It’s no secret that most people who love the outdoors are also wildly protective of it. I believe as stewards of the wilderness, it’s our job to keep it beautiful and wild for generations to come. But with the internet and social media, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep special places from becoming overrun with people, which leads to early destruction of our natural wonders. We’re literally loving these places to death. And while Instagram didn’t invent the hunt for gorgeous outdoor beauty, it did make places easier to find.
The number one question I receive on my Instagram posts or photos on my blog is a curt “where is this?’ Firstly, I think you should be willing to start a real conversation with someone before you jump right into asking for something. And secondly, I think half the fun is finding the quiet, removed places that speak to your soul, not mine. But while I won’t always share locations, I will share the tips I’ve learned along the way to steer yourself away from the crowds and find your own solitude away from those over-Instagrammed places.
Use Google Earth
Google Earth is a gold mine for finding hidden glacial lakes, hard-to-reach dirt roads, and the perfect camp spots. I use it to track down an area I’m interested in, then I dig deeper into the area asking a few important questions. Are there drivable roads? Is the land public, or is it privately owned? What are the regulations for that national forest area?
Check Out Topographical Maps
I’m a huge fan of topographic maps. Get one for your favorite areas and study it before, during, and after each trip to discuss the routes the chose, potential other routes, and what to do differently in the future. Plus, if your phone or GPS loses battery, nothing beats a map and compass.
Call the Forest Service
I always like to call forest service offices when I’m headed somewhere to find out what conditions are like and where I can find the least busy trails and camping spots. As folks who stake their living on roaming and protecting the trails and areas we love, they know all the nitty gritty when it comes to finding solitude in the outdoors.
Head Down Dirt Roads
One of my favorite pastimes is driving down dirt roads and seeing where we end up. I’m a natural planner, but sometimes it just feels nice to head down an open road and see where it leads. I’ve found this to be most fruitful in the desert, as you can check your surroundings against the flat, open horizon a bit more easily. In Colorado, however, we’ve found some amazing camping spots, far away from other humans, at the end of a long dirt road.
I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself, “you know what, hiking with 50 lbs. of gear on my back into the woods sounds nice.” Frankly, the only reason I picked up backpacking was to avoid the crowds collecting in campgrounds, easily accessed BLM land, and the like. I became protective of my solitude, so I began walking further and further to hold onto it.
As a rule of thumb, I try and get to any trailhead between 7 and 8 am. Many busier trailheads—especially in places like Rocky Mountain National Park—fill up by 8 am. It pays to get there early and experience the eerily beautiful silence on the trail in the morning when you can have even the busiest of trails to yourself.
Now this isn’t a tip to finding outdoor solitude, but it is something nice to do for the lands you love. Avoid geotagging sensitive areas that can’t handle an influx of people. Take the time to follow Leave No Trace principles. Pick up debris and trash others have left behind. Volunteer at local organizations to partake in trash pick-up, stream clean-up, and the removal of vandalism on our public lands.
Solitude in the outdoors is still possible, all you have to do is work for it.