Like officials at other popular outdoor recreation destinations, Matthew McCombs, the District Ranger at Gunnison Ranger District in Gunnison National Forest, is advising visitors in the new year to “please have a plan B and consider all of the opportunities that exist throughout the Gunnison Basin.”
The national forests around Crested Butte, Colorado, have seen an increase in visitors and the surge has brought traffic and forced new camping rules. Many park officials are happy to see the increased interest in the outdoors, but there are some downsides.
“We find that campers are habitual creatures, and they like to recreate the experiences from the past,” says McCombs. “As we see more and more visitation, I really encourage folks to consider the totality of the opportunities.” Campers need to be willing to try other camping spots and research beyond the top online search results or popular locations tagged on Instagram.
Here are some alternative destinations for campers looking to get outdoors, and avoid traffic and shuttle wait times.
Washington state is home to some popular national parks, including Mount Rainier and Olympic. Both attract millions of visitors each year, but nearby North Cascades National Park has lower visitor numbers and amazing alpine views.
This past summer, Utah’s Zion National Park implemented a shuttle reservation system and Arches National Park closed to help with crowding. However, both Canyonlands and Capitol Reef offer similar southern desert lands and picturesque rock formations with fewer crowds.
Acadia National Park is the only national park in the Northeast, meaning it’s popular with locals and visitors alike and advance reservations are needed. But Maine has multiple state parks that can bring you the same rocky coastline and mountains. Cobscook Bay is located 2 hours north of Acadia—and the isolation is well worth the trek for many campers. Meanwhile, Baxter State Park is centrally located and home to Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. year after year due to its location and size. Those willing to stay in the surrounding area will find solitude in the nearby Pisgah National Forest, which sits just east of the park and is located close to other popular outdoor destinations such as Asheville, North Carolina.