We go to the outdoors to seek peace, find fresh air, or just get a little break from the day-to-day. Yet sometimes you show up at the trailhead to find a steady stream of civilization on your much-anticipated solo trip. If trail socialization isn’t totally your thing, try these hacks to avoid the crowds on your outdoor trips.
Lay of the Land
Not all parks are created equal when it comes to crowded trails and parking lots. Smaller, lesser known national parks are going to be less crowded, but might have less space for visitors to spread out on trails. State and local parks can often make for a less crowded choice, and often have more lax regulations on dogs or modes of travel (think bikes, horseback riding, overnight stays). BLM lands provide a great respite from large groups of people, as long as you don’t mind a crowd of cows crossing the road on your way to your campsite.
Time It Right
You can manage to visit some of the busiest tourist spots all alone - if you time it right. While getting up at the crack of dawn used to be the best bet to avoid the throngs, trails can now be packed even at daybreak. Try an evening hike instead, heading out while most visitors are on their way back to the parking lot. Of course, when racing the sunset you need to time your descent with the light and come prepared for a dark hike out or emergency overnight stay. Timing your trip just right can ensure you won’t be stuck in a human traffic jam and you can enjoy beautiful vistas in peaceful solitude.
Select a Season
Just as time of day can effect the level of hikers in an area, so too can the time of the year. Most recreational areas have their shoulder seasons - usually on the cusp of summer or winter (so mid-July isn’t your best bet). Spring camping can make for cozy tent nights and fall hiking brings intense colors after the summer break crowds have gone. While you’ll be more likely to experience less-than-perfect weather, you’ll find a little more breathing room on the trail or at the campsite.
Find a Guide
No, we don’t mean a person. One of the best ways to find hidden gems in any location is go the old-fashioned paper route - using guide books, maps, or directions written on a napkin by a local trail expert. Internet searches can be helpful, but the top results for “hikes in Zion National Park” will be everyone else’s top destinations, too. Stop by a local gear shop and pick up a guidebook - the more it looks self-published, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from shop owners or your barista at the coffee shop. Or, just whip out a map and drive until you find solitude (as long as you keep road conditions in mind).
Epic viewpoints and stunning lookouts are usually busy for a good reason, but sometimes outdoor adventures call for some solo time, too. Remember to share images responsibly, stay on designated trails, and leave no trace no matter where you venture - and remind others to do the same. Happy adventuring!