Amazing Places

Leave the Crowds Behind With These 5 Lesser-Known Spots in US National Parks

There's no way around it: The outdoors are getting more popular. In 2016, a total of 61 national parks or monuments broke records for their most visitors ever, including the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon. And according to the National Park Service, adventurers spent even more time in National Parks in 2017 than they did during that record-breaking year. The bad news? Oregon journalist Zach Urness says while more people are getting out in general, they're not going as far. Places more than six miles from a trailhead are seeing less use than they were in the 1990s. He takes that as a sign of social media culture drawing new people outside, but only as far as they need to go to get that perfect Instagram shot. No matter the cause, those "short-distance hikers" are missing out. As it turns out, the views get even better beyond those photogenic hotspots, if you know where to look. Here are five spots where the scene gets even more scenic the farther out you go.

1. Angel's Landing, Zion National Park

Zion is as much known for crowds as it is its skyscraping red sandstone cliffs. Don't get us wrong, the 2.2-mile climb up to Angels Landing is a spectacular way to take in the meandering Virgin River surrounded by cathedrals of stone, but it's also a great way to get a view of a lot of other people. Instead, bypass the turnoff to Angels Landing and thru-hike the West Rim Trail north to Lava Point, passing less-crowded views into untrammeled canyons, slickrock bluffs, and flat-topped mesas along the nearly 15-mile route. And all without the crowds.

Note: Angels Landing and its surrounding trails are currently closed due to storm damage. You can check the National Park Service website for current trail conditions.

Dizzying GoPro Footage of Angels Landing in Zion National Park

2. Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

After the devastating Eagle Creek Fire charred nearly 50,000 acres of beautiful hiking trails along the Columbia River on the Washington and Oregon border in 2017, the 620-foot, two-tiered waterfall was one of the first landmarks to open back up. Unfortunately, the packed parking lots between lanes of I-84 are an obvious sign of that. The waterfall is a wonder, but you'll get the best views of the Columbia River Gorge by crossing the river north and spending a full day hiking 16 miles round-trip to the top of Table Mountain. Follow the Pacific Crest Trail for most of the distance to summit views of glacier-clad Mount Adams and Mount Hood, as well as the deep gash formed by the mighty Columbia that served as the home stretch of the Oregon Trail.

3. The Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park

The Mist Trail got its name for a reason. The up-close-and-personal views of Yosemite Valley staples Vernal and Nevada Falls make this a popular short hike during the heat of the summer. But there are other ways to keep cool than walking in crowded trails to the tops of waterfalls or summits. From the same trailhead, follow the Merced River as it cuts a channel through fields of white Yosemite granite 11.6 miles to Merced Lake. Pass beneath balding Morain and Sugarloaf Domes before spending a night on the lake's eastern shore and go for a swim, tucked among tall pines bordered by ever more rock.

4. Mount Si, Mount Si National Resources Conservation Area

Mount Si is a short but steep 3.3-mile haul to the top of one of the closest, most accessible peaks to Seattle, so summer weekends on top can be busy. While it's certainly a worthwhile hike, you might get even more bang for your buck by driving just a few minutes further and making the hike to remote Thompson Lake. The 16-mile out-and-back climbs Mount Defiance — more than 1,000 feet taller than Mount Si and with similar views — before dropping back down to the alpine lake, tucked in a wooded bowl on the mountainside. Spend a night before heading back the way you came.

5. Mount Washington Summit, White Mountain National Forest

You can drive to the top of the Northeast's highest peak, with views overlooking the majestic Presidential Range and stretching all the way to the Atlantic on a good day that make it a popular spot in the summertime — even though it's known for having some of the worst weather in the world. But for at least a little more privacy as well as a much more fulfilling experience, thru-hike the entire 18-mile Presidential Range as a backpacking trip or long day hike. From the south, hike over the rounded and gentile Southern Presidentials before climbing Washington to snake along the rocky and rugged northern part of the range. Break the hike up as close to center as possible with a luxurious (at least when compared to a tent) stay at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Lakes of the Clouds hut, and stage yourself for an early morning to get over Washington before the crowds roll up.

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Take a gander before you gear up with the coffee-table book "America's National Parks: A Photographic Tour of all 59 of Our Greatest Natural Treasures" by Matt Noble and Aaron Lanni. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ryan Wichelns August 10, 2018

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