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Kat Dierickx | 11.09.2015

The National Parks Service was created by Congress on August 25, 1916, 44 years after Ulysses S. Grant signed the law making Yellowstone America's first national park. Part of the Department of the Interior, the mandate of the National Parks Service is to protect areas under management while facilitating public experiences of these areas, a balancing act indeed.

We can all agree that national parks can be a bit crowded during the summer months, and there's no doubt they will be crowded this summer, but with 84 million acres, there must be ways to avoid the crowds. We have a few ideas...

Get Off the Main Roads 

Though some of a park's iconic viewpoints and overlooks are often steps from the parking lot, don't let this be your only experience of the national parks. You can find awesome 4-mile side trails or hike 20+ miles into pure solitude. Sure, it takes a little more work, but we promise the reward will be worth it. Just take a look at the Tenaya Canyon Descent, the Trans-Zion Trek, or these 3 Incredible Wilderness Trips in Olympic National Park.

Explore Beyond the "Heart" of the Park 

The "heart" can be described in two different ways: it may be where a visitor center is located, or it may be the area with the most adventures grouped together. Either way, this is obviously going to be one of the busiest places and home to some of the park's most popular sites. We don't suggest skipping the "heart," but we do want to encourage you to not skip the rest of the park. Often there are less traveled and equally beautiful trails and campgrounds in the far corners of the park. If you do want to explore a central location, trade your car for a bike

Start Early 

Get up before the sun and chances are you'll be up before a number of the other park visitors. Start your adventures early to get a stretch of trail and a beautiful sunrise to yourself in the morning. Many of the popular trails are well-maintained and can easily be hiked with a head lamp, just be careful when starting an adventure in the dark. 

Visit the Less-Visited National Parks

If you want to travel in the summer months, try a road less traveled. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park, hosting nearly 70 million visitors in 2014. If you laid those visitors head to foot, they would stretch from Canada to Mexico 315 times! No wonder it feels busy. Alaska is home to many of these least-visited parks, some of which are only accessible by snowmobile or dog sled. 

Visit in the Off-Season

Before Memorial Day and after Labor Day the visitors tend to thin out, making the popular areas of the park less crowded and campsite reservations easier to come by. You can also find off-season rates at some of the beautiful historic lodges. Access to certain areas may be limited due to snow, which may mean they are perfectly suited for snowshoeing, backcountry and cross-country skiing, and even winter camping. Wouldn't it be nice to have a sunrise to yourself at Crater Lake? Or find fresh turns at Lassen?

Mark your calendar for the fee free days in 2017: 

  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend

In no particular order, here are 100 awesome adventures from the national parks in the West that will really show you why these places are some of America's gems. 

  1. Half Dome Hike: Yosemite National Park
  2. Tenaya Canyon Descent: Yosemite National Park
  3. Tenaya Lake: Yosemite National Park
  4. Yosemite Falls: Yosemite National Park
  5. Yosemite Valley Bicycle Loop: Yosemite National Park
  6. Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley via Vogelsang Camp: Yosemite National Park
  7. Cathedral Lakes Trail: Yosemite National Park
  8. Matthes Crest Traverse: Yosemite National Park
  9. Vogelsang Peak: Yosemite National Park
  10. Rae Lakes Loop: Kings Canyon National Park
  11. Columbine Lake: Sequoia National Park
  12. Pear Lake Hut: Sequoia National Park
  13. Moro Rock: Sequoia National Park 
  14. Giant Forest: Sequoia National Park
  15. Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Loop: Sequoia National Park
  16. Tokopah Valley: Sequoia National Park
  17. Ubehebe Crater: Death Valley National Park
  18. Devil's Golf Course: Death Valley National Park
  19. The Racetrack: Death Valley National Park
  20. Mosaic Canyon Trail: Death Valley National Park
  21. Cholla Cactus Garden: Joshua Tree National Park
  22. Intersection Rock Climbing Crag: Joshua Tree National Park 
  23. Arch Rock Nature Trail: Joshua Tree National Park
  24. Fortynine Palms Oasis: Joshua Tree National Park
  25. Lassen Peak, North Ridge Shoulder Backcountry Ski: Lassen Volcanic National Park
  26. Lassen Peak: Lassen Volcanic National Park
  27. Kings Creek Falls: Lassen Volcanic National Park
  28. Mount Diller: Lassen Volcanic National Park
  29. Tall Trees Grove: Redwoods National and State Parks
  30. Moses Springs Trail: Pinnacles National Park
  31. The Watchman Snowshoe: Crater Lake National Park
  32. Garfield Peak: Crater Lake National Park
  33. Wizard Island Summit: Crater Lake National Park
  34. The Pinnacles: Crater Lake National Park
  35. Unicorn Peak via Snow Lake: Mount Rainier National Park 
  36. Disappointment Cleaver: Mount Rainier National Park
  37. Skyline Trail: Mount Rainier National Park
  38. Paradise Park, Myrtle Falls: Mount Rainier National Park
  39. Edith Creek Basin: Mount Rainier National Park
  40. Gobblers Knob + Lake George: Mount Rainier National Park
  41. Burroughs Mountain: Mount Rainier National Park
  42. Sunrise Rim Trail: Mount Rainier National Park
  43. Summerland + Panhandle Gap: Mount Rainier National Park
  44. Sam's River Loop: Olympic National Park
  45. Hoh to Sol Duc via High Divide Trail: Olympic National Park
  46. La Push, Second Beach: Olympic National Park
  47. Wolf Creek Trail: Olympic National Park
  48. Sol Duc Falls: Olympic National Park
  49. Obstruction Point: Olympic National Park
  50. Ozette Lake: Olympic National Park
  51. Ruby Beach: Olympic National Park
  52. Anderson Glacier: Olympic National Park
  53. Forbidden Peak, West Ridge: North Cascades National Park 
  54. Thornton Lakes Trail + Trappers Peak: North Cascades National Park 
  55. Trans-Zion Trek: Zion National Park
  56. Angels Landing: Zion National Park
  57. North Guardian Angel Climb: Zion National Park
  58. Lower Subway: Zion National Park
  59. The Narrows: Zion National Park
  60. Pine Creek Canyoneering: Zion National Park 
  61. Fairyland Loop: Bryce Canyon National Park 
  62. Bryce Canyon Rim Trial: Bryce Canyon National Park 
  63. Inspiration Point: Bryce Canyon National Park 
  64. Delicate Arch: Arches National Park
  65. The Windows Loop: Arches National Park 
  66. Park Avenue Hike: Arches National Park 
  67. False Kiva: Canyonlands National Park
  68. Aztec Butte: Canyonlands National Park
  69. Cohab Canyon: Capitol Reef National Park
  70. Grand Wash Trail to the Narrows: Capitol Reef National Park
  71. Cathedral Valley: Capitol Reef National Park
  72. South Kaibab + Bright Angel Trails: Grand Canyon National Park 
  73. Grand Canyon of the Colorado River: Grand Canyon National Park 
  74. Grand Canyon Lodge, North Rim: Grand Canyon National Park 
  75. Havasu Falls via Havasupai Trail: Grand Canyon National Park 
  76. Granite Rapid Camp: Grand Canyon National Park 
  77. Mooney + Beaver Falls: Grand Canyon National Park
  78. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  79. Nymph, Dream + Emerald Lakes: Rocky Mountain National Park 
  80. Chasm Lake: Rocky Mountain National Park
  81. Ute Trail to Timberline Pass: Rocky Mountain National Park 
  82. Lake Haiyaha: Rocky Mountain National Park 
  83. Gem Lake via Lumpy Ridge Trailhead: Rocky Mountain National Park 
  84. Lion Lakes: Rocky Mountain National Park
  85. Cliff Palace: Mesa Verde National Park
  86. Taggart + Bradley Lakes: Grand Teton National Park
  87. Visit San Juan Islands National Historical Park in the San Juan Islands
  88. Paulina Peak: Newberry National Volcanic Monument
  89. Sand dunes at White Sands National Monument
  90. Monitor Ridge: Mount St. Helen's National Monument
  91. Ocean views at Cabrillo National Monument
  92. Walking with Redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument
  93. The Wave: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument 
  94. Timpanogos Cave National Monument
  95. Devil's Postpile National Monument
  96. Lava Beds National Monument
  97. Canyon De Chelly National Monument
  98. Sunset View: Cedar Breaks National Monument
  99. Devil's Garden: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  100. Painted Hills: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Comments

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Dave Kochendorfer, Owner/Guide
Florida Outdoor Adventures - Everglades Kayak Tours
http://www.everglades-kayak.com
[email protected]
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Hey there Randy and Indy, thanks for your comments. Most of our content comes from Contributors in the field who go out and cover places they love. We're working to provide more coverage of East Coast adventures, and it is slowly building (Great Smoky Mountains recently, and Acadia very soon), but the process isn't an instant one. If either of you have content that you'd like to contribute to Outdoor Project to help represent areas that aren't currently on the site, please apply to become Contributors! If not, I encourage you to check back for progress on this issue rather than chalking it up to West Coast bias. Thanks!
A nice list, but wow, what an extremely biased west-coast-centric view. 90% of this list is west of Colorado/Wyoming. As if *nothing* further east has any redeeming value. :-/
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