With 7.4 billion people (and counting) on this tiny blue planet, it can feel like you’re constantly fighting for space, especially in major cities where every square foot counts. The truth is there’s still plenty of room on this earth where you can escape the crowds (and your stuff) and enjoy mind-clearing solitude. You don’t have to go far to find these tranquil territories. Science says any nearby green space will do.
A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in the great outdoors may have positive effects on the brain. Researchers observed 38 healthy, adult urbanites before and after they either took a 90-minute stroll in either a quiet park or along a loud highway. Those who partook in the nature walk showed significant improvements in their mental health—they were calmer and didn’t brood as much over negative aspects of their life—compared to their counterparts who endured less soothing surroundings.
If you want to go farther, see more, and reconnect with the vast beauty of nature, we have some amazing destinations for you. While a few locations listed below may already be on your bucket list, we aimed to dig up mostly lesser-known landscapes and under-appreciated parks, plus a few wellness and yoga retreats around the globe where you can take a much-needed time-out from the hustle and bustle and find sweet silence, space, and serenity now.
Virginia Coast Reserve, Virginia
Escape to one of 10 uninhabited barrier islands that the Nature Conservancy has made accessible to the public. There is no overnight access (meaning, plan day trips only), but visitors can surf cast (fish from or near the shoreline), watch thousands of beach-nesting shorebirds, or be lulled into an afternoon nap by the crashing Atlantic waves.
Big Sur, California
This 90-mile-long sanctuary of Central California Coastline where the Santa Lucia Mountains dramatically plunge into the Pacific is a breathtaking sight. At Esalen Institute, practicing yoga and meditation and eating nourishing organic food have been the daily rhythm for more than half a century.
American Prairie Reserve, Montana
Take an American-style safari in this ever-expanding 353,104-acre reserve, where conservation partners are working to restore the Great Plains to pristine Lewis and Clark conditions. Camp in a luxurious yurt, which is plenty close to the elk, mule deer, and bison.
Patagonia Park, Chile
This private playground is a 200,000-acre former ranch in northern Patagonia’s Valle Chacabuco. It sits between massive General Carrera Lake and a range of unnamed, snow-capped peaks. In the Austral summer, from October 1 to April 30, fly-fish, kayak the turquoise Rio Baker, roam miles of hiking trails that lead to secret alpine lakes, then sink into a leather sofa in the soaring great room of the newly completed stone lodge.
Kenauk Nature, Montebello, Quebec, Canada
Fishing is a meditative act. There’s no better place to practice it than on this 65,000-acre private estate. Fly cast for rainbow and speckled trout, or fish from a boat for small and largemouth bass or northern pike. Retire to a rustic, post-and-beam chalet and fall asleep in the cool, clean northern air.
Ladder Ranch, New Mexico
From high-desert prairies to Gila Mountain wilderness, Ted Turner’s private ranch—one of four private properties that the billionaire environmentalist recently opened to the public as part of Ted Turner Expeditions, the new eco-conscious adventure tour company—offers 245 square miles where guests can hike, ride horses, or watch the sun sink below the horizon in the giant western sky. It’s the kind of Wild West where deep breathing comes naturally.
Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, Costa Rica
A tropical haven in a remote cloud forest in the highest mountains of Central America, Cloudbridge is a private retreat on Mount Chirripo with three casitas that guests can rent for a few days or a few months. Plant trees, hike to waterfalls, or search for the reclusive Resplendent Quetzal, a beautiful, vibrantly colored bird once considered as a sacred symbol by the Maya and Aztecs.
Sabi Sands, South Africa
Because it shares a 31-mile unfenced border with Kruger National Park, this 160,000-acre oasis offers unfettered sightings of the big five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhinoceros), especially in the dry season between May and September. Sleep in a rustic bush tent, on an elevated star bed, or in a high-end lodge with sundowners in hand (the reserve has 21 lodging options).
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
For those who like to work for their solitude, try the one-million-acre playground of woods and pristine water in northern Minnesota. Paddle and portage all day, then pitch a tent on a granite slab under the white pines, light a fire in the grate, and listen to the haunting call of a loon, the state bird.
Mountain Trek, Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia
Wake at dawn to start the day with gentle yoga in a sunlit studio with views to massive Kootenay Lake. Further meditation here comes in the form of silent hiking through fields of lupine and Indian paintbrush in the high-alpine trails in the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges.
Grumeti Reserves, Tanzania
There’s nothing like staring a lion in the face to remind yourself of the preciousness of life. You can rest-assured yours won’t be in danger when you stay at the safe and serene Singita Sabora Tented Camp located in the Grumeti Reserves, spanning over 350,000 acres along the edge of the Serengeti. Nine luxury tents make up an intimate, 1920s-century style safari camp—complete with lavish furniture, including plush Persian rugs—that will serve as your basecamp as you explore the earth’s most exotic wildlife, such as gazelles, hyenas, wildebeests, and zebras (some of which roam freely through and around the property).
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Surrounded by canyons and peaks like flat-topped Cerro Pedernal, this former dude ranch is where Georgia O’Keeffe painted her most iconic landscapes in the 1930s. Today anyone can retreat from life to take a weeklong class in painting, pottery, photography, or custom design a week of silent meditation.
In India’s tropical south, Kerala is a magical state where Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists live side by side, and the landscape varies from sandy Indian ocean beaches to the wild-elephant riddled Western Ghat mountain range. Shiva Rea offers a 10-day “Living Flow Ashram” retreat here at an ocean sanctuary overlooking the Malabar Coast in October.
County Donegal, Ireland
Summer is the warmest and sunniest time to be in Ireland’s least-populated county. This rugged county in the Republic’s far northwest corner offers wide-open space to wander cliff tops, write a novel in a cottage by the sea, or ferry out to forgotten island villages. At the end of the road in Port, is a renovated centuries-old farmhouse with jaw-dropping views of the craggy coastline.
At the height of summer, the beach at the base of this chic, pastel village is covered with sun-worshipping bodies. Wait until a colder month to have the Path of the Gods, a breathtaking, ancient coastal hiking trail high along the coastline and the beach to yourself. There will be fewer open restaurants, but villa rentals, like this one, are 30 to 50 percent less expensive in the off-season.
Half Moon Caye, Belize
This dreamy 44-acre isle, about 55 miles off shore of mainland Belize, is a minimalist’s paradise with seaside tent wall cabanas, an open-air dining pavilion, and many ways to get on the water, like diving at the world-famous Blue Hole, a giant underwater sinkhole that may be seen from space, just a short skiff ride away. Start the day with a sunrise yoga session or a walk to see the colony red-footed boobies (colorful seabirds) on the other end of the island. Plan your trip in advance for anytime between December and April, which is when the Lighthouse Reef Adventure Basecamp on Half Moon Caye opens for the season.
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The stunning shoreline of this 50-square-mile lake high in the Sierra Madre Mountains alternates between active volcanoes and Mayan villages that date back centuries. Just west of heavily toured Panajachel is Villa Sumaya, a lakeside vegetarian retreat that offers a spectrum of healing retreats, from yoga and Ayurveda immersion to Kirtan and cacao ceremonies.
Na Pali Coast, Kauai
The crenulated green folds of this precipitous coastline rises 4,000 feet above the crashing Pacific. On the 11-mile Kalalau trail, every step is a meditation, from the 1,000-foot Hanakoa Falls to mile-long Kalalau Beach at the end. The driest time of year to hike it is mornings from May to October.
This red-rock oasis has been a center of spiritual healing since the Sinagua Indians inhabited the region 1,400 years ago. Enjoy their ancestral energy while forging your own path on the hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Start with beloved Cathedral Rock at dawn before the crowds arrive.
This World Heritage site is the Cuba of Americans’ dreams—a 500-year-old pastel village lined with swaying palms, tucked into the Escambrey Mountains, and practically a stone’s throw from the azure Caribbean. Play on the beach, wander the cobblestone streets of the city, and stay in a casa particular in La Boca, a relaxed village on the beach, 10 minutes from the city.
Silver Island, Greece
With no Internet service, shared rooms, and a vegetarian menu, this 60-acre island yoga haven arises out of the Aegean Sea like a welcome ghost from a simpler past. Owned by two sisters who are half Greek and half South African, the yoga retreat offers an amalgam of disciplines, the cuisine is locally grown, and the accommodations are chic with stunning views to the sea.
Kids here are so engrossed by the horseback riding, fly-fishing, and cowboy culture that moms don’t need to feel guilty for sneaking away to the twice-weekly, one-hour outdoor yoga sessions. By the end of the week, they may even be emboldened to try “Cowboy Yoga,” a horseback ride to a mountaintop class.
Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, California
This Buddhist monastery in the heart of the Ventana Mountains in the Los Padres National Forest is a godsend for stressed urbanites. Three-day retreats—like cooking, Zen meditation, yoga, or loving kindness—offer just enough structure for learning a new skill, but also allow for unfettered hiking and soaking in the Japanese-style baths.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Until 1994, this 75-acre island off Rio de Janeiro state served as a prison for some of the worst criminals in Brazil, which is why this pristine slice of paradise still remains so undeveloped. The roadless island has 93 miles of hiking trails, a 1,000-foot peak to summit, and endless miles of white sand beach. What could possibly make it better? A yoga and detox retreat in the tiny village Angra dos Reis.
Halibut Cove, Alaska
The Last Frontier conjures images of grizzlies and salmon—not so much a meditative tree pose. But the studio at Stillpoint Lodge, overlooking a spruce-laden fjord, brings a little Zen, a little Scandinavian design, and a lot of big Alaska wilderness to anyone’s practice.
Main image courtesy of Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.