Proof that the best things in life are never easy? Hiking into Death Valley’s Red Amphitheater area in the Funeral Range. There are no trails, it is brutally hot for much of the year, and backpackers must carry in all of their water. But the silence is absolute. Rangers say that the air can be so still that the predominate sound is your own heartbeat. Drive to the end of Hole in the Wall Road (4WD required) and hike up the obvious drainage. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure-area ripe for exploration. A ring of 7,000-foot peaks encircle the drainage. Situated in Death Valley’s eastern sector, this area escapes the bulk of the military overflights which boom through the rest of the park. However, if you’re lucky, you may hear grasshoppers, crickets, bees, or tarantula hawks flying through the air. Bigger birds include Merlin, peregrine, and prairie falcons. >> Map Death Valley National Park ($12, natgeomaps.com) >> Info (760) 786-3200; nps.gov/deva
Great Sand Dunes National Park
and Preserve Camp in the country’s biggest sandbox.
Sand dampens sound waves—some recording studios even use it. So it’s safe to say that any peep in this 30-square-mile dune field doesn’t stand a chance. There are no trails either—hike more than 1.5 miles into it, and you can camp anywhere. Target Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America at nearly 1,000 feet high, and listen as the sand vibrates beneath your boots, alternately sighing, whistling, grunting, groaning, and barking. Then head north out of the dunes to link the Sand Ramp and Sand Creek Trails. Go north up the Sand Creek drainage to alpine terrain housing the turquoise waters of Sand Creek Lakes (13 miles). Listen for the bugles of the resident elk herd. >> Map Sangre de Cristo Mountains ($12, natgeomaps.com) >> Info (719) 378-6399; nps.gov/grsa
Susquehannock State Forest
Find deep silence in the state’s largest roadless area.
North-central Pennsylvania is a world away from Pittsburgh and Philly: It’s home to the state’s largest roadless area and darkest skies. It’s perfect then, that the Susquehannock Trail System, an 85-mile loop, is right in the middle of its deepest reaches. Start from East Fork Road, near the hamlet of Cross Fork and hike five miles to The Pool, a deep 30-foot diameter pond (a local astronomy group’s favorite tent site). Camp, or continue three miles gaining 1,100 feet to a plateau covered in mountain laurel. Then drop 800 feet to the waters of Cross Forks. Keep your ears alert for the slap of beaver tails in dammed areas. Shuttle, retrace your steps, or finish the whole circuit to join the 1,000-plus strong Circuit Hiker Club. >> Map Guide to the Susquehannock Trail System ($8, see Info) >> Info (814) 435-2966; stc-hike.org
This rugged island is one of our least-frequented national parks. Add to that its location 75 miles from the mainland—in Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes—and it’s no wonder that this 571,790-acre park is also one of the five quietest, according to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. Leave the chug of the ferry to access the 40-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs the length of the island’s craggy backbone. Spend your trail days listening to the soft rustling of white spruce, balsam fir, and, on the island’s western end, maple, aspen, and birch. Pass your evenings on the shore of small inland lakes, with water lapping around your toes. Lucky listening: The splash of a moose’s hooves as it snacks on vegetation in the shallows or as it thunders away from hungry wolves. >> Map Isle Royale National Park ($12, natgeomaps.com) >> Info (906) 482-0984; nps.gov/isro