Story and photos by Eric Hanson
It’s not easy to find hidden gems anymore. Social media is slowly exposing the last of the world’s unheralded wilderness locations. So, maybe you have seen photos from these places, but let me assure you, they are still well off the beaten path and offer plenty of solitude and awe. If you are looking for adventure without the hype, check these spots out.
Villa O’Higgins, Chilean Patagonia
Villa O’Higgins is a tiny town tucked at the very bottom of the Carreterra Austral in Chile. It’s literally the end of the road, close to the bottom of South America. This town lies a stone’s throw from it’s hot-shot brethren El Chalten, Argentina, and Torres del Paine, Chile. Maybe because it is so close to such grand landscapes this place receives significantly less attention. But it is well worth a few weeks to really get the most out of this magical place. Villa O’Higgins is surrounded by massive ice fields, glaciers, and stunning peaks. Adventure seekers can do glacier-travel, ice climbing, mountain climbing, and backpacking in the surrounding area.
The trekking circuit around Ausungate in Peru would likely be world famous if it weren’t for it’s uber-famous neighbor, Machu Picchu, soaking up all the attention. Travelers to Cusco, Peru have more than enough options to choose from to keep adventurers busy. So when most people make the trip of a lifetime, they spend the majority of their time on the famous treks to Machu Picchu. This is great news because the crowds at Ausungate are pretty much non-existent. The four day Ausungate trek will take hikers over several 17,000 foot passes, through colorful valleys full of alpaca, alongside incredible glaciers, and around pristine lakes. You can do this trek with a guide company, solo, or hire an “arriero” (a local horse or donkey master) for some assistance carrying gear but without the pampering of a guide. Finish the trek with a soak hot springs at the end of the trail.
Parunuweap, Zion National Park
Notice a theme here? Fantastic landscapes with all the crowds funneled elsewhere. In the Southeast portion of Zion National Park lies vast swaths of colorful slick rock and a Narrows-like canyon, Parunuweap. While just a few miles away, Zion Canyon will be flooded with tourists, just a handful of people will be enjoying the magic of Parunuweap. There are no official hiking trails in the area. Exploring the area requires route finding and navigation skills. For canyoneering enthusiasts, several technical canyons feed into Parunuweap and make for extra fun exploration. It is important to know that the canyon is closed to visitation downriver of Labyrinth Falls for an ecology study, but there is plenty of adventure to be had in the rest of the canyon. Those who want to hike here can access this landscape by hiking south from Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park, or by driving on a long stretch of sandy 4×4 roads from Colorado City.
South of European hotspots in like Dubrovnik and Plitvice lies a much quieter, and much more adventurous destination, Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is a small, picturesque town tucked in the back of in Europe’s southernmost fjord. While there is plenty to enjoy close to the Adriatic Sea, hiking up in the mountains is where the adventure is prime. Many of the best trails take you up into the surrounding mountains for sweeping views of the fjord. Expansive granite mountains surround Kotor and offer lots of hiking, mountain climbing, and even sport climbing.
The Beartooth Mountains, Montana
Pretty much everything is beautiful and remote in Montana. So I guess the Beartooth Wilderness is just more of the same: beautiful mountains, alpine lakes, wildlife, and miles of lonely trail. With the crowds getting diverted to Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the Sawtooths, the Beartooth Mountains assure solitude. As at least one local says, “It’s a backpacking paradise.”