Want to visit America’s most popular destinations without having to fight off throngs of fellow admirers? Take our advice on how to ditch the crowds.It’s one of the great truths this country has come to hold self-evident: that its most hallowed natural wonders are endowed with certain unalienable rights. The right to be cherished. The right to be preserved. And the right to be gazed upon in wonder by hordes of camera-?toting, knee-sock-clad visitors all thinking the same thing: Imagine this place without crowds.
Alas, few people behold Yosemite Falls, the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail, Old Faithful, Niagara Falls, the General Sherman Tree or the world’s largest ball of twine without a healthy audience these days. But that doesn’t mean that some savvy, field-tested advice can’t help you lose some or most of your fellow onlookers. Here’s how to sidestep the crowds at three A-list natural wonders:
GRAND CANYON Arizona
Annual Visitors: Nearly 5 million
Worst Crowds: Summer
Claim to Fame: It’s the Grand Canyon!
It’s deemed one of the most mesmerizing experiences on the planet — gaping into this perspective-busting, mile-deep, 277-mile-long, 18-mile-wide abyss where roughly 2 billion years of geological history (about half the planet’s age) are exposed.
It’s also deemed that the odds of finding a private gazing spot between 9 a.m. and sunset at Grand Canyon Village aren’t quite as good as winning the World Series of Poker in nearby Las Vegas. This is especially true during the summer months, when crowds swell to capacity levels at the park’s South Rim hub, where the vast majority of visitors and tourist amenities are based. But don’t expect this place to be exactly quiet in November either.
“Driving through that main South Gate, you’re approaching via the busiest entrance,” says Mark Wunner, supervisor of the park’s backcountry information center. Wunner suggests approaching via the South Rim’s quieter East Gate instead, which offers several relatively serene overlooks and pullouts along the 26-mile East Rim Drive en route to park headquarters. Once you’re in the village, dawn hours afford the only reliable solitude potential before the tourist throngs buzz till dusk.
Better yet, make use of the park’s free shuttle service and head farther afield to a viewpoint or trailhead that’s off the visitor-map-toting hoi polloi’s “recommended trail” radar. “In general, the farther away you go from that epicenter, the quieter it’ll be — you don’t even have to go too far,” Wunner says. “Try the Hermit Trail. It’s a shuttle-accessed threshold trail just eight miles away but a world apart.”
For maximum solitude, head to the Grand Canyon’s remote, loftier North Rim — a crowd-thwarting five-hour drive away from the South Rim, where park facilities operate only between mid-May and mid-October. Says Wunner: “It gets only about 8 percent of the total park visitors, has a single lodge, a less-crowded parking lot and offers an entirely different national-park experience — but overlooking the same Grand Canyon.”