It doesn’t have Old Faithful, but Lassen Volcanic National Park has its own thermal features. (Photo: Shutterstock)
This summer, as you hit the road with backpacks and tents to go camping amid the natural splendor of America, you may notice you’re not the only one who had that idea. Last year, over 3 million people visited Yosemite National Park, the vast majority of them during summer. The spectacular views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls lose some of their luster after you’ve been sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for a day. Campgrounds are packed, hungry bears are plentiful, and the Valley takes on a circus atmosphere.
Meanwhile, about two hours south, Sequoia National Forest boasts similarly beautiful nature and cheaper entry fees, and I’ve spent days hiking there without seeing a soul. What you lose from missing Yosemite’s money-shot monuments you gain in enjoying peace, solitude and the fresh air you sought from the camping experience.
Like Sequoia National Forest, the list of alternative camping locales below offer great hiking and backpacking opportunities without the traffic, crowds, and costs at their more famous and popular nearby spots. Yes, you can always find solitude in the remote spots of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and other popular (and massive) national parks. But if you’re looking to dodge that line of traffic-clogging RVs on a busy summer weekend, perhaps give one of these alternate spots a try.
Instead of Yellowstone National Park, try Lassen Volcanic National Park. While Yellowstone has the iconic Old Faithful geyser and herds of buffalo, it also has herds of visitors in summer, which can be as pleasant as a close encounter with some bison. In Northern California, the under-visited Lassen National Park has an equally entertaining collection of thermal features, including the always-popular “Bumpass Hell” and “Fart Gulch.” For those with a hankering for buffalo, you can get your fill at the rugged and remote Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
White Mountain in New Hampshire. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Instead of Maine’s Acadia National Park, try White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire. With 2.2 million visitors to Acadia National Park on the shores of Maine last year, it’s going to take a lot of work to find some solitude. Peter Potterfield, author of Classic Hikes of North America, recommends the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountain National Forest as one of his all-time favorite hikes for its rugged beauty. The full hike can be pretty extreme on the windswept peaks above tree line, but campgrounds that abound in the area provide peace and spectacular views.
Waimea Canyon. (Photo: Corbis Images)
Instead of Kaua’i’s Na Pali Coast, try Waimea Canyon. The fluted seaside cliffs of the Na Pali Coast are spectacular, starring as background scenery in King Kong, Jurrasic Park, and Lost. Because of this fame, the trails can be packed, campground permits impossible to obtain, and approaching roads a mess of rental cars. Waimea Canyon, in the center of the island, doesn’t have ocean views, but instead during my visit, I was treated to a rain-forest version of the Grand Canyon, discovering wildlife scampering along mountain ridges, bubbling brooks, and hidden swimming ponds. I spent three days hiking and saw two other people—locals on horseback. The only downside was when the daily helicopter tours started, the incessant buzzing made it feel like I was an extra in a Vietnam war movie. Please, when in Kauai, skip the heli-trips, and go for a hike.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Photo: Rachel Kramer/Flickr)
Instead of Michigan’s Mackinac Island, try Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Mackinac is a quaint town on an island in Lake Huron without cars, but plenty of visitors during summer, enough to feel oppressive even when I was visiting on a family trip at age 7 (but I did enjoy the fudge). The shores of Lake Superior are full of beauty and solitude that comes as a pleasant surprise to visitors from the East or West coasts. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has 114 square miles of nature to explore, and as the name suggests, the 42 miles of shoreline feature many photo-worthy rock formations.
Ricketts Glen State Park. (Photo: Jasonb42882/Flickr)
Instead of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains National Park, try Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania: Smoky Mountain Park regularly ranks as the most-visited park in America, with over 9 million people passing through the area each year. For a more secluded experience, venture farther north to Ricketts Glen State Park in central Pennsylvania, and enjoy a similar array of waterfalls and woodlands, albeit on a smaller scale and with less prevalent wildlife (and fewer camper vans).
Canyon de Chelly National Monument. (Photo: RK&Tina/Flickr)
Instead of the Grand Canyon, try Canyon de Chelly National Monument: The millions of visitors at the Grand Canyon can make it feel like Disneyland at times, with the associated costs and traffic. Take a detour instead to explore Arizona’s Canyon De Chelly National Monument, which not only has beautiful sandstone canyons, but also ancient cliff dwellings as well as the current homes of the Navajo Nation (who help manage the park). There are no entry fees, and rangers lead free hikes and evening programs.
But if you still want to go to Yosemite National Park, check out our article on Secrets of Yosemite.