lifestyle and traditions of Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples.
Another way to view Anchorage is from the heavens. Flight-seeing tours provide a unique vantage point for soaking in the beauty of glaciers and parklands like Denali National Park & Preserve, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, and Katmai National Park.
#15. Virginia Beach, Virginia
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.88
– Hourly median wage: $11.98
– Annual median wage: $24,920
As walks go, the 3-mile jaunt along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk is beautiful and fun. Along the way, there’s art to be seen (be on the lookout for King Neptune’s statue), live music performances to catch at four separate stages, and the people-watching—skateboarders, rollerbladers, and cyclists abound.
Some favorite stops on the boardwalk include the de Witt Cottage and Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. The two go hand-in-hand, with the AWHM being located within the 1895-built cottage. Time a visit right to meet a carver and wildfowl artist and learn about their art.
#14. Logan, Utah
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.89
– Hourly median wage: $10.72
– Annual median wage: $22,290
A huge draw for visitors to Logan is its proximity to Bear River Range, as well as Bear Lake, which is nicknamed the Rocky Mountain Caribbean. Such a setting calls for outdoor activities ranging from mountain biking and hiking to horseback riding and skiing. Want to dive into the Rocky Mountain Caribbean? Book a scuba diving expedition at Bear Lake State Park’s Cisco Beach.
A perfect spot for bird-watchers is Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
Switch things up from the great outdoors to the stage with a visit to the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, where the season runs July through August. Beyond catching a performance, this Logan-based venue offers puppetry classes as well as behind-the-scenes looks at various elements of productions, lectures, and seminars.
#13. New Orleans, Louisiana
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.92
– Hourly median wage: $11.21
– Annual median wage: $23,310
Étouffée, gumbo, beignets, po’boys—when visiting NOLA, savoring its Cajun and Creole cuisine is a must. A great way to do so is through a culinary tour. Whether craving a Sazerac or jambalaya, a plethora of offerings speak to different palates.
The New Orleans music scene is distinctive unto itself. Listen to some of the best on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. Impromptu live performances often happen on the street itself. Duck into a nightclub like The Spotted Cat Music Club, Blue Nile, and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro. Combining a love of music and cocktails is a mixology class at The Maison. Bring on those Hurricanes and Pimm’s Cups!
#12. San Luis Obispo, California
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 0.99
– Hourly median wage: $22.84
– Annual median wage: $47,510
San Luis Obispo’s proximity to San Simeon calls for one of four guided tours of Hearst Castle. The former home of media mogul William Randolph Hearst’s vision of a European-type castle that could house his art collection led to a 28-year construction project that lasted from 1919 to 1947 between him and architect Julia Morgan. Though it was never fully completed, Hearst Castle was host to the rich and famous—among them Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Cary Grant.
Another slice of history can be explored at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Docent-led tours of the 1772 mission and accompanying museum occur daily at 1:15 p.m. Next up, the accompanying museum to see exhibits of Native Californian, Mission Era, and American settlement artifacts.
#11. Bend, Oregon
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.03
– Hourly median wage: $13.04
– Annual median wage: $27,120
Have fantasies about fly fishing yet to be fulfilled? Get thee to Bend, Oregon. The veritable way to get one’s feet wet is through a Fly & Field Outfitters’ Walk & Wade outing. There are three rivers where these tours take place: Crooked River, Fall River, and the Upper Deschutes River. These guided adventures include all necessary gear, lunch, and lots of tips for snagging fish. Ready to up your skills? Tours for all skill levels are available.
Prefer to do a bit of spelunking or caving? There are 400 lava tubes in central Oregon waiting to be discovered. Do so with a custom lava tube cave tour offered by permitted naturalists. There are four available with various levels of difficulty. One that sounds dreamy is the two-hour Starlight Cave Tour, where participants emerge to sit around a campfire and gaze at the constellations.
#10. Kahului, Hawaii
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.07
– Hourly median wage: $18.48
– Annual median wage: $38,440
A gateway to the island of Maui is Kahului Airport. One of the closest attractions in Kahului is ʻĪao Valley State Monument, though it will be closed from August 1, 2022 to January 15, 2023 for a slope stabilization project. If visiting when the park is open, its botanical garden is ideal for enjoying tropical breezes. A paved trail leads to a Kuka‘emoku, an outcropping more commonly known as the ʻIao Needle.
Another worthy journey is to the summit of the House of the Rising Sun, home of Maui’s dormant volcano, Haleakalā, located in Haleakalā National Park. Take advantage of park-led events that occur every day, including a sunrise orientation from dawn to 7 a.m., geology talk–twice daily for 30 mins, or the hour-long Hosmer Hike. These are ideal ways to learn about the flora, fauna, culture, and mythology of the islands.
#9. Bowling Green, Kentucky
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.09
– Hourly median wage: $16.95
– Annual median wage: $35,260
Lovers of the Chevy Corvette, Bowling Green—the assembly place of this GM vehicle—is the vacation destination for you. Though tours of the GM plant are currently suspended, there are still ways to take in the evolution of the Corvette. For a true insider’s look, a guided tour of the National Corvette Museum is recommended.
The museum has several exhibitions on view, including the Nostalgia Area to see how the Corvette has changed over the years. There’s also a section devoted to auto racing, a restoration area, as well as one for design and engineering. Completely unique is the sinkhole display in Skydome and Hall of Fame. A display that’s on tap until September 25, 2022, allows for Hot Wheels fans to undertake some racing of their own.
Prefer to get the flavor of Bowling Green whilst outdoors? Visit Jackson’s Orchard & Nursery where, depending on the time of the year, it’s possible to pick peaches, apples, sunflowers, pumpkins, and more.
#8. Grants Pass, Oregon
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.14
– Hourly median wage: $11.69
– Annual median wage: $24,320
A proclamation often made in Grants Pass: Go Rogue! This refers to the town’s Rogue River. Those ready to harness some rapids on a guided rafting tour have several to choose from.
Trips range from hours to days and at all skill levels. Families with kids ages five and up can take the full-day, 14-mile Rogue River Hellgate Tour that features rapids of varying intensities. There’s time set aside for lunch and swimming, too.
A different type of tour, but with just as many thrills, can be had at the Glass Forge. Beyond watching the master glassblowers hard at their craft, there’s a “make your own ornament” component under the tutelage of the masters.
#7. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.24
– Hourly median wage: $12.50
– Annual median wage: $25,990
Touring Gettysburg on horseback or by horse-drawn carriage seems fitting for this historic location. One that takes riders to Gettysburg National Military Park is Confederate Trails. The park is the site of a bloody three-day battle during the Civil War and served as inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
An alternative to dipping into Gettysburg’s history is sipping its craft beverages during an Adams County Pour Tour. There are nine itineraries from which to choose. Pair two days of wine and shopping with the Downtown Expedition, where the shops of Lincoln Square will be surveyed and spirits will be imbibed.
#6. St. George, Utah
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.38
– Hourly median wage: $13.71
– Annual median wage: $28,510
As St. George is home to two recent Ironman competitions—the 70.3-mile Ironman World Championship takes place in October 2022—the urge to move beyond one’s limits may occur when visiting. Where to go for this mission: 33 miles away to Zion National Park. An adventure that will benefit from a guide is canyoneering in the park’s slot canyons and rappelling down the red rocks. There are five options offered through the Thunderbird Resort. Two to consider are the four- to five-hour Coral Sands Canyon tour, or the seven-hour Stone Hollow Canyon tour.
Stand-up paddleboarding is a worthy alternative to hiking. Head to Sand Hollow State Park to rent a board and hit the lake.
#5. Rapid City, South Dakota
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.44
– Hourly median wage: $13.56
– Annual median wage: $28,210
A must while in Rapid City is visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The park offers several ranger tours that will add to the excitement of seeing this iconic monument in person. Some to consider: the Sculptor’s Studio Talk to learn what was involved in carving the mountain; touring the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village; and an evening program in the park’s amphitheater that concludes with the nightly lighting of the monument.
Seeing a new icon in the process of being carved can be done with a visit to Crazy Horse Memorial. The special Face-to-Face tour allows visitors to see the Mountain Crew at work carving Crazy Horse’s Left Hand and the Horse’s Mane.
#4. Asheville, North Carolina
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.51
– Hourly median wage: $14.87
– Annual median wage: $30,930
As backdrops go, Asheville’s Blue Ridge Mountains and French Broad River are captivating. Yet, the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate is the attraction that lures most tourists. The property offers several itineraries, including one that’s outdoor-focused. Not to worry, there’s a self-guided tour of the grand Biltmore House on the schedule. Added to that is time spent in the Biltmore’s Gardens, hiking the area’s 20 miles of trails, and visiting Antler Hill Village & Winery. Guided tours are available for these treks, too. One that promises to be unforgettable is the one-hour Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bath).
Downtown Asheville has a charming vibe all its own. This is the place to get in touch with the area’s folk music at the annual Shindig on the Green festival, held each year at Pack Park from June through early September. Another art form can be discovered while walking through Asheville’s South Slope to see murals from local artists. Haven’t gone tubing down the French Broad River and encountered a mud puppy yet? Stay a while. There’s so much more of Asheville to be enjoyed.
#3. Prescott, Arizona
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 1.54
– Hourly median wage: $16.58
– Annual median wage: $34,490
Think of the Old West and images of unpaved Main Streets lined with saloons come to mind. Welcome to Prescott’s Whiskey Row, so named as it once had as many as 40 working saloons. This is gold rush and cowboy country. Shootouts still occur here today, only these don’t involve real bullets or outlaws. Belly up to Arizona’s oldest bar by visiting the 1864 established Palace Saloon.
Modern-day cowboys can still be found in the saddle with a visit to the World’s Oldest Rodeo held each summer at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds. Bareback riding, barrel racing, breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding—saddle up, there’s that and more in store.
#2. Beckley, West Virginia
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 3.09
– Hourly median wage: $9.68
– Annual median wage: $20,140
Hollywood may have given audiences a depiction of coal mine life through its films, but visiting Beckley’s Exhibition Coal Mine and Youth Museum puts one in touch with the real deal. Located at New River Park, the recreated coal camp life is a window into the lives of coal mine workers and their families throughout history. Veteran miners lead tours, including one that traverses underground into the drift mine, bringing the attraction alive with their firsthand stories.
Where to take in some sunshine—New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Set a course for the Sandstone Falls, with hikes that lead to the falls themselves, or an overlook. Easily traversable is the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk which crosses two bridges, leading to observation decks.
#1. Flagstaff, Arizona
– Tour guides per 1,000 jobs: 3.33
– Hourly median wage: $14.78
– Annual median wage: $30,740
The Grand Canyon—as U.S. destinations go, this is one of the most iconic. Flagstaff is an 80-mile drive from Grand Canyon National Park. Don’t make the mistake of merely driving in, looking over the edge, and leaving. There’s much to experience on the South Rim alone.
It’s possible to step back in time to when the Fred Harvey Company—a hospitality chain of restaurants and hotels tied to railway routes—made its entrance into the area. A fun way to do so is by taking the Railway Express tour on the vintage route that runs from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon Historic Village. Here, visit the 1905 inaugurated El Tovar Hotel, where “Harvey Girls” delivered meals to guests’ tables. Meals are still being served, sans Harvey Girls, in the dining room today.
Where to spy the Grand Canyon from a distance—the gondola ride at Arizona Snowbowl. Glimpsed in vistas, as well, are a cinder cone volcanic field, and the red rocks of Sedona. What if a ride will inspire thoughts of winter ahead? Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing—there are endless pursuits that call for return visits.
This story originally appeared on Bounce and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
Bekah Wright’s journalism career has seen her sheepherding, hot-air ballooning, and fly-fishing. Her recent move from Los Angeles to Connecticut now has baby goat snuggling on her radar. Time at her computer versus in the field has seen her writing for publications ranging from National Geographic Kids, Bon Appetit, and TV Guide to the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine.