Top Ten Camps in North America
Come mid-June, when the snow has receded to distant peaks, you can camp anywhere in this 1.6-million-acre roadless Alaskan wilderness spliced by 12 major lakes. But the park's sole ranger recommends the west end of 21-mile-long Lake Kulik, the entry point for the kayak-friendly Wood River chain of six lakes connected by rivers. Pitch your tent on the gravelly shoreline at the base of the Wood River Mountains, which rise steeply from grassy hills and tundra to snowy valleys and pencil-sharp spires.
Kayak eastward to a 1,000-foot waterfall that each summer carves a giant ice cave through avalanche debris on Kulik's south shore. Then run the gentle Class II rapids of the Wind River, which flows into Mikchalk Lake. From here, a 2.5-mile river leads to Lake Beverley, another good place to overnight. If you have at least a week, continue paddling 20 miles to the Agulukpak River, which hosts as many as 2,000 rainbow trout per mile. (They're catch-and-release only, but you can keep the even more plentiful sockeye salmon.) For fishing permits ($10-$100, depending on the number of days), call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 907-465-6085. Tikchik State Park Tours offers six-day guided trips (about $1,500 per person, including airfare from Anchorage; 888-345-2445).
To get from Anchorage to Lake Kulik, 300 miles west, fly to Dillingham on Pen Air ($400 round-trip; 800-448-4226) and hook up with charter operator Bay Air (907-842-2570), which will drop your party at Lake Kulik and retrieve you in Aleknagik, at the end of the Wood River chain, for about $525 per person. For more information, call the park ranger (907-269-8698 from October to May 15, 907-842-2375 from May 16 to September 30).
Next Time Try
Top of El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California
The two-day hike to the summit of El Cap is admittedly less glamorous than free-climbing the Nose, but the payoff's quite the same: views of Yosemite Valley's granite walls, Half Dome, and the meandering Merced River.
Location: 209 miles east of San Francisco
Details: free backcountry permit required; $20-per-car park entrance fee
Prime Time: mid-September to mid-October
Cheoh Bald, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina
Bed down in this 5,062-foot-high meadow and you'll be treated to panoramic views of the Great Smokies and sunrises over 2,000-foot-deep Nantahala River Gorge. The sites are just ten paces from the Appalachian Trail and eight miles via the same route from the renowned Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Location: 80 miles southwest of Asheville
Details: three sites; no fees
Prime Time: May, October
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication