How To Survive National Parks During Tourist Season

Learn how to navigate packed national parks during tourism season with these helpful tips from Andrew Stoner. @andrewheartsbacon

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Thanks to Instagram, John Muir quotes, and the prevalence of landscape photography, the Rocky Mountain National Parks have seen a huge surge of traffic in the last 5 years. Attendance at Glacier National Park, for instance, has grown from 2 Million annual visitors in 2010 to 3 Million visitors in 2016. Halfway through 2017, those records are being shattered once again.

With that much traffic comes overcrowded parking lots and way too many selfie sticks. The tips laid out below will help you navigate the crowds while still finding the best views, and, most importantly, preserving these natural treasures for generations to come.

1. Beat the Sun

One way to capture the most popular spots without hundreds of tourists in the foreground is to get there before they show up. Only a dedicated few will show up for sunrise, so you’ll get a mostly empty vantage point. And you'll get the added bonus of seeing the sun rise over the mountains, which is a sight everyone should witness at least once in their lives.

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2. Take a Hike

The majority of the crowds stay on the main roads and easier hikes. Pack a water bottle and bear spray, and get off the beaten path. Just make sure you stay on the trail, and note that bear spray is not used like bug spray. Pick any hike longer than 3 miles, and you should have it mostly to yourself. For Glacier National Park, pick up one of Jake Bramante’s maps. As the first person to hike all 734 miles of Glacier trails in one summer, it is basically the end-all, be-all of trail guides.

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3. Make Some Friends

With thousands of people visiting the park each day, chances are you can find someone you know or at least someone you follow online. As our friend Gary V would say, “Instagram is the greatest networking tool around.” Send a couple DMs, and ask if they want to join you for a hike. Rad mountain views are usually better with good company and conversation. Be sure to set a plan of where to meet and when, as cell service is generally hit and miss in the mountains.

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4. All of the Above

Sunrise hikes with new friends are an incredible bonding experience. It’s a good chance to go deep and really get to know someone. The sense of accomplishment from reaching an awesome viewpoint as the sun crests over the mountains is totally worth the early morning wake-up call.

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