How to Find Solitude in a National Park

The heart and soul of a National Park is found away from it's crowded roads and scenic overlooks.

National Parks hold some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States. Epic vistas, unique formations, jagged mountains, and crystal clear rivers await the adventurer who forks over the entrance fee to get inside.

One thing that is hard to find in National Parks is solitude. There is precious little opportunity to have quiet enjoyment of these treasures. But with planning (and a bit of luck), you can carve out a peaceful experience in any National Park by following these tips.

Visit When Others Don’t.

National Parks are most popular between late morning and late afternoon. You’re likely to find full parking lots and overrun trails during these hours. Start your adventures just after sunrise, or visit a popular scenic overlook right before sunset to cut down on the crowds.

Other quiet times to visit a park include weekdays (except during summer vacation) and when the weather is bad. Don’t put yourself in danger – for example don’t attempt The Narrows during a rainstorm – but bad weather clears out many people and can make for moody photographs and great stories.

Do Your Research.

Look for the trails and roads that aren’t highlighted on the official park map. Scour sites like The Outbound for lesser-known adventures. If you’re patient you might find some gems on Instagram by sifting through location tags from the park.

When you arrive at the park, head to the Visitor Center and talk to a ranger. Let them know you’re seeking solitude and how far you’re willing to hike or drive to find it. Being kind and respectful will go a long way in scoring directions to the best spots.

Get in Shape.

Even at the busiest parks a crowded trail will thin considerably after a mile or two. Many people aren’t willing, or aren’t able, to hoof it in too far from the parking area.

The heart and soul of a park is away from the roads and viewpoints. Getting your legs and lungs in shape will allow you to reach the areas where most never go. I’ve hiked switchbacks with grizzly bears, scrambled to hidden kivas, and watched sunrises over alpine lakes by being in good enough shape to get there.

Also, rangers are more likely to send you to the great spots if they are able to trust your hiking abilities.

Give Others the Gift of Quiet.

Give quiet to get quiet. Let others experience a trail or viewpoint in peace and hope the favor will be returned to you in the future.

Trails aren’t churches or libraries, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. But if you come across someone sitting quietly on a cliffs edge, bellowing like Tarzan is assuming they want to enjoy the trail the same way you do. Save the whooping for an epic spot that is either so full of people that others will join you, or is so empty that you can hear the echo for miles.

By following these tips you may luck out with a quiet experience, or your carefully planned itinerary may be overrun with people. Be flexible. Remember that any day out in the wild is a good day. Smile at your fellow hikers, and then start hatching your next adventure.

Published: March 11, 2017

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Sara SheehyExplorer

Sun Valley

Writer | Nomad I Adventuress | Photographer