Four "Alternative" National Parks: Amazing Locations Without the Crowds
Most people say the primary factor that hampers a trip into the National Parks is not weather, wild animals, timing, or accessibility challenges. Rather, it's other people! According to the National Park Service, the 63 National Parks have seen a spike in visitation over the last several years. For example, in the early-to-mid-2000s, the parks recorded about 200 million to 250 million visitors annually. But every year since 2015 (except 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic), the Park Service recorded well over 300 million visitors.
The most-visited parks receive such huge rushes of visitors during the summer season for a reason. These parks are accessible and incredibly inviting due to their natural beauty. But having to compete with other visitors for parking, a great photo-op, or access to campsites sort of dampens the experience.
That's why we put together a list of four "alternative" National Parks, natural lands where you can get the same (or at least similar) experience as you would in one of the most-visited parks, but without the crowds!
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park reminds us of Yellowstone, as both parks are located out west, each is mountainous to some degree, and both have volcanic features. Yet while Yellowstone receives 3.29 million visitors annually, Lassen Volcanic sees barely half a million annually.
To describe Lassen Volcanic National Park, the National Park Service writes:
"Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes. Jagged peaks tell the story of its eruptive past while hot water continues to shape the land."
We couldn't agree more with that sentiment, which is why we feel Lassen Volcanic is the perfect "alternative" to Yellowstone!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There's no replacement for the stunning sight of the Grand Canyon, but the views in Theodore Roosevelt National Park come close. This park is easily accessible, convenient to navigate, and has very few visitors. Grand Canyon National Park sees 4.73 million visitors annually, whereas Theodore Roosevelt National Park sees just over half a million.
To describe Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the National Park Service writes:
"When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883, he was a skinny, young, spectacled dude from New York. He could not have imagined how his adventure in this remote and unfamiliar place would forever alter the course of the nation. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that TR experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today."
What can we say? It's a park that preserves natural beauty and history. Of course it's going to make our list!
Isle Royale National Park
Acadia National Park is truly special and unique, but its position in the northeast and its proximity to urban coastal centers on the Atlantic mean the park is full of visitors every summer. However, further inland and a few states over is Isle Royale National Park, a truly undiscovered gem of the far north.
The island park in Lake Superior has much of the same topography, wildlife, climate, and natural wonders as Acadia but with a fraction of the visitation. For example, while Acadia sees 3.97 million visitors annually, Isle Royale may get 25,000 visitors.
To describe Isle Royale National Park, the National Park Service writes:
"Explore a rugged, isolated island far from our connected communities. Isle Royale offers adventures for backpackers, hikers, boaters, paddlers, and divers. Cross Lake Superior and make a commitment: Become a part of this island, and let it become a part of you. Find peace and refuge in island wilderness – because Isle Royale, in turn, finds refuge in us. Help Isle Royale stay wild."
We have a soft spot in our hearts for this northern island paradise, and we hope you get to see it someday too!
Shenandoah National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park on the roster, with about 12-13 million people entering the park annually! We can see why. It is at the crossroads of the American Southeast, East Coast, and Midwest, making it easily accessible for tens of millions of Americans.
Nearby Shenandoah National Park is an excellent park to experience wilderness and natural wonder, much like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but without the crowds. Shenandoah still receives a little over one million visitors annually, but they are usually spread across the park's 311 square miles.
To describe Shenandoah National Park, the National Park Service writes:
"Just 75 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is a land bursting with cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows. With over 200,000 acres of protected lands that are haven to deer, songbirds, and black bear, there's so much to explore...and your journey begins right here!"
Summer in Shenandoah is truly something else. We hope you enjoy a trip there!
Visitation in 2023
The National Park Service released their visitation statistics for 2022, saying in a press release:
"In 2022, the National Park Service received 312 million recreation visits, up 15 million visits (5%) from 2021."
Visitation for 2023 will almost certainly exceed 2022's figures, so folks who want to travel into and through the National Parks should plan in advance, visit the parks during weekdays and early in the morning, and always make reservations in advance.
And last but not least, if you need travel inspiration, our award-winning poster artists have produced a collection of National Park poster art, travel art, National Parks illustrations, and vintage-styled art fashioned after the early-20th century travel art and Works Progress Administration art that first promoted the National Parks. You can choose from over 300 original illustrations created by several artists both in-house and from around the country, because each of our artists shares one thing in common; a love for America's National Parks and the deeper meaning behind the preservation of America's Best Idea.
We hope to see you on the trails this summer,
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer