Tips for Avoiding the Masses at National Parks This Summer

by Blane Bachelor

Tips for Avoiding the Masses at National Parks This Summer

by Blane Bachelor

Every year, more than 275 million people visit U.S. national parks, with the heaviest crowds descending between June and August. If rafting through the Grand Canyon, hiking in Utah’s Zion National Park, or scaling the Half Dome at Yosemite are on your adventure agenda in the upcoming months, that means you might have some company with you – still, with some savvy planning, you can find a way to carve out a slice of solitude and be able to social distance during your visit. Here, a few tips on how to avoid the crowds at national parks this summer.

Every year, more than 275 million people visit U.S. national parks, with the heaviest crowds descending between June and August. If rafting through the Grand Canyon, hiking in Utah’s Zion National Park, or scaling the Half Dome at Yosemite are on your adventure agenda in the upcoming months, that means you might have some company with you – still, with some savvy planning, you can find a way to carve out a slice of solitude and be able to social distance during your visit. Here, a few tips on how to avoid the crowds at national parks this summer.

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Early morning in Yosemite National Park
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Go Early – Or Late

And we mean early – at Yosemite and Yellowstone, for example, arriving around sunrise (by 9 a.m. at the latest) will ensure you’ll enjoy several peaceful hours before the crowds start to show up. You’ll also avoid lines at entrances. If you’re not an early bird, then plan to arrive past 4 p.m. after the heaviest crowds have left – and you might even get to enjoy some quiet sunsets.

Read more: How to Take Stunning National Park Photos
 

And we mean early – at Yosemite and Yellowstone, for example, arriving around sunrise (by 9 a.m. at the latest) will ensure you’ll enjoy several peaceful hours before the crowds start to show up. You’ll also avoid lines at entrances. If you’re not an early bird, then plan to arrive past 4 p.m. after the heaviest crowds have left – and you might even get to enjoy some quiet sunsets.

Yellowstone National Park
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Timing is Everything

Plan your trip midweek, if at all possible, and avoid holiday weekends like the Fourth of July and Labor Day. However, some parks report a dip in visitors the weekend before July 4th.

Read more: Which National Park Is for You?
 

Plan your trip midweek, if at all possible, and avoid holiday weekends like the Fourth of July and Labor Day. However, some parks report a dip in visitors the weekend before July 4th.

Grand Canyon's North Rim
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Take the Less Traveled Route

At the Grand Canyon, the North Rim gets about 10 percent the visitors of the South Rim because of the extra 200-plus miles it takes to get there from Flagstaff. This little detour is well worth the effort, because it’s a beautifully scenic drive to get there and you’ll avoid the massive hordes both at the park’s entrance and throughout the South Rim.

Read more: 6 Great National Park Drives for Fall Colors

At the Grand Canyon, the North Rim gets about 10 percent the visitors of the South Rim because of the extra 200-plus miles it takes to get there from Flagstaff, Ariz. This little detour is well worth the effort, because it’s a beautifully scenic drive to get there and you’ll avoid the massive hordes both at the park’s entrance and throughout the South Rim.

Tent in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
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Rest Easy

Snag a prime campsite by showing up at first-come, first-served campgrounds (every park has them) between 10 a.m. and noon, when the previous night’s campers tend to leave. Campgrounds in more secluded areas of the park, especially those accessible only by dirt roads, tend to fill up last and are often more peaceful. A fallback plan: Some national forest lands around parks allow camping; look for the friendliest ranger to ask.

Read more: The 11 Best National Park Lodges in North America
 

Snag a prime campsite by showing up at first-come, first-served campgrounds (every park has them) between 10 a.m. and noon, when the previous night’s campers tend to leave. Campgrounds in more secluded areas of the park, especially those accessible only by dirt roads, tend to fill up last and are often more peaceful. A fallback plan: Some national forest lands around parks allow camping; look for the friendliest ranger to ask.

Picnic
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Stock Up Ahead of Time

Avoid overcrowded, overpriced restaurants and dining facilities in parks by packing a picnic lunch ahead of time. Also make sure your vehicle is fueled up, as gas stations around national parks are hard to find, expensive and sometimes completely sold out.

Read more: 14 Items for Your National Park Adventure

Avoid overcrowded, overpriced restaurants and dining facilities in parks by packing a picnic lunch ahead of time. Also make sure your vehicle is fueled up, as gas stations around national parks are hard to find, expensive and sometimes completely sold out.

Line of cars
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Skip the Lines

Nothing like a massive line at the park entrance to kill an adrenaline buzz. Instead, buzz past the lines – and be the envy of everyone else – with an annual visitor’s pass ($80) that covers entrance fees into most national parks and provides special entrance access. 

Traveling with someone 62 or older? Then snag an $80 senior pass at the entrance of any park, good for the pass owner’s lifetime, allows the pass owner and three adults traveling in the same car free admission to the park, plus deep discounts on other activities.

Read more: How to Make the Most Out of Your National Park Trip

Nothing like a massive line at the park entrance to kill an adrenaline buzz. Instead, buzz past the lines – and be the envy of everyone else – with an annual visitor’s pass ($80) that covers entrance fees into most national parks and provides special entrance access. 

Traveling with someone 62 or older? Then snag an $80 senior pass at the entrance of any park, good for the pass owner’s lifetime, allows the pass owner and three adults traveling in the same car free admission to the park, plus deep discounts on other activities.

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