Best ranges for off-trail travel

LarryBoy

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Interesting question came to mind recently - where are the best mountain destinations to go off-trail backpacking? I've spent the past year or so tossing around ideas for big off-trail routes through some really killer scenic areas.

In particular, these places, as I've idealized them, are largely above treeline, contain crossable passes, don't have trails already in the area, and are exceedingly scenic. These are places where you don't just hop off the trail for a little bit to go bag that peak - it's where your route takes you cross-country for extended periods of time. Premium examples include:
  • Winds
  • Sierra
  • Beartooths
  • San Juans
  • Northern Tetons
  • Bighorns
Some places, like the Tetons between Granite and Paintbrush canyons would serve well for off-trail travel but there's a multitude of trails already so it almost seems a little contrived to try and head off-trail simply for the sake of saying you were hiking off-trail. Others like the Cascades, have amazing alpine peaks but almost all basins are below treeline, making extended off-trail travel a bushwhacking proposition.

What areas do you think would be good for extended off-trail routes? Any firsthand experiences?
 

Jackson

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Never been, but the Brooks Range/Gates of the Arctic in Alaska comes to mind. Almost no trails anywhere. Choose your own adventure the whole way.
 

LarryBoy

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Never been, but the Brooks Range/Gates of the Arctic in Alaska comes to mind. Almost no trails anywhere. Choose your own adventure the whole way.
Yeah, if you're headed to the Arctic there's a million options. Brooks Range, Iceland, Norway; apparently there's even some incredible hiking on Baffin and Ellesmere islands! I stumbled across the archipelago of Kerguelen, which I hadn't even heard of before. If you were ok with a LOT of wind, that would make incredible hiking as well.
 

Jackson

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apparently there's even some incredible hiking on Baffin and Ellesmere islands
One of my dream trips is to go to Baffin Island and backpack in Auyuittuq National Park. Looks incredible. We talk about camping in grizzly bear country on here, but there, you'd be in polar bear country. So crazy.

But good point. So many places up north lack trails, so they would all be great options. I'm having difficulty thinking of others in the US near our latitude that are big enough for extended trips. Maybe the Bighorns in Wyoming?

Edit: you already mentioned the Bighorns. How about ranges in the Bob Marshall or Frank Church River of No Return Wildernesses?
 

LarryBoy

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Kerguelen is near impossible to get to without your own ocean going sailboat and a year's worth of time.

Another era, but read Tilman's most excellent Eight Sailing/Mountain Exploration Books
Yeah It's not high on the, um, "realistic" factor, but it'd still be incredible. Apparently they do have boats go there a couple times a year and the island supports a population of about 100. So if you happen to be a marine biologist on assignment, your ticket is punched!
 

LarryBoy

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One of my dream trips is to go to Baffin Island and backpack in Auyuittuq National Park. Looks incredible. We talk about camping in grizzly bear country on here, but there, you'd be in polar bear country. So crazy.

But good point. So many places up north lack trails, so they would all be great options. I'm having difficulty thinking of others in the US near our latitude that are big enough for extended trips. Maybe the Bighorns in Wyoming?

Edit: you already mentioned the Bighorns. How about ranges in the Bob Marshall or Frank Church River of No Return Wildernesses?
Unlike grizzlies, polar bears see you as a food source!

You bring up the Frank Church - one thing that's been on my mind is the Idaho Centennial Trail. ~900 miles from south to north through Idaho*. Passes through the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church. Apparently one of the major knocks on the trail is the amount of absolutely heinous bushwhacking you have to do. Now I don't think it's fair to characterize an entire wilderness by the route one "trail" takes, but I do take it to mean that easy long-distance travel may be hard to come by.

*It would also be amazing to connect the ICT (take a different route and head southeast from the Sawtooths) to a north-south route through Utah, to the Arizona Trail. a huge hike from Canada to Mexico through the Intermountain West. Seems incredible.
 

Outdoor_Fool

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As mentioned above, several places in Alaska. With a few local exceptions, basically anywhere north of Anchorage and Palmer /Wasilla and away from the Denali NP entrance area will be trail-free.

The Bob Marshall complex has many trails making a true off-trail experience difficult to find. The Frank Church and Selway-Bitterroot have a lot more options for that. A lot of lesser-known ranges in Montana have good potential, also.
 

leatherman

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Park Range in CO was fun. Just saying...
 

muir_mountain

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You guys are forgetting a BIG one in the lower 48. The Absarokas in Wyoming. Lots of the terrain is alpine rolling tundra, and you can walk for miles and miles on the green ridges and plateaus.
 
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