Best time to go to the wilderness

The best time to go on wilderness holidays tends to be dictated not so much by your schedule, but by when the conditions are the safest and most welcoming to your visit.
Wildernesses are found around the world, from the forests of Finland and Sweden to the frozen vastness of Patagonia and the Arctic, and the rainforests of Tasmania and Guyana. What they all have in common, however, is that they are always some distance from urban areas, often threatening inhospitable terrain or climate, likely have only the most basic infrastructure, and potentially dangerous wildlife wandering around too. The wilderness keeps its own schedule according to the rhythms of nature. The best time to explore it then is when conditions are most hospitable to your interests and safety. Travelling with a local guide wise to the risks is a very good idea.

A month by month guide on when to take wilderness holidays

Wilderness holidays in Finnish Lapland are a fantastic and more eco-friendly alternative to alpine ski trips that flatten vegetation and consume huge volumes of water to make artificial snow. They’re most popular during winter, with late January through to late March or April the best for snowy conditions. You can explore Tasmania’s many accessible wilderness areas, such as the Tarkine rainforest and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, all year round. However, February – at the tail end of peak season – sees even the most popular hiking trails far less busy than normal. The Wild Taiga region, is at its most attractive to wildlife-seekers in Finland’s summer, between May and September, when bears and wolves are most active. Moose tracking holidays in Sweden’s forests and Iceland self drive holidays that take you off the tourist track and into the lesser-seen highlands are both at their best between May and September. You can barely move for bears in parts of North America between May and October. The salmon run makes for some spectacular photography opportunities in Alaska and Tweedsmuir National Park in British Columbia, Canada. Brown bears can also be seen in Kamchatka, in the far east of Russia, particularly between June and July. The short Arctic cruise season peaks in July and August, but September is the best time to see the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. Polar bears are also seen further south around this time. The rainforests of Guyana are less swampy during the dry season, between September and November, making it easier to trek through the thick vegetation. Late August is a good time, with the mighty Kaieteur Falls in full flow and the main tourism season yet to kick in. From the September equinox through to March you can witness the aurora borealis in Finnish and Swedish Lapland. In Botswana, where wild camping beyond fenced areas is possible for a real wilderness safari, hot and cloudless October is the best month for seeing animals gather around waterholes, with great potential for predator-prey confrontations. Optimal hiking season in Patagonia is between November and February – the summer months. However, you can also walk in Patagonia during winter if you can handle the cold. The trails are emptier, the wilderness feels closer, and you’ll occasionally see pumas at higher elevations as they come down in search of prey. Antarctica’s cruise season is longer than that of the Arctic, getting underway from November.
Travel Team
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Things to do on a wilderness holiday

Things to do in the wilderness...

Preparation for a wilderness holiday goes beyond ensuring you’ve got your thermal gloves or (eco-friendly) bug spray. If you’ll be doing a lot of trekking, for instance, you’ll need to be in good physical shape, ready for the terrain and the climate. And you’ll need to be mentally prepared too. Some wilderness holidays take place in what can be quite hostile environments. You’re (probably) not going to get chomped by a man-eating plant, but you may have to cope with exhaustion some days, foul weather or, perhaps worst of all, sharing a mountain hut with a snorer. Respect biodiversity. Bad news often comes in threes, and to add to the climate emergency and rising tide of plastic pollution, we face a biodiversity crisis. We’re living in an age of extinction – catastrophic species loss of which the polar bear is just the tip of the iceberg. The tapestry of biodiversity sustains all life on earth and human activity is punching holes in the fabric. Wilderness holidays can teach us the importance of conserving what’s left, while rewilding seeks to restore what’s already missing. Look for holidays that contribute to protecting these wild places from the many threats they face. Reconnecting with nature means temporarily disconnecting from the outside world. Depending on how far you head into the wilderness, you can expect little to no phone or Wi-Fi signal – which can take some getting used to. But by the end of day two, when you’re drinking in a mountain panorama, sat in a rudimentary hot tub in the forest, or listening to wolves howl off in the darkness, you won’t miss your phone for a moment. This kind of holiday doesn’t only put you more in touch with nature – it can help you gain a greater appreciation of your surroundings that lasts long after you get back home.

Things not  to do in the wilderness…

Assume no one lives there. Wilderness doesn’t mean uninhabited. Sami people have herded reindeer for centuries in Finnish Lapland, while nomadic tribes wander the Sahara Desert, and the vast forests of the Canadian wilderness continue to serve as hunting grounds and ceremonial lands for Aboriginal people even while the trees are felled for profit. If you’re taking a wilderness holiday, often you’re visiting someone’s home, so it doesn’t hurt to learn a little about how you can respect traditional ways of life and cultural customs before you go. Expect a Disney wilderness experience. The most important part of the word ‘wilderness’ is the ‘wild’ bit. Yes, on some wilderness holidays you can stay in a luxurious hotel if you have the budget. But that’s far from common. You need to go in prepared to rough it for a while, perhaps dealing with extremes of weather, carrying a lot of gear, sleeping in a tent you’ve put up yourself, bathing in lakes rather than showers, and in some cases dependent entirely on a helicopter arriving to pick you up when it’s supposed to. Disney movies might put a softer edge on it, but at bottom, there’s no sanitising the wilderness. Ignore the rules. Countries such as Scotland and Finland have a right to roam enshrined in law. But as Spider-Man is always so keen to emphasise: with great power comes great responsibility. A right to roam doesn’t mean there are no rules, so pay attention to what your guide says you can and can’t do, treating the wilderness and landowners with respect. That means keeping a distance from animals, sticking to the path if you’re asked to, and that if you can fit food into your backpack going into the wilderness, you can certainly fit the empty packaging in on your way out.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Eelco Bohtlingk] [Intro: Kristian Egelund] [Things to do on a wilderness holiday: ALEXANDRE DINAUT]