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Spending time immersed in nature and its spectacular beauty is good for the body and soul. There’s really nothing quite like wilderness to soothe the spirit and recharge the batteries. Of course, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not the best idea to take off on a big trip and with the many bans across the globe, it may be impossible anyway. Fortunately, there are some remote wilderness destinations in the U.S. with vast open spaces that are perfect for enjoying while social distancing at the same time.
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Some of the most isolated places in the entire country are also some of the most beautiful, like Havasupai. It may be most famous for Havasu Falls, nestled in Havasupai Canyon, a very remote area on the Havasupai Native Reservation. To get to this hidden swimming hole, you’ll have to take a 10-mile trek or join a horseback excursion. When you arrive, you’ll step into one of the most magnificent places on the planet, with crystal clear turquoise water plunging down fiery red cliffs into travertine swimming holes at the bottom. In addition to Havasu Falls, there are four other major waterfalls nearby, Upper and Lower Najavo Falls, Beaver Falls and Mooney Falls.
Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming
Even during the summer months, you’re unlikely to see many other humans in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. A 58-mile drive on the Bighorn Scenic Byway will bring you over its crest. One of the best places to visit in Wyoming, it stretches from the Powder River Basin to the Bighorn Basin, following Highway 14 from outside the town of Greybull, meandering by lush meadows, deep canyons, dense forest and waterfalls, with plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery and multiple points of interest. You’ll find miles and miles of trails for hiking and opportunities to camp. If you prefer to sleep inside, the town of Buffalo is its eastern gateway and offers many attractions of its own.
Aleutian Islands, Alaska
The entire state of Alaska is sparsely populated but the popular tourist destinations like Denali and other national parks as well as major cities like Anchorage and Juneau do get quite a bit of tourist traffic. The same can’t be said for its remote regions, including the Aleutian Islands. Here, wildlife thrives amid the harsh climate, stormy seas and active volcanoes. While there are a few settlements on some of the larger islands, you’ll see more animals than people. For wildlife watchers, it’s an ideal chance to view rarely-seen creatures among the dramatic natural backdrops, including a wealth of birds and marine mammals like grey, minke, humpback, orca and sperm whales as well as seals, sea lions and walrus.
Hundred-Mile Wilderness, Maine
The 100 Mile Wilderness is the last major hurdle for those who hike the Appalachian Trail as the most difficult section with no access to civilization for the entire 100-mile stretch. It’s the most remote span and one of the most out-of-the-way places in the entire region. You can still enjoy truly getting away from it all, among dense forests, secluded lakes and unique rock formations, without hiking the entire 2,180 miles. The route through the 100 Mile Wilderness is best accomplished over about a week.
Hoh Rainforest, Washington
The Hoh Rainforest offers lots of tranquility and solitude although it’s just a few hours from bustling Seattle. The dense, moss-covered rainforest gets as much as 14 feet of rain per year, which definitely limits the crowds while keeping this corner of the Olympic Peninsula with its myriad of hiking trails, abundant wildlife and endless shades of green, one of the most untouched in the country. One almost might expect to see fairies living inside one of the hollowed-out logs it’s such a fantasy-like destination.
Boundary Waters Wilderness, Minnesota
Boundary Waters is made of 1,100 lakes and hundreds of miles of waterways in northern Minnesota. It offers some of the country’s best canoeing with 1,200 miles of canoeing trails that lead to centuries-old cliff paintings while listening to the echo of the loon. You can wander in almost any direction, paddling from one lake to the next and stepping off onto countless miles of untouched shoreline. Boulder and Adams lakes are some of the most remote lakes here where you’re guaranteed to see almost no one.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Way up north in Lake Superior, you’ll find the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Made up of 22 wild, rugged islands nestled off the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin, they’re highlighted by picturesque rock formations and six historic lighthouses while offering some of the country’s best blue-water paddling. Visitors can rent a kayak and cruise along the beautiful shoreline and stop on various islands like Raspberry Island to enjoy a picnic with few others around.
Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Montana is renowned for its vast open spaces of wilderness, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in the northwestern part of the state may top them all. It follows the Continental Divide for 60 miles, spread across 1.5 million acres of rocky ridges, alpine meadows and dense forest, as the third-largest wilderness area in the Lower 48. It’s populated by all sorts of wildlife like moose, elk, wolves, grizzlies, mountain lion, mountain goat, deer and more. Not only is the scenery to-die-for, but the area also contains what some believe to be the most dramatic natural feature of the Rockies: the Chinese Wall, a limestone escarpment deep in the wilderness and a part of the Continental Divide.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
In addition to the Aleutians, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in the southern region of the state is incredibly remote. There are no roads leading to this mysterious and stunning wildlife playground, access only by boat or small aircraft. It’s worth the journey and you’ll definitely want to bring a camera. When hiking the many trails there are views of active volcanoes, rugged coastline, and glistening glaciers. You’ll find plenty of places to explore by paddling and salmon-filled waters that bring out the brown bears for a feast too.
Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho
The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48, made up of 2.5-million acres across multiple national forests while encompassing many different mountainous ecosystems and backcountry adventure opportunities. The main Salmon River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River attract many whitewater enthusiasts throughout the season, but you’ll also have 2,000 miles of trails to cover along with over 1.5 million acres regions without marked trails for experienced orienteers. Very few people if any will be sharing this space with you.
Jarbidge Wilderness, Nevada
The Jarbidge Wilderness is located in Nevada’s northeast corner, so isolated and remote it requires at least three hours of driving over gravel roads to get there from the town of Elko. This is definitely a place to avoid the crowds, with 113,000 acres of wilderness that includes alpine lakes, mountain peaks, hidden waterfalls and abundant wildlife. Fishing in the Jarbidge or Little Salmon rivers brings the chance to land a bull trout. While hiking the more than 100 miles trails, you’ll not only see glorious wildflowers in the summer but deer, elk, mountain lions and eagles.
The Lost Coast, California
The Lost Coast is nearly 25 miles of pure magic, set along the state’s most undeveloped stretch of shoreline. While you might picture California beaches jam-packed with sun worshippers, this is anything but that. It’s a true paradise as one of the few areas of the state where solitude can be enjoyed with awe-inspiring beauty. Hike the trails that provide overlooks of the Pacific and the coastal cliffs, surf, or just watch the surfers ride the legendary waves with consistent year-round swells washing onto the shoreline.
Okefenokee Swamp - Jacksonville, Florida
This blackwater bog that straddles the Georgia-Florida line is a 38-mile, 25-mile swamp with prairie grass, lakes, islands, bald cypress and scrub just a short drive only a short drive from Jacksonville, yet far from civilization. On the Georgia side, there are nearly 354,000 acres officially designated as federal wilderness, best accessed by kayak or canoe. As you paddle through, watch for gators, bears, and water moccasins.
Gila National Forest and the Gila Cliff Dwellings
Gila National Forest has more official wilderness than any other protected forest in the Southwest. The 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness was the world’s first designated wilderness area in the world and adjoins both the Blue Range Wilderness and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, with terrain varying from grassy foothills to juniper woodland, ponderosa pine and spruce-fir forests on high peaks. There are so few humans that it supports a small population of Mexican gray wolves. It’s also home to the Gila Cliff dwellings that were built way back in the 13th-century.
Susquehannock State Forest, Pennsylvania
The Susquehannock State Forest on the Allegheny Plateau in central Pennsylvania is among the most remote places east of the Mississippi River. It’s so remote that without any light pollution the Milky Way actually casts a shadow, the reason that Cherry Springs State Park was designated as the second International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. The forest also contains the state’s most remote destination, the Hammersley Wild Area.