If you’re planning to visit a national park on your summer RV trip, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans flock to our national parks during summer vacation. However, you don’t have to let the crowds put a damper on your fun. Follow these tips for enjoying the national parks during the busiest time of year.
Go Early or Stay Late
Many of the busy parks limit the number of visitors that can enter on any given day. By getting up a little earlier than usual, your family can be first in line.
This will be easy to do if you take a few minutes to prepare for your trip a day in advance by packing a lunch, a blanket, and some games. Then get a good night’s sleep so you can an early start to your day. Once you arrive at the park, you can go ahead and visit the most popular sight or two on your list right away before the rest of the crowds arrive.
As the park begins to fill up, you can find a shady spot to put out your blanket and have a relaxing lunch. Stick around a little longer playing cards or other games so that later when everyone else is hot and tired, you’ll still have plenty of energy for more activities.
Another option is to leave mid-day and head back to your campground. You can return later in the evening when others are exiting. Last year at Yellowstone the best time to view Old Faithful was at 8:30 in the evening with only a handful of people on the boardwalk that serves as a viewing area for the geyser.
Stay in the Park
Even better than arriving at the entrance gate early, is staying inside the park. Most every national park has a campground, and the larger parks often have two or three. Staying inside the park gives you unparalleled access to the park.
You’ll need to plan ahead though. Check the national park website to see if they take advance reservations and what kind of services they offer. Many are “partial” hook-ups meaning they may only have 30amp power and you’ll need to use potable water and dump stations. We’ve even stayed at a few that had no hook-ups at all, but they had hiking trails you could access directly from the campground! You also can’t beat the ability to wake up among the sights and sounds of a national park.
It’s not surprising that the Grand Canyon, one of America’s most iconic national parks, is often crowded. Most of these visitors stick to the South Rim, leaving you with a perfect opportunity to explore the less populated North Rim. The North Rim Campground borders the Transept Canyon, an offshoot of the main canyon that has spectacular views. The 90-site campground, open May through October (reservations only), is located a mile south of the Grand Canyon Lodge and visitor center.
Get Off The Beaten Path
Instead of sticking to the top attraction, look for the hidden gems and be willing to move away from your vehicle. The sad truth is that most park visitors stay close to their cars.
They park at the scenic overlooks, take a few photos, and race to the next attraction If you are willing to hike, bike, or kayak there is so much more to see and you won’t have to compete with as many people to experience it.
When we visited Acadia National Park, too many people were trying to squeeze into the parking areas along the main road. After our early morning hike, we went on a guided kayak tour. We paddled the remote “Westside” including Western Bay and Blue Hill Bay.
The best part of this trip is that we did not see any tour boats, just some working lobster boats. Even better was the abundant wildlife including harbor seals, eagles, osprey, and loons. Taking a short break on small beach nestled among the rocky, tree-lined coast to watch eagles soaring was quite a treat!
One of the best ways to make the most of a crowded day at your favorite national park is by leaving your car behind. There are several options depending on which park you visit, but the most popular ones like Glacier, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite have free shuttles.
This is a terrific way to enjoy the scenic drives without anyone having to pay attention to the road. It is also a great way to hit some of the most popular trails without worrying about squeezing your vehicle into a tiny trailhead parking lot.
Bicycling is another fabulous way to get around your favorite national park. Now, I know what you’re thinking, what if I only want to bike part of the day? No worries. Many of the shuttles have bike racks so you can get a little assist back to your car if needed.
Pick a Park That Is Not as Busy
A final tip has to do with route planning. Instead of trying to avoid crowds at the busiest parks, how about trying one that is not visited as much in the summer months. The National Parks Service publishes statistics on their Visitor Use Statistics Portal.
Located in the Pacific Northwest, with mild weather is North Cascades National Park in Washington. With less than 30,000 annual visitors it is one of the least visited national parks. What it lacks in crowds, it makes up for in sheer beauty. 110 miles northeast of Seattle, it is home to over 300 glaciers, more than any other US park outside Alaska.
On the east coast, you’ll typically need to be prepared to brave the heat to find a park that is not as crowded. Biscayne National Park is within sight of Miami, but offers numerous opportunities to find respite from the heat such as snorkeling at a shipwreck or sailing on beautiful Biscayne Bay.
Which national park will you visit this summer? Leave a comment below!