10 Ways to Avoid Crowds in Popular Parks

Experience your favorite National and State Parks without the masses and congestion.

Of course we all want to get out there and see the natural wonders in the National and State parks in our great country. It seems the more awesome the attraction, the more people flock to it and the more congested the trail becomes. Like you, I too seek the solitude of the trail. Here are several ways to beat the crowds and enjoy the peace that nature has to offer.

1. Lesser Known Trails

Hit the trails that are not as popular at peak times. They may take some extra driving, have a smaller parking area, and are not as beaten down but they are well worth the effort. Trekking a less popular trail during peak hours in the park will allow you to enjoy the area while avoiding the rush at the more popular attractions. Save the more captivating locations for a quieter time.

2. Strenuous Trails

For the more advanced hikers, taking on a more strenuous trail is an option to seek solitude. The more treacherous the trail, the less people you will encounter. Often there are some awe inspiring scenes at the end of a difficult trek.

**Warning: Do not attempt a hike outside of your ability. Take your skill level and experience into consideration before tackling more difficult terrain.

3. Visit in the Offseason

Even though most parks are open year-round, they aren’t necessarily busy year-round. Every park has a slower season. In the Midwest, our slow season is when the temperature drops and the snow falls. But look out, there are leaf peepers in the fall.

Always check for weather conditions and road accessibility if you’re venturing out in the off-season, or early/late busy season. Some roads close due to snow removal complications, falling rock, avalanche risks and other such natural occurrences.

**Keep in mind that there is a reason parks have an “off-season.” The park you visit might have extreme weather (cold or hot) among other dangers. Do your research on your particular destination prior to your visit in the off-season.

4. Weekdays

It can be hard to get away in the middle of the week, but this is a sure-fire way to see fewer hikers on the trails. While this isn’t exactly ideal, it may be a good option to consider for parks that you’ve had your eye on for a while.

5. Can You Canoe?

Traveling by water guarantees an escape from the congestion of the trail. There is no trail! Obviously this isn’t an option for all parks, but for those offering a launch site or rentals, it’s worth it to experience a park by way of canoe or kayak. It ads a serene element to any outdoor experience. Parks like Voyager’s National Park in Minnesota or Everglades in Florida are great locations to experience the wilderness by water. Be sure to check ahead of time to see if this is an option at your destination.

6. Picnic

Rather than waste time at restaurants or cooking a big meal, save time with a picnic. Packing a breakfast or lunch ahead of time will save you time on the day of your hike. A great time to break out the picnic basket is at the highlight of your hike.

7. Sign-up Early

For parks with activities requiring a reservation such as rock climbing, guided hikes, wildlife educations programs, cave tours, etc. Sign up for your designated activity and time in advance. This includes timed entry for National Parks.

8. Be a Sunrise Hiker

The early bird get the worm. This is true for hikers as well. Fewer people, cooler temperatures, more wildlife. You can’t lose! The earlier the better. Check the parks website to see when they open and plan to arrive at or just before opening hours. For national parks, there may be timed entries. If this is the case for your destination, shoot for the earliest possible time and reserve it well in advance.

9. Camp in the Park

What’s better than being early? Already being there! Camping at the park can give you the advantage of being one of the first hikers on the trail. We camped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and hit a couple of trails before others were even in the park. It can also give your group a chance to see more wildlife when they are more active.

10. Stay Near the Park

Missed the reservation window for camping at the park? No worries! Many popular parks have campgrounds or hotels near the entrance or a short drive away. Staying in a hotel nearby offers a chance to get to the park early while still having a hot shower at the end of a day on the trail.

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