Camping can mean different things to different people, but purists agree that the less involved, the better. A portable tent, a pack of supplies, and a pair of good hiking boots will get you farther than a car and a trailer full of stuff, and you’ll have the freedom to enjoy the solitude, absorb the fresh air, and explore the untouched surroundings. But backcountry camping is demanding, and you want to make sure all your hard work will be rewarded. For a truly awe-inspiring experience, follow a trail to one of these natural wonderlands to enjoy backcountry camping at its finest.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
It’s hard to beat miles of flowering fields, untouched forest, and a backdrop of the towering Rockies, which puts Banff at the top of Canada’s backwoods camping regions. There are plenty of mellow sites close to the roads for casual campers, but to experience the majestic heart of Alberta, head off the main trail and make your way out to the Skoki Region. Here, three rustic campgrounds are linked by trails and surrounded by cool, clear lakes and some of Canada’s most legendary wildlife. If you’d like the backcountry experience with a bit more comfort at night, you can stay in Skoki Lodge – campers agree that it’s one of the finest backcountry accommodations in North America.
The Voyageur Trail, Northern Ontario, Canada
Trace the steps of Canada’s first fur traders – known as the “voyageurs” – between Sudbury and Thunder Bay in Ontario’s boreal forest. The trail winds through some pretty thick forest, touching the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Huron at some points, and there is plenty of opportunity to veer off the path and pitch a tent. What makes this a particularly great backcountry campground is the impressive mix of history and wilderness: you can travel through some of Canada’s oldest settlements, trek through rugged, challenging interior, and marvel at the inspiring lake landscape. In fact, members of the Group of Seven captured these rocky shores of Lake Superior in their iconic paintings.
Sequoia National Park, California, USA
Hiking through Sequoia Park in the southern Sierra Nevada can be tough, but the lakes in the rock basins are worth the effort. The scenery is beautifully stark, mostly made of white and black granite cliffs around still lakes; in the mornings and evenings, the colors change and blend and reflect to show off a whole different portrait of the landscape. Of course, the huge sequoia groves are a big highlight: with trunks wider than you’ve ever seen and canopies that reach far into the distance, walking through the massive trees is a humbling and unforgettable experience. When the time comes to rest your bones, the clear, comfortable evenings make it easy to sleep right under the stars.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA
The Grand Canyon is an astounding spectacle when you look down, but trekking down into the cavernous red rock is a whole different experience. The colors are more varied than you might imagine, with slices of red, orange, brown and black stacked in every cliff face, and the huge vertical gain (or drop, as the case may be) means it can be icy at the top and hot at the base in the spring and fall months. There are a few fantastic places to set up camp, including Tonto Trail, which is off the South Rim that sees fewer crowds than the three well-patrolled trails. The land is peppered with scrub and cactus, but the undulating rock all around you is something you won’t see anywhere else on earth.
The Hebrides, Scotland
If you’ve always wanted to know what it would feel like to sit at the end of the world, consider camping the windswept moors of the Outer Hebrides in the upper reaches of Scotland. The entire nation is fairly welcoming to campers, but you have to go a bit beyond the mainland to get a wild, solitary experience. The west coast of Harris between Horgaborst and Scarista is a good choice for an overnight trip, where you’ll have a wonderful view of the rugged, uninhabited island of Taransay. The Outer Hebrides has quite a few cultural and historical gems, and moving around the islands with a tent and pack is the most efficient and rewarding way to experience this unique pocket of Scotland.
Langøyene Island, Norway
Backcountry camping in Norway is not only allowed, it’s practically encouraged. But even with the waves of adventurers that head into Norway’s incredible interior during the summer season, the land is deep and wide enough to find your own little corner of isolated beauty. You don’t even have to venture very far to find it: catch a commuter ferry from Oslo and travel across the fjord to Langøyene Island, where you can pitch a tent on gentle grassy shores, but enjoy the expanse of rugged coastline. If you’re after something a bit more drastic, head to Lofthus, Evje, Kinsarvik or Laerdal – there are so many idyllic, glacier-fed plains and fjords to choose from in Norway.
Lahemaa National Park, Estonia
Estonia is a treasure for nature-lovers, with some of the most pristine and protected parks in the Baltic region. Ask anyone who has trekked through Estonia, and they will gush about the cliffs, waterfalls, forests and trails of Toila, Valaste, and Lahemaa; many homesteads that dot the backroads in and around the lush and picturesque north-east will let you camp on their wild land, and even serve you a truly authentic country meal. This is a heavily forested land of fairy-tale proportions, which makes it particularly appealing to those who enjoy the woods.
The Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia
Australia is famous for its adventure travel, and Grampians contains some of the very best terrain to explore in this region of Australia. There are over 30 great trails that crisscross through the sprawling national park, which makes it a great base for a hiking adventure (and there’s a walk to suit every ability). However, a multi-day excursion – with a night or two of camping in the back country – will offer a spectacular glimpse of towering waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art, and cavernous quarries that you won’t soon forget. There are plenty of rustic spots, but you could also opt for a more accessible site that’s still very picturesque.
Backcountry camping is certainly rewarding, but remember that the less you take along, the more you have to plan. If you’ve never gone on a serious multi-day trek, work up to the big day with smaller hikes and practice carrying a full pack (the weight can be more difficult to manage than you had imagined). If you’re a seasoned professional, it’s still worth a look at the best and brightest new gadgets to make your camping experience safer and a bit more comfortable.