Before explor­ers had maps, com­pass­es, and hand­held GPS devices, humankind was nav­i­gat­ing the world using direc­tion­al clues in the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. There is infor­ma­tion hid­den all around us—in the sun, moon, stars, clouds, weath­er pat­terns, chang­ing tides, plant growth and more. Here are a few quick nat­ur­al nav­i­gat­ing wilder­ness tips:

Use Clues To Find The Sun
The sun ris­es in the east and sets in the west. In the mid­dle of the day, the sun will show you which way is south. Even if you can’t see the sun on a cloudy sky, you can ass­es which direc­tion is south by feel­ing a damp rock. If one side feels dry­er or warmer than the oth­er, chances are it’s the south­ern aspect. Be warned: the myth about moss grow­ing on the north sides of trees is just that—a myth.

Learn To Find Polaris
Polaris is less than one degree from the celes­tial pole—making it one of the eas­i­est ways to iden­ti­fy car­di­nal direc­tions at night. Also called the North Star, it has been doc­u­ment­ed over the ages in cul­tures through­out the North­ern Hemi­sphere. “It was Gra­had­hara in North­ern India and Yil­duz in Turkey. It has been known as al-Qiblah to the Arabs, in tes­ta­ment to its aid in find­ing the direc­tion of Mec­ca. The Chi­nese had at least four names for it,” writes nav­i­ga­tion expert Tris­tan Gooley.

To find Polaris, use the Big Dip­per as ref­er­ence. You’ll see the three stars of the dipper’s “han­dle,” and four stars that make up the “dip­per.” Mea­sure the dis­tance between the two far­thest-right stars in the dip­per, then fol­low an imag­i­nary line between them and up and to the right. The dis­tance to the North Star is five times the dis­tance between the point­er stars. (Tip: Polaris is the bright­est star in its imme­di­ate vicin­i­ty, so if you see two stars of sim­i­lar bright­ness close to each oth­er, you’re look­ing in the wrong place.)

Use Nat­ur­al Handrails
A handrail is an immov­able nat­ur­al or man­made land­mark. You can use this as a point of ref­er­ence as you trav­el. For exam­ple, hik­ers might look at a map and make a men­tal note to keep a riv­er on their left-hand side as they trav­el, and boaters might stay between a chain of islands and the mainland’s shore. Using a handrail can let you trav­el rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly while stay­ing on a route as you’re nav­i­gat­ing in the wilderness.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, Vietnam

The beau­ty of pris­tine wilder­ness is its own reward and is only increased by the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing you worked hard to get there. Whether by hike or climb, these large­ly unspoiled places are acces­si­ble only to those will­ing to take the path less traveled.

The Cirque of the Unclimbables, CanadaThe Cirque of the Unclimbables, Canada
The name alone beck­ons, and the des­ti­na­tion does not dis­ap­point. The breath­tak­ing, majes­tic Cirque of the Unclimbables, locat­ed in the Ragged Range of the Nahan­ni Nation­al Park Pre­serve, is a world-class climb­ing destination—the one ring of per­fect gran­ite to rule them all. From the famed Lotus Flower Tow­er to the Fairy Mead­ow with its house-like boul­ders, the Cirque has some­thing to tan­ta­lize every type of climber, although it offers these temp­ta­tions to only a few will­ing to make the jour­ney. To become one of the two dozen vis­i­tors to the Cirque per year, aspir­ing alpin­ists must char­ter a float­plane to near­by Glac­i­er Lake, then spend a gru­el­ing sev­en to ten hours switch­back­ing up an unfor­giv­ing talus slope below Mount Har­ri­son-Smith, huck­ing an expedition’s worth of gear.

Gates of the Arctic, Alaska, USAGates of the Arc­tic, Alas­ka, USA
Alaska’s ulti­mate wilder­ness, the Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park, fea­tures 8.4 mil­lion acres of com­plete­ly stun­ning nat­ur­al beau­ty. No roads or even trails tra­verse this tru­ly wild land­scape, leav­ing vis­i­tors pre­pared for the trip of a life­time to make their own way through chal­leng­ing arc­tic ter­rain. Air taxis and float­planes may car­ry vis­i­tors in, but once land­ed, all over­land trav­el must be done by foot or, in the right con­di­tions, dog sled. And the right con­di­tions are few and far between: winter’s below-zero tem­per­a­tures dom­i­nate from Novem­ber through March, and the six rivers that cross the park only begin los­ing their ice in mid-June to make way for kayak­ers and oth­er riv­er run­ners. Hik­ers seek­ing an unpar­al­leled expe­ri­ence in nat­ur­al soli­tude would feel at home in than this ultra-remote land at the top of the world.

©istockphoto/Lynn_BystromYel­low­stone Nation­al Park, Wyoming, USA
Although Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park is itself one of the most pop­u­lar nation­al parks, right up there with Yosemite and Glac­i­er, it’s also home to the most remote place in the con­tigu­ous Unit­ed States. Twen­ty miles as the crow flies from the near­est road, eighty miles deep into the heart of griz­zly ter­ri­to­ry, lies a pock­et of wilder­ness acces­si­ble only by extra­or­di­nar­i­ly ded­i­cat­ed hik­ers and horse­back rid­ers: a land of sky and for­est, birds and pine martens and insects and, some­where in the dis­tance, wolf­song. The clos­est help—the Tho­ro­fare Ranger station—sees few­er than one hun­dred vis­i­tors each year.

Simien Mountains National Park, EthiopiaSimien Nation­al Park, Ethiopia
This UNESCO World Her­itage Site is some­times called “the roof of Africa,” an appro­pri­ate­ly poet­ic title for the mas­sive mas­sif of the Simien Moun­tains that tow­ers some 4500m over North­ern Ethiopia. The crown­ing peak, Ras Dejen, sits a cool 4550m above sea lev­el, sur­round­ed by a spec­tac­u­lar land­scape of toothy peaks, deep, mist-strewn val­leys, primeval forests, and unfor­giv­ing precipices that are home to a num­ber of rare and endan­gered plants and ani­mals, includ­ing the Walia ibex (found in no oth­er part of the world), the Simien fox, and the Gela­da baboon. And though human set­tle­ment in the area means grav­el roads wind their way through the land­scape, the wildest encoun­ters are reserved for trekkers will­ing to mud­dy their boots and spend a few days on the trail.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, VietnamPhong Nha-Kẻ Bàng Nation­al Park, Vietnam
An unspoiled trop­i­cal jun­gle rid­dled with under­ground rivers, grot­toes, and some of the world’s most awe-inspir­ing cave sys­tems, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng Nation­al Park is grow­ing as a tourist des­ti­na­tion for good rea­son. It is home to a num­ber of nat­ur­al attrac­tions acces­si­ble only by foot or by boat, includ­ing the now-famous Hang Sơn Đoòng, con­firmed to be the world’s largest cave sys­tem in 2009. Seri­ous spe­lunk­ers on a guid­ed, per­mit­ted tour may spend as many as three days trekking through the dense jun­gle just to reach the cave’s entrance and then must rap­pel down a fur­ther 260 feet to reach the cave’s floor. The rewards are well worth all the effort, though, as fur­ther explo­ration into Hang Sơn Đoòng reveals rush­ing rivers, still lakes, and remark­able rainforests—made pos­si­ble by huge col­lapsed por­tions of the ceil­ing through which sun­light pours like water—opportunities only offered to some five hun­dred vis­i­tors each year.

Kakadu National Park
Kakadu Nation­al Park, Australia
Kakadu Nation­al Park is Australia’s largest ter­res­tri­al park, span­ning near­ly 20,000 square kilo­me­ters of coast and estu­ar­ies to the north through bill­abongs and low­lands to the rocky ridges and stone coun­try of the south. It’s dot­ted with rugged escarp­ments, lush rain­forests, and rock art gal­leries that date back some 50,000 years. Due to its size, over­land trav­el often means four-wheel dri­ve vehi­cles, although depend­ing on the sea­son, you may also be in for a canoe trip along flood­ed plains. Walk­ing trails of vary­ing dif­fi­cul­ties abound, offer­ing view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for every­thing from tow­er­ing sand­stone pil­lars to roar­ing water­falls, riotous­ly col­or­ful birdlife to hid­den gorges and sparkling waterholes.

Ask a ran­dom per­son who they asso­ciate with wilder­ness, and they’ll prob­a­bly say John Muir, Ansel Adams or Ted­dy Roo­sevelt. Most out­doors folks also know the names Aldo Leopold, Gif­ford Pin­chot and Bob Mar­shall. And right­ly so: they all played a key role in the wilder­ness move­ment. But behind these icons are many less­er-known peo­ple, old and mod­ern, who have put their stamp on our wild places. Even if you’ve nev­er heard of them, you’ve ben­e­fit­ted from their work.


Frank Church
FrankChurchThe Frank Church Riv­er of No Return Wilder­ness in Cen­tral Ida­ho is the largest Amer­i­can wilder­ness out­side of Alas­ka. It includes the famed Mid­dle Fork of the Salmon Riv­er, the main stem Salmon and the adjoin­ing Gospel Hump. Few of the rafters who queue for per­mits know that Ida­ho Sen­a­tor Frank Church had his hands on almost every piece of wilder­ness leg­is­la­tion, a tough propo­si­tion for a pro-envi­ron­ment Demo­c­rat from con­ser­v­a­tive Ida­ho. He led the cam­paign to pro­tect the Saw­tooths and Hells Canyon and was the floor spon­sor of the 1964 Wilder­ness Act and the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Riv­er of No Return Wilder­ness was the crow­ing glo­ry in his career: he intro­duced the bill in 1980, his last year in the Senate.

Mar­jo­ry Stone­man Douglas
Marjory_S_Douglas_Friends_photoMar­jo­ry Stone­man Dou­glas first encoun­tered the Ever­glades as a writer for the Mia­mi Her­ald in 1940, and began writ­ing about it in earnest as a free­lancer. The result was The Riv­er of Grass, pub­lished in 1947, which made the Ever­glades a house­hold name. The first print­ing sold out in under a month. Com­pared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in its impact, it changed the nation­al view of the Ever­glades from a worth­less swamp to a wildlife-rich trea­sure. The nation’s entire view of wet­lands shift­ed. She stood watch over the Ever­glades until her death in 1998 at the ten­der young age of 108.

Andy Kerr, Tim Lille­bo, Reg­na Mer­rit and Wen­dell Wood
The pow­er quar­tet of the Ore­gon Nat­ur­al Resources Coun­cil (Now Ore­gon Wild) adopt­ed a bare-knuck­led style that put ancient forests on the nation­al radar screen in their fight to pro­tect the Northwest’s forests of the 1980s and 90s. The long strug­gle wres­tled (and still wres­tles) with the eco­log­i­cal impacts of log­ging, the tran­si­tion away from a tim­ber-based econ­o­my and the endur­ing val­ue of forests to clean water and human health. Kerr, who still works on con­ser­va­tion issues in Ash­land and Wash­ing­ton D.C., became a light­ing rod for crit­ics. Lille­bo and Wood fought tire­less­ly to pro­tect their home forests in Cen­tral Ore­gon and the Kla­math Basin until their deaths in 2014 and 2015. Mer­rit now works to pro­tect the Colum­bia Riv­er from fuel trains and the risk of a cat­a­stroph­ic spill.

Olaus and Mardy Murie
Olaus_and_Mardy_MurieMar­garet and Olaus Murie were mar­ried at 3 a.m. in 1924, under the mid­night sun on the bank of the Yukon Riv­er. Their hon­ey­moon was a bit non-tra­di­tion­al: a 500-mile dogsled and boat jour­ney study­ing the move­ments of bar­ren-ground cari­bou. Wilder­ness and wildlife gov­erned their lives, from elk in Jack­son Hole, fox­es in the Aleu­tians and urg­ing Franklin Roo­sevelt to incor­po­rate ecosys­tem bound­aries into Olympic Nation­al Park. A trip to the Sheen­jek Riv­er in Alaska’s Brooks Range in 1956 inspired a cam­paign for a mas­sive pro­tect­ed area in the high arc­tic large enough to pro­tect a ful­ly func­tion­ing ecosys­tem. The first result was Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park. The larg­er impact was a seis­mic shift in land con­ser­va­tion from small scenic areas to vast swaths that could sus­tain wildlife pop­u­la­tions, which lat­er found its expres­sion in the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge. Mardy helped block sev­er­al attempts to open the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling until she died at 102.

Rod­er­ick Nash
A white­wa­ter rafter who made the first descent of the Tuolumne Riv­er, Nash was a grad­u­ate stu­dent when he pub­lished his dis­ser­ta­tion in book form in 1967. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind was a ground­break­ing: it launched envi­ron­men­tal his­to­ry as a seri­ous pur­suit. After wit­ness­ing an oil spill near San­ta Bar­bara two years lat­er, he launched one of the nation’s first Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies pro­grams at UCSB, start­ing with only 12 stu­dents. It’s since pro­duced over 4,000 grad­u­ates and made envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies a career path.

Paul Pet­zoldt
Nash bred gen­er­a­tions of envi­ron­men­tal schol­ars and pol­i­cy wonks; Pet­zoldt bred climbers, skiers and kayak­ers. When he first climbed the Grand Teton at age 16 in cow­boy boots, he real­ized new tech­niques and prepa­ra­tion were need­ed. He for­mal­ized climb­ing pro­to­cols, start­ed the Teton’s first guide con­ces­sion and was part of the first Amer­i­can expe­di­tion to K2. In the Sec­ond World War he taught moun­tain safe­ty to the leg­endary 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion. But his true mark on wilder­ness was the 1965 found­ing of the Nation­al Out­door Lead­er­ship School, which teach­es peo­ple to be inspired by the out­doors and lead groups safe­ly. Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, it’s still the worlds’ pre­em­i­nent out­door lead­er­ship acad­e­my with over 120,000 alum­ni and counting.

William Wordsworth
Benjamin_Robert_Haydon_002You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what a British poet is doing on a list of Amer­i­can wilder­ness advo­cates. Wordsworth and his fel­low Roman­tic Poets launched the move­ment to recon­nect with nature that made the wilder­ness move­ment pos­si­ble. His ram­bles around the Lake Dis­trict con­vinced him that raw nature, not civ­i­liza­tion, was where the human spir­it was most inspired, rekin­dled and able to see larg­er truths. With­out him, wilder­ness would have still been as it had been before: as threat­en­ing rather than inspiring.

Howard Zah­nis­er
Sept_04_wildernessWordsworth is the famous poet, but Zah­nis­er, far from a house­hold name, wrote some­thing equal­ly impor­tant: the Wilder­ness Act. Along with the Muries, Zah­nis­er was a dri­ving force in the long move­ment to con­gres­sion­al sup­port of a nation­al wilder­ness sys­tem. He went through 66 drafts and steered the bill through 18 sub­com­mit­tee hear­ings. Most laws are writ­ten in dry legalese, but the Wilder­ness Act con­tains some poet­ic lan­guage about nature that still guides our legal and spir­i­tu­al def­i­n­i­tion of what wild tru­ly means. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Zah­nis­er didn’t live to see the Act passed. He died just before its pas­sage in 1964.

Three Guys from New Jersey
Brock Evans, long­time leader in the Wilder­ness move­ment, tells a sto­ry about how three peo­ple from New Jer­sey saved Misty Fjords Nation­al Mon­u­ment in Alas­ka. Dur­ing the Con­gres­sion­al markup ses­sions on an Alas­ka wilder­ness bill, a crit­i­cal Con­gress­man from New Jer­sey who rep­re­sent­ed the swing vote began vot­ing against pre­serv­ing Misty Fjords. Evans and his col­leagues were unable to sway him. The night before a crit­i­cal vote, Evans scoured Audubon’s phone list, and was able to reach three peo­ple in his home dis­trict. All three called the Congressman’s office the next morn­ing right before he left for the crit­i­cal floor vote. Those phone calls cre­at­ed just enough pres­sure at the right time to change his vote. Pro­tect­ing wild places is usu­al­ly the result of many small actions by a lot of peo­ple. The next cru­cial phone call could be made by you.



For out­door enthu­si­asts, there’s no such thing as too much gear, too many hob­bies or too much knowl­edge. Most adven­tur­ers are auto­di­dac­tic by nature and love learn­ing in a hands-on set­ting sur­round­ed by peo­ple with loads of expe­ri­ence. Not to men­tion, they often want to be pre­pared should their adven­ture turn inju­ri­ous. If this sounds like you, then sign­ing up for a Wilder­ness First Aid or Wilder­ness First Respon­der course may be the next step in adding to your already exten­sive out­door resume. Here’s how to do it.

Wilder­ness First Aid Certification
Wilder­ness First Aid is more basic than the Wilder­ness First Respon­der Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, but every bit as valu­able. Wilder­ness First Aid cours­es are typ­i­cal­ly 16–20 hour cours­es and are taught in a vari­ety of loca­tions across the coun­try. NOLS, the Nation­al Out­door Lead­er­ship School, hosts WFA class­es through­out the year which are well-known for their thor­ough­ness and expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing style.

What to Know Before You Enroll

Cost: Most of these class­es range between $200-$300.

What you’ll learn: Patient assess­ment, CPR (depend­ing on the class and loca­tion), frac­ture man­age­ment, wilder­ness wound man­age­ment, etc.

Who should take it: Avid adven­tur­ers, pro­fes­sion­als who work in the out­door industry

How it can help pro­fes­sion­al­ly: Whether you’re tak­ing a sum­mer job as an out­door camp coun­selor or plan on lead­ing a com­pa­ny climb­ing retreat, adding this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to your resume says that you’re a seri­ous out­door adven­tur­er with seri­ous skills.

Wilder­ness First Respon­der Certification
This is the grand­dad­dy of cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and is typ­i­cal­ly pur­sued by those who work in the out­door indus­try such as ski patrollers, guides and rangers. How­ev­er, there’s no rea­son that an avid adven­tur­er shouldn’t feel com­fort­able and com­pe­tent in pur­su­ing this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. What you’ll need, how­ev­er, is time, mon­ey and commitment.

What to Know Before You Enroll

Cost: This course cost typ­i­cal­ly ranges between $750-$1,200

Hours: This 80-hour course usu­al­ly stretch­es over a 9–10 day for­mat but may also be bro­ken up into a 2‑week for­mat depend­ing upon loca­tion. Because of the time com­mit­ment, this course tends to be more fea­si­ble for those with sum­mers off, such as teach­ers or stu­dents, or for pro­fes­sion­als with jobs will­ing to spon­sor their certification.

What you’ll learn: CPR, chest injury man­age­ment, shock man­age­ment, evac­u­a­tion tech­niques, light­ning strike man­age­ment, and frost­bite care are just a few of the items on the agen­da for this com­pre­hen­sive course.

Who should take it:  Adven­tur­ers who engage in moun­taineer­ing, canyoneer­ing or any out­door sport where an injury is high­ly like­ly, along with pro­fes­sion­als who work in the out­door industry.

It should be not­ed that both of the pro­grams typ­i­cal­ly offer some sort of col­lege cred­it if you are a stu­dent, so be sure to check with the orga­ni­za­tion to see how this might apply to you.

Orga­ni­za­tions that spon­sor these cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in your area may include NOLS, guide com­pa­nies, and many universities.

In Ice­landic, the word ævin­týri means both adven­ture and fairy tale, a nifty lin­guis­tic cou­pling in a land so defined by its oth­er­world­ly beau­ty (seri­ous­ly otherworldly—astronauts trav­eled here to prac­tice lunar land­ings). If you hear the call of the wilder­ness in a big, spec­tac­u­lar way, your fairy­tale adven­ture awaits you at the top of the world.

Won­ders of the Nat­ur­al World
The best word for Iceland’s geog­ra­phy is intense. Formed around 25 mil­lion years ago, the nation is geo­graph­i­cal­ly one of the youngest land mass­es on the plan­et, and it boils with vol­canic activ­i­ty. Its most recent erup­tion was Grímsvötn in 2011. Lava and gey­sers are as much a part of the scene here as cac­tus are a part of an Ari­zona desert. Along­side all that molten heat, though, more than 11 per­cent of Ice­land is frost­ed by glac­i­ers. It’s a nation of fire, ice, black sand beach­es, roar­ing water­falls and arc­tic mid­night sun. Ice­land is grow­ing, spread­ing about five cen­time­ters a year where two tec­ton­ic plates meet. Ice­land also boasts the world’s most recent­ly cre­at­ed island, Surt­sey, which was formed in a 1963 vol­canic erup­tion. Whether you stay near the coast or ven­ture for the inte­ri­or, you’ll be see­ing some of the most vivid land­scapes on Earth.

©istockphoto/Seljalandsfoss ©istockphoto/Anna Omelchenko

Explor­ing Via the Ring Road
Cov­er­ing 800 miles, Route 1—Iceland’s famous road trip route—provides an awe­some sam­ple of Iceland’s most impres­sive sights. It takes you in a huge loop around the country’s perime­ter. Dur­ing the sum­mer, you can take advan­tage of extra-long sun­lit hours to put in plen­ty of per-day dri­ving, espe­cial­ly on the sum­mer sol­stice, where the sun shines in parts of Ice­land for the full 24 hours. If you’ll be tack­ling this adven­ture dur­ing the fall or win­ter months, make sure your rent­ed vehi­cle is a 4x4 and be pre­pared for weath­er delays (such thrill seek­ing isn’t advis­able for any but the most white-knuck­le drivers).

The harsh unpre­dictabil­i­ty of this land is the gen­e­sis of its thrilling open spaces. The dis­tance of the Ring Road loop is doable in sev­en to ten days, with ample oppor­tu­ni­ties to encounter some of Iceland’s most stun­ning places—though in a land as dra­mat­ic as this, it’s almost hard to find a place that’s not stun­ning.

©istockphoto/ Schroptschop
You may start in Reyk­javik and move south­east. Dur­ing the first days of your excur­sion, you’ll feel the pum­mel­ing fury of Sel­ja­lands­foss Water­fall as it spills over its jab­bing, crag­gy cliff side into its steely blue pool. You’ll mar­vel at the ice caves under Vat­na­jökull glac­i­er. Frozen in motion with all the eerie rip­ple and stun­ning blue of a tun­nel through an aquarium—or the halls of an ice princess’s castle—the caves will hold you spell­bound. In East Ice­land, you’ll sur­vey rugged moun­tains and lone­ly coast. Watch out for reindeer—this is the only part of the coun­try where they live wild.

In the country’s north­ern extremes, you’ll want to vis­it the city of Akureyri, known for its good view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties of the north­ern lights. While you’re up here, day trip to some of Iceland’s active vol­ca­noes, which may reward you with a molten pyrotech­nic display.

Seljalandsfoss ©istockphoto/technotr