Labor Day is coming up. That means there’s one more chance to go on a weekend adventure this summer. If you’re planning to visit a national park, I’m not going to sugar-coat this – it’s going to be epically crowded. That’s why we’re sharing our top tips for visiting national parks during peak season.

Pick a longer hike

Choosing a trail with any elevation gain and/or is more than 4 miles round trip will weed out the crowds real quick. These trails often lead to more beautiful scenery than the main attractions because it’s just you and nature.

Hart Tree Trail - Kings Canyon

Hart Tree Trail – Kings Canyon

Find a destination NOT listed on the brochure

This one’s pretty key. You’d be surprised how little research people do before heading to a park. Most national parks have PDFs of their park map on the website. Consult that and your hiking book/blog of choice to find something literally off the beaten path.

Wonderland of Rocks Joshua Tree, ca

Hiking through the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree

Go early. Go late.

If you like rising at dawn or don’t mind driving back in the dark, visit the main attractions either very early or as the sun is setting. The light is much better for taking photos at these times than mid-day anyway.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at dusk.

Pick a less popular park

If you really want to avoid crowds, visit a less popular park. They’re still national parks – so they’re in no way boring. Plus – you’ll be able to explore the whole park at your leisure.

redwood national park

Elk on the beach in Redwood National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, where the Buffalo roam (sorry, we had to)

Hiking in Saguaro National Park, AZ

Hiking in Saguaro National Park

Have a safe word

It will happen. No matter how much planning you do, there will be a point where you’re standing at a crosswalk in Yosemite Valley that’s more packed than Times Square, and you’re about to lose it. For those moments, establish a signal with your travel companion so they know you feel overwhelmed. Have a plan of options to accompany it – skip this stop, eat a snack , have a beer – you can keep exploring without the stress.

kings canyon national park

We always have extra snacks and a bottle of wine in the car – just in case 🙂

Hopefully these tips help your next adventure. Safe and happy travels!