As the weather warms, summer trips are approaching fast. If you’re the outdoorsy type, you might have your heart set on visiting a national park.
Unfortunately, many others probably have the exact same plan.
A surplus of tourists can easily obscure the beauty of nature, and many parks are notoriously busy during the summer. But other places may offer the quieter experience you are looking for.
Following are some of the busiest national parks, and alternative places that you can visit so don’t waste time — and avoid wasting money — on your next vacation.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park — Tennessee and North Carolina
The most visited national park is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in Tennessee and North Carolina. It received 12.94 million visitors in 2022 alone.
As the name suggests, the trails offer stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Go here instead: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
If you want to see the Appalachian Mountains without the fuss of the busy park, consider Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
It spans Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, and offers equally breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountain range. There is also the opportunity to explore caves at this site, as well as to learn about its rich Native American history.
Rocky Mountain National Park — Colorado
Colorado is a state known for its stunning mountain ranges and breathtaking nature scenes, which is why 4.3 million people made the trek to the Rocky Mountain National Park in 2022.
The park has gorgeous mountains, pristine bodies of water, sprawling meadows, and unique native wildlife — a perfect mix for outdoor lovers. However, it will also be crawling with tourists come the summertime.
Go here instead: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
If you want to get a look at the Rockies from a distance, make a trip to another Colorado park: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
The sand dunes are nestled under the Rocky Mountains, so you can still see all of the mountains’ imposing glory at a distance. You can also enjoy activities such as sand sledding, hiking, backpacking in the surrounding forests, and visiting wetlands, grasslands, and lakes.
Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona
Visiting Grand Canyon National Park is on many people’s bucket list, so the park receives a major influx of sightseers every year — 4.73 million in 2022. You can expect it to be packed in the warmer months.
Go here instead: Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
However, the Grand Canyon isn’t the only stunning canyon and registered national park you can visit. If you are willing to travel to Colorado, you can see Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park.
This park has deep canyons that are just as gorgeous as its more famous counterpart, but less packed with tourists. There’s also a river running through the canyons that you can hike to, fish in, or enjoy by kayak.
Black Canyon Of The Gunnison also earns praise for its dark and clear skies, where you can see as many as 5,000 stars at night.
Yosemite National Park — California
Yosemite National Park is one of the nation’s most famous parks. In 2022, 3.67 million people took in its breathtaking views.
This park is famous for its waterfalls, steep hiking and climbing opportunities, and gorgeous native California flora. The biggest drawback, however, is the busy and crowded feel.
Go here instead: Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument has Rainbow Falls, which plunges more than 100 feet. The cooling of basalt lava helped form a huge wall of columns.
Yellowstone National Park — Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Yellowstone National Park was the first place in the U.S. to earn that designation. More than a century later, visitors still flock to the park for its variety of geological wonders.
Here, you will find geysers and hot springs, but also waterfalls, forests, and other natural wonders. It is crowded during the summer months — 3.29 million people visited in 2022.
Go here instead: Lassen Volcanic National Park
If you like the geysers of Yellowstone, chances are good that you will enjoy Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. It has lakes, volcanoes, and steaming fumaroles.
The Bumpass Hell Trail leads to a large hydrothermal area that’s only open to visitors in the summer and fall. It takes two hours to hike there and back from the main park.
Zion National Park — Utah
Utah is another state that provides exceptional landscapes in its national parks, the most popular of which is Zion National Park.
Not only is it steeped in rich history, but the vibrantly colored sandstone cliff faces are marvelous. The park attracted 4.69 million tourists in 2022, so expect it to be busy again this summer.
Go here instead: Capitol Reef National Park
Zion is far from the only geological beauty to see in Utah. Capitol Reef National park has equally stunning cliff edges, domes, and canyons. You will also find monoclines, which are folds in rock strata.
Spring and fall are the busy seasons here, so you’ll enjoy a quieter summer trip if you choose to visit then.
Olympic National Park — Washington
Olympic National Park in Washington State showcases the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer, including glacial mountains, rainforests, beaches, valleys, and old-growth forests.
Summer is a busy time to visit, though. In 2002, nearly 2.5 million people visited.
Go here instead: Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park has many of the same attractions as Olympic, including rainforests, glacial mountains, and old-growth forests. You’ll also discover meadows, waterfalls, and an active volcano.
Acadia National Park — Maine
Acadia National Park in Maine offers a variety of activities, including hiking and cycling, visiting historic structures, bird-watching, and stargazing.
The biggest draw, though, are the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where you can swim or go boating. In 2022, 3.97 million people visited.
Go here instead: Isle Royale National Park
For a quieter summer trip, go a little west to Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park. This park is on Lake Superior and offers many aquatic activities, including fishing, swimming, paddling, canoeing, and kayaking.
You can also go scuba diving and see intact shipwrecks.
Lincoln Memorial — Washington, D.C.
If you’re less of an outdoorsy person and more of a history buff, you have probably thought of visiting Lincoln Memorial National Park in Washington, D.C.
This is a very busy place, with 7.83 million people visiting in 2022.
Go here instead: Several options
You don’t need to visit the capital to learn about the country’s history, however. There are plenty of other national historical landmarks to visit and learn about, such as:
- Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York
- Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia
- Taos Pueblo World Heritage Site in New Mexico
There is certainly no shortage of national parks in this country. So, if you're seeking solitude, there is bound to be a perfect place for you to visit this summer.
So, don’t be afraid to change your plans and explore something new. And before you leave, grab a credit card that helps you earn travel rewards or other perks.
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