12 Overcrowded National Parks — And Where to Go Instead

National Park Alternatives

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Landscape with Monumental Old Barn in Fruita at Sunset, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA

Overhyped and Crowded

Celebrated for their stunning natural beauty and unique landscapes, our national parks offer us a wonderful chance to connect with nature, discover diverse ecosystems, and experience the tranquility and grandeur of the great outdoors. But as beautiful and majestic as they are, some of the most popular ones can be overhyped due to their overwhelming crowds and commercialization. 

This can detract from the serene experience many seek in nature, making it hard to appreciate the scenery or find a moment of solitude. Parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon are frequently packed with tourists, which leads to congested trails and more time spent waiting in line to get pictures. 

If you're planning to spend time in the great outdoors this summer, consider visiting these less crowded and underrated parks that offer equally breathtaking views and a more peaceful experience. Here are 12 overhyped national parks, plus alternatives for where to go instead. 

morning shot of grand teton after an autumn snowstorm from schwabacher landing in grand teton national park

1. Yellowstone National Park

Where to go instead: Grand Teton National Park

Known for its geothermal features like Old Faithful, stunning panoramic views, and abundant wildlife, Yellowstone is undoubtedly striking. But it can quickly become a tourist magnet during peak seasons from May to mid-September. This means congested trails, crowded viewpoints, and long lines detracting from the whole point of getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

Instead, consider Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Just south of Yellowstone, Grand Teton offers dramatic mountain scenery with towering peaks, pristine lakes, and excellent wildlife viewing. But the best part is how it's less crowded, providing a more peaceful experience for hiking, boating, and exploring its rugged beauty.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

2. Yosemite National Park

Where to go instead: Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Famous for its cascading waterfalls, giant sequoias, and iconic rock formations like El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite is one of the most popular spots for mountain and rock climbing in the U.S. But during the summer, it can feel more like a bustling city, with congested trails and packed viewpoints at seemingly every turn. 

Instead, consider Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. This neighboring park also features majestic giant sequoias — including the General Sherman Tree — as well as stunning landscapes, but with fewer visitors. The scenery allows for a more intimate connection with nature for everything from hiking to wildlife watching.

Related: 35 Surprising Facts About America's National Parks

Canyonlands National Park

3. Grand Canyon National Park

Where to go instead: Canyonlands National Park

The immense scale and breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon draw millions of visitors each year. This often results in crowded viewpoints and busy trails, especially at popular spots like the South Rim and the Bright Angel Trail. During peak times, it can be challenging to find a quiet moment to take in the awe-inspiring vistas without jostling through crowds or waiting in long lines for shuttle buses. 

Instead, give Canyonlands National Park in nearby Utah a try. Canyonlands offers equally spectacular canyon views and unique rock formations like the Mesa Arch, with a fraction of the visitors. Its vast, rugged landscapes also provide a more secluded and adventurous experience.

Related: 32 Unforgettable Bucket-List Experiences in America's National Parks

Landscape with Monumental Old Barn in Fruita at Sunset, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA

4. Zion National Park

Where to go instead: Capitol Reef National Park

Known for its towering cliffs, narrow canyons, and the famous Angel’s Landing hike, Zion National Park is a breathtaking destination that attracts millions of visitors each year. However, the park's popularity can make it overwhelming, especially during the summer and fall months. The shuttle buses that transport visitors throughout the park are often packed to the brim, and finding a parking spot can be a real pain. 

Instead, visit Capitol Reef National Park. Also in Utah, Capitol Reef features striking rock formations, colorful canyons, and historical sites with significantly fewer visitors. It’s also a great choice for those seeking excellent hiking opportunities.

Shenandoah National Park
National Park Service

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Where to go instead: Shenandoah National Park

Renowned for its misty mountains, diverse wildlife, and vibrant fall foliage, this park is the most visited in the U.S. This often leads to heavy traffic, particularly along scenic drives like Newfound Gap Road and Cades Cove Loop Road, where visitors frequently encounter bumper-to-bumper congestion. Trails that lead to popular spots such as Clingmans Dome, Laurel Falls, and Alum Cave can also become crowded, making it difficult to find a moment of solitude or even a clear path to hike on. 

Instead, consider visiting Shenandoah National Park. Located in Virginia, Shenandoah offers similar scenic drives along Skyline Drive, beautiful hikes, and stunning vistas with much less chaos. 

Scenic East Portal Water Reflections in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Summer

6. Rocky Mountain National Park

Where to go instead: Black Canyon National Park

Famed for its alpine scenery, diverse wildlife, and the Trail Ridge Road, RMNP can become quite crowded, especially during the summer. Iconic trails such as Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, and the hike to Longs Peak often see heavy foot traffic. Peak season also means that the park’s amenities, including campgrounds and picnic areas, are often filled to capacity, detracting from the serene experience many visitors seek.

Instead, give Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park a try. Also located in Colorado, this park offers steep cliffs and deep gorges carved by the Gunnison River, with fewer visitors. It’s perfect for those seeking solitude and stunning landscapes.

Tranquility at Isle Royale
Jordan Hinsch/istockphoto

7. Acadia National Park

Where to go instead: Isle Royale National Park

Known for its rugged coastline, granite peaks, and dazzling fall foliage, Acadia National Park in Maine is a stunning destination that attracts a large number of visitors, especially during peak seasons. The influx of visitors can make it challenging to find a peaceful spot to take in the breathtaking views or enjoy a hike. 

Instead, visit Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. Accessible only by boat or plane, Isle Royale provides a true wilderness experience with serene lakes, dense forests, and abundant wildlife, far from most crowds. This remote island park offers excellent opportunities for hiking, backpacking, and kayaking in a pristine natural setting. 

Hoodoos in Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, USA

8. Arches National Park

Where to go instead: Goblin Valley State Park

Renowned for its over 2,000 natural stone arches, including the iconic Delicate Arch, Arches National Park in Utah is often teeming with tourists, making it hard to enjoy these stunning formations in peace and quiet. The limited parking at popular trailheads like Devil's Garden and Windows Section also fills up quickly, which can lead to long wait times. 

Instead, visit Goblin Valley State Park. Also in Utah, Goblin Valley offers similarly fascinating rock formations called hoodoos or "goblins," but with fewer crowds. It’s a great spot for hiking, honing in your photography skills, and exploring a landscape that feels like another planet. (It actually looks like Mars there, and it's awesome).

Related: Stunning Photos of Every National Park in America

Trail Through Pinnacles National Park

9. Bryce National Park

Where to go instead: Pinnacles National Park

Home to more vibrant hoodoos and the Bryce Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon is another destination that captivates visitors with its unique geological formations. But during peak seasons, popular trails like the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden are frequently packed with hikers, which can detract from the natural tranquility of the area. 

Instead, visit Pinnacles National Park. Located in California, Pinnacles features impressive rock spires, talus caves, and wildflower meadows with much fewer visitors. It’s ideal for those seeking a more serene adventure that also offers excellent rock climbing and hiking opportunities.

North Cascades National Park

10. Glacier National Park

Where to go instead: North Cascades National Park

Renowned for its rugged mountains, stunning glacial landscapes, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park in Montana can see heavy traffic and crowded trails. During the summer months, the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a spectacular 50-mile scenic drive, tends to get packed, with slow-moving vehicles and limited parking.

Instead, visit North Cascades National Park in Washington. This park offers equally breathtaking alpine scenery, pristine lakes, and a true sense of wilderness without all the crowds. It’s a paradise for hikers and nature lovers looking for peace and quiet. 

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Olympic National Park
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

11. Mount Rainier National Park

Where to go instead: Olympic National Park

Famous for its iconic peak, wildflower meadows, and diverse ecosystems, Mount Rainier is undoubtedly stunning, and draws in millions of visitors from around the world. But during the summer months when the wildflowers are in full bloom, it can become extremely packed. The park's main attractions, such as Paradise and Sunrise, often see heavy foot traffic, with parking lots filling up early in the day. 

If you're not much of an early bird (samesies), give Olympic National Park a try. Also in Washington, Olympic offers diverse ecosystems, from lush rainforests and rugged coastlines to beautiful snow-covered peaks. 

Fields of sand verbena in the desert of Anza Borrego Calfornia
Debora Vandor/istockphoto

12. Joshua Tree National Park

Where to go instead: Anza-Borrego State Park

Known for its whimsical Joshua trees and stunning desert landscapes, Joshua Tree often sees large crowds of visitors, particularly on weekends and holidays. The park's proximity to major urban cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego, makes it a convenient getaway, but this also means popular spots like Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, and the Cholla Cactus Garden can become crowded really quickly. 

Instead, visit the much lesser-known Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Also in California, Anza-Borrego provides similar desert scenery, stunning wildflowers, and unique geological features with a more peaceful atmosphere. It’s perfect for those looking to enjoy some peace and quiet in the desert.