Tips When Visiting Overcrowded National Parks

Mountains on a seashore

National Parks receive millions of visitors during the busiest years, which means it can be a bit difficult to visit these places during peak season. For plenty of outdoor adventure lovers, visiting an overcrowded National Park can be a bit frustrating since you can experience long lines to enter the park, full parking lots, and crowded trails. Here you will find out how to avoid crowds in National Parks and how to recreate responsibilities in overcrowded parks. Hopefully, by the end of this article, it will help you have a better experience during peak season in National Parks.

1. Make Sure to Book Ahead Of Time: Avoid Massive Crowds

Popular National Parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite can draw massive crowds, and camping sites tend to get booked up to an entire year in advance. For you to avoid the disappointment of getting your hopes up for your next adventure, it is best for you to book your travel in advance.

There are plenty of National Parks that have must-see attractions and monuments, making it easy for you to pop into the park for the day. You have a choice of tent camping, RV camping, or spending the night in one of the cabins that National Parks offer. With this in mind, you can guarantee to have the time of your life while you are in the park.

Booking ahead of time will provide you the chance to make the most of planning your trip. If you know the specific dates far in advance, you will have time to really research what fun you can have in the park while you are there.

2. Always Come Prepared and Self-Sufficient: Research, Research, Research!

You always need to do extensive trip research ahead of time, so you go into the National Park with a good game plan. Make sure that you mark trails on your favorite hiking apps and pack your day’s hiking essentials, which will include food and water for the day. When you bring your essentials with you, you don’t have to spend time waiting in line at the park concession stands to get what you need.

Being self-sufficient and going to National Parks prepared, you will save yourself a ton of time by not waiting in long lines at the park. Also, it is nice to have a quick pre-trip checklist so there wouldn’t be any surprises along the way.

Entrance Reservations. There are parks that have implemented timed entrance reservations during the peak season to take control of overcrowding, such as Acadia and Yosemite. For you to enter the park, even for day use, you need a reservation in advance.

So, make sure to always check the park website before planning your trip, so you know what to expect. Also, when you have a reservation placed, it will save you time and the hassle of waiting in line to get into the park.

Check Park Updates and Alerts. Every National Park will have updates available on its website to let its visitors know what the current situations in the park are. These would mean restrictions, trail or road closures, and changes to the normal park adventure that might affect your visit.

Dog-Friendly Parks. National Parks can be difficult to go to when hiking with dogs. However, there are parks that allow pets to roam around in the developed areas like paved trails, lodges, and some parts of the campground and trails. Here’s an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written that lists the parks that allow pets to have their own outdoor adventures.

Deadlines or Permits. There are plenty of sought-after National Park trails that need permits, and the application window is usually short and months in advance. There is nothing worse than planning your trip, having your gear all ready to go, and realizing that you are not able to get into the park.

It is always important that you do your research in advance, and it is recommended that you start to plan your adventure to go to the National Park at least six months in advance. This way, you can be prepared for any permit and campground reservation deadlines that the park may have.

It’s understandable that Zion and Yosemite are part of everyone’s list to visit. Still, there are 423 National Park sites, which include 63 National Parks and 83 National Monuments, along with other types of public land that you can visit. When you are bothered by crowds, you can take a vacation in less busy National Parks or visit National Forests or public lands with similar views without stumbling into a crowd of people.

Here are some of the less popular and crowded parks that you can visit during the peak season:

  • Petrified Forest National Park – Arizona
  • Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas
  • California Hiking and Riding Trail – California
  • Joshua Tree National Park – California
  • Key Biscayne National Park – Florida
  • Lake Clark National Park – Alaska
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park – California

Joshua Tree National Park is not recommended to visit during the summer since it tends to provide hot temperatures that you won’t be able to handle.

4. Try Visiting Mid-Week or Arrive Early: A Strategy to Avoid Crowd

Make sure that you are strategic when you are visiting National Parks that tend to be overcrowded. It is best to visit during off-peak hours and days of the week. The best days to visit National Parks are Tuesdays and Wednesdays since they are typically the least crowded days to visit. However, any weekday is better than the weekend.

It is also best to tackle trails that tend to be crowded to start your adventure early in the morning or late in the day when everyone is on their way back to their cars. If you want a quieter hike, it is best to go during sunrise since sunset can get a bit chaotic since everyone is going home.

When you hike during off-peak hours, you can have the top of the mountain all to yourself or with your loved ones.

When you want to stay clear from the crowds, you can choose tough or less popular trails. If you do this, the higher you climb, the fewer people you will get to encounter. Plenty of people who visit National Parks tend to have major lookout points and popular attractions. They won’t venture more than a mile or two away from their vehicles.

To avoid crowds, make sure to search for places that you feel like others won’t be visiting during the peak season. Always plan ahead, get any permits you may need, and you will be rewarded with the solitude you seek.

It is understandable that you would like to hike on popular trails and if you want to continue with this plan, make sure that you start at sunrise or late in the day. The busiest hours on National Parks are usually from 9 AM to 4 PM, but it can change based on the park location and the season as well.

Waking up early can be a bit challenging, but it will be worth it when you are already heading back to the trailhead after a quiet hike on the trail while passing the regular day hikers. Also, when you are starting early, you will have the time to rest and take an afternoon nap.

6. Consider Visiting National Parks During Off-Peak Shoulder Season

The best way to avoid crowded places altogether is to visit National Parks outside the peak season. Plenty of National Park visits take place during the summer season when kids are on vacation. So when you have the flexibility to take a vacation in the shoulder season, which is during fall or spring, you will have to face far fewer crowds.

You will also have less competition with people getting their campsites and wilderness permits. When you are visiting National Parks during the spring season, it can mean blooming wildflowers, and visiting during the fall season will mean gorgeous fall foliage.

Be sure always to do your research so that you can determine the best shoulder season months to visit since seasonal weather patterns, just like the melting snowpack in the spring, can determine the trails that will open during a shoulder season visit.

Now, there are some areas of the parks that aren’t accessible during the winter due to snow, but they can be just as beautiful during the off-season. Also, winter hiking and camping can provide some serious bragging rights to your friends and family.

7. Rely On Different Apps That Are Available for You: It Comes In Handy!

You will be surprised at how many handy applications there are available for you when you are traveling in National Parks that can help you avoid overcrowded National Parks. Aside from taking pictures to share on your Social Media, there are some apps that you will be happy to have on your phone.

The Weather Channel app is what you will need on your trip, as your trip would be determined largely by the weather. When you are hiking in the pouring rain, it may not be fun, so make sure that you look into this app before you head out on your outdoor adventure. It will come in handy as it will let you know the best time go on your adventure.

Another app that you can have on your phone is the Gaia GPS, as it is your go-to app for finding the best places to hike. It has a database of plenty of hiking trails and will provide you with a map of how to get to these places. You can also record your trips with the app and share your trip plans with your fellow travelers.

Before you head to the National Park that you are planning to go to, make sure that you already have these downloaded on your phone.

8. Consider On Getting A Guided Tour for Your Outdoor Adventures

When you don’t feel comfortable exploring the park on your own during the crowded season, it is best to get a guided tour. The majority of the park will have people that know the park inside and out, which can provide you with the experience that you are looking for during your adventure.

It can take some stress off when it comes to planning your trip. If you are feeling pressured and buckling under the pressure of organizing your visit to the National Park, you can simply call one of the tour companies and book a reservation for them to guide you on an adventure.

With a guided tour, you will get some great insider information about the park and see things that you would never see when you are by yourself. Also, with plenty of companies available to you, they can provide you with the gear you need for your hiking, climbing, and biking needs.

9. Take the Time to Visit the Visitor’s Center

National Parks have plenty of details that you need to take in, and taking the time to read the bulletin boards and check the maps at the visitor center is the best way to connect with the park. Make sure that you get the lay of the land before you hit the trail with your friends or family.

The visitor center is where you can ask questions about the lesser-known trails, other updated tips to make sure you have a good time, and any recent wildlife interactions. When you plan to visit a National Park, it provides a great chance to learn about the area. It will also allow you to know its history and the plants as well as animals that live there.

It is best to be reminded that these parks are wild places and home to wildlife as well as ancestral lands of indigenous people, so it is best to respect where you go.

10. Take the Time to Befriend the Park Rangers

Now, you have to remember that hats are there for a reason, and they know the parks inside and out. The park rangers will be able to help you stay safe and also help you enjoy your experience. So, making friends with the park rangers upon your arrival is important.

They will be able to share with you any insider information like top spots to hit, where to stay away, things to look out for along the way, and shortcuts to get to different places in the park. The rangers will know the best places for you to eat lunch, the best hiking spots, and the best place to catch the perfect sunset.

11. Make Sure to Always Keep A Positive Attitude Towards Overcrowded National Parks

Remember, when you visit an overcrowded National Park, you are part of the problem too. Don’t point the problem to everyone else around you. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, it is understandable that you are contributing to busy parks and trails. When you follow the different tips on this post, follow the Leaving No Trace principles, and practice good etiquette.

If you follow the tips above, you are profiting a positive influence on the other park users and even encourage others to follow you. Changing your perspective and recognizing that everyone visiting popular National Parks because they offer unique and worth seeing locations is the best way to make sure you can avoid overcrowded places.

12. Remember the Leave No Trace Principes and Park Regulations

If you want to enjoy the outdoors, it means that you should also be responsible and do your part to keep things as clean and pristine as possible. It is especially important in overcrowded National Parks where there are thousands of visitors that can make a great impact on the environment.

It takes a group effort to make sure that trails in the parks are well-maintained. Whether you like it or not, everyone has an impact, both positive and negative, that will matter for years to come. Make sure to be a leader in the outdoor movement by taking the time to educate yourself on the rock cairns, campfire safety rules, and the Leave No Trace rule.

As the outdoor spaces see more people eager to enjoy them, it is a great chance for you to be a role model for others and practice meaningful environmental stewardship.

Also, make sure that you educate yourself on specific park regulations such as knowing how close you are allowed to camp to water, how to store your food properly, so it is safe from wildlife, current fire regulations, and other rules that you need to follow while on the National Park.

13. Always Practice Good Trail Etiquette While Inside the National Park

No matter how many people are around you, always be polite and respectful to everyone. You should make this your top priority whenever you are enjoying the great outdoors. There are some ‘unspoken, unwritten rules of the trail,’ but being kind to others and the environment should go without saying.

Now, overcrowded National Parks can be jam-packed with visitors, so it is understandable that you can be annoyed at some point. So, if you plan to visit a National Park during the crowded season, it is best to keep your cool, manage your expectations, and refresh yourself on the trail etiquette before you go on your next adventure.

Final Thoughts

Knowing what you need to do before heading out to an overcrowded National Park is crucial. It saves you plenty of time and will let you enjoy your outdoor adventure without the hassle. Following these tips can help you get through visiting overcrowded National Parks. It is recommended, however, to visit National Parks during the off-season to avoid the crowds altogether. If you are looking for the best hikes in the United States, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you.

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