If you’ve been looking for some peace and quiet in the great outdoors, the marquee names in the US National Park Service might not be the place to do it.
They’re continuing to pull in mammoth summer crowds, making them sometimes feel more like an urban excursion complete with traffic jams. Take Yellowstone National Park, for instance.
The crown jewel of the National Park system hosted a whopping 969,692 recreation visits in July 2023, according to the NPS in a news release. That’s roughly the equivalent of the entire city of Austin, Texas, paying a call in the span of a month.
The NPS said that this is a 63% increase from July 2022 (with 596,562 recreational visits) and a 4% increase from July 2019 (with 936,062 recreation visits).
So far in 2023 through July, Yellowstone has seen 2,463,202 recreation visits. That’s up 33% from the same time frame in 2022 (with 1,855,396 recreation visits) and up 7% from 2019 (with 2,294,691 recreation visits).
Visitation numbers to Yellowstone were suppressed in 2022 because of early summer flooding, the NPS said. And 2019 is often used as a benchmark for comparing attendance figures because that was the last full year before the pandemic disrupted travel in the United States and worldwide.
Parks with fewer crowds
If you’re looking for a little more elbow room, you do have some options.
One alternative is to go to the least-visited national parks. Granted, some of them are very isolated (looking at you, Alaska and American Samoa). But others are closer to population centers, such as Congaree National Park in South Carolina, and they are relatively undiscovered compared with the big names.
You also might fare better with state parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and the like, which offer many of the same stunning features as their more famous cousins. However, some of these places are also seeing bigger crowds, so it pays to check ahead with the specific place you wish to visit.