How to Avoid Crowds While Visiting National Parks

How to Avoid Crowds While Visiting National Parks

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Visits to our National Parks are on the rise. In 2016, over 325 million visitors flooded lands managed by the National Park Service. If you fail to plan out your day appropriately, you can easily wind up frustrated in a sea of crowds. However, if you follow a few tips, you can enjoy being in the parks even during peak months.


Save sleeping in for your time on “the islands” and get up early! This is the first piece of advice I always tell people visiting the parks for the first time. Over 900,000 visitors made their way through the entrance gates of Yellowstone National Park last July. On average, that means you are competing with over 30,000 people each day. I recommend leaving the hotel by 6 AM to get to the most popular destinations early. By 8 AM, you will see lines at the entrance; and, shortly after that, you’ll have a challenging time getting parking. When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park last summer, we knew we wanted to hike a loop between Bear Lake and Alberta Falls. We had read that the large parking lot near Bear Lake fills early, especially in the summer, and that we needed to get to the lot before 8 am. We arrived by 7:15 to be safe. Get in early so you can beat the crowds. Trust me--you’ll be glad you did!

Getting up early helps to avoid crowds while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park


Visitors tend to gather at a few specific areas in each park, and they tend to be ones that are within a short walking distance from parking areas or shuttle stops. The Rim Trail at Grand Canyon National Park is heavily traveled, but the crowds mainly stick to the paved trail. You’ll find that when you get past Powell Point, the trail becomes dirt and the main crowds disappear. The fact is that the farther you walk, the fewer people you’ll see. Also, try to find lesser visited parts of the park to visit during the peak hours, such as Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.

The rim trail is unpaved trails in Grand Canyon National Park





Lodging near the National Parks can be expensive, no-frills, and hard to book. However, you’ll be happy that you spent the money when your morning commute to your first park destination is minimized. When you book a place to stay, if you are not able to book inside the park, try to get a room or campsite that is less than fifteen minutes from the park entrance. This will come in handy in case you want to take a break at the hotel or campground midday. Right outside of Zion National Park, the town of Springdale, UT offers many options. We chose to stay in the Desert Pearl Inn  which has rooms that back up to the Virgin River. In the heat of the summer, the kids enjoyed midday breaks—playing in the hotel pool the searching for tadpoles in the Virgin River.

Full-time RV’ing is another great way of reducing the morning commute. Many people wait to do this until retirement, but with improved internet service and remote working options, it really is something to consider.  If you want to know how to do it with a family, check out this post on Full-Time RV Living with Kids.


The Virgin River outside of Zion National Park



Being flexible with where and when you eat your meals allows you to stay away from the hordes of visitors traveling to and from over-priced restaurants. Bring non-perishable snacks (pretzels, energy bars, apples) and always have a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly so you can make your own lunch. Some of our most memorable meals have been in unplanned locations with amazing views.

Picnic time at Potato Harbor in Channel Islands National Park


If you are like us and have kids in school, traveling outside of peak season just isn’t realistic. If you must travel during peak season, try to visit the parks during the middle of the week. Crowds are busiest on the weekends, and holiday weekends are the worst.

There is a clear reason why the parks attract 325 million visitors a year. However, don’t let the threat of crowds scare you away from visiting our National Parks this year. Heed these five tips, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying your time hiking and sightseeing. In the meantime, look for us this summer. We’ll be the family on the trail before most people start their day!

Our blog that discusses tips on how to take the stress out of vacation planning is also worthwhile checking out.


We know the National Parks are amazing, and there is a good reason why they get the attention and attendance they do each year.  However, you don’t have to go to the “headline” National Parks to enjoy yourselves.

A good option is to think about spending at least some of your time in other National Park sites (such as monuments or historical parks) or even think about going to non-National Park sites!  For instance, while you may think Yellowstone National Park is where you should spend your entire vacation, think about adding a trip to the Dakotas to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Custer State Park.  You will get similar wildlife and much fewer people to contend with. 

Another example is heading to Pigeon Forge, TN in addition to (or instead of) a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  And if you are into spectacular mountain views and lakes of Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, then another option to consider would be to hike to Alice Lake in Stanley, Idaho.


We offer downloadable itineraries with great hints and tips for many National Parks for under $6 per park.  Check out our downloadable itineraries here.

National Park Itineraries from Just Go Travel Studios

Learn More about our Itineraries Now!

We also offer custom, vintage-style travel posters using your own photo. Send us a photo and see what we can do! 

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Personalized Grand Teton National Park Poster




What ideas do you have?  Leave a comment and let us know!




How to see Yosemite without the crowds

Side trips to unpopulated sites near our busiest National Parks

Avoiding crowds at Great Smoky Mountain National Park




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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

10% of all after-tax profits are donated to the National Park Foundation.

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