There’s really just one drawback of visiting our most beautiful, popular natural resources: Everyone else is there, too!
How do we visit these places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, the Grand Canyon (and popular parks and nature destinations in your own state) and survive the crowds?
We don’t want to not go, because these places are certainly worth it. So how can we enjoy them despite the crowds—or even somehow beat the crowds?
There are strategic ways to do this. We’ll break it down into 9 ways to survive the crowds in the outdoors’ most popular places:
1. Go Off-Season
If you have the flexibility to visit outside of your destination’s busiest season, do it. For example, July and the first half of August almost anywhere are super busy because that’s when most families can take summer vacations. The kids are out of school, the weather’s good, etc.
Avoid holidays, long weekends and school break times if at all possible, because more people will be at these great destinations then.
That’s not always possible, especially if you work in the school system! If choose to or have to go during peak season, keep reading…
2. Include Out-of-the-Way Destinations Into Your Itinerary, Too
This is a strategy we’ve used as a family so we’re not in crowds 100% of the time. It gives us a welcome break, making the crowd times more mentally manageable!
Here are a couple examples:
- On one trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons, we spent a day on the way home in the Snowy Range Mountains of southeast Wyoming (link). After being with thousands at the Big Parks for over a week, it was so refreshing to see only a handful on our hike in the Snowies. And here’s the catch—it was just as beautiful!
- We’ve discovered the Bighorn Mountains in north central Wyoming now, and have enjoyed super camping and hiking there with a tiny fraction of the crowds that are in the national parks just a couple hours away.
There are many, many beautiful places that aren’t well-known at all. Do some research about the area you’re headed and you’ll come up with some great ideas.
3. Continue Past the “Main Event”
Another thing we’ve found is: while there may be a thousand cars in the parking lot and all the people jamming the main attraction and visitor center—very few of them make it beyond that initial attraction.
I discovered this in several state parks up on Lake Superior’s North Shore here in Minnesota. I’ll take Gooseberry Falls State Park as an example:
On any given summer day, the parking lot at Gooseberry will be crowded to overflowing. The Visitor Center and Middle Falls area will be packed with people, especially on a nice hot day. And for good reason—the falls and park are gorgeous and the water feels great!
But walk downstream aways, cross the foot bridge and hike the trails on the other side of the river and you’ll meet very few people.
Most people don’t bother going much beyond the main event.
4. Start Early or Wait Until Later
This is something every ranger will tell you in every popular park. Just like there are rush hours for traffic in cities on weekdays, there are “rush hours” for parks and natural attractions—usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
If you can get going early or wait until late afternoon or early evening when visiting the most popular attractions, you’ll likely encounter fewer people and better parking options.
5. See Bad Weather as Your Friend
It’s always wonderful when the weather cooperates on your outdoor adventures. But that’s what everyone thinks!
It may be to your advantage to put on your raincoats and venture out when others are hunkered down in their tents or campers waiting for the rain to stop.
6. Have a Plan
If there are several sights you and your family want to see, have a plan. Visit the busiest one first when it’ll be easier to find a parking spot and there are fewer people on the trails.
I know some of you like to be spontaneous. Be as spontaneous as you like, but I promise you—if you have a plan, you may be able to deal with the crowds better! It’s the truth.
7. Be Flexible
At the same time, flexibility should be your middle name when at these ultra-popular destinations.
One of the things our family does is have an idea of what we definitely want to see or do, with another list of things we’d love to see or do but won’t be heartbroken if we don’t get to them.
And once you get to your destination, you’ll likely be surprised by things you hadn’t known about before and decide to get some of them on the itinerary, too.
8. Put on Your Patience
There are places where you just can’t avoid the crowds, period. For example, Yellowstone. It’s so big you can’t avoid the crowds in many places—after all, you can’t plan to see everything before 9:00 a.m. when you’re talking 3,500 square miles!
So be patient. It may take awhile to find a parking spot, or the traffic might be busy in some areas. It’s part of the deal. While you’re being patient…
9. Enjoy Meeting People from All Over the World
Take advantage of the international visitor community at our most popular national parks. Meet people! When you hear another language or accent, ask people where they’re from and what they’ve liked best so far. I love doing this!
Not everyone is chatty, but most are. I’ve had wonderful conversations with a family from Beijing, a young man from the Czech Republic, service employees from Romania and Poland (lots of American tourist centers employ international workers in work exchange programs). It’s fun!
So, yeah, huge crowds at these places can be a bummer. But don’t let the crowds stop you from going—just employ a little strategy, and they don’t have to take the fun out of it.
You’ll like these, too…
- How to Plan an Epic Family Road Trip
- Build Memories through Outdoor Travel & Recreation
- Seeing God in Nature
Sharon is the founder and administrator of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other blog, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails and other marketing tools for clients.