Are you planning a summer holiday that involves checking out some of North America’s most stunning scenery? If so, your itinerary probably has you venturing to a National Park or two. How did you decide where to go? For many people, their itinerary is influenced by images they have seen on social media.
National Parks across the world are seeing record-breaking numbers of visitors. In the US, the National Park Service saw an increase of almost 57 million visitors between 2013 and 2017, representing an increase of more than 20% . It’s clear that tourists are in love with experiencing nature, and the numbers are increasing! This also means that the National Parks are getting more crowded, and summertime regularly sees traffic jams, long waits and fully booked campgrounds and accommodations.
It’s not only the US where National Parks are seeing increased visitors. Canada is also seeing a huge increase in yearly park visitor numbers. Canada’s most popular National Parks in the Rocky Mountains saw 9% more visitors in 2018 compared to 2017, totaling a whopping 16.8 million visitors, with the majority of people going to Banff, Jasper or Yoho National Parks.
These circumstances are not only increasing the risk of destroying these delicate wildlife habitats but also reducing the quality of the recreational activities for individuals on holiday. What is interesting is that these crowds of tourists seem to concentrate in a few key areas. So even though parks like Banff, Yosemite and Yellowstone are very busy, there are still plenty of places where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy nature.
Social media is one of the driving forces that is increasing visitor numbers to National Parks and also pushing tourists to all the same places. People see an epic view and need to see it themselves. Unfortunately, this means that these special places are being overrun by their own beauty! As an example, a recent Guardian article shows how the introduction of Instagram in 2010 coincided with a tremendous increase in visitors at the stunning Horseshoe Bend viewpoint in Grand Canyon National Park. This stunning view has seen visitor numbers increase from 100,000 visitors per year in 2010 to over 2,000,000 in 2018!
We see this in a lot of the places we profile on 10Adventures. Favourite hikes that used to see a few dozen visitors a day, now have hundreds of hikers on these routes. It’s not only the trails that are busy, the mountain roads are getting filled with traffic, people have to stand in queues to take pictures on the most popular overlooks, and even the backcountry trails are clogging up.
This is why we think it’s important to promote other spectacular outdoor places. Below we share our top tips to escape the crush of other tourists on your next holiday.
1. Go in the off-season. Leave the most popular parks for an off-season holiday. Popular National Parks like the Grand Canyon, Zion and Yosemite are just too busy in summer. Plan your trip outside of peak season, and not only will the crowds be lower, but these parks are actually more beautiful in early spring and late autumn, when the weather is better. In fact, many of the most popular parks are nearly deserted midweek in winter.
2. Get an early start. While it’s great to say go in the off-season, that’s not an option for lots of people and families. If you just have to go to Banff, Yosemite or Yellowstone in summer, make sure to get an early start each day. We like to wake up and start really early and use the middle of the day to relax, read or go for a swim. Then after dinner we check out another great attraction in the park. Not only does this mean we see far fewer crowds, but we get to see the most stunning places in perfect light! We also routinely see a lot more wildlife, as animals are most active outside of peak human hours!
3. Choose your dates wisely. Long weekends, special park events and discounted entry days are sure to be extra crowded. If you can, try and go other weekends. We know many people who work on long weekends in order to take a day in-lieu later, so they can go on another weekend that won’t be as busy.
4. Give the ski resorts a chance. Consider going to ski resorts and ski towns in summer. For many ski resorts, summer is low-season. While there are exceptions (Lake Louise in Canada, Jackson / Grand Teton in Wyoming), places like Mammoth, Whistler, and Aspen/Snowmass all offer great mountain towns with lots of summer outdoor activities and stunning scenery. Best of all, it’s actually cheaper to visit these places in summer compared to winter.
5. Explore someplace new! There are so many incredible places in the world to explore, it’s a shame so many of us are congregating at the same ones. Even within a busy National Park, there are many places that are still not that busy. So consider visiting new countries, new parks, new towns and new places. If you’re struggling to find a new place to go, we have a list of 8 incredible options to get you away from crowds on your next trip.
- Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado is spectacular, but it’s also the 3rd most visited National Park in the US. Colorado is full of winter resorts that are pretty quiet in summer. We love the Aspen/Snowmass area. Snowmass in particular is very well priced in summer, and the outdoor activities around Aspen are amazing!
- Zion National Park is the 4th most visited park. You can still get away from the crowds by, for example, checking out the Kolob area. It has fewer crowds but the hikes are spectacular. Or consider going to Bryce Canyon National Park which is similar but gets 1.7 million fewer visitors a year.
- Instead of Yellowstone, the 5th most popular park, try Lassen Volcanic National Park. Sure it’s in far-away California, but Lassen is also an amazing destination with spectacular hikes, volcanoes, sulfur springs, and forests. And it also gets 3.5 million fewer visitors than Yellowstone.
- Yosemite is stunning, but it’s also the 6th most visited National Park in the US. This means that it is jammed, especially Yosemite Valley. Why not stay east of the park, in June Lake and spend your holiday exploring the incredible Tioga Road. You can also consider staying in Mammoth, a busy winter ski resort that is very comfortable in summer. Or try Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks, where nature and wildlife are really similar with fewer people on the trails.
- Grand Teton National Park is beautiful, but it’s also the 8th most visited National Park. Try the nearby Wind River Range which offers so many beautiful hiking locations, you won’t have the time to finish them all.
- A summer trip in the Pacific Northwest sounds great. Olympic National Park is wonderful, but is the 9th most visited National Park. Nearby are 2 other parks that get far fewer visitors but are still spectacular: the North Cascades (just look at the Diablo Lake area!) and Mt Baker. Across the Salish Sea, on Vancouver Island, Strathcona Park feels almost empty during the week compared to crowds you’ll see at Olympic.
- Everybody wants to see Montana’s Glacier National Park, the 10th most visited National Park. Which makes sense, as it’s truly spectacular, though the Going-to-the-Sun Road is getting busier every year. If you want to just get away from it all, consider 2.5 hours north to Canada’s new Castle Provincial Park, which has some of the most colorful rock faces in the Rockies. It’s also a key movement corridor for animals, so there are great wildlife spotting opportunities. It’s also still relatively undiscovered, even within Alberta!
- In the Canadian Rockies, try Kananaskis Provincial Parks, or Kootenay National Park instead of Banff or Jasper National Park.
There’s a whole world out there to explore, and at 10Adventures we’re working hard to share the best outdoors routes in the most beautiful places on earth.
Richard Campbell is the founder of 10Adventures.com an online community for adventure travelers, with over 700 free route guides for the best hiking, backpacking and cycling in 60 of the most beautiful regions in North America and Europe.