Bacon-wrapped filet mignon sizzles in the frying pan and a bottle of zinfandel (about half empty) nestles in the sand next to a fresh green salad. Noses fill with the aroma of browning meat, and the chuckling lap of water massages away all cares.
The French Riviera? Nope. This isn’t even southern California on a good day. I’m in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest potholed dirt road, leaning against my trusty pack. A beat-up canoe is pulled partially onto the bank of the placid Green River and tethered to a tamarisk deep in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. It’s the evening of day 4, and so far we’ve paddled about 45 miles through some of the grandest, most majestic sandstone in the world. Tomorrow we head out under backpacks, up a seldom-seen canyon to Overlook Trail. Along the way, we’ll enjoy views down to the Green and Colorado Rivers and across the Land of Standing Rocks to the Chocolate Drops and Lizard Rock, plus 100 other minarets and massive mounds of stone. We’ll hike into The Maze, arguably the ultimate backpacking destination and challenge for champions of slickrock and utterly barren earth, before returning several days later to the river to continue paddling.
Of course, you don’t have to take the river to get to this isolated spot. The Maze can be reached by 60 miles of the hottest, nastiest four-wheel driving this side of hell. Upon arrival at the remote trailhead, as the dust settles on the vehicle and you, you’ll be about as relaxed as a rattlesnake with a backache. Then you get to commune with nature via a long, dry hike.
That’s why I like to take the simpler, more relaxing way to the trailhead: by boat. Each time my paddle dips into the coffee-with-cream-colored Green, I am soothed. When I eventually dock my watercraft and don a pack, I’m rested and eager to explore areas where few feet have trod.
So gear up and shove off with pack and paddle. There are numerous pathways to follow that start on the banks of some of North America’s finest wilderness waterways, trails that lead you to scenic splendor and utter solitude. Here are just a few.