I thought I understood this but suddenly I felt confused looking at Jisho's example sentences.
私達は遠くに船を 見つけた。 We caught sight of a ship in the distance.
彼は遠方に船を見つけた。 He caught sight of a ship in the distance.
So they mean the same thing basically. The only thing different is what comes before に and one being "we" and one being "he". 遠く is treated as a noun so how is it actually different from 遠方 in this particular usage? They both even get defined as distant places on Jisho. I feel like the difference between usages like this is often a cause of confusion for me. If someone could break down the differences it'd help a lot, I can be unsure of word choice when forming my own sentences when there are multiple ways.