America’s national parks used to be way less crowded for those looking to do some outdoor adventuring. Crowds were low, lines were short, and there was no need to make reservations.
However, some of the best national parks are now some of the worst places to avoid crowds.
Want to know which national parks we think are the worst places for solitude?
Let’s get started!
What Is a National Park?
A national park is an area set aside by the government to preserve and protect its natural environment. The United States uses the National Park Service (NPS) to manage the over 400 NPS areas, not just the national park designations.
The purpose behind national parks is to protect the land, environment, and animals that call the animals home so that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy them. The NPS will recommend parks towards the national park designation to help preserve them.
How Many U.S. National Parks Are There?
The NPS currently manages 63 units with the designation as a national park. New River Gorge National River was recently upgraded to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
However, while NPS is responsible for making recommendations to designate new national parks, they also remove them. The number of national parks changes periodically as the needs are constantly changing.
5 Worst National Parks for Solitude
There’s a reason people are flocking to these parks – they’re incredible. However, they’re amazing because of their landscapes and natural beauty, not for the massive crowds and long lines that typically come with them.
Let’s look at the five national parks we think are the worst for enjoying some solitude.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park, which isn’t surprising. It’s a beautiful park easily accessible for day trips from several large cities. What is surprising is how much busier it is than all the other parks.
The park welcomed over 14 million visitors in 2021. Whether you’re coming to hike a portion of the trail or do the driving tour on your way to do some tourist activities in nearby Gatlinburg, this is a must-visit park for all national park lovers.
When It’s the Busiest: Most visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park come between May and October. If you’re planning to visit the park, expect extremely heavy traffic and lots of crowds during this period.
When to Go to Avoid Crowds and Get Solitude: If you can visit anytime from November through March, you’ll typically enjoy lighter crowds. Too far into March, and you enter spring break when families take trips to the area to make memories.
Pro Tip: Learn more about these 5 Reasons To Avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park sits in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It was the first national park and offers some unique landscapes. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of a bison or one of the many wolves that call the park home.
The park typically sees around 4 million guests in a given year.
Visiting this park during peak season requires arriving early. If not, you’ll likely find yourself in a long line to enter the park, and it won’t speed up once you enter. Some of the most popular spots around the park have smaller parking lots that you’ll end up circling multiple times, waiting to snag a spot. Do yourself a favor and visit during one of the slower months.
When It’s the Busiest: The busy season for Yellowstone National Park typically runs from May through September. During the day, the park is typically most active from mid-morning until early evening, when people head out of the park to enjoy dinner.
When to Go to Avoid Crowds and Get Solitude: Visiting Yellowstone National Park anytime between October through April is an excellent opportunity to avoid crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet.
However, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. If you’re planning to head to the park during this time, make sure you pack warm clothes.
3. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is home to some of the most epic hiking opportunities. However, many guests are taking the expression “loving the park to death” a little bit too seriously.
During the busy season, the park is jam-packed with people looking to snap pictures of the colorful rocks and rugged textures. It’s hard to slow down and appreciate the true beauty that is Zion National Park when everyone is moving so fast around you.
Coming during the busy season will have you battling buses, lottery systems, permits, and hiking closures. You may need to stay longer during the busy season to see or do everything that’s on your list.
When It’s the Busiest: Zion National Park is typically busy from March through November. However, the busiest months are typically May, June, and July. The park experiences a relatively steady flow of guests throughout the year.
When to Go to Avoid Crowds and Get Solitude: You’re never going to avoid the crowds at a place like Zion. Guests visit the park throughout the year, but your best chances are during December and January. Enjoy a long quiet hike, or just sit and listen to the water flowing from the Virgin River.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
About: At more than 400 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park is a collection of some of the most rugged and fierce terrain our country has to offer. You’ll see a diverse array of wildlife throughout the park. Many guests often see elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and an eagle or two. However, as the fourth busiest park in the system, they also see crowds.
The season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is very short. The weather during the winter months can close roads or even entire sections of the park. T
hat means guests who visit during the off-season are relegated to specific park sections, which leaves it feeling more crowded. Visiting towards the end of the fall foliage season allows you to see the colorful leaves changing and not fight the chaos as much.
When It’s the Busiest: The busy season for Rocky Mountain National Park runs from June through September. It’s a very short season, which means crowd levels are off the charts during these months.
When to Go to Avoid Crowds and Get Solitude: Visiting the park from October through April can provide the best chance to get some solitude.
However, you could also put yourself in a dangerous situation if you’re not prepared for snow and ice. Some sections of the park will close seasonally due to unsafe driving conditions.
5. Grand Teton National Park
About: When you see Grand Teton National Park in the distance, it commands your respect. The massive Teton mountain range is the southern neighbor to Yellowstone National Park. You can easily visit both parks in a single trip, especially if you go during the off-season.
If you visit towards the end of July, you may be able to enjoy smaller crowds, warmer weather, and get to see animals on the move. With plenty of options to enjoy the views, whether you’re hiking or driving, Grand Tetons National Park is a must-see park. But it’s best without the crowds.
When It’s the Busiest: Grand Teton National Park is another park that has a short season. Guests visit year-round, but numbers jump up in May and continue to rise through September.
When to Go to Avoid Crowds and Get Solitude: Visiting anytime between November through April will provide tremendous amounts of solitude. However, high elevation areas of the park may not be reachable, and it may not be comfortable to stay in an RV.
How Do You Avoid Crowds at National Parks?
Practically every national park across the country has reported increased attendance numbers over the past couple of years.
There’s no way to avoid crowds if you want to experience some of the best landscapes our country has to offer. However, arriving at the park very early can help you secure a parking spot for the most popular trails.
Some guests also choose to arrive at the park later in the afternoon and stay later. Many parks become empty as guests tire and look to grab a bite to eat.
Use NPS’s data resources to examine the park’s historic levels regarding crowds. This can help you know when exactly is the best time to visit. However, the past two years have been unpredictable, and no one saw this massive boom in visitation to the national parks coming.
What’s your least favorite park to visit due to crowds? Drop a comment below!
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