Tips to Avoid Summer Crowds at National Parks
Long lines at the park?
Most of us head to the parks to get away from it all. We’re looking for rejuvenation and reconnection with nature. Jam-packed crowds and long lines have a way of quickly deflating the mood at a National Park. You could choose to only travel during the off-season, but for many, that may not be possible. If you’re hoping to hit up the National Parks this summer, follow these tips to avoid the crowds.
Go on a weekday
Many people escape to a National Park on a weekend. Consequently, for the fewest crowds try to avoid visiting Friday-Sunday. Use weekend days to visit other local attractions, or as a rest and recuperation day at the campsite. Plan to be in the park on the less popular weekdays.
Due to the increasing popularity of the National Parks, many require permits for hiking or simply park entry. However, the reservation system for each park is different. Do your research well in advance to learn how best – and at what time – to obtain permits. Some parks have online registration systems, while others require a mailed in application at least six months in advance. Careful pre-planning can give you the exclusive (and less crowded) experience you desire.
In addition to booking permits, also look into booking guided excursions ahead of time. For example, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon will keep you away from the crowds, but it will also be booked up early.
Early bird gets the…better experience
To avoid crowds, the earlier you can get to the park the better. The noontime hours tend to be the busiest at parks. If you can arrive just as (or before) the sun rises, you can get in and on the trails before they’re packed with people. By the crowded noontime you can head back to camp for a meal and a swim, and return to the park in the evening for sunset as the crowds start to dissipate.
Consider a back-packing overnight
This option is directly tied into planning ahead. National Parks only allow for backcountry camping in designated areas, and often have a limited number of permits available. If you can score an overnight you’ll get to enjoy the park at its most peaceful time. Leave most of your things in the RV, take a simple backpack and tent and get an unforgettable experience.
Stay outside of the park
If you choose a campsite inside of the National Park, it may be hard to get away from the crowds at any point in the trip. Instead, choose a campground that is nearby but not inside the park. You will not only likely get a better rate, but you also have a quieter place to retreat to during the parks busiest hours.