Avoid these national parks during high season
Imagine you are preparing for your first motorhome trip of the summer. You have loaded the motorhome with everything you will need and you have planned the perfect route on RV Trip Wizard. Every day, until the date of your departure, you dream of this magnificent national park that you have only seen in photos but that you have never been able to discover in person.
After several days of travel, you finally arrive at your destination, but you realize that the crowd has already arrived. Trails are very busy, your landscape photos are bombarded by other travelers, and instead of reconnecting with nature, you are surrounded by the noise of other people and you can barely enjoy the views you’ve been waiting for for a long time .
Summer is crowd season, wherever you go, and some of our most iconic national parks are no exception. It’s a combination of the beautiful sunny weather, the fact that many children do not go to school during the summer and that families take the road for the holidays, and the fact that some parks are closed or partially closed all winter long, so summer is the perfect time to visit while all trails and roads are open.
Some national parks are so crowded during the high season that it is not worth spending time if you really want to enjoy them. These national parks are best visited in the fall, when the large crowds are gone, or in the spring, when you can also see the wildflowers in bloom. Some parks can also offer you a completely different experience in winter if you practice seasonal sports like skiing or snowshoeing.
- Grand Canyon National Park
With an average of 6 million visitors each year, the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the country. A large majority of people visit it in July and August for activities such as hiking and camping, climbing the canyon on a mule and rafting on the Colorado River. The North Rim, which is higher than the more popular South Rim, is also open for the summer season.
Enjoy breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon without the crowds. Photo by author (Nikki Cleveland)
However, the Grand Canyon still has a lot to discover, even during the low season. The more popular South Rim, with nearly two dozen viewpoints, is open year-round. A visit in the spring or fall, especially on a weekday, may attract fewer people.
The west bank is also open all year round, and generally less crowded than the south bank. It offers the Skywalk attraction, activities like ziplining and helicopter rides, as well as unique vantage points like Eagle Point.
- Yellowstone National Park
According to Yellowstone, more than four million people visit the park each year, and more than half of these visits take place in June, July and August. Popular attractions like Old Faithful and the trails around the Upper Geyser Basin can be crowded with so many people that you won’t even be able to fully enjoy the park.
The park is open year-round, but July and August are the only months when all services, roads, and facilities like NPS campsites are open. The beginning of autumn, from September to the beginning of October, is the best time to visit the park after the departure of the summer crowds and when the colors of autumn are at their peak.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed more than 11 million visitors last year, making it the most visited national park in the country. Smokies have two peak seasons for tours: summer (June 15 to August 15), when the weather is nice and warm, and fall, when the park is famous for its brilliant foliage that paints the landscape. The whole month of October can be very busy, especially on weekends and later in the day.
The Great Smoky Mountains Park is beautiful, but it is crowded in October. Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
If you are looking for more solitude, spring and winter are the best times to visit the Smoky Mountains. A wide variety of wild flowers bloom from late March to June, and hiking trails and picnic areas begin to open in March and April.
In winter, the crowds have disappeared and the landscape is a real winter paradise for hikers. Some of the campsites, roads, picnic areas and trails remain open all year round, weather permitting.
- Yosemite National Park
The Yosemite receives an average of 4 million visitors each year, the busiest period being from June to September. Tourists come from all over the world to see the spectacular waterfalls and amazing rock formations like El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks. Campsites and accommodations in the area are almost always booked during the peak summer season.
Crowds gather at Lower Yosemite Falls. Photo by Robert Scoble (Flickr Creative Commons)
A visit in May, once the snow has melted and the roads are open, is your best chance to avoid the crowds while making the most of the park experience. Some hikes in the Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Hetch Hetchy are often snow-free in April, and most are usually completely cleared in May. Some of the largest streams and rivers, as well as the best known waterfalls, tend to peak in May or June. Wildflowers like dogwood and red bud are also starting to bloom this month.
- Zion National Park
Of Utah’s five national parks, Sion’s is the most visited, with more than 4.3 million visitors each year. It also makes it one of the most visited national parks in the country. If you visit it on a weekend afternoon in summer, or on a public holiday such as Labor Day, you may encounter crowds on the trails, parking lots and all viewpoints.
Fall is the best time to visit, once the main summer crowds have returned home, the landscape is full of colorful foliage, and before the winter storms of December. Fall generally offers cooler temperatures for hiking and park activities such as shuttles are always in service.
Winter in Sion will give you even more solitude, but you will have to prepare yourself to face the ice and snow. Park roads are plowed but some trails are closed seasonally due to the risk of ice fall.
- Mont Rainier National Park
Mont Rainier receives around 2 million visitors each year, the vast majority of them in July and August due to the climate, accessibility and colorful wild flowers that bloom fully in summer.
A visit in May-June, or September-October, is ideal if you want more solitude, but still want to hike the trails as long as the weather is bearable. The autumn months bring cooler temperatures and seasonal foliage that transform the landscape into an idyllic paradise.
Mount Rainier is not one of the most visited national parks, but it can be particularly frequented in summer. Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
The park is open to visitors all year round, but in winter, vehicle access is limited to the entrance to Nisqually, in the southwest corner of the park, and the NPS campgrounds are closed seasonally. . In winter there are several ways to play in the snow, including the Paradise playground, the Crystal Mount Rainier gondola, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on well-established trails through the forest.
- Rocky Mountain National Park
Each year, the Rocky Mountain National Park welcomes nearly 5 million visitors, with peak attendance between June and September. As the summer crowds hike the trails and fish in the Rockies, fall is another peak season when the famous Colorado aspens start to turn golden.
The Rockies National Park is very popular in summer and fall. Photo by Kent Kanouse (Flickr Creative Commons)
The best time to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park is late May or early June, or the week of September after Labor Day until mid-October. These periods are generally less crowded, the weather is pleasant and the scenic Trail Ridge Road is open throughout the season.
- Acadie National Park
About 3.5 million people visit Acadie National Park in Maine each year, usually from June to September. Certain areas, such as Cadillac Summit Road (especially at sunrise and sunset), Jordan Pond, and the Sand Beach parking lot, are often the busiest.
Congestion in Acadie National Park. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons
Parking in Acadia is limited and tends to fill up early every day during the summer. If you plan to go there during the summer, park your RV nearby and use the free Island Explorer shuttle system to reach the busiest areas.
They have ten bus lines that connect hotels, inns and campsites to destinations in Acadia National Park and to the centers of neighboring villages. The shuttle generally runs from the end of June to October.
Late spring and fall are the best times to visit Acadia when the weather is hot. A few weeks after Labor Day, in September, until mid-September, it’s even better before the crowds arrive for fall foliage.