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5 Ways to Avoid National Park Crowds

If you love visiting national parks, you may not love the crowds. The natural beauty and serenity of these places are unmatched. But it can become challenging to visit during the busiest times of the year.

Though the United States has many national parks, hundreds of millions visit them annually. No matter how you spread them out, that’s a lot of traffic. Nobody likes to be caught up in a traffic jam, especially when enjoying the natural wonders of our beautiful world.

You have several options to at least reduce the size of the crowds you’ll encounter when visiting a national park. Here are our top five ways to get away from the masses and have a private national park experience.

What Is a National Park?

A national park is a large area of land protected by the government for its scenic beauty or for historical significance. National parks are usually located in remote areas and often cover hundreds or even thousands of acres. They have various plant and animal life, and many offer opportunities for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities.

The first national park in the United States was Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872. Today, the country has over 400 national parks and many more worldwide.

Crowded parking like in a national park
Unfortunately national parks are becoming more and more crowded due to an increase in popularity.

How Many National Parks Are There?

America’s national parks are some of the world’s most beautiful and well-protected natural areas. But just how many national parks are there? As of 2022, the country has 63 national parks. This number may seem small, but the total amount of protected land is quite significant.

Today, Yellowstone is still one of the most popular parks, attracting millions of visitors each year. However, the number of actual national parks doesn’t include all the protected sites in the United States. Including the national parks, the National Park Service has 423 sites in the United States that cover more than 84 million acres. They include every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

These areas also include historical sites, battlefields, national monuments, national parkways, national reserves, and other categories. 

Pro Tip: Yellowstone and other national parks are implementing new measures to keep crowd numbers low. Are you up to date on all you need to know about camping in Yellowstone?

When Is Peak Season for National Parks?

National parks have varying peak seasons. Each is different, and the time of year with the heaviest crowds will vary depending on the location and amenities.

In general, however, the busiest times of year tend to fall around summer and holidays. Many families take vacations during these times, and people generally travel more in warm and sunny weather.

Three friends avoiding crowds in a national park.
Avoid crowds at national parks by traveling in shoulder seasons, in the early morning, or during the week.

5 Ways to Avoid National Park Crowds

With nearly 300 million people visiting each year, even the largest U.S. national parks can get crowded. Just ask the folks who have spent hours in their car trying to get to Old Faithful in Yellowstone or Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. But we have a few strategies to avoid national park crowds.

1. Travel During Shoulder Season and During the Week

The best way to avoid national park crowds is to travel during the shoulder season or mid-week. The shoulder season is between the high season (when demand and prices are highest) and the low season (when demand and prices are lowest). The low season for some parks means winter closures.

For most national parks, shoulder season falls in the spring and fall. By traveling during this time, you’ll avoid the crowds and save money on lodging, transportation, and activities. And you’ll encounter more mild weather.

Mid-week is usually another less trafficked period when you can avoid some of the weekend madness. Most people have weekends off of work and have more time to explore.

2. Go Early in the Morning or Late in the Afternoon

If visiting a popular national park during peak season, try to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This is when most people have either just arrived or left, so you’ll have fewer people on the trails and at the attractions. Plus, you’ll enjoy the parks without all the hustle and bustle.

3. Pack Your Own Food

One of the quickest ways to add stress to your national park trip is to try and find a place to eat. If a park has a place to eat, it’ll have heavy crowds, long waits, and higher prices. To avoid this, pack your own food and snacks for the day. This will save you time and money, and it’s a great way to enjoy a picnic in the park.

4. Choose Less Visited National Parks

With 63 national parks and more than 400 national park sites, you’ll find one that suits your interests. Some parks, like Yellowstone and Yosemite, are well-known and often crowded. But others, like Badlands and Great Basin National Parks, are lesser known but just as beautiful. You’ll have a more peaceful and enjoyable experience by choosing a less visited national park.

Even the most popular national parks have hidden gems off the beaten path. By exploring these less popular areas, you’ll avoid the crowds and get to see something new. Ask a ranger for recommendations on where to go, or do some research before your trip.

Pro Tip: If you want to avoid crowds, you may want to avoid these 5 Worst National Parks for Solitude.

Enjoy Our National Treasures Without the Crowds

The vastness and beauty of the national parks in the United States are unparalleled. It’s no wonder that millions upon millions of people from around the world flock to them every year. 

Swarmed by a mass of people isn’t the most enjoyable way to visit these natural wonders. But if you follow the five tips we’ve outlined here, you can still see these beautiful parks and all they have to offer.

Which one of these tips will you put to use first to help you enjoy our national treasures without all the crowds? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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