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My Life Outdoors

Discovering Solitude: 7 Practical Tips for Finding Tranquility in the Backcountry

In my decade of backpacking experience, the outdoors have only become increasingly more crowded. This is a good thing in a lot of ways: more people are appreciating all that the backcountry has to offer. But for many of us, who first ventured into the outdoors to find a measure of solitude and silence, full parking at trailheads and crowded mountain summits aren’t exactly our vision of a fun retreat into the wilderness. 

So today, I’m sharing seven of my best tips for avoiding crowds in the increasingly crowded outdoors. If you want to see these tips in action, be sure to watch the video below.

1. Hike Harder

There’s a reason most hikers turn back after a certain point. If you truly want to find solitude in the wilderness, you have to be willing to go further into the backcountry than others are willing to go. Usually, if you go beyond five or eight miles, you’ll notice that the crowds start to thin out as people turn around to head home. This often means that your excursions into the wilderness are going to become backpacking trips instead of day hikes. If backpacking isn’t quite your forte though, you can always wake up earlier, and train so that you can hike longer miles in a shorter amount of time.

2. Be Willing to get Wet

The more water crossings you’ll need to make, the less likely other hikers are willing to go to those places. Additionally, hiking in inclement (but not dangerous) weather is a great way to avoid fairweather hikers. If you’re willing to brave a few rainstorms, you’ll often find that backcountry camping areas are free of other hikers and totally private.

3. Seek Lower Ground

Hikers love bragging rights! The summits of 14ers are filled with peak-baggers looking to cross another summit off their list. If you choose a less lofty, but just as beautiful 13,000-foot summit, chances are you’ll enjoy a little more solitude up there.

4. Go Hiking on the Weekdays

Most people are weekend warriors, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if your goal is to find solitude, you’ll want to avoid traveling and backpacking on the weekends and holidays. Most people also go hiking in the summers, so if you want to avoid holiday crowds, go in the late fall or early spring where weather may be more unpredictable (and might involve some snow, so you’ll need to be adequately prepared) but you can count on a slice of solitude.

5. Think Outside the Box

Think about what most people are looking for in the area you want to hike. If you’re in the mountains, look for canyons or valley hikes. If you’re in an area that’s well-known for its waterfalls, then try to avoid them. A good way to do this is cross-referencing your hiking plans with Google or other hiking apps, like Alltrails. Search for the area’s most popular hikes, and if one of them was on your list, avoid it.

6. Go Off-Trail With a Bushwhacking Expedition

Take this piece of advice with a grain of salt, and a lot of practice in orienteering skills.

Going off-trail is a no-brainer for avoiding other hikers, but you’ll need to ensure that you know how to use a compass, read a topographic map, and pinpoint exactly where you are in relation to landmarks around you.

And always make sure you have some sort of navigation and SOS communication tool with you, like NaturalAtlas.

Click here to watch my video on this handy navigation app, how I use it, and claim a 25% off coupon with my exclusive discount code.

7. Do Your Research

Parks and ranger districts know where people like to hike, and where they don’t. Give your ranger station a ring and ask them what their secret favorite trails are, and let them know that you want to go see and appreciate some of the least-loved trails in your area. They’ll usually be happy to point you in the direction of some under-utilized trails in order to help reduce erosion and litter problems on the more popular trails in the area.

Getting to know locals, by stopping in at a brewery or outfitter if you’re visiting from out of town, is also a great way to access hidden knowledge about little-known treks.

What are some of your favorite tips for finding solitude in the outdoors?