The farthest I’ve ever felt from civilization was when I spent two nights in an old fire lookout in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California. Built in the 1930s and situated at almost 6,000 feet, the tower had tremendous views of the dense pine forest blanketing Tahoe National Forest. What I remember most was the retreat of city lights, the lack of cellphone reception and the kind of stillness that makes the hours seem to hold more time: for reading, for hikes, for star-spotting, for meandering conversations around the campfire.
There are plenty of opportunities to encounter such stillness in the far-flung American wilds. The key, said Dan Austin, founder of Austin-Lehman Adventures, is to look for destinations with limited access.
“The tougher the access, the fewer visitors, the more wildlife and the better the fishing,” he told me.
Thanks in large part to the conservation ethos that is particularly American, one can still find the wild corners of a state or national park, a secluded section of U.S. Forest Service land, or a remote river canyon — “one that is everything but tame.” Here is a handful of guided trips to help you find yours.
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HAVASU FALLS, GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
Outfitter: Austin-Lehman Adventures, austinlehman.com.
A five-day journey takes hikers far from the Grand Canyon’s main rim, traveling through labyrinthine red-sandstone canyons and stands of cottonwood and lush fern gardens. The destination: 100-foot Havasu Falls and the Havasupai village of Supai, one of the country’s most remote towns, where food, mail and supplies still arrive by America’s last “pony express.” Two miles farther is your base camp, from which you can go fossil-hunting, explore underwater grottoes and trek across pristine streams, meadows of wild grapevine and up spectacular 1,000-foot canyons. The backcountry’s bubbling blue-green mineral waters are natural Jacuzzis — perfect for a tranquil end-of-day soak.
Skill level: Moderate to challenging.
Cost: $1,548, including lodging, base camp accommodations, gear, meals, packhorses.
Outfitter: Trilogy Excursions, sailtrilogy.com.
Quiet Lanai, a 141-square-mile island, has no traffic lights and a population of just over 3,000. Its lovely southern coastline, lined with empty, flour-sand beaches, was the onetime playground for King Kamehameha I and other Hawaiian royalty. On the Lanai Seafari you will spend a day retracing the royals’ wanderings with Trilogy’s rigged sailing catamaran and snorkel alongside moray eels, spiny lobsters and one of the region’s largest pods of spinner dolphins, accompanied by a naturalist guide. You’ll also explore the pristine waters around Kaunolu, a favorite fishing retreat for Kamehameha I and a sacred spot for Hawaiians, and Kaumalapau Harbor, and see striking views of spiny sea cliffs, tumbling down to secluded beaches.
Skill level: Easy (provided you know how to swim).
Cost: $199, including snorkel equipment, eco-tour, breakfast and lunch.
GLACIER BAY, ALASKA
Outfitter: REI Adventures, rei.com/adventures.
An eight-day Glacier Bay and Inside Passage itinerary takes travelers into the distant corners and coves of Glacier Bay National Park on a small 76-passenger ship. Excursions by kayak, skiff and on foot give guests the chance to watch the ebb and flow of the World Heritage site’s tidewater glaciers. The sheer range of ways to experience the stunning environment sets this trip apart; active travelers can paddleboard a fjord, hike far-off trails or do a polar bear swim in chilly waters, while onboard viewing decks and glacier walks cater to those who want to take in the sights at a more leisurely pace. Trip highlights: Icy Strait, one of the state’s best whale-viewing spots, and Chichagof Island, home to the one of the densest brown bear populations in the world.
Skill level: Easy to moderate (abundant activity options are a plus).
Cost: From $2,795, including airport transfers, meals, gear, guides. Departures are scheduled between May 18 and Aug. 31.
WHITE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Outfitter: Appalachian Mountain Club, outdoors.org/lodging/whitemountains/custom-adventures.cfm.
You don’t have to be a hard-core hiker on the Appalachian Trail to appreciate the region’s magnificent wilderness. The Appalachian Mountain Club leads customized hiking adventures with experienced guides; book a weekend lodge-to-hut trip that starts at one of the club’s two New Hampshire lodges, traversing hardwood forests, beaver ponds and mountain ridgelines and overnighting at backcountry huts. One recommended stop is Zealand Falls Hut, a four-season spot near cascading waterfalls and the eastern edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, one of the most isolated wild areas in the state. Guides are trained in wilderness medicine and natural history, so you can work on perfecting outdoor skills and learn about the moose, stars or alpine flowers you spot along the way. In the summer, hearty breakfasts and dinners are served at lodges and huts.
Skill level: Moderate to challenging (trips are customized).
Cost: $350 per guide per night for four to six people, including use of equipment and outdoor clothing (not lodging and meals).