Certain works of pop culture have a magic way of portraying the wilderness. Even when the hero is stranded in the woods after a plane crash, paddling dangerous rapids with criminals, or escaping grief on the Pacific Crest Trail, there’s something that makes you wish you were there, too. But what if you could go to those stunning places you’ve only read about in books or seen on the big screen? Here’s how to get close.
Learn to Survive Like in ‘Hatchet’
Hatchet, the seminal 1987 young-adult novel by Gary Paulsen, is about a 13-year-old boy named Brian whose bush plane crashes somewhere in Canada’s North Woods. With his hatchet, he learns to survive alone in the unforgiving forest. Paulsen never states exactly where the book is set, but for a glimpse at what Brian’s life would have been like, sign up for a survival expedition with the Alberta-based Canadian Wilderness School. Its two-day intro to bushcraft course ($213) teaches survival skills like fire starting, shelter building, knot tying, and, yes, how to hunt with a hatchet.
Run Big Rapids Like in ‘The River Wild’
Of course Meryl Streep makes raft guiding look good. In this 1994 thriller about a family who runs into armed robbers while on a river trip in Montana, Streep plays a former guide returning to her roots. The film was shot on a few rivers, including Montana’s Middle Fork of the Flathead, and it’s as gorgeous a stretch of water as you’ll find anywhere. Sign up for a two-day rafting trip with Glacier Raft Company ($429), and you’ll paddle Class III rapids along the border of Glacier National Park.
Explore the Desert Like Edward Abbey
First published in 1968, Desert Solitaire documents Edward Abbey’s work as a summertime ranger in what is now Utah’s Arches National Park. “This is not a travel guide but an elegy,” Abbey famously wrote in his introduction, as a way to urge the protection of fading public lands. The easiest way to see what Abbey saw then? Join a ranger-led hike, held twice daily through the summer months, through the fragile, narrow sandstone walls of Arches’ Fiery Furnace (from $10).
Backpack the PCT Like Cheryl Strayed
It’s no coincidence that after the release of Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 bestselling book and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon, the Pacific Crest Trail Association reported a 137 percent increase in hikers attempting the trek. It’s a moving story about losing a parent, the dissolution of a marriage, and the transformative power of a walk in the woods. You don’t have to tackle all 2,650 miles to put yourself in Strayed’s boots. International Alpine Guides leads a nine-day backpacking trip ($1,795) on the PCT through Yosemite National Park, from Sonora Pass to Tuolumne Meadows, one of the most beautiful sections of the long-distance trail.
Fly-Fish Montana Like ‘A River Runs Through It’
Published in 1976, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It tells the story of the brothers Maclean, sons of a strict minister, and their devotion to fly-fishing. But it was the 1992 movie of the same name starring Brad Pitt that changed the sport forever. Even though the story is set on Montana’s striking Blackfoot River, the film was actually shot on the state’s Upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder rivers. But go for the real thing: Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula offers half-day and multiday guided trips on the Big Blackfoot (from $460), where you’ll catch cunning trout in remote, rugged canyons.
Float the Mississippi Like Huck Finn
If the Great American Novel exists, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is it. The story follows the wild journey of a boy who fakes his own death, then flees his abusive father with help from a runaway slave by floating a log raft down a flooded Mississippi River. At Big Muddy Adventures in St. Louis, you can paddle a 29-foot voyager canoe down the Middle Mississippi or book a full-moon float to an uninhabited island, where you’ll watch the sun set over Old Man River (from $45).