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Wilderness Vacations - Planning for Beginners

Updated on July 28, 2013
Paradise Falls - North Carolina
Paradise Falls - North Carolina

The serenity, solitude and beauty leads hundreds of thousands of families, groups and individuals into the wilderness each year to experience the best of what the Earth has to offer but going into the wild can be dangerous if you are not prepared. Throughout the United States, there are trails, rivers, and lakes tucked back into the great outdoors but each place has its own dangers that one should be knowledgeable about before even beginning to start the planning process.

Planning a wilderness vacation begins like any other vacation by researching the various places that you would like to go and the type of travel you would like to experience. If this is your first time planning a wilderness trip, you should consult an outfitter to help you determine what type of trip you should take. There are many things that you should ask your outfitter including:

Difficulty – Ask the outfitter what the trails or rivers are rated in difficulty. If you are a beginner, do not think you can tackle the hardest trail around. Begin slow and see how you do on your first trip and plan accordingly thereafter.

Length – Start with a weekend trip and increase from there. Wilderness trips can be more physically demanding than you actually think so start short and increase length as you become more comfortable with aspects of tripping.

Packing – It is important to pack for all types of weather but also remember that you will have to carry what you pack so make sure you not only pack light but pack smart as well. For a typical week long trip, you will want to bring a set of trail clothes and a set or two of site clothes, bring clean underwear for each day or every other day if you will be paddling, pack a set of warm clothes, rain gear and extra socks. For a week, that should be all the clothes you should need on trail and you can adjust as needed for weather conditions.

Permits Required – Check to see if any permits are required and what the permits entail. For instance, how many people can you have per party or how long can you stay at 1 campsite before moving on? It’s important to know the rules before you enter as hefty fines could be related to little infractions.

Fire Restrictions – It’s important to know what the current fire restrictions are before you begin your trip. Many National Forests do not allow campers to bring in their own firewood any more due to parasites and diseases that are carried into the natural habitat. Also be aware of the current burn regulations, there could be no-burn zones where campfires are strictly forbidden. If you are planning on cooking solely over a campfire, know the rules and restrictions and bring a backpacking stove in case of emergencies or rain.

Supply Restrictions – Certain wilderness areas are very specific on what type of supplies can be used. For example, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness does not allow canned goods into to be brought along on the trip so you must plan accordingly to have containers packed if you plan on shopping close to the area.

Animal Warnings – A key thing to remember is that you could be entering the natural habitat of some pretty dangerous animals. Bears, moose, mountain lions, and even deer can be simply around the corner so make sure you know what animals reside in the wilderness area you are entering and if any problem areas have been indentified. Do you research on how to properly cache your food and supplies and be aware of what not to bring into the tent at night with you (e.g. anything that has a strong odor: deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, soap, any type of food products). Animals have a strong sense of smell and even if you don’t think it has an odor, you could very well be putting yourself in danger.

Cell Phone Reception (in case of emergency) – Make sure to ask rangers and outfitters if there will be cell phone reception available in case of emergency. Many wilderness areas will be out of range so make sure you give a copy of your map with marked routes and stops identified in case you do not return when expected. It’s important to let your emergency contacts know that you will be out of range after a certain day and will arrive back in range on a certain date.

While a wilderness vacation can seem like an exciting way to get off the grid, make sure you are prepared, knowledgeable and aware of where you are going and your own capabilities that way you will be able to enjoy your time and serenity of the great landscapes around you.


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