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10 Crowd-Free National Parks You Should Visit Instead

10 Crowd-Free National Parks You Should Visit Instead
10 Crowd-Free National Parks You Should Visit Instead
We definitely envy John Muir. We’re guessing that the pioneering naturalist—one of the biggest advocates for the preservation of the American wilderness—never had to jockey for a tourist-free view of some of the country’s most spectacular vistas. But here’s the thing, of the 59 national parks, travelers tend to flock only to the big names, leaving the roads of the 49 other equally incredible parks far less-traveled. Want all of the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park without the crowds? You can have it at one of these lesser-known parks. Here are our favorite alternatives to the top 10 most-visited U.S. National Parks.

Courtesy Pixabay
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    10 Crowd-Free National Parks You Should Visit Instead
    10 Crowd-Free National Parks You Should Visit Instead
    We definitely envy John Muir. We’re guessing that the pioneering naturalist—one of the biggest advocates for the preservation of the American wilderness—never had to jockey for a tourist-free view of some of the country’s most spectacular vistas. But here’s the thing, of the 59 national parks, travelers tend to flock only to the big names, leaving the roads of the 49 other equally incredible parks far less-traveled. Want all of the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park without the crowds? You can have it at one of these lesser-known parks. Here are our favorite alternatives to the top 10 most-visited U.S. National Parks:

    Courtesy Pixabay
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    1. Instead of Great Smoky Mountain National Park...
    1. Instead of Great Smoky Mountain National Park...

    Love the Great Smoky Mountains?

    Courtesy Pixabay
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    ...Give Shenandoah National Park in Virginia a try
    ...Give Shenandoah National Park in Virginia a try
    While hiking any part of Shenandoah National Park's 500 miles of trails, you can explore the same sort of sweeping views, wooded hollows, and waterfalls that you’d find in the Great Smoky Mountains, with a fraction of the Great Smoky's yearly visitors. And as a bonus, in the fall, the leaf-peeping is spectacular.

    Courtesy Pixabay
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    2. Instead of Grand Canyon National Park...
    2. Instead of Grand Canyon National Park...


    Awed by the Grand Canyon?

    Courtesy Pixabay

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    ...Head to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
    ...Head to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

    Sure the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is a less-touristy version of the South Rim, but the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is also breathtaking. The park’s sloping canyons, craggy spires, and 2,000-foot cliffs are awe-inspiring in their own way, and the area is known for its great rafting and expert climbing, if you’re in it for the extreme sports.

    Courtesy Pixabay

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    3. Instead of Rocky Mountain National Park...
    3. Instead of Rocky Mountain National Park...

    A Rocky Mountain regular?

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    ...Switch it up with Great Basin National Park.
    ...Switch it up with Great Basin National Park.
    Nevada’s only national park is a wonderland of vistas, lakes, mountain peaks, and bristlecone pines. But because it’s very remote, the Great Basin National Park only saw 112,000 visitors in 2015, one of the lowest numbers of all the parks. It may not be easy to get to, but the park is definitely worth the journey.

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    4. Instead of Yosemite National Park...
    4. Instead of Yosemite National Park...

    Yearning for Yosemite?

    Courtesy Pixabay
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    ...Escape to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
    ...Escape to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
    You may know Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as the place to walk among giants—giant sequoias, that is—but there are also over 800 miles of trails through peaks and valleys. And best of all, the parks are only about three hours away from Yosemite. So if you really can’t skip the big name, you can at least get a taste of both worlds.

    Courtesy Pixabay
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    5. Instead of Yellowstone National Park...
    5. Instead of Yellowstone National Park...

    Dreaming of Yellowstone?

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    ...Go to Lassen Volcanic National Park
    ...Go to Lassen Volcanic National Park
    If you’re drawn to Yellowstone’s Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, Lassen has some equally stunning geothermic activity in store for you. From the bubbling pools of Bumpass Hell to Terminal Geyser, there are plenty of exciting hydrothermal spots throughout the park—after all, volcanic is in the name.

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    6. Instead of Zion National Park...
    6. Instead of Zion National Park...

    Aiming for Zion?

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    Land in Capitol Reef
    Land in Capitol Reef
    Capitol Reef is one of the truly hidden gems of the National Parks system. It often gets overshadowed by its ruddy-hued neighbors, Zion and Arches National Parks, but this geologic “wrinkle” is sprinkled with vermilion cliffs, canyons, bridges, and arches that are well-worth exploring. Don’t miss the towering beauty of the sandstone temples of Cathedral Valley.

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    7. Instead of Olympic National Park...
    7. Instead of Olympic National Park...

    Only have eyes for Olympic National Park?

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    ...Head to Mount Rainier instead
    ...Head to Mount Rainier instead
    Both national parks are located in the Pacific Northwest, but Mount Rainier National Park saw a third of the visitors that Olympic saw in 2015. If you’re interested in Olympic’s range of environments—from glaciers down to a temperate rainforest—Mount Rainier see that, and raise you a volcano. Yes, not only is Mount Rainier an active volcano, but it’s the most glaciated peak in the (contiguous) U.S. and is also home to some of the most Instagrammable subalpine wildflower meadows in the country.

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    8. Instead of Grand Teton National Park...
    8. Instead of Grand Teton National Park...

    Want to go to the Grand Tetons?

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    ...Why not try the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska?
    ...Why not try the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska?
    America’s largest national park encompasses two mountain ranges and is home to 9 of the 16 highest mountains in the country. Hike, kayak, river raft, camp, mountain bike, glacier hikes—you can do it all in Wrangell-St. Elias, just with far fewer people. Go big or go home, right?

    Courtesy of NPS Photo
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    9. Instead of Acadia National Park...
    9. Instead of Acadia National Park...

    Aching for Acadia?

    Photo by Kristi Rugg/NPS
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    ...Get yourself to Voyageurs National Park
    ...Get yourself to Voyageurs National Park
    It may not be on the Eastern seaboard, but located in a remote part of Minnesota, Voyageurs has all the hiking and wildlife-spotting of Acadia, and more. There’s plenty of fishing, boating, and kayaking to be done in the summer, and miles of ski and snowshoe trails in the winter. Plus the park is home to moose, grey wolves, black bears, beavers, and bald eagles, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

    Courtesy Pixabay
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    10. Instead of Glacier National Park...
    10. Instead of Glacier National Park...

    Gotta get to Glacier?

    Courtesy NPS Photo
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    ...Heed the call of The North Cascades
    ...Heed the call of The North Cascades
    While you might not spot one of Glacier’s famous goats, the North Cascades have many of the same wildlife species as its neighbor in Montana. What’s more, the park is home to some of the most stunningly rugged landscape in the country. From jagged peaks to serene mountain lakes and with more than 300 glaciers—and only a tenth of the visitors Glacier saw last year—the North Cascades are a nature lover's paradise.

    Photo by Glenna Barlow/Flickr
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