How To Avoid Crowds At Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Zion, and Acadia National Parks
Out of America’s 63 National Parks, these were 5 of the top 10 most visited in 2019. From a little bit of research and lessons in each of these parks along the way, here are my favorite tips for avoiding the masses.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 12.5 Million Visitors
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an easy park for millions of Americans to visit. Its location brings it within a day’s drive for most living in the eastern US. The park’s accessibility means its the most visited park, more than doubling the attendance of Grand Canyon NP. Is it possible to find solitude in the park? I think it is!
- Cades Cove: One of the most popular drives in the smokies is a one-way loop in Cades Cove. Located in the southwest corner of the NP are old farms made into museums, wildflowers, and one of the best places to see black bears. In the summer, traffic here is jammed up with noisy cars and visitors. Travelers tip, see Cades Cove on a weekday morning by arriving at sunrise. Or come on a Wednesday or Saturday morning between sunrise and 10 AM (May- Sept.) when the route is closed to motorized vehicles! Bike the route, maybe all by yourself!
- Rich Mountain Road: You can also drive the Rich Mountain Road from Cades Cove Area to Townsend. This is a primitive road and the “unimproved road,” signs scare most people away. Enjoy 12 miles of Smokies scenery with only the occasional Mountain Biker joining you. (it really is a primitive road, AWD vehicles recommended).
As with any park, visiting in early May or after Labor Day will reduce crowds, so will visiting the park at dawn and dusk.
Grand Canyon National Park - 6 Million Visitors
Iconic images of the Grand Canyon draw visitors from all over the world. 6 Million a year, and when you visit the South Rim in the summer it sometimes feels like they are all there at the same time! One of the best ways to get some solitude at the Grand Canyon is to hike below the rim. Almost all visitors stay above the rim! You’ll need to plan well and keep safety in mind but it’s worth it. Try the Hermit Trail, a 7 mile jaunt located at the end of Hermit Road.
My favorite way to beat the crowds at the South Rim is by, drum roll please, visiting the North Rim instead. Grand Canyon’s North Rim has a higher altitude giving cooler temps and amazing views of the canyon. The North Rim has 90% less people visit it, to me that’s pretty attractive. Be sure to book a cabin at the Grand Canyon lodge over a year ahead of time and while you’re there enjoy these trails…
- Cape Final Trail: A hike through ponderosa pine forests on an easy to traverse abandoned road. A 4 mile trek that avoids the crowds at major viewing areas and gives spectacular views of the canyon from Cape Final.
- Widforss Trail: This is a 10 mile out and back trail that gives you views of the canyon halfway through. A rewarding hike that offers much solitude and beautiful aspen forests.
Rocky Mountain National Park - 4.7 Million Visitors
Rocky Mountain National Park is full of jaw dropping alpine views. Visitors pack the park each year to experience the high country in America’s tallest NP. The Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the US, attracts large crowds and creates long lines jamming up traffic. Everyone should drive this scenic road, but for some much needed one on one time with nature be sure to leave the vehicle behind and hit some hiking trails as well.
- Ute Trail: Descending 5 miles from the Trail Ridge Road (near Forest Canyon Overlook) to Upper Beaver Meadows this trail lets you traverse tundra, enjoy alpine flowers, spot a Yellow-bellied marmot, and brings you solitude among the masses.
- Beaver Ponds: If you can be patient enough to wait for those amazing views down the road, stop in first at Beaver Ponds. Usually the crowds pass this wildlife viewing area by. Who knows what you’ll see there!
- Cub Lake Trail: Probably the most popular hike at the RMNP is to Bear Lake. Avoid the crowds and be rewarded with equally amazing views by hiking to Cub Lake. Mountain meadows, ponderosa pines, and aspens forests protect wildlife and make for a relaxing traverse to a photo worthy alpine lake. Be sure to climb some boulders and maybe throw a line in Cub Creek as you go. RMNP is home to the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Man, I’d love to catch some of those.
Zion National Park - 4.5 Million Visitors
Zion National Park is stunning! It deserves the crowds that pour into the canyon each year. Epic hikes in places like The Narrows are an experience you’ll remember forever, and there are many lesser known attractions that let you enjoy the park and avoid crowds at the same time. Here’s a couple of my favorites.
- The Narrows: This is a popular hike, and again the best way to avoid crowds is to go early! Leave before 8 AM, beat the rush, and enjoy it in solitude. Another trick to avoid crowds in the narrows is to hike further! Most people don’t hike more than 2 miles in. The further you go the less populated this attraction is.
- Eastern Zion: Easter Zion is much less populated and offers great wildlife viewing. Mule deer and desert bighorn sheep are easily seen in this part of the park. Checkerboard Mesa is also an amazing sight! Try the East Rim and the Canyon overlook trails. Western Zion in the Kolob Canyons area is also just as beautiful and much less visited.
- Hidden Canyon Trail: A 2.5 mile round-trip hike that starts at the Weeping Rock Shuttle stop, the Hidden Canyon Trail is often forgotten. You can’t go too far on this trail without difficult scrambles and dangerous drop offs, but, for the right hikers it’s an excellent alternative.
Acadia National Park - 2.7 Million Visitors
Maines Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor, and the beautiful rocky shores of the Atlantic are home to Acadia National Park. In peak seasons crowds slow visitors down clogging up roads and trails. Be sure to eat a popover at Jordan Pond and take in a sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, but for solitude try these destinations.
- Ship Harbor Trail: The western side of Acadia, past Somes Sound, is known by visitors as a much quieter side of the park. The Ship Harbor Trail is a short hike that brings you to tidal pools filled with crabs, sea stars, urchins and more.
- West Ledge Trail: Take in a view of Mount Desert Islands shoreline all alone on this trail. If you are looking for a kayak or canoe experience in a more protected area than the open ocean, try Seal Cove Pond. You might just get to paddle with some harbor or gray seals.
- Bar Island: This island is about ½ a mile from Bar Harbor and when the tides are low you can walk there. Check the visitor center for tidal information and know when to go. If you want to hit Bar Island when it’s less visited go during high tide. Check the forecast, and grab a kayak or canoe and paddle over! There are very few visitors during high tide.
Now You Know How To Avoid Crowds At Some Of America's Busiest National Parks
Whatever your national park destination is, we know you’re going to love it! America’s beauty is out there waiting to be discovered! Grizzly’s hope is that you can get lost in adventure and enjoy these popular parks to their fullest potential. Well, let’s get planning! Here’s to adventure!