From the Clouds to the Peaks: Iconic Heli-hiking Destinations Around the World
From the rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies to the icy expanses of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, we dive into the world of heli-hiking and the iconic destinations it unlocks for the intrepid traveler.
Tourist helicopter flies among the mountainous peaks of Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand. The helicopter service offers scenic flights, glacier landing, and if necessary, emergency rescue. NanoStock/Getty Images
There is a unique sense of thrill that accompanies the roar of a helicopter’s blades as it takes flight. Combine that with the allure of embarking on a hike through untouched wilderness, and you’ve landed on heli-hiking — an extraordinary pursuit that allows adventure seekers access to some of the most remote and breathtaking corners of our planet.
Heli-hiking, an adventurous hybrid of helicopter transport and backcountry hiking, takes the concept of ‘off-the-beaten-path’ travel to new heights. Departing from the confines of traditional trailheads, this burgeoning branch of adventure tourism provides hikers the opportunity to land on terrain unsullied by human footprints, transforming the world’s majestic mountain peaks and sprawling glaciers into personal playgrounds for the intrepid explorer.
This high-octane excursion begins with a helicopter flight, offering panoramic views of awe-inspiring landscapes that are often inaccessible or prohibitively difficult to reach by conventional means. As the helicopter cuts through the clear sky, adventurers are treated to a bird’s eye view of their chosen terrain – a tease of the breathtaking scenery that awaits their exploration on foot.
Once the helicopter has touched down in a carefully selected and often secluded location, the hiking component of the journey begins. The experience is akin to being granted a VIP pass to Mother Nature’s most exclusive venues, where every rock, tree, and waterway feels like it exists for the hiker alone. These remote hiking locations often unfold a series of wonders – alpine meadows teeming with wildflowers, pristine glaciers inching their way through mountain valleys, and panoramic vistas that few humans have been privileged enough to witness.
From the towering peaks of the Himalayas to the sprawling landscapes of Patagonia, this high-altitude trend is charting a new course for adventure tourism. Heli-hiking offers a balance of exhilarating exploration and thoughtful solitude in some of the world’s most spectacular settings, unfettered by the limitations of traditional hiking routes.
Now, with a sense of wanderlust creeping into your thoughts, let’s delve deeper into some of these extraordinary, lesser-trodden trails, steadily gaining popularity among heli-hiking enthusiasts worldwide. Join us on a global tour of iconic heli-hiking destinations, each promising a unique blend of adventure and awe-inspiring beauty.
Canadian Rockies, Canada: Where Majesty Meets the Sky
A land of glacier-fed lakes shimmering in the shadow of rugged peaks, the Canadian Rockies have long been a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Yet, it’s within the world of heli-hiking that this region truly soars. Here, the fusion of helicopter flights and high-altitude hiking provide an unparalleled opportunity to witness some of the most breathtaking landscapes Canada has to offer.
Heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies is largely facilitated by operators like Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), who have, over the years, honed their ability to provide a perfect blend of adventure, safety, and conservation. With a fleet of helicopters at their disposal, CMH offers adventurers direct access to remote sections of the Rockies, many of which have seen minimal human impact.
One such destination is the Bugaboos, an awe-inspiring cluster of jagged peaks and expansive glaciers within the Purcell Mountains. Known for their majestic granite spires that pierce the sky, the Bugaboos offer heli-hikers a striking juxtaposition of rugged terrain and serene alpine meadows. The scale and grandeur of these granite titans become even more evident from the sky as the helicopter whisks adventurers to trailheads unattainable by conventional hiking.
Further north, nestled within the vast wilderness of British Columbia, the Cariboos offer a different flavor of heli-hiking adventure. Known for their rolling tree-line meadows, sparkling turquoise lakes, and diverse wildlife, the Cariboos offer a serene contrast to the jagged drama of the Bugaboos. It’s here that hikers can find themselves sharing trails with mountain goats and moose or spotting a grizzly bear in the distance while wandering through carpets of wildflowers.
These heli-hiking excursions also often involve stays in remote mountain lodges, adding a dash of comfort to the high-adrenaline adventure. After a day of trekking through awe-inspiring landscapes, hikers can retreat to these lodges for well-earned rest, hearty meals, and perhaps a soak in a hot tub under the starry mountain skies.
Despite the remoteness of these areas, the operators have a firm commitment to environmental stewardship. Routes are carefully selected to minimize the impact on the local flora and fauna, and the ‘leave no trace’ ethos is strongly emphasized.
Through heli-hiking, the Canadian Rockies can be experienced on a grand scale, intertwining the exhilaration of flight with the immersive, grounding experience of hiking. It offers a front-row seat to nature’s majesty, taking you from soaring peaks to verdant valleys, demonstrating the power and beauty of the wild in a way few other experiences can.
Southern Alps, New Zealand: A Tolkien-esque Dreamscape
Envision a dramatic landscape etched with ice-carved valleys, sprawling alpine meadows, and an array of snow-capped peaks that seem to puncture the sky. This is New Zealand’s Southern Alps, a mountain range that spans the length of the country’s South Island, serving up an enchanting dreamscape for heli-hikers who crave a slice of Middle Earth’s ethereal beauty.
From Queenstown to Wanaka, the Southern Alps is a natural playground that promises a wealth of diverse trails accessible through experienced outfits like Southern Lakes Heliski. These adventure travel companies utilize their helicopters not for ski runs but for an equally exciting endeavor – granting unprecedented access to remote trails where the echo of civilization seems a distant memory.
As you ascend in the helicopter, the panoramic view of the landscape is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Here, a patchwork of emerald forests gives way to a myriad of glacial lakes whose waters are so intensely blue they seem almost otherworldly. The highest peaks of the range, including the formidable Aoraki/Mount Cook, appear even more majestic from the sky, their snow-capped summits glittering against the horizon.
The real magic begins when the helicopter alights on a secluded mountain ridge, or perhaps within a tranquil alpine meadow, and you embark on the hiking portion of your adventure. This is when the breathtaking scale of the Southern Alps truly becomes apparent. You’re not just observing the beauty of these landscapes; you’re living it. You’ll traverse ancient glaciers, scramble up rocky outcrops, and descend into serene valleys, every step offering a new perspective on this majestic landscape.
Aside from the scenic beauty, the Southern Alps is also a biodiversity hotspot. As you hike, you may spot some of New Zealand’s unique alpine fauna and flora, from the Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, to the delicate Mount Cook Lily, the largest buttercup in the world. It’s a testament to the country’s efforts in environmental preservation, allowing hikers a glimpse into a world untouched by the hand of urbanization.
Topping off this unique experience, the Southern Alps can also play host to your Tolkien fantasies. This landscape served as the backdrop for numerous scenes in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and as you tread these wild trails, it’s easy to imagine you’re exploring the mystical realms of Middle Earth.
In the Southern Alps, the world of heli-hiking transcends the typical adventure experience, transforming it into a journey that touches upon fantasy, discovery, and an abiding sense of awe for the natural world’s splendor. As you are ferried back to civilization, you carry with you not just the memory of a thrilling adventure, but the indelible imprint of a land that has shared with you its timeless secrets.
The Himalayas, Nepal: Journeying to the Rooftop of the World
Perched on the roof of the world, the Himalayas stand as a testament to nature’s grandeur. Its rugged terrains, which span five countries, offer a picturesque backdrop that has captivated adventurers for generations. It is here, amidst the sky-touching peaks of Nepal, that heli-hiking is not just a high-adrenaline pursuit, but also a journey into the heart of a landscape that reverberates with ancient cultures and stunning vistas.
Heli-hiking in the Himalayas begins with a helicopter ride that rivals any other in the world. The flight to the Everest region, handled by expert pilots familiar with the mountains’ unpredictable weather patterns, offers a bird’s-eye view of a tapestry of landscapes. Below, terraced hills give way to snowy mountainsides, the topography shifting dramatically as the aircraft gains altitude. Before you, the formidable snow-clad giants of the Himalayas rise, dwarfing everything in their vicinity. As the highest of them all, Mount Everest, comes into view, you cannot help but feel a sense of awe at the scale of these natural wonders.
The helicopter eventually lands in one of the several locations that have been carved into the mountainsides for this purpose. It might be the serene turquoise waters of the Gokyo Lakes, or the icy expanses of the Khumbu glacier, but wherever you land, you’re immediately enveloped by an almost palpable sense of tranquility. The journey on foot from here is one of discovery as much as it is of hiking. You’ll tread paths once used by legendary mountaineers, cross suspension bridges that sway over deep valleys, and navigate rocky trails that seem to disappear into the clouds.
But a Himalayan heli-hiking adventure is not merely about the physical quest. It also provides an intimate glimpse into the rich tapestry of cultures that have shaped life in these high-altitude regions. Many heli-hiking tours include visits to remote Sherpa villages, where life continues much as it has for centuries. Amid the rough-hewn stone houses, colorful prayer flags flutter in the wind, and the air often resonates with the calming chants from the local monasteries.
These interactions with the Sherpa people – renowned for their climbing skills and resilience – add a unique cultural dimension to the heli-hiking experience. Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the Sherpas’ mountain-dwelling lifestyle, their Buddhist traditions, and perhaps even listen to first-hand accounts of what it takes to summit the world’s tallest peaks.
Nepal’s Himalayas offer an all-encompassing heli-hiking experience, one that combines thrilling adventure, cultural immersion, and a deep reverence for the majestic landscapes. The journey takes you to places where the air is thin, the panoramas are sublime, and the quiet is interrupted only by the crunch of your boots on the trail. It’s an adventure that leaves you with not just breathtaking memories but also a profound sense of having connected with the very soul of the mountains.
Chugach Mountains, Alaska: Embracing the Wild Frontier
Carving a dramatic silhouette against the vast Alaskan sky, the Chugach Mountains stand as a rugged testament to the state’s untamed beauty. An expansive wilderness area that stretches across Southcentral Alaska, the Chugach range is a labyrinth of glaciers, jagged peaks, and deep valleys. This is a landscape that has been sculpted by ice and time, presenting a unique frontier for the adventurous heli-hiker.
The grand adventure starts with a helicopter flight, a spectacle unto itself. Operators like Chugach Adventure Guides expertly navigate the region, taking adventurers on an aerial tour of the pristine wilderness. As the helicopter whirs above the icefields and mountains, passengers are afforded a glimpse of the landscape’s dramatic majesty. It’s a panorama of ice and rock, with sprawling glaciers etched into the land like giant, undulating ribbons, punctuated by the jagged peaks of the Chugach range.
The helicopter touches down in remote locations, each selected for its unique hiking opportunities and astounding views. Here, the wilderness spreads out in all directions – a symphony of ice, rock, and sky. Hikers can walk on the surface of ancient glaciers, maneuver through rocky mountain trails, or navigate the meandering paths of the alpine tundra.
Among the notable sights is the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States, where hikers can gaze upon a seemingly endless expanse of ice and snow. There’s also the formidable North Suicide Peak, offering a strenuous but rewarding hike with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sparkling waters of Turnagain Arm.
Multi-day heli-hiking expeditions provide an immersive experience into this untamed landscape. Hikers have the opportunity to explore the region comprehensively, often setting up camp in the heart of the wilderness. As the day wanes and the arctic chill sets in, the seemingly endless Alaskan twilight paints the sky in hues of pink and purple, offering a spectacle that’s a treat unto itself.
With the emphasis on safety and responsible tourism, operators ensure a minimal environmental impact, adhering to the principles of ‘leave no trace.’ This commitment to preservation helps maintain the wilderness in its raw state, ensuring future generations can also marvel at its beauty.
The Chugach Mountains are a heli-hiker’s dream, offering both challenge and beauty in equal measures. It’s a journey through some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes, an adventure that goes beyond the exhilaration of the hike to instill a deeper appreciation for the sheer force and magnificence of the natural world. In the words of John Muir, the renowned naturalist who visited Alaska in the late 19th century, this is a place where “every particle seems fairly saturated with the divine.
The Drakensberg, South Africa: Treading Ancient Trails Amidst African Majesty
Towering over the landscape with their jagged peaks and sprawling plateaus, the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa invite explorers to partake in a unique and exhilarating heli-hiking adventure. This grand spectacle of nature, laced with deep valleys and rich biodiversity, is a pristine playground for those seeking the perfect blend of adrenaline and natural beauty.
When embarking on a heli-hiking journey in the Drakensberg, it begins with a helicopter ride, a thrilling spectacle in itself. With operators like Vertical Limits, travelers ascend into the South African sky, leaving behind the familiar landscapes for a world that has been shaped by centuries of geological evolution. As you hover above this breathtaking tapestry, you’re offered panoramic views of the mountains stretching towards the horizon, their peaks bathed in hues of gold by the African sun.
Upon landing in remote regions of the Drakensberg, you’re instantly enveloped by the solitude and beauty of these mountains. Hiking trails crisscross the landscape, meandering past thundering waterfalls, through verdant valleys, and over jagged peaks that offer stunning vistas of the surrounding scenery. It’s a realm where the noise of modern civilization seems like a distant echo, replaced by the rustling of the wind and the melodies of bird songs.
One of the unique aspects of heli-hiking in the Drakensberg is the chance to encounter its rich wildlife. As you hike, you might spot herds of eland, the largest species of antelope, grazing on the mountain slopes, or the endangered bearded vulture soaring overhead. Small creatures like the ice rat and the Drakensberg crag lizard are also endemic to the region, and the keen observer may be rewarded with a sighting.
Additionally, the Drakensberg is a canvas of historical and cultural significance. As you navigate its trails, you may come across ancient San rock art hidden in caves and overhangs – a testament to the rich history of the indigenous people who once called these mountains home. These age-old paintings, some dating back thousands of years, tell stories of a bygone era, adding an element of intrigue to your hiking adventure.
However, amid the excitement of these heli-hiking expeditions, it is essential to tread lightly. These mountains are a fragile ecosystem that needs to be treated with respect. Operators adhere to a stringent code of conduct aimed at minimizing impact on the environment and preserving it for future generations.
In the words of the well-known proverb, the aim is to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time.” These words resonate strongly as you journey through the Drakensberg, a place where the magnitude of nature’s majesty is vividly apparent. It’s a journey that stirs the soul, reminding us of our tiny but significant place in this grand tapestry of life.
Dolomites, Italy: Ascending the Storied Peaks of the Italian Alps
Italy’s Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a dream destination for any adventure enthusiast. Towering over Northern Italy, these mountains are a geological marvel, an awe-inspiring mosaic of towering spires, sheer cliff faces, and deep valleys that seem to touch the sky. Offering some of the most unique and visually stunning landscapes in the Alps, the Dolomites have carved out their niche as a premier heli-hiking destination.
The journey into the Dolomites begins aboard a helicopter, where you’re given a bird’s-eye view of a landscape that seems like it has been ripped from the pages of a storybook. As you climb higher, the world below shifts from charming Italian villages and verdant pastures to the craggy peaks and azure alpine lakes nestled among the mountains.
Reputable local operators offer an array of heli-hiking options, catering to various fitness levels and interests. They shepherd hikers to remote, high-altitude trails that are generally inaccessible by any other means. Here, the real adventure begins, as you traverse a terrain that is as challenging as it is beautiful. From leisurely trails that skirt tranquil lakes to more rigorous climbs that ascend the iconic peaks, each trail offers a unique perspective on this mesmerizing landscape.
A standout among these is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three distinctive battlement-like peaks that are among the most iconic in the Dolomites. The summit offers an incomparable panorama of the Italian Alps, where rugged mountains stretch as far as the eye can see, their stony faces bathed in the soft hues of the alpine glow. The sight is an affirmation of the grandeur and majesty of nature, a sight that remains etched in the memory long after the journey ends.
The Dolomites are not just a haven for adrenaline junkies but are also steeped in history. This landscape bears the scars of World War I, with remnants of trenches, tunnels, and artifacts scattered across the mountains. Heli-hikers often pass these historical markers, offering a moment of reflection amidst the exhilaration of the hike.
It’s important to remember that heli-hiking in the Dolomites, as with all such adventures, requires responsible behavior to preserve the integrity of the environment. The Dolomites are a testament to the enduring power of nature, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our explorations do not disturb these precious ecosystems.
Heli-hiking in the Dolomites is an experience that pushes the boundaries of adventure. It’s a journey that invites you to explore the spectacular, to lose yourself amidst the majesty of the mountains, and to find a connection with the wild beauty of the natural world.
New Zealand: Heli-hiking in the Realm of Fiords and Glaciers
In the southwestern corner of New Zealand’s South Island lies Fiordland National Park, a spectacle of nature defined by its deep fiords, soaring peaks, and primordial rainforests. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fiordland’s dramatic landscapes and diverse wildlife offer heli-hiking experiences that rival any in the world.
Companies like Fiordland Helicopters transport adventurers deep into the heart of this untouched wilderness. The helicopter ride provides an exhilarating preview of the sights to come, from the rugged mountains that pierce the sky to the emerald waters of the fiords below. Milford Sound, known as the “eighth wonder of the world,” and Doubtful Sound, cloaked in a veil of mystery and tranquility, offer enchanting views from the air.
Once the helicopter alights in remote locations within the park, hikers can fully immerse themselves in the spectacular scenery. Whether it’s marveling at the thundering Sutherland Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, or observing the rare birdlife, including the endangered takahe and kea, Fiordland offers an array of natural wonders.
Hiking trails snake through the landscapes, meandering past mirror-like lakes that perfectly reflect the surrounding peaks, through dense beech forests that echo with bird songs, and along craggy cliffs that offer stunning vistas of the park. Each turn on the trail offers an opportunity to experience the grandeur and diversity of Fiordland’s landscapes.
Further north in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park lies the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. Here, the experience is markedly different but no less extraordinary. Mount Cook Ski Planes & Helicopters offer tours that ferry hikers to the upper reaches of the glacier. As the helicopter ascends, passengers are treated to an awe-inspiring panorama of the Southern Alps, with the towering peak of Aoraki/Mount Cook dominating the skyline.
Upon landing on the glacier, experienced mountaineering guides lead the way, taking hikers on a journey across the glacier’s surface. As you traverse the icy landscape, you’ll navigate around deep crevasses and possibly even explore ice caves, witnessing the glacier’s beauty up close. The iridescent blue of the ice beneath your feet, the crunch of the snow, and the crisp alpine air combine to create an experience that’s as unforgettable as it is exhilarating.
New Zealand’s diverse landscapes offer a rich array of heli-hiking experiences. Whether it’s the dramatic fiords of Fiordland or the icy expanse of the Tasman Glacier, each offers an intimate encounter with the untamed beauty of the country. As with any wilderness experience, it is imperative to respect the natural environment and follow the principles of leave no trace, ensuring these landscapes continue to inspire and enthral future generations of heli-hikers.
Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia: Where Heli-hiking Meets the Wild Frontier
With its simmering volcanoes, geothermal wonders, and expansive untouched wilderness, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula offers an unparalleled heli-hiking experience for those who yearn for adventure off the beaten path. Remote and largely inaccessible, this eastern frontier of Russia is a land that time seems to have forgotten, providing a rare glimpse into a world untouched by human development.
Helicopters are the only viable means of penetrating the heart of this wild landscape. As you ascend above the Kamchatka Peninsula, you’ll witness a pristine wilderness stretching out beneath you. From the active volcanoes that dot the landscape to the vast boreal forests and wild rivers, the helicopter ride is an awe-inspiring introduction to the rugged beauty of the region.
Local operators, well-versed in navigating this harsh but beautiful landscape, provide an array of heli-hiking options. You’ll be whisked away to remote trails, where the experience of the Kamchatka truly begins. The terrain varies from volcanic craters and steaming geysers to tranquil lakes and swathes of vibrant wildflowers during the short summer season.
One of the distinctive aspects of heli-hiking in Kamchatka is the opportunity to ascend active volcanoes. As you scale the slopes of volcanoes like Avacha or Klyuchevskaya Sopka, you’ll experience the raw power of the Earth as it rumbles beneath your feet. From the summit, the view is like no other: mountains, lava fields, and forests stretch to the horizon, broken only by the plumes of smoke from nearby volcanoes.
Equally thrilling is the chance to hike through forests teeming with Kamchatka brown bears. These magnificent creatures are a symbol of the wildness of Kamchatka, and observing them from a safe distance, with respect and caution, is an unforgettable experience.
The Valley of Geysers, another iconic Kamchatka attraction, is also accessible by helicopter. Here, you can wander through a geothermal wonderland, where geysers erupt from the ground with a ferocity that matches the region’s volcanoes. The valley’s technicolor landscapes, shaped by the mineral-rich waters, add a surreal touch to the heli-hiking adventure.
Yet, even in such a remote and wild setting, the principles of sustainable travel are of paramount importance. The aim should always be to leave the environment as untouched as it was found. The idea is to coexist with the wildlife and respect the fragility of this rare and unique ecosystem, ensuring its survival for future generations.
The Kamchatka Peninsula, while challenging, offers a uniquely rewarding experience for the intrepid heli-hiker. It’s an adventure that not only tests your mettle but also stirs your soul, reminding you of the raw and untamed beauty that the world still holds, if one dares to seek it out.
As we conclude our tour of some of the most iconic heli-hiking destinations around the globe, it’s worth reflecting on the sheer diversity and splendor of these landscapes. From the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies and Southern Alps to the rugged terrains of the Drakensberg and the Dolomites, and from the remote wilderness of Alaska’s Chugach range to the breathtaking expanse of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, these locales serve as testament to the Earth’s staggering geographical richness.
These destinations, however, offer more than just scenic grandeur. They provide an avenue for unforgettable experiences that allow us to step out of the confines of our daily routines and reconnect with the natural world. Whether it’s traversing the icy terrain of the Tasman Glacier, scaling the dizzying heights of active volcanoes in Kamchatka, or navigating the deep valleys of the Dolomites, heli-hiking brings us face-to-face with nature’s monumental scale and indomitable spirit.
This immersion into the wild also provides a chance for introspection and connection on a deeper level. Amidst the pristine solitude of these landscapes, we come to understand our place in the larger scheme of things. We are reminded of our essential ties to the environment, the importance of its preservation, and our role in its stewardship.
Furthermore, heli-hiking represents a marriage of human ingenuity and natural splendor. Helicopters, a marvel of modern engineering, grant us access to regions that, due to their remoteness or ruggedness, remain largely untouched by human hands. This synergy of technology and nature helps us appreciate both the fruits of human advancement and the value of conserving our natural world.
However, such expeditions are not just about personal exploration or adrenaline-filled adventure. They’re about fostering a global appreciation for our planet’s diverse ecosystems, sparking conversations about conservation, and inspiring steps, both big and small, towards preserving these stunning locales.
While the thrill of discovery and exploration drives us to these majestic landscapes, it’s essential that we answer this call to adventure responsibly. The integrity and preservation of these wild places depend on our actions. We must be committed to minimizing our impact, leaving these environments as we found them, and, where possible, contributing to their conservation.
Heli-hiking, like any form of adventure tourism, must balance the desire for exploration with a deep-seated respect for the environment. Our footprint should be a gentle one, with the ultimate aim of preserving these natural wonders for the generations to come.
In the end, these breathtaking heli-hiking destinations provide not only a change of scenery but also a shift in perspective. They remind us of the beauty, diversity, and resilience of our planet and underscore the importance of our role in its preservation. Each journey, each trail, is a step further into understanding our relationship with the world – a world that is far more vast, varied, and vibrant than our everyday lives might suggest.
Freesolo staff writers collaboratively researched, wrote, and edited this article. See more about this talented team at “About Us”.