On a recent trip to Ireland, I found myself driving through the wilds of Wicklow Mountains National Park. Even though I was only an hour south of Dublin, it felt like being transported to another planet: the heath extended for miles in every direction, the dramatic hills covered by swaying heather, not another car in sight.
But the part that made me feel most like I'd landed on Mars wasn't any of that. It was the complete lack of cellphone coverage.
There are few parts of the world left that are completely disconnected from any data network – fewer still that you'd probably choose to vacation in. And there's no romanticizing the fact that disconnected areas are at a significant disadvantage. That's a big part of the reason why the federal government, for example, committed $305-million in 2014 to expand access to high-speed Internet to another 280,000 households in rural and remote regions.
For those of us lucky enough to have networks at our fingertips, though, it's easy to have too much of a good thing. By now, we all know the consequences of constant connection – and the benefits of turning off. But not everyone has people (read: bosses) in their lives who will respect a do-not-call request – or the willpower to keep their phone on flight mode for a week. Short of paying a premium for a five-star "digital detox" resort, it can be tricky to find places to really disconnect: these days, even igloos and treehouses often come with both cellular coverage and WiFi.
But believe it or not, there are some places (and hotels) left on Earth that don't have service or WiFi. Had it with answering e-mails? Here are some things you could be doing instead.
Hang up your 'Gone Fishing' sign at Ross Lake Resort, Wash.
It's hard to get more off-grid than this: there's no road in, you can't book the cabins online and reservations should be scheduled a year in advance.
Stretching from Washington state into British Columbia, Ross Lake is a placid, 37-kilometre-long reservoir ringed by the North Cascade Mountains. Twelve cabins and three bunkhouses perch on log floats in its southwestern tip – accessible only by hiking or via the Diablo Lake Ferry (and a pick-up by the Ross Lake Resort truck). Some of the lodgings are cozy, others (such as the nine-person Peak Cabin) more spacious, and all come with the necessities: electricity, hot and cold running water, linens and a working kitchen (but bring your own groceries).
Fishing – especially for the lake's native trout – is popular, as are hiking and boating. One thing that's not? Surfing the Internet: There's no cellphone coverage or WiFi for guests. Even the satellite Internet link that the managers use to run the business is so spotty that, one wrote me, "we even try to avoid e-mails – I'm writing from our home in Concrete, Wash."
Rooms from $185 (U.S.) for two; open mid-June through October. rosslakeresort.com
Wander through wildflowers in Camp Denali, Alaska
You don't have to be a mountaineer to enjoy the sweeping views and remote wilderness of the 2.5-million-hectare Denali National Park. But you do have to be okay with leaving your connections behind: The deeper you go, the fewer you'll find. At Camp Denali and North Face Lodge, there's no cellphone service or WiFi whatsoever. You'll have to leave your car behind, too: There is just one road leading into the park, and because only the first 24 of its 148 kilometres are paved and open to public use, the rest of the journey is by bus.
But what you give up in connections, you gain in extraordinary beauty – and down-home comforts. North Face Lodge has 15 wood-panelled rooms, a living room with a fireplace and sweeping views of Mount Denali and the Alaska Range. The guest cabins at Camp Denali are a step more rustic, with handmade quilts, wood stoves and outhouses. Both stays include all meals and activities, whether canoeing across nearby Wonder Lake, guided walks across wildflower-studded meadows or evening talks by specialists on topics from the Klondike gold rush to nature photography to owls.
Both lodges have fixed three-, four- or seven-nights stays, starting at $1,725 (U.S.) per person, based on double occupancy for a three-night stay; open June to September. campdenali.com
Stretch out on white sand at Is Arutas, Sardinia
Much of the Mediterranean coastline has mobile coverage. Not Is Arutas, a strikingly beautiful beach that runs for several kilometres down Sardinia's western coast. Data from Open Signal, a crowd-sourced map of coverage around the world, shows that none of their users have had luck connecting there. (Their data comes with a caveat: "These are not necessarily complete not-spots, but the expected proportion of time that you would have no signal is much higher," they told me.)
Although there are plenty of accommodation options in nearby Oristano, if you want to stay out of service, rough it instead. Is Aruttas has 120 campsites (including furnished "tents" with electricity, bedrooms and a kitchenette), a restaurant and even a horseback riding school … but also free WiFi. Agricampeggio Monte Muras, just two kilometres north, is decidedly more bare bones – which means no Internet connection, either.
Camping Is Aruttas starts at $50 (all remaining prices in Canadian dollars) for two for a furnished tent, per night; open April through September. campingisaruttas.it
Agricampeggio Monte Muras from $16 per night; open May through October. pleinair.it
Keep your eye on the rhinos at Wilderness Safaris, Africa
Given the price tag of safari packages, it's not surprising that most these days offer all of the bells and whistles, including WiFi. But eco-tourism operator Wilderness Safaris has just taken the opposite tack, announcing in October, 2015, that 15 of their camps – already out of mobile-phone coverage – also will remain WiFi-free. "It is our strong belief that we simply have to contribute to keeping some areas of the planet wild and remote," the company's chief marketing officer said in a statement.
But giving up WiFi doesn't mean giving up much else. Mombo Camp in Botswana's Okavango Delta has raised luxury tents, in-room massages and even a camp gym – along with camp sightings of lions, leopard, cheetah, elephants and zebra. Namibia's Desert Rhino Camp, in an area known for having Africa's biggest population of free-ranging black rhinos, comes complete with a swimming pool.
Desert Rhino Camp from $430 a person, per night; Desert Rhino is from $340 (U.S.) a person, per night, based on double occupancy; Mombo Camp from $1,674 (U.S.) a person, per night based on double occupancy. wilderness-safaris.com
Kayak the cascades of Rushing River, Ont.
"While Kenora itself has good signal (both 3G and 4G), you don't have to go far to find a lakeside stay with poor mobile coverage," says Open Signal's Teresa Murphy-Skvorzova, who pulled the data. Like Rushing River Provincial Park in Northern Ontario – a glacier-carved landscape of rivers, rapids and forest that's so far north in the province it's only a 2.5-hour drive from Winnipeg.
To enjoy the park, go hiking, fishing or get out on the water. Canoes can be rented from the Rushing River General Store. True enthusiasts can try the Eagle-Dogtooth Provincial Park's backcountry canoe routes, which range from 32 to 103 kilometres. Car camping and walk-in sites are also available, including sites with trailers to sleep in.
The most basic campsites start at $34 per night. ontarioparks.com
Swim the Great Barrier Reef at Lizard Island, Australia
This island on the Great Barrier Reef – accessible by private charter only – has 24 white-sand beaches and a lagoon, an average year-round temperature of 27 C, a full-service spa and 40 sumptuous suites … but no cell service. That's because it's a private resort as well as a remote, 1,013-hectare national park, 27 kilometres off the tip of North Queensland.
During the day, try out paddle-boarding, stretch out on the sand, dive the Reef or admire the fish through a glass-bottomed boat; in the evening, watch the sun set from your private balcony. While there is WiFi at the two priciest villas (one starts at $5,185 per night, and the other $3,790 per night) as well as in the bar and pool area, it's a satellite connection, so the quality varies enough that you might not want to use it at all. In the rest of the rooms and at the restaurant, not to mention on the rest of the island, there's no WiFi whatsoever.
From $1,695 for two people, per night. lizardisland.com.au
Learn your lobster at Trout Point Lodge, N.S.
Surrounded by pine and spruce in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area – known for its glacier-carved landscape of forests, wetlands and rivers, as well as for its starry, light-pollution-free skies – this idyllic eco-lodge is seriously backwoods, so much so there's no mobile network coverage. But that hasn't kept its owners from making it as sumptuous as possible, from the two top-notch restaurants serving up sustainable "Atlantic Acadian" cuisine (think black-eyed pea soup with shrimp, homemade porcini ravioli or house-smoked salmon) to rooms that make "log-cabin luxury" real, thanks to details such as Tiffany lamps alongside handcrafted furniture and stone fireplaces.
Enjoy the riverside hot tub and sauna, guided foraging walks, geological hikes, fly-fishing and cooking (including lobster cooking) classes. Want to remain blissfully disconnected? Ask for a room in the main lodge: some areas of the property have WiFi, but those rooms do not.
Open from May to the end of October. Rates start at around $189 per night, room only, in low season. troutpoint.com