Vacation season often means traffic, long security lines, packed planes and crowded national parks. Sometimes it seems there’s nothing left in the world that isn’t overbooked or overutilized. But there is. Lots, in fact. Of the United States’ 2.3 billion acres, for example, only 9 percent is estimated to be developed. Canada’s total acreage is virtually the same. But of its 2.6 billion acres, only about 0.2 percent was estimated to be settled in 2006.
Which means there’s a lot to explore — but we can’t get to most of it. Unless you attach “heli” to your adventure, and suddenly you’ve landed on untrodden dirt.
Your viewfinder may capture images that non-heli’d eyes have never seen.
Heli outfitters can get to incredible places that would normally take two to three days to reach on foot, explains Dave Butler of Canadian Mountain Holidays. CMH is credited with inventing the sport of heli-skiing 50 years ago. It also drops guests at lodges that are accessible only by heli. Vacations range from three to seven days: In the winter they, feature heli-skiing, and summer offers heli-hiking in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. CMH can also tack on photography, cooking and art classes — call it copter culinary, canvas and cameras, if you like. And just think: Your viewfinder may capture images that non-heli’d eyes have never seen.
But how do you reconcile being where everyone else isn’t with sullying otherwise-virgin land and disturbing its wildlife? It all depends on the environmental practices of the operator, but Butler, CMH’s director of sustainability, says the company closely tracks the location of wildlife and follows strict protocol. If it spots grizzlies, for instance, it doesn’t go there.
Unlike heli-skiing, which requires a certain skill level, anyone can go heli-hiking, says Butler. Canadian Mountain Holidays has 11 areas where it operates in British Columbia, and the Bobbie Burns Lodge is a good choice for hikers interested in seeing granite cliffs, à la Yosemite. CMH also offers heli-bird-watching once a year.
Catlina Island’s Pavilion Hotel has added heli-mountain-biking to its adventure roster, bringing experienced riders to the rugged interior of the California island.
With heli-yoga , you can strike a warrior pose in places that yoga mats rarely go. Tack on heli-camping for a three-day adventure in the subalpine Rocky Mountains of Alberta with Martha’s Heli-Hikes. In the winter, the company breaks out the helicopter and snowshoes.
Two hundred dogs in booties! Sleds! And maybe even a moose.
There’s all sorts of heli stuff waiting for guests at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge , including heli-river rafting and heli-king-salmon-fishing . The lodge is a 40-minute flight from Anchorage, Alaska.
Heli-penguin-watching is the specialty of Oceanwide Expeditions . Passengers on the Ortelius make full use of the ship’s landing pad, coptering to emperor penguin rookeries on an island in the Weddell Sea.
Still want more? How about heli-mushing on the Juneau Icefield with Alaska Heli-Mush? Two hundred dogs in booties! Sleds! And maybe even a moose.
So if the thought of visiting another tourist attraction crammed with crowds and T-shirt shops gets you down, prepare for liftoff above the hoi polloi on a helicopter bound for adventure.
Christine Ciarmello is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.
Why you should care
Because if the trail is too crowded, you can be airlifted and deposited somewhere much less so — for a few hundred (or thousand) bucks.