“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
John Muir nailed it with this quote in his 1901 book, Our National Parks. And we can thank this patron saint of the American wilderness for the National Park Service we have today.
On Aug. 25, 2016, America celebrates the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the act to create the National Park Service.
During the last century, “America’s Best Idea” has spread. In its founding year, the parks welcomed a mere 358,000 visitors. In 2014, 293 million people set foot in the parks.
Justin and I are national park nerds, having been to 36 of the parks and hoping to someday check off all of them. One of our biggest tips we practice is to hit the parks during their offseason. Not only does this mean fewer visitors, but the landscapes offer new surprises every season.
We encourage you to join the birthday party this summer, but you might want to prepare yourself for mammoth crowds and bottleneck traffic. Which is why we’d like to suggest four off-the-beaten National Park trails where you could possibly see less than 10 people.
1) Olympic National Park – High Divide Loop
Mileage: 18.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3050 feet
Activity: Backpacking or Day Hike (we did it as a day hike)
Being the 7th most visited park, Olympic National Park receives close to 3 million visitors annually. But, most of Olympic National Park’s popular trails are close to the main roads, and an easy way to escape the Disneyland-like crowds is to duck into the backcountry.
In a park that receives more than 120 inches of rain annually, you can bet your bottom dollar the forest is lush with trees that reach for the skies. The High Divide Loop takes you first past Sol Duc Falls and through the old-growth forest across numerous raging rivers, then up on the ridge line around the Seven Lakes Basin. The reward of climbing offers views of seven different lakes on one side and the 7,980-foot Mt. Olympus on the other.
Permit required for all camping in the summer. More info here.
2) Guadalupe Mountain National Park – McKittrick Canyon Ridge
Mileage: 14.8 miles (out and back to McKittrick Ridge campsite)
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
Activity: Backpacking (suggested) or Day Hiking
Guadalupe Mountain National Park is most known for being the home of Guadalupe Peak, the Lone Star State’s tallest peak, where the crowds flock. But, head to the other side of the park to find solitude. Dubbed “the most beautiful spot in Texas,” McKittrick Canyon Ridge offers sweeping views in a canyon that changes from desert to pine-fir-aspen forest. For the first few miles, the trail stays flat and follows the McKittrick Creek lined with sawgrass and big tooth maples, native to Texas. After the historic Pratt homestead (a great picnic spot) and the grotto, the challenging climb begins. After about 4 miles of switchbacks, you reach McKittrick Ridge campsite, where an abundance of tent spots and stargazing awaits.
Other Info: Permit required for all camping. If you have two vehicles, you can leave one car at the Pine Springs Visitor Center and the other at McKittrick Visitor Center to make this a multi-day, 25-mile track through Dog Canyon and following the Bush Mountain, Marcus and Tejas Trails. More info here.
3) Grand Canyon – Grandview Loop
Mileage: 11.9 miles (loop)
Elevation Gain: 2600 feet
Activity: Backpacking or Day Hiking (make it a shorter out-and-back)
Justin and I lived in Phoenix for four years. The number two request from every visitor we hosted: Can we go to the Grand Canyon? (The top request, can we turn up the AC? It’s hot here).
Understatement of the year: The Grand Canyon is a mob scene. And while the vast majority of visitors pop out of their car, walk to the overlook for a view of the massive gorge and leave within the hour, the trails are still very crowded.
This is why we love the Grandview Trail. The Grandview Point trailhead is a short distance from all the hoopla, but it offers the same sublime canyon views around boomerang-shaped Horseshoe Mesa. There are great camp areas along the juniper-lined trail, as well as some ruins from the copper mining era that offer afternoon shade. Just remember, what goes down has to come back up.
Other Info: Permit required for all camping. More info here.
4) Acadia National Park – Dorr Mountain
Mileage: 3.3 miles (out and back)
Elevation Gain: 1270 feet
Activity: Day Hiking
Ranking 9th among the most visited parks, Acadia is one of our favorites because of the strong contrast of the royal blue sea to the rugged coastline and hillsides draped in multiple hues of green.
Overnight backpacking is prohibited in Acadia, so it’s a little hard to escape the tourists. Plus, so many of Acadia’s trails are off of Park Loop Road, which can mean bumper-to-bumper traffic. However, the majority of visitors are merely driving the loop road, stopping at the overlooks. One of our favorite out-and-back trails is to Dorr Mountain. The stone steps on the path give way to iron rungs, opening up to 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean. Also, Acadia boasts being the first sight of the sunrise, so set that alarm early to be on the first watch from one of the coastal perches.
More info here.
I hope you make summer plans that include one of our amazing national parks. The National Park Service has teamed up with the National Parks Foundation to launch the FindYourPark.com website featuring centennial events nationwide and the opportunity to share your adventures.
After years of budget cuts to the National Park Service, wouldn’t it be the best birthday present to throw some cash toward one of the best outdoor playgrounds around?