National parks are a great destination for a fun and invigorating family vacation. Some feature acres and acres of gorgeous landscapes to explore via hiking, skiing, and cycling. Others offer activities like rock climbing and kayaking.
But during peak season, the nation’s top parks can get pretty crowded. You might find yourself waiting in a long line for the bathroom or searching for a parking space at a trailhead. There’s also the possibility that locations and activities are fully booked, and your family will miss out completely.
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to the best and most crowded national parks that are just as beautiful and offer tons of fun outdoor activities—but they leave out the crowds. Here are 10 crowd-free alternatives to America’s best national parks.
10. Lassen National Park
Instead of visiting the crowded Yellowstone National Park, consider Northern California’s Lassen National Park. According to Tripadvisor, Lassen is nestled within the belly of an ancient volcano, just like Yellowstone.
The cone of that 11,000-foot tall volcano collapsed hundreds of thousands of years ago and left behind a two-mile-wide caldera known as Lassen Peak, which hikers love to summit. But the park offers so much more.
There’s the three-mile Bumpass Hell Trail for hiking and Manzanita Lake for water-based fun. The park also features boiling springs, steam vents, and bubbling mud pots. And, if you explore the park in your car, there are a number of roadside attractions.
9. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Instead of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, consider driving two hours north to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. With over 24,000 acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in America.
Cumberland Gap features more than 20 limestone caves, 80 miles of hiking trails, 160 campsites, multiple streams, old pioneer buildings, and plenty of dense forests. However, less than a million people visit the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park each year. Compared to more than 12 million visitors at Great Smoky.
8. Great Basin National Park
Swap out a trip to Yosemite National Park for a visit to the Great Basin National Park in Nevada, one of the least-visited national parks in America. Just like Yosemite, the Great Basin has extreme elevation changes, from the low desert at 5,000 feet to peaks at 13,000 feet.
The Great Basin has its own ancient tree species—the 5,000-year-old Bristlecone Pines. Other highlights include the Lehman Caves, the Alpine Lakes Loop, and Wheeler Peak. You can choose to summit Wheeler Peak with an 8.6-mile hike. Or, you can opt for the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
7. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
The Grand Canyon is a popular vacation destination, but it’s not the only canyon in America. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado also exists because of a river that’s been flowing for thousands of years. Black Canyon got its name because it is so steep and narrow, there are parts of it that get only about a half-hour of sunlight each day.
The hike to the river is a serious workout, with the most popular route dropping 1,800 feet in just a mile and a half over loose terrain. There are other trails, though, that aren’t as physically challenging, but still offer plenty of stunning views.
6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Joshua Tree National Park in California is another popular tourist destination. But a fantastic crowd-free alternative is Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Home to four of the largest mountains in the state, this park features its own unique desert ecosystem.
You can summit the highest point in Texas with a hike to Guadalupe Peak, and witness the steep cliff sides of Devil’s Hall. If you visit in the fall, you’ll also get to see some pretty incredible colors.
5. Cobscook Shores
Instead of visiting the crowded Acadia National Park, head two hours northeast to Lubec, Maine and visit the chain of parks at Cobscook Shores. All of these gorgeous parks are easily accessible by driving, or you can bike the country roads.
Cobscook Shores features eight miles of biking and walking trails plus 12 miles of rocky shoreline to explore. There are also five backcountry campsites that are totally free. Just a short drive away, you’ll find Cobscook Bay State Park and Quoddy Head State Park, which both offer camping spots and great hiking trails.
4. North Cascades National Park
Glacier National Park in Montana is absolutely spectacular. But, you can also find plenty of glaciers, incredible hikes, and scenic drives in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.
This park features more glaciers than you’ll find anywhere else in America outside of Alaska, and it has tons of camping and hiking options. It also has lakes for canoes and kayaking. If you visit between June and September—when the snow has melted—the trails are easily accessible even at the highest elevations.
3. Wind River Range
Not far from the glorious Grand Teton National Park is a lesser-known section of the Continental Divide called the Wind River Range. It features Wyoming’s highest point—Gannett Peak—as well as seven of the ten largest glaciers in the United States.
However, Wind River Range is for those who love to rough it. It doesn’t have the amenities like the Grand Teton—you won’t even have cell service or access to bathrooms. But if you’re looking for a rugged adventure, there are more than 600 trails in the area to explore and some of the country’s most beautiful peaks to see.
2. Capitol Reef National Park
The red rocks of Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah are absolutely gorgeous. But there are so many other parks in the state to visit, and they aren’t nearly as crowded. Instead of Zion, consider Capitol Reef National Park near the tiny town of Torrey.
This park features a 25-mile scenic drive to a geologic formation known as Waterpocket Fold, rounded domes of the Navajo Formation that rise up to 1,400 feet tall, three waterfalls at Sulphur Creek, and 15 trails to explore the natural rock arch Hickman Bridge and the monoliths at Cathedral Valley.
1. Indian Peaks Wilderness
Instead of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you can avoid the crowds and head to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, which actually borders the Rocky Mountain National Park to the north.
You’re still in the Rocky Mountains, and that means you can enjoy hiking, fishing, and camping. The 4.1-mile Long Lake Trail is an easy hike for visitors of all ages and fitness levels. You also have the option of spending the day on the 15-mile trail to Lone Eagle Peak, which features incredible views of the mountains and Mirror Lake. Plus several gorgeous waterfalls.
You don’t have to go to the most popular destinations to enjoy America’s National Parks. There are some hidden gems that are great alternatives, and you can easily avoid the crowds.