How to avoid the crowds in national parks
Professional nature photographer James Kaiser sent along some tips for enjoying our national parks this summer without the crowds. Having attempted more than my share of parks at their most-crowded, I can attest that James's tips do work (see my writeup on Yellowstone). My only additional tip - if you're hiking into the backcountry in known bear territory, carry a bear bell, sing, talk loudly, or anything to alert the bears to your presence and send them scurrying elsewhere.
Here are James's tips in his own words - valuable stuff. If you get a chance, check out his website http://www.jameskaiser.com/. The shots are spectacular.
Top 5 Ways to Avoid the Crowds in National Parks
1. Get an Early Start
Sunrise is a breathtaking experience in any national park. But most park visitors, snug in their sleeping bags or in a comfy lodge, sleep right through it. Wake up early and you'll be treated to incredible views without the crowds, even at the most popular viewpoints. And don't forget to pack your camera. Sunrise bathes the parks in soft, beautiful light—perfect for taking gorgeous landscape photos.
2. Go for a Hike
Sad but true: Most national park visitors never venture farther than 100 yards away from their cars. Of course, if you're looking to avoid the crowds this statistic is great news. Go for a hike and the crowds will start to thin out immediately. Choose a challenging trail and you'll really get away from the masses. As a general rule, crowds diminish exponentially for every step you take away from the pavement. And remember: hiking trails often lead to the most spectacular viewpoints.
3. Avoid the Hotspots
Most national parks are famous for a specific spot—Yosemite Valley in Yosemite, Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Mather Point in Grand Canyon. But take Robert Frost's advice and choose the road less traveled. It really will make all the difference. Follow the herds and you'll find more herds. Do a little pre-trip research and you'll discover that some of the most beautiful places in any national park are often some of the least well-known.This is where a good guidebook can really come in handy. Plan your trip ahead of time and you'll know exactly where to go—and where not to go—as soon as you arrive.
4. Take Advantage of the Night.
After a long day of exploring and sightseeing, most visitors are eager to head to bed. But nighttime is when Nature puts on one of her finest shows. Most parks are located in remote areas free of light and air pollution, which means clear skies perfect for stargazing. To help visitors enjoy the night sky, many parks offer free astronomy programs. Still need convincing? This year Memorial Day falls within a few days of the new moon, which means dark skies perfect for viewing distant constellations.
5. Pack a Picnic Lunch
Most national park visitors leave themselves to the mercy of park restaurants, which are swamped with crowds on big weekends. The result? Long lines for tables, bathrooms and parking spaces. The solution? Pack a picnic lunch. In addition to saving hours of time and frustration, a picnic lunch will probably be tastier, healthier and cheaper. Best of all: you can enjoy it at a beautiful viewpoint while everyone else is waiting in line!