Anyone that has visited one of our country's national parks in the last few years has probably noticed a not so tiny problem. Over crowding. The year 2015 saw 305 million visitors to the 58 parks, resulting in long shuttle bus lines, shoulder to shoulder standing room at vista points and nearly impossible to get lodging. One reason for the influx in park visitors is due to the NPS "Find Your Park" campaign, encouraging people from all over the world to come and visit all that these beautiful parks have to offer. While I am 100% in favor of getting people outdoors, something's gotta give. If you're anything like me, the reason I visit the parks each year is to disconnect from our busy, congested world and get back to the natural world. It's incredibly difficult to do that when you're waiting in a long line of cars and tour buses just trying to drive through the park. I will never forget the feeling I had driving out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite after spending a few days being fairly isolated in the high Sierras and driving into the congested, tour bus filled Yosemite Valley. I couldn't get out of there fast enough! Luckily there are a few easy ways to get the most out of your national park visit without having to deal with as many crowds.
1. The Early Bird Gets The Worm
Instead of sleeping in, get up before/with the sunrise and get your day started. Not only will you most likely get a breathtaking view of the sun coming up over the horizon, but you'll be hard pressed to find a lot of people up moving about that early in the morning. Pack a headlamp and start a hike just before dawn and catch nature at its finest hour.
2. Walking In A Winter Wonderland
Memorial Day through Labor Day is the busiest time for most of the parks. Kids are out of school and families typically take their yearly vacations during this time. While you will typically get good weather during that time, it's not always fun standing in line for a shuttle in 90 degree heat or trying to score a last minute camp site in the slim chance someone cancels last minute. Winter is one of my favorite times of year, so I will admit I am a little biased. But grab your winter coat and gloves and go snow shoeing at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park or cross country skiing at Glacier National Park. You'll see the park in a whole new light when it's blanketed in fresh snow!
3. The Backcountry Is Your Friend
Getting into the backcountry is a sure fire way to weed out most visitors to any park. For starters, having to obtain a permit will automatically limit the amount of people allowed on that section of the trail/park. Also, most people see the parks from their car with small stops at "points of interest" and vista points. Getting off the beaten path gets you away from all those hoards of people and closer to the great outdoors.
4. Skip The "Must See" Attractions
While there are many iconic sites inside of our national parks, there are also thousands of spectacular lookouts, lakes, waterfalls, cliffs, etc. that get overlooked. Sometimes even hiking up to peak will give you a different vantage point of these iconic sites without bumping into people with selfie sticks and fanny packs (not there is anything wrong with either of those items.) Instead of driving to the top Glacier Point in Yosemite, hike to the top of Clouds Rest and see the Valley floor and surrounding peaks while passing just a handful of people on the trail up. Because we all know the longer the trail, the less people it attracts.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.