With much of the world surveyed, charted, dissected, and occupied, it can be a challenge to find untouched wild places—but look closer where states and plates split and you’ll find them. These borders are often traversed quickly, thought of only as a barrier between countries and continents, but there are plenty of opportunities for adventure along these human- and nature-drawn lines.
Spend some time in these in-between spaces to experience truly unbound adventures—just don’t forget your passport and any necessary visas.
Canoe Minnesota and Ontario’s Boundary Waters
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an iconic Midwestern destination for canoeists and solitude-seeking nature lovers, serving up silence the way only one million acres of pristine backcountry can. The expansive region, stretching nearly 150 miles between northern Minnesota and Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, contains thousands of glacier-carved streams that meander between stretches of lush forest, jagged rock formations, and secluded beaches.
The park is a popular summer destination, but visitors can enjoy dog sledding and winter camping once temperatures drop. Outfitters in nearby Ely, Minnesota, are equipped to take explorers out in any season. For those looking to go unassisted, don’t forget to pick up a permit first.
Hike between Alberta’s Waterton Lake and Montana’s Glacier Lake
Tucked between Montana and Alberta along the 49th parallel, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the world’s first international peace park. Waterton-Glacier is home to unique ecosystems that exist only in the region and offers between-country hikes with glimpses of Mount Cleveland, Glacier’s tallest peak.
Hikers can undertake the 16.8 mile round-trip trek between Canada’s Waterton Townsite in Canada and Goat Haunt in the U.S., where customs and stamps are administered at a picnic table outside the ranger station. The trail is open year-round, but between early June and late September Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. offers travelers a boat trip back.
Dive the Silfra Fissure Between Continental Plates in Iceland
This cross-border adventure doesn’t span countries, it extends over continental plates. PADI dive centers have popped up around Iceland to offer tours of the increasingly popular frigid (about 35°F) freshwater fissure located in Thingvellir National Park. Roughly one hour’s drive from Reykjavik, the Silfra fissure is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Water in the crevice is some of the clearest in the world thanks to a glacial melt and volcanic eruption following the end of the planet’s most recent ice age. The melted water now travels over 30 miles through hardened lava, which functions as a powerful filtration device, before finally flooding into the fissure. The process takes 30 to 100 years and creates a stunning pool of clear filtered water that can now be enjoyed by snorkelers and divers.
Surf the Great Lakes Between the U.S. and Canada
In the U.S., Duluth, Minnesota, is home to Stoney Point and a few other breaks along the southern edge of Lake Superior. The pros at Canada’s Surf the Greats surf shop in Toronto recommend Ashbridge’s Bay (known as A-Bay by locals), a Lake Ontario beach break that’s beginner friendly and popular in the summer. On the other end of the spectrum is the Cove, a powerful and steep wave reserved for experts and located just outside Toronto at Scarborough Bluffs.
Surfers can also catch waves at Michigan’s Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon and Crystal Beach on Lake Erie’s Canadian side, just a 30-minute drive from Buffalo, New York.
Kayak the Haro Strait between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island
Paddlers will find orcas, orcas, and more orcas while kayaking the Haro Strait between the U.S. and Canada. The southern resident killer whales are an extended orca family comprised of three pods (the J, K, and L pods) that inhabit the Salish Sea, which includes the waters between San Juan and Vancouver islands. Because these pods contain 76 whales total, the chances of spotting one while paddling the strait are high.
San Juan Outfitters offers three or five hour tours for the whole family designed to maximize exposure to wildlife like seals, sea lions, and eagles in addition to the black-and-white whales that have transfixed humans for centuries.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Thru Hike the Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide of the Americas, a ridge that covers both American continents and dictates whether river systems will flow toward the Pacific or Atlantic oceans, slices through the center of the United States.
Along that portion of the division the Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100-mile route that follows the ridge from the Canadian border in Glacier National Park to the Mexican border in the Big Hatchets Wilderness Study Area. Along the way, the trail travels through 25 national forests, 21 wilderness areas, eight Bureau of Land Management resource areas, three national parks, and one national monument.
Bike the Friendship Highway Between Tibet and Nepal
This Himalayan route between Nepal’s Kathmandu and Tibet’s Lhasa was shut down for two years following the April 2015 earthquake that rattled Nepal. Reopened in August 2017, infrastructure on the Nepalese side is still poor, but the route is passable once again.
Colloquially known as Friendship Highway, this roughly 500-mile monster of a roadway presents a challenging, high-altitude excursion for bikers but rewards them with sweeping views of surrounding mountainous landscapes. Cyclists tackle ascents reaching 3.2 miles at the Gyatso La pass and end the route with what’s considered to be the world’s longest descent, dropping 2.2 miles toward the Nepal border.
A hiker stands inside a glacial cave in Vatnajökull, Iceland.