When it comes to visiting crowded National Parks, it really boils down to the time of year and what the park has to offer. Many people go to parks for the views and scenery, while others are there to explore hiking, camping, and more. Even if you’re worried about overcrowding in National Parks, there are a few tips that you can use to help make your experience at the parks much more enjoyable – and potentially crowd-free!
Here are the best tips for visiting overcrowded National Parks for any time of the year.
Research the least crowded National Parks
Just a little bit of research will show the times of the year (and even the days of the week) that are the best to visit. I know that it is easy to get caught up in visiting some of the most well-known National Parks, but those parks also tend to be the most crowded. With hundreds of parks to choose from, try to find some of the lesser-traveled parks and visit those (especially if you are traveling during a peak season like summer). Don’t forget about the National Historic Parks as well!
If you can arrange your schedule to make that work, do so! You’ll be rewarded with less crowds, less stress, and unparalleled views that you don’t have to share. There is an abundance of resources online that will give you an idea of crowds and how to avoid them.
You can also call the information office at the parks to see what the traffic flow has been for the day, too. This can give you an idea of what to expect upon arrival.
We love Gettysburg and Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. Both of those are National Historical Parks. They are beautiful and offer so much American history to explore and learn! Both places see decent visitor levels throughout the year, but they are far less trafficked than say, Yosemite or Grand Tetons!
Go during the middle of the week
You’ll have a much better chance of not having to deal with a ton of people if you can go on a weekday. Monday – Thursday will be the slower days of the week, and are a great way to avoid the crowds. On the weekends, it’s a given that you can easily be waiting hours to get inside some of the parks. This is especially true for the Grand Canyon entrance and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
When we road tripped to Yellowstone, we arrived mid-week, towards evening. Our wait time to enter the park was minimal – no more than 10 minutes! We only had a car or two in front of us and in no time at all, we were cruising towards our campground. If you can plan your arrival to be on a weekday vs weekend, you will increase your chances of lower crowds, easier parking and fewer wait times.
Go during the off-season to avoid overcrowding in National Parks
The “hot” time to visit National Parks is during the summer months. If you can plan a trip during the spring, fall, or even the winter months, fewer people will be there. (There are of course exceptions to this rule. You need to consider which park you are visiting and learn about popular times to visit. For example, if you head to a park in the fall in a geographic locale that experiences beautiful foliage colors (Acadia, for instance), you will run into crowds.)
You also need to make sure that you are aware of possible off-season closures. National Parks located in higher elevations experience snow and other treacherous conditions that shut them down from fall to early spring.
Arrive later in the day (or super early)
If the main focus of your trip is just to get in and see the park, you don’t need to plan on spending the entire day there. Arriving later in the day when a lot of people are leaving may be the perfect way to have more of the park all to yourself.
Just make sure that you’re aware of when the park closes for the day so that you don’t have to cut your trip short. Most people like to plan for at least two hours inside a National Park to see a few things, but this all really depends on what you’re there for and what you want to see. Hikes and exploration will take longer than that.
Many of the bigger parks offer bus tours that bring tourists into the parks on a day trip. Sometimes you can luck out if you are staying inside the park (or at least have your own vehicle). You can see some sites after the tour buses have left for the day but before the park closes. Some parks offer areas that stay open throughout the night for stargazing, etc.
Arrive early in the morning
On the flip side, arriving early in the morning is also a great way to beat the crowds, too. Since the early bird gets the worm, early arrivals will have fewer crowds to deal with and the availability to see more of the park. Early mornings can be the best time to enjoy a quiet hike, take in some wildlife or of course, catch a sunrise.
One of our most memorable moments during our visit to Acadia National Park was seeing a sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. It was one of our earliest wakeup times on a trip ever – climbing out of bed by 3:45 am and starting the drive to the park by 4:15 am. Our energy level was depleted for the rest of the day, but the view and the experience sure were worth it!
The National Parks are truly a site to see and an experience like no other. Each park sets itself apart with unique attributes and points of interest! What is your favorite National Park? Why is it your favorite?
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