After I road tripped for 7 months and visited all of the US national parks, nowadays I've had the chance to visit many of the national parks many more times, and I can give you a few tips on how to avoid crowds while you're there.
Are you planning a trip to a National Park soon? National Parks are a lot of fun to visit, but sometimes it can be challenging to avoid the crowds during summer months and plan ahead. Here are the best tips for avoiding crowds in popular national parks, so you can enjoy your trip!
How busy are US National Parks?
Without question, America's National Parks provide you with incredible moments. In particular, Yellowstone and Shenandoah. Nonetheless, it is difficult to talk about National Parks today without also mentioning the crowds. While it may sound like an astronomical number at first, there are still a number of designations in the National Parks, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Scenic Trails and more, so 297 million people didn't just visit parks but also monuments, scenic trails and the like.
VISIT MIDWEEK AND DURING OFF-PEAK SEASONS
Its advisable to visit the national parks in the morning hours during the middle of the week and the off-peak seasons of the year. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they are often the quietest times to visit. During the off-peak season, which differs from park to park, generally occurs between October, February, and April. Fall and spring typically offer the best temperatures and the fewest crowds. Spring will show new life with beautiful wildflowers and baby animals, while in the fall you can find beautiful fall foliage to explore.
CHOOSE LESS VISITED NATIONAL PARKS
When choosing national parks to visit, it's best to stay away from the most popular parks. Try visiting parks that are less popular in order to have a less crowded visit and have a more enjoyable, easier experience taking in the whole of the park. On the other hand, the more obscure parks are often just as gorgeous as the well-known ones.
START YOUR DAY AT SUNRISE
One of the best ways to take full advantage of your visit to a national park is to go at sunrise. There will be fewer crowds, and you will be more likely to see animals going about their natural lives. With the birds singing and all that feels so fresh in the morning, think about catching the sunrise in a national park before it gets crowded with people. In spite of all of this, I find sunrise to be very tranquil.
Find the best spots in the park to view sunrise and sunset. For sunrise, I recommend an overlook facing east, and for sunset, one facing west. If you want to see nature's most beautiful display, arrive early.
Yet another way is to go in later since most people will be gone from the park or headed back to their campsite by 4pm in summer when the days are longer. A sunset hike could do wonders if you bring your headlamp to prepare for the dark.
EXPLORE LESS POPULAR PARTS OF THE PARK
Many things are available at the National Parks and viewpoints or hikes, like the ones at the Grand Canyon. Its often become busy for a good reason...they are beautiful and worth seeing! In saying that though, it is best to avoid crowds by selecting less visited viewpoints and trails when hiking for the most part. It's best to see the more popular areas either early in the morning or late in the day because you want to avoid high traffic times. During high traffic times, it is recommended to stay out of the popular attractions, but this is an advice that differs by park and by season.
You can ask a park ranger for some suggestions for a less-crowded park adventure. I find that they are usually willing to share these kinds of places since it's better for the park to have a wider spread of visitors.
STAY OUTSIDE OF THE NATIONAL PARK
If you prefer solitude over the crowds at the park, you can stay in a quiet vacation rental near the park rather than the busy park lodge or campground. Also, you can find local campgrounds where you can car camp or sleep in your car.
HIT THE TRAILS
Many people tend to stay in the highly crowded tourist areas of national parks instead of hiking on the trails. Taking a short hike can expose you to some beautiful spots that most people are unlikely to see. Research beforehand to find out which paths are busier than others, and pick the ones that are generally less crowded.
PLAN A BACKPACKING TRIP
The best way to avoid crowds in national parks is to backpack. This is by far the best way. A backpacking trip in a national park can help you explore more of the park, discover breathtaking views, and experience wilderness areas that most people never see. In order to ensure your safety and fulfill park guidelines, it is imperative that you plan ahead if you choose to backpack.
VISIT NEARBY ALTERNATIVES
To avoid the crowds in national parks, consider exploring nearby alternatives. Nearby national lands, state parks, and other local parks can be almost as beautiful but are generally less crowded. These are not designated national park areas, but they are certainly worth visiting.
The easiest way to find these types of areas is to do a simple internet search to find the most popular parks for your chosen destination, as well as national parks near you.
This travel guide hopes to make your visits to the country's national parks memorable and without crowds by providing the advice that has made my vacations here as perfect as possible. Keep a map/GPS info on you and make sure you're capable of fending for yourself because things might not be what you expect, so it's better to know in advance. Do some research before your arrival and be there early to make the most out of your trip!