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Avoid These 8 National Parks During Peak Season

Published on June 19th, 2020 by Nikki Cleveland
This post was updated on May 26th, 2023

Avoid these national parks during peak season. Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
Busy boardwalks at Mud Volcano by Yellowstone National Park is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

Avoid These 8 National Parks During Peak Season

Are you getting ready for your first RV camping trip of the summer? You may want to avoid some of the most popular national parks during the peak season.

For example, imagine you’ve loaded up the camper with everything you’re going to need and planned out the perfect route on RV LIFE Trip Wizard. Every day until your departure date, you’re dreaming of this beautiful national park that you’ve only seen in photos but never gotten to experience in person. 

After days of traveling you finally reach your destination, only to find that the crowds have already arrived. The trails are heavily trafficked, your pictures of the landscape are photobombed by other travelers, and instead of reconnecting with nature, you are surrounded by noise from other people and barely able to enjoy the views you had long been expecting. 

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Summer is the season for crowds no matter where you’re visiting, and some of our most iconic national parks are no exception. This is a combination between the beautiful sunny weather, the fact many kids are out of school for the summer and families are hitting the road for vacation, and some parks are closed or partially closed all winter, so summer is the prime time to visit while all the trails and roads are open.

Some crowded national parks are so busy during peak season, it’s just not worth your time if you truly want to enjoy the park. These national parks are better experienced in the fall, after the major crowds are gone, or in the spring when you can also view the blooming wildflowers. Some parks can also give you an entirely different experience in the winter if you enjoy seasonal sports like skiing or snowshoeing.  

Here are the eight most crowded national parks in the U.S. to avoid during summer.

1. Grand Canyon National Park

With an average of 6 million visitors every year, the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the country. A large majority of people visit during July and August for activities like hiking and camping, riding a mule into the canyon, and going rafting on the Colorado River. The North Rim, which sits at a higher elevation than the more popular South Rim, is also open for the summer season.

Get a front-row view of the Grand Canyon without the crowds. Photo by author (Nikki Cleveland)

However, the Grand Canyon still has a lot to experience even during the off-season. The more popular South Rim, with close to two dozen viewpoints, is open all year-round. A spring or fall visit, especially on a weekday, may have fewer crowds.

The West Rim is also open all year, and generally less crowded than the South Rim. It offers the Skywalk attraction, activities like ziplining and helicopter rides, and unique viewpoints like Eagle Point.  

2. Yellowstone National Park

According to Yellowstone, over four million people visit the park every year, and more than half of those visits happen during June, July, and August. Popular attractions like Old Faithful and trails around the Upper Geyser Basin can get congested with so many people, you won’t even get the full park experience.

Crowds leaving after the Old Faithful eruption. Photo via Yellowstone National Park (Flickr Creative Common)
Crowds leaving after Old Faithful eruption by Yellowstone National Park is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

The park is open year-round, but July and August are the only months when all services, roads, and facilities like the NPS campgrounds are open. The early fall months, September through early October, is the best time to visit after the summer crowds have left and the fall colors are at their peak.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw over 11 million visitors last year, making it the most visited and crowded national park in the country. The Smokies have two peak seasons for visiting: the summer (June 15-August 15) when the weather is nice and warm, and during the fall, when the park is famous for its bright foliage that paints the landscape. The entire month of October can get crowded, especially on weekends and later in the day.

Great Smoky Mountains is beautiful but crowded in October. Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons

If you’re looking for more solitude, spring and winter the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains. A diverse variety of wildflowers bloom from late-March through June, and the hiking trails and picnic areas begin opening in March and April.

By winter, the crowds are gone and the scenery is a winter wonderland for hiking. A few of the campgrounds, roads, picnic areas, and trails stay open all year weather-permitting.

4. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite sees on average 4 million visitors every year, the busiest time being from June through September. Tourists come from all over the world to see the dramatic waterfalls and amazing rock formations like El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks. Campgrounds and lodging in the area is almost always booked during the peak summer season.

national parks
Crowd gathers at Lower Yosemite Falls. Photo by Robert Scoble (Flickr Creative Commons)

Visiting in May, once the snow has melted and the roads are open, is your best chance at avoiding crowds while getting the most of the park experience. Some hikes in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Hetch Hetchy are often free of snow by April, and most are usually completely snow-free by May. Some of the larger creeks and rivers, and the better-known waterfalls, tend to reach peak runoff by May or June. Wildflowers like dogwood and redbud also start to bloom this month.

5. Zion National Park

Of the 5 national parks in Utah, Zion is the most visited with over 4.3 million visitors every year. This also makes it one of the most visited national parks in the whole country. If you visit on any weekend afternoon during the summer, or on a holiday like Labor Day, you’re bound to run into crowds on the trails. You’ll also see full parking lots, and crowded viewpoints.

national parks
Labor Day at Zion National Park. Photo via NPS

Fall is the best time to visit. That’s when the main summer crowds have gone home, the scenery is full of colorful foliage, and before the winter storms in December. The fall weather typically offers cooler hiking temperatures and park operations like the shuttle buses are still running.

Winter in Zion will give you even more solitude, but you’ll need to be prepared for the ice and snow. The roads in the park are plowed but some trails are closed seasonally due to the hazard of falling ice.

6. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier gets about 2 million visitors every year. A large majority of them go during July and August. That’s because of great weather, accessibility, and the colorful wildflowers that reach full bloom in the summer.

Visiting in May-June, or September-October, is ideal if you want more solitude. You’ll still be able to hike the trails while the weather is tolerable. The fall months bring cooler temperatures and seasonal foliage that turns the landscape into an idyllic paradise.

Mount Rainier is not one of the most-visited national parks but it can get particularly crowded during the summer. Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The park is open to visitors all year. However vehicle access in the winter is restricted to the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park, and the NPS campgrounds close seasonally. By winter, there are several ways to play in the snow. Check out Paradise’s Snow Play Area, Crystal’s Mount Rainier Gondola, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on well-established trails through the forest. 

7. Rocky Mountain National Park

Every year, Rocky Mountain National Park sees almost 5 million visitors. The huge spike in visits happens between June and September. While the summer crowds come to hike the trails and go fishing in the Rockies, fall is another peak season when Colorado’s famous aspen trees start turning gold.

Rocky Mountain National Park gets crowded in the summer and fall. Photo by Kent Kanouse (Flickr Creative Commons)

The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is in late May or early June. Or consider going during the week in September after Labor Day through mid-October. These times typically have fewer crowds, pleasant weather, and the scenic Trail Ridge Road is open for the season.

8. Acadia National Park

About 3.5 million people visit Acadia National Park in Maine every year, typically from June through September. Certain areas, such as Cadillac Summit Road (especially at sunrise and sunset), Jordan Pond, and the Sand Beach parking lot are often the most congested.

Congestion in Acadia National Park. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Parking in Acadia is limited and tends to fill up early every day throughout the summer. If you plan on visiting during the summer, park your RV nearby. Then use their free Island Explorer shuttle bus system to reach the most popular areas.

They have ten bus routes that link hotels, inns, and campgrounds with destinations in Acadia National Park and neighboring village centers. The shuttle bus usually runs from late June through October.

Late spring and fall are the best time to visit Acadia while the weather is warm. A couple weeks after Labor Day in September until mid-September is an even better window before the crowds arrive for the fall foliage.

If you want more solitude, check out the 5 Quietest National Parks For Camping

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4 thoughts on “Avoid These 8 National Parks During Peak Season”

  1. The pandemic is easing and visitation to national parks is greatly increasing. I’ve visited all the parks mentioned in the busy season and these are good recommendations. I would consider adding Shenandoah to the list. Article was obviously written before the recent Yellowstone floods. It will be years before the basic infrastructure is repaired. Recommend avoiding Yellowstone for as long as you can until most of the repairs are done and all roads open. The northern gateway communities to Yellowstone also suffered from the floods so services there will be limited for some time. Zion receives as many or more visitors as Yellowstone but crammed into a much smaller geographic area with fewer entrances, roads, and open spaces. At Arches in Utah line of vehicles waiting to enter frequently backs up onto the federal highway (US 191) servicing the entrance. Use, find the park you want, go to “Plan Your Visit” for best and latest info.

  2. The Trail Ridge Rd across Rocky Mountain National Park closes with the 1st snow in October (can be September) and does not reopen until Memorial Day weekend in May (and sometimes not until June). This is the only road connecting the east and west entrances to the park.

  3. Our family took two RV to Zion national park 2021 August it was not crowded,
    Traffic moved along threw the tunnel, no problems.
    Just wake up early and beat the crowd that sleep in late.
    No need to take shuttle at the park entrance, that just left less parking in the area before the park entrance for everyone else that wanted to shop or eat.

    • But I wonder, Delta was spreading at the time, particularly in Colorado and Utah. That may be the reason 2021 was quieter? I’ve never been to Zion but it would be good to know.


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