It's not easy to commune with nature when you're surrounded by hordes of fellow visitors. For each park, we discuss the best times of year to go and listed certain areas, trails, and sites that are less visited than others. For specific information (such as a breakdown of the number of visitors to a particular park by the month), you can find park-use statistics at www.nature.nps.gov/stats. Beyond that, here are a few general guidelines.
- Avoid the high season. For most parks in the West, this means July and August, but anytime schools are not in session, parks are crowded with families. Spring and fall in many of these national parks offer mild weather, vibrant plant and animal life, and relatively empty trails and roads. The exception (at least, regarding crowds) is college spring break, which is usually in March or April. Some parks, such as Big Bend, get extremely crowded at that time.
- Walk away if you find yourself in a crowd. It sounds simple, but often when a scenic overlook is crowded, you'll find an equally good view in a completely empty spot just a short stretch down the road or trail.
- Visit popular attractions at off-peak hours, especially early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You'll be surprised at how empty the park is before 9 or 10am. Dawn and dusk are also generally the best times to see wildlife. Eat at off-peak hours -- try lunch at 11am and dinner at 4pm. Campers using public showers will often find them jammed first thing in the morning and just before bedtime, but deserted the rest of the day.
- Don't forget winter. You may not see wildflowers, and some roads and areas may be closed, but many national parks are wonderful places to ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, or just admire the snowy landscape.
- Remember that some parks are rarely crowded, and we've made a special effort to include information about them in this guide. Generally, the more difficult a park is to get to, the fewer people you'll encounter. And many of the smaller parks remain essentially undiscovered while offering scenery and recreation opportunities that rival or even surpass the big-names. Consider parks such as Great Basin, as well as one of America's newest national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.