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Why You Should Visit the National Parks in Their Off Season

As lovely as our national parks are in the summer, I would challenge you to visit the parks in the typical off season. Here’s why.

By: Matthew Eaton + Save to a List

Have you ever felt the excitement of getting to visit one of the country’s beautiful National Parks, but as you get close you find a line of cars a mile long trying to work through the park gate? If you have, I would bet you visited during the peak season of summer. According to the National Park Service statistics, the top five most visited parks in 2016 were:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park   11,312,786
  • Grand Canyon National Park                   5,969,811
  • Yosemite National Park                           5,028,868
  • Rocky Mountain National Park                4,517,585
  • Zion National Park                                   4,295,127

For these parks, between 46% - 68% of visitors visit the parks during the months of June, July, August and September. With visitor volume like that, it can be difficult to fully enjoy these fantastic spots, or at a minimum, it creates a challenge to enjoy classic spots for those of us that get outside to seek solitude.

In case you still need convincing…

Unique Experience

Sure, winter can bring extremely unpredictable weather and colder temperatures can be uncomfortable, but there are countless options for a warm puffy jacket that will fit every budget. A puffy and a poncho can go a long way to let you see an incredible view that few others will ever see. For photographers, winter light is also magical and both mountains and deserts are even more beautiful with a coating of snow, so don’t let those cooler temperatures scare you away!

No Crowds

As mentioned above, with half (or more) of park visitors coming in the summer months, that leaves the other half (or less) of all visitors to spread out amongst the rest of the year. That’s pretty solid odds that crowds will be significantly more manageable. Not only will the main trails and overlooks be less crowded, but you’ll have an easier time making reservations to camp or stay in the lodge.

Less Expensive

As with any destination, the off season can find you prices that are half of what you would spend during peak months. Hotels, flights, cars, etc will all be more reasonable, so capitalize on it and go to two parks instead of one!

Full disclosure: There is a reason that the parks are so popular in the summer as outdoor life in general is crazy fun when it is warm. Meadows are overflowing with flowers in full bloom, snow melt has the waterfalls at full strength, wildlife are out of hiding from the winter elements, and of course, the kids are out of school making it a great time to take a family vacation. I certainly love getting outside in the summer and join the crowds from time to time, but I worry about the strain it places on our ecosystems, and about finding solitude. At the end of the day, I want everyone to enjoy our national parks so we can create another generation of people who connect and want to protect these magical spots. Pick the time that works best for you, just don’t be afraid to check them out in winter. You just might fall in love in an all new way.

Happy Trails friends!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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