If your idea of a vacation is to get away from it all -- as in all of human civilization -- you don't need to go as far as Patagonia or the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There are still some surprisingly remote places in the lower 48 United States, particularly in the West. Here are nine of them, each with plenty of ways to explore ...
Because so much of the land in southern Utah is literally standing on end, it's hard to traverse, dramatically otherworldly and extremely remote. Most of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can be traveled by foot, horseback, mountain bike and there are even a few unimproved dirt roads. The strange name of the place is a reflection of the staircase-like way the land rises from the south to the north, which fills it with geological marvels, including dinosaur fossils, natural bridges and more than 200 million years of Earth's history recorded in the cliffs. Maps, outfitters and other information can be found via the official webpage.
California may be the most populous state, but it's also home to one of the nation's largest and most out-of-the-way National Parks. Death Valley sounds forbidding, but the extreme range of elevations within the park means you can choose your climate any month of the year. Within its almost 3.4 million acres are mountains, sand dunes and sinuous desert canyons for hiking and backpacking and wildlife viewing everywhere. One of the more remote spots in the park is Racetrack Playa, a dry mountain lake named for its moving rocks. It's a long drive in and out, but well worth seeing this geological mystery. More here.
Some have called them the Alps of Nevada. The lush Ruby Mountains of northeastern Nevada are a big surprise in the arid Great Basin. Hikers, mountain bikers, mountain sheep hunters and even helicopter skiers are devoted to this 60-mile long range and prefer them as they are: remote and off the radar. You can take your pick from about 300 miles of trails, several glacier carved peaks rising from 10,000 to more than 11,000 feet and dozens of alpine lakes. The nearest town is Elko, on Interstate 80, a 37-mile drive from the Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail. More here: Ruby Mountains, Backpacking Ruby Mountains, Travel Nevada.
Most people only see the “Crown of the Continent” from their cars, driving over the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road. Then there is Goat Haunt, one of the park's more remote and tranquil spots, near the international border and at the southern end of gorgeous Upper Waterton Lake. Visitors usually get there by boat from Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, but it can also be reached on foot from the U.S. side, via a number of backcountry trails. If you make the hike and want to venture into Canada (to get supplies, for instance) you'll need your ID. More here.
Tucked away in the southwestern corner of New Mexico is “The Gila,” as it's called locally (pronounced “HEE-la”). The name covers not only a small Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, but the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas and the surrounding mountains and Gila River-cut canyons of the Gila National Forest. In it are hundreds of miles of backpacking trails, some of which allow mountain biking. Hunting and fishing are allowed, in season. And if you get that anti-civilization urge in the middle of winter, the Gila days are typically sunny, warm and dry.
Beside a long-ago bypassed section of Route 66 there is a strange dark landscape dominated by a black cinder cone. Amboy crater is an otherworldly place with a diverse and surprisingly easy-to-observe array of lizards. In recent years, bathrooms, designated trails and shaded picnic areas have been added. Summer temperatures can get extreme and there is no water here, so you need to bring plenty, along with sunscreen, hats and a camera! More here.
This is a popular backpacking and pack animal destination in a National Park that attracts millions, but it's still among the most remote places in the lower 48. The Thorofare is in the southeast corner of the park, well away from the crowds. But it's not lacking in scenery, with breathtaking mountain meadows and mountain passes, and the headwaters of both the Yellowstone River and the Snake Rivers. Trips into the Thorofare typically take about a week. Just enough time to ease your urban ills. Get more info at the National Park Service website.
In the 2010 Census, only 843 people were recorded in all of Hinsdale County. That not enough people to fill a typical New York City subway train. This, plus the fact that the county is 95 percent federal land, means there's lots of elbow room. The county seat is tiny Lake City, which boasts more than 200 historic structures. In the mountains surrounding the town there is something for every season: ice climbing, backpacking, camping, skiing, mountain biking. You can even take your pick of 14,000+ foot peaks to climb. More here.
This mile-high site in West Texas looks a lot more like the neighboring state of New Mexico. It's so far from the metropolitan Texas, however, that amateur astronomers have designated it one of their official dark skies sites. This state park has a recently renovated inn, campsites, a cooler clime than most of Texas in the summer, loads of wildlife and it's near the Fort Davis National Historic Site. More here.