2024 locations

This season we will operate in five locations, listed below in chronological order. Use these links to jump to each location:


Our season starts in April just as spring arrives in the Escalante canyons of southern Utah. Here, we offer both backpacking and technical canyoneering trips. This is a favorite guide location due to the unique geology, springtime conditions, and off-trail travel opportunities.

Gates of the Arctic National Park, in the central Brooks Range of Alaska, is our premier location. And in 2024 we will likely expand east, to the Arctic Refuge. These trips are scheduled in late-June and early-July, during a narrow window between spring breakup and summertime mosquitoes.

The most popular and arguably most magnificent location is the High Sierra in California. Expect dramatic mountain landscapes, mostly perfectly weather, and world-class backcountry travel.

In September we witness the transition from summer to fall in either: Olympic National Park, renowned for its stunning temperate rainforests and towering peaks; or Greater Yellowstone, where the trips are headlined by wildlife, thermal features, and big wilderness.

Finally, our season ends with peak fall colors in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains.

Southern Utah

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2023: 4.87/5.0
  • 2022: 4.81/5.0
  • 2021: 4.74/5.0
  • 2020: 4.81/5.0

In southern Utah we follow canyon bottoms, scramble across slick rock, traverse sandy benches, and pass by ancient rock images around the Escalante River, a perennial tributary of the Colorado River that flows into Lake Powell. This area is a gem of the Colorado Plateau, but it thankfully lacks the hordes of tourists that swamp other locations like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches National Parks.

Our operating area is managed as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Its 300,000 acres makes it about 40 percent of the size of Rhode Island. Needless to say, we have ample room to roam and explore here.

Itineraries depart from near the adorably quaint town of Escalante. For the duration of your trip, you will not cross a road or encounter a wheeled vehicle, and you probably will not see many (or any) other groups during the middle of the trip when we’re the furthest out.

The area has only one established hiking trail and only a few use trails, so we will often (or always) be off-trail. Most routes are non-technical (i.e. climbing ropes, harnesses, and hardware are not required), but may have sections of Class 3 or Class 4 scrambling where a hand-line or pack-haul is helpful or necessary. Guides are expected to modify the route to suit the interests and abilities of their groups.

The Colorado Plateau is a unique environment, and thus has a host of unique challenges. We’ll help you learn to manage water, navigate in deep canyons and across featureless benches, find breaks between the geological layers, and cowboy camp under the stars.

Late-April and early-May is prime time in southern Utah. The temperatures are mild, the vegetation is vibrant green, water sources are reliable (though not abundant), and the weather is consistently friendly.

While this landscape is mostly flat, many of its miles are hard-won. The canyon bottoms are slow, especially if they are brushy or water-filled; and the benches above are covered in deep sand and are mostly shade-less.

Southern Utah is not as in-demand as our largest lower 48 location, the High Sierra, or are premier location, the Brooks Range. Also, we contend with fewer logistical or regulatory limits on our use here. As a result, we can make room for nearly every qualified applicant. If Utah is not your First Choice, it’s worth consideration as a Second Choice.

What we like

  • Extensive off-trail travel
  • One-of-a-kind geology and landforms
  • Springtime conditions (mild temps, budding leaves, blooming wildflowers)
  • Dry weather, cowboy camping, and lightweight packs
  • Rich archeological evidence

What we dislike about or are challenged by

  • Fine-grained “blow sand” that saps power, fills porous shoes, and gets everywhere (in your gear, your lunch, and even your teeth)
  • Steeply angled slickrock slabs or vertical ledge systems that require scrambling, handlines, pack hauls, or body assists
  • Dry, shade-less, and sand-covered benches between the canyons
  • Occasionally strong springtime winds
Off-trail on Navajo Sandstone above the Escalante River

Brooks Range, Alaska

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2023: 4.93/5.0
  • 2022: 4.77/5.0
  • 2021: 4.83/5.0
  • 2020: cancelled due to Covid
  • 2019: 5.00/5.0

The Brooks Range is the greatest wilderness in North America, and this location is designed to provide a once-in-a-lifetime backpacking experience and a capstone experience for our alumni. We operate in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is nearly four times larger than Yellowstone, and in 2024 I hope to put a few groups into the Arctic Refuge, which is nearly nine times larger than Yellowstone. This is the program’s premier destination.

These mountains will redefine your concept of wilderness. The range is 1,000 miles long and usually about 100 miles wide; it has no trails, save for those made by wildlife, notably caribou; it’s intersected by just one road, the Dalton Highway (aka the Haul Road); and only one town sits firmly within its boundaries, Anaktuvuk Pass, a native village with a population of about 350. To access most areas of the park, it’s necessary to charter a bush plane that can land on lakes or natural gravel airstrips.

The lack of trails and roads in the Brooks Range, combined with a long list of challenges unique to the Arctic, add significant burden and risk in planning a trip here. More than any other location, the value of our service shines — we will secure the regional and bush flights, ensure that you have the appropriate gear, plot a route that is suitable and spectacular, and assemble a competent group of like-abled individuals.

The Alaskan wilderness is romantic, but it’s not easy. You should expect wet feet (everyday and all day), ankle-twisting tussocks, occasionally thick bushwhacks, and probably some cold-and-wet storms. Late-June is too early for nightmarish bugs, thankfully. Grizzly bears and wolves are around, but historically stay away from larger groups like ours.

What we like

  • Exceptionally vast, remote, and lightly traveled
  • No manmade hiking trails
  • Thrilling bush plane flights
  • Unique wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolverines, caribou, and Arctic foxes

What we dislike about or are challenged by

  • Consistently wet feet
  • Tussocks, which are quart- to gallon-sized cylinders of vegetation-topped dirt that waver when stepped on
  • Sponga, which is soft and soggy tundra
  • Ankle- to knee-high brush at the lowest elevations
  • Potential for cold-and-wet weather and heavy bug pressure as we get into July and if the weather is warm and calm

For an excellent description of Alaska, refer to Nathan McNeil’s review of his Gates of the Arctic trip in 2019. Since this trip, we’ve moved our trips to areas with better walking, but these challenges will all still be experienced.

Adventuring in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is 3.4 times bigger than Yellowstone and which doesn’t have a single mile of man-made trail.

High Sierra, California

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2023: 4.87/5.0
  • 2022: 4.84/5.0
  • 2021: 4.73/5.0
  • 2020: 4.72/5.0
  • 2019: 5.00/5.0

The High Sierra is probably my favorite backpacking destination in the lower 48. The range is huge and intricate; the towering mountains are majestic; the off-trail travel is both blissful and exciting; road access is very limited; and the crowded, high-use areas are easy to leave behind.

No exaggeration, I think I could spend the rest of my life exploring it.

Most trips in 2024 will be in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. Other trips will be in Yosemite National Park, Inyo National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, and possibly Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, pending approval of our annual commercial permit applications.

Each location has classic High Sierra features like granite peaks and domes, glacier-carved valleys, alpine lakes, open forests, and sunny skies, but each has a distinct feel. Typical elevations range from 8,000 to 12,000 feet.

On the 5- and 7-day trips, our routes frequently involve “high route”-type travel, including sections of the Sierra High Route, Yosemite High Route, and Kings Canyon High Basin Route. The bulk of the 11-day trips are on this type of terrain.

In July and early-August, you should expect more bugs, more people, and perhaps more monsoonal moisture than trips in September, another prime backpacking window during which we used to schedule trips until several consecutive years of wildfire-caused cancellations.

What we like

  • Consistently excellent weather
  • Idyllic mountain travel, both on- and off-trail
  • Swimming in alpine lakes
  • Peak wildflower season in July

What we dislike about or are challenged by

  • The high altitudes can be challenging for clients who live at sea level without proper acclimatation
  • Extensive fields of talus, ranging from the size of basketballs to refrigerators, but it’s at least stable and sticky
  • Periods of heavy bug pressure
  • Monsoonal weather can produce cold rain and hail
Stubblefield Canyon, Yosemite National Park

Olympic Mountains, Washington

  • 2023: 4.78/5.0
  • 2022: 4.39/5.0 (first year)

We ran Olympic trips for the first time in 2022, and I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t know exactly how to do it perfectly, which is reflected in the client ratings. In our second year, we better fulfilled this location’s potential.

Our 2024 trips are again scheduled for mid- and late-September, after summertime backcountry traffic has tapered off but before fall conditions have really taken hold in the mountains. In normal years, the Olympics are less vulnerable to wildfires and smoke than other locations throughout the Mountain West.

The temperate rain forests on the west side of the park like the Hoh and Quinault receive about 150 inches of precipitation per year. The reward for backpacking in one of the wettest places in the US is seeing some of the largest trees in the world, including some that measure more than 20 feet in diameter.

Seven-thousand feet above these rain forests is Mount Olympus, the highest peak in the park. We won’t make it to the top of this glacier-covered massif, but we will climb other peaks and traverse nearby ridgelines, some with trails and others without.

What we like

  • Dramatic topography, spanning from sea level to glacier-capped peaks
  • “Forest bathing” among enormous old growth trees
  • After Labor Day, backcountry traffic dramatically tapers off

What we dislike about or are challenged by

  • Most nights we must stay in designated campsites, which can feel overused and which limit our route flexibility
  • Opportunities for off-trail travel are more limited than most of our other locations, and it’s often slower and more challenging
  • Low quality bedrock, steep dirt slopes, and loose scree that crumble and slide when weighted
Hurricane Ridge and Mt. Olympus

Greater Yellowstone

This would be a new location for us in 2024, and it’s mutually exclusives with Olympic National Park. Whether we end up in Yellowstone or the Olympics depends on both:

  • The availability of commercial permits in the Yellowstone area; and,
  • The relative interest in these locations from applicants.

I’m confident that I can get a commercial permit for Yellowstone National Park. But I’d like to secure access to some of the surrounding mountains as well, like the Wind River Range, Absoroka Range, or Beartooth Plateau. I’ll know more about these opportunities after I speak with National Forest rangers in early-December.

If those conversations are promising and if there is strong demand, we may relocate to Greater Yellowstone. If additional permits seem unlikely and if demand is similar to or less than for the Olympics, we’ll stay in Washington, where we have a more established and familiar operation. I hope to make a decision in mid- to late-December, before we offer spots or accept deposits. We will update applicants regularly.

Yellowstone National Park is the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The area is home to megafauna like grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and bison; and the park has some of the most exceptional thermal features in the world. It would be a tremendous guiding opportunity for our program.

What we will probably like

  • For the lower 48, this is big wilderness
  • In the park, wildlife and thermal features
  • In the adjacent mountain ranges, the experience will be on par with the High Sierra
  • After Labor Day, backcountry traffic dramatically tapers off, and the bugs are gone

What we may dislike or will be challenged by

  • In the park, opportunities for off-trail travel and dispersed camping are limited due to the park’s regulations and extensive trail system. Outside the park, the opportunities for both are excellent.
  • The adjacent mountain ranges are at high elevations (10,000-12,000 feet)
  • At this latitude and these elevations, fall conditions arrive early and groups may experience some cold nights (between 20 and 30 degrees F) and/or cold-and-wet conditions
  • After a long and dry summer in the West, these trips may be affected by faraway or local wildfires in the form of poor air quality or area closures.

Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2023: 4.67/5.0
  • 2022: 4.61/5.0
  • 2021: 4.67/5.0
  • 2020: 4.58/5.0
  • 2019: 4.50/5.0

If you love the Appalachian Mountains, want Appalachian-specific instruction, and/or cannot justify the travel expense or time for a 3- or 5-day trip out West, this is the location for you.

West Virginia is charmingly rural, and its backcountry areas are as wild as the Appalachians get. Early-October is prime season here: the colors are turning, the bugs are gone, and the temperatures are comfortable both at night and during the day. It’s also the driest month of the year.

Seneca Creek and Dolly Sods have environmental conditions typical of both the southern and northern Appalachians. In the lower elevations, we find lush hardwoods and rhododendron tunnels, like in the Blue Ridge; and in the upper elevations, expect guard spruce and soggy peat bogs, like in Maine. The setting is ideal for teaching regional skills, like how to sleep in hammocks, manage rain and wet gear, and navigate through indistinct terrain with limited line-of-sight visibility.

Monongahela National Forest is reasonably accessible from many eastern metro areas. Imagine a “box” with corners at New York City, Columbus, Knoxville, and Raleigh. Anything in that box is no more than about 5 hours away.

What we like about this location

  • In the eastern US, West Virginia is about as undeveloped and wild as it gets
  • Peak fall foliage, mild temperatures, and low humidity
  • No bugs or ticks
  • Flat needle-covered campsites with nice fire rings

What we dislike about or are challenged by in this location

  • The potential for fog, rain, and muddy trails, as well as cold-and-wet storms that feel much more November-like than summer-like
  • Rooty, rocky, and leaf-covered trails
Sunset in Dolly Sods Wilderness — yes, in West Virginia

I have been backpacking for about twenty years and I have never experienced anything like my trip with Andrew’s company. I likely would have never explored this part of the world on my own due to the risks and difficulties that come with the terrain, but thanks to Andrew and our guides I had the trip of a lifetime. I saw more in one week than I ever could have hoped to in a year on my own. From getting certified in wilderness first aid, to identifying wild mustard plants and tracking wildlife, to learning rope techniques for technical canyoneering, I learned far more about almost every backcountry skill than I ever could have imagined. I would recommend this trip to any person who loves the outdoors without a moment’s hesitation. -Scott M.

I could not have asked for a better, more adventurous trip. Our teammates were hand-picked to perfection. The guides were beyond knowledgeable and willing to help in every way. Good food, great conversation and a true sense of adventure. The location was amazing, but the people will bring me back for years to come. 5 stars all around! -Ryan D.

If you’re on the fence about signing up for a Skurka Adventure trip, just go for it. Even as a relatively seasoned backpacker, Eagle Scout, and someone who has spent a ton of time in the outdoors, I walked away from this experience with a wealth of new skills and confidence that I can’t wait to put to use on future off trail routes of my own. I felt that I more than got my money’s worth out of this trip and would not hesitate to spend my hard-earned dollars on another Skurka Adventure. -Josh S.