Ever camp underneath a waterfall so remote you’ve got to strap a tent to your back and hike three hours to get to it? Ever canoe through the Bayou, Deliverance-style, to hole up in a stilted treehouse? Ever stay in a jungle villa that requires you to land a puddle jumper on a dirt runway?
If the purpose of a vacation is to get away, we say commit to actually, truly getting away. In service of that: We Don’t Need Roads, our compendium of nine North American destinations so far off the grid they can only be accessed by unconventional modes of transportation.
From floatplane fishing resorts to kayak-in campsite to a series of ruins that require the direction of a private Navajo guide, here are your marching orders.
Waterfall Resort • Alaska
The Only Way In: Floatplane
“That’s why they call it fishing and not catching,” goes the old fisherman’s lament. But it’s not a lament you’ll hear often at Waterfall, a salmon cannery-cum-sportfishing lodge tucked away among the channel islands of southeastern Alaska. Guests are shuttled in and out via seaplane from nearby Ketchikan for three-night/four-day sojourns tailored for one thing and one thing only: catching massive fish by the barrelful. Evenings involve communal repasts in the mess hall followed by billiards, poker and hearty recountings of the day’s best catch in the Lagoon Saloon. And yes, you get to keep the goods: this editor left with 45 pounds of king and coho salmon, rockfish, lingcod and halibut.
CMH Bobbie Burns • Alberta
The only way in: Helicopter
What Waterfall is to sportfishing, CMH is to skiing. Knee-deep powder isn’t a pipe dream here: it’s damn near a guarantee. But if you plan on signing up, you better like helicopters. The cozy, 26-room ski lodge sits in the shadows of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains, and not only will you be ferried in and out via chopper — you’ll also be boarding one every morning to get to the slopes. Once you’re tuckered out (that snow is deep), you’ll return to the lodge to decompress. Recommended routine? Massage, wine cellar, hot tub, wine cellar, dinner, wine cellar. Repeat as needed.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument • Arizona
The only way in: Navajo Guide
Once the stomping ground of the mysterious Anasazi civilization, much of the Canyon de Chelly is inhabited by Navajo peoples to this day. To wit: to explore various parts of the canyon floor (including a number of well-preserved Anasazi cave dwellings and ruins), any outsider must be escorted by a Navajo guide. And while Chelly may lack the National Park status of the Southwest’s better known canyons (Zion, Bryce, Grand et al.), that also means it lacks the throngs of visitors that attend them.
Havasupai Falls • Arizona
The only way in: One long, hot hike
First, you fly to Phoenix. From there, it’s a five-hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park, where you’ll secure the necessary permits and find the trailhead. If you make the journey in summer, it will likely be around 100 degrees — and a very arid and intense 100 degrees — when you break trail. Then you trot 11 miles over red rock and scrub-strewn mesas, through blue-green streams offering ankle-deep respite from the heat, until finally you arrive at the Falls. Was it worth it? After a few days lounging in what amounts to one of the most exclusive — and picturesque — pool clubs on earth, we think you’ll know the answer.
Blancaneaux • Belize
The only way in: Private jet
The phrase “puddle jumper on a dirt runway” doesn’t exactly suggest creature comforts, but that’s the only access point for Blancaneaux, one of three high-end resorts owned and operated by director Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor. While the accommodations are plush — a main lodge circumscribed by a series of private cabanas and villas — the setting is anything but. Before settling in each night for dinner, drinks and spa treatments, you’ll be exploring the wilds of the surrounding Mountain Pine Ridge forest, which includes Mayan ruins, horseback rides, river floats and the Jaguar Project, a refuge and research center for big cats.
Tomales Bay • California
The only way in: Kayak
Some 30 miles north of San Francisco sits Tomales Bay State Park, the western half of which sits on a narrow peninsula that’s only reachable by kayak or canoe. Take your choice of the dozen-plus sites on offer; we like Fruit Tree Beach. Check the tide charts before setting sail, and be sure to pack light (and probably in a dry bag).
Kokopelli’s Cave • New Mexico
The only way in: Spelunking
Know a vampire? Are one? Trying to hide from one? Well have we got a subterranean sanctuary for you! Kokopelli is a single 1,700-square-foot hotel room built some 70 feet below the summit of the Tertiary Ojo Alamo cliffside in New Mexico; it was originally built to function as a geology laboratory. Inside: a waterfall shower, Jacuzzi-style soaking tub, full kitchen and a pair of porches overlooking the verdant La Plata River Valley below. Oh, and word to the wise: pack light. As the website warns, there are no elevators.
Edisto River Treehouses • South Carolina
The only way in: Canoe. And probably a banjo.
If taking a canoe trip deep into woods of the Bayou to seek out solitude and camaraderie sounds like something straight out of the Southern Gothic canon, you’re right: that’s exactly what this is. Except minus the whole “squeal like a pig” sequence (hopefully). The Edisto River complex comprises three spartan but robust stilted treehouses that sleep anywhere from 2-18 guests at a time. The halfway point of a 23-mile canoe trip, the cabins don’t have much in the way of utilities (i.e., no electricity or running water), but there’s swimming, fishing and hiking aplenty. And be sure someone in your group knows how to operate a crossbow. You just never know …
Amangiri • Utah
The only way in: Money. Lots of it.
Singaporean resort company Aman chose a strange locale for their second American resort: Middle of F*cking Nowhere, Utah. We cheated a little for this one: there is a road in, although it’s really more of a dusty one-lane trail that snakes through slick-rock formations, shrubbery and cacti before reaching terminus at the resort, a naturalistic 600-acre residence that appears, mirage-like, as if it grew straight out of the Martian landscape. By day, guests are shuttled off to nearby outdoor playgrounds (Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, the resort’s own private via ferrata); by evening, it’s lavish meals, a dip in the infinity pool and the starriest nights you’ve ever seen.