Beat the Crowds on a Hike: Six Ways to Reclaim Your Favorite Trail

A lit­tle cre­ativ­i­ty is all it takes to beat the crowds on a hike—even if you’re not the only one hit­ting the trails.

So your favorite hike has gone main­stream. Thanks to its insane­ly Insta­gram wor­thy fea­tures, the park­ing lots are a bat­tle­field, the trails them­selves are clogged, and you can’t find peace of mind at the peak for all the self­ies being tak­en around you. What’s a hik­er to do? Get creative—that’s what.

crowds on a hike

1. Go Ridicu­lous­ly Early
As the old say­ing goes, the ear­ly bird real­ly does get the worm. A head start on the trail means you’ll have your choice of a park­ing spot and you’ll be able to enjoy the hike free from the crowds. If the trail is an out-and-back, you may run into a lit­tle con­ges­tion on your way out—but it’s bet­ter than being caught in the mad­ness the entire time.

How ear­ly is ear­ly? It depends on your hike of choice—the ear­li­er the bet­ter, par­tic­u­lar­ly on week­ends or hol­i­days. If you’re famil­iar with the trail, why not bring a pow­er­ful head­lamp and make it a sun­rise hike?

2. Focus on the Off-Season
In most places, sum­mer is high sea­son on the trails. To beat the crowds on a hike, this one is tech­ni­cal­ly a no-brain­er. Things qui­et down after the first week of Sep­tem­ber when every­one is back to school and back to real life—but the weath­er is often still con­ducive to some excel­lent hik­ing. Even bet­ter, the mid­days are less swel­ter­ing and the bugs are typ­i­cal­ly less offensive.

An ear­ly start in the sea­son is anoth­er option—but no mat­ter when you tack­le your trail of choice, be sure to check up on trail con­di­tions and come pre­pared. For instance, if you’re hik­ing at high alti­tudes ear­ly in the sea­son, be pre­pared to encounter snow and know how to iden­ti­fy unsta­ble conditions.

3. Find an Alternate
All too often, one main trail gets all the glo­ry, while oth­er side trails—which may meet up with or break off from the main trail—get large­ly ignored. Do a lit­tle recon on your hik­ing area of choice—you may be sur­prised to dis­cov­er an alter­nate start­ing area or a trail that runs par­al­lel to your orig­i­nal favorite that the mass­es have not yet sought out.

4. Call In Sick
Okay, maybe play­ing hooky isn’t the best call—but strate­gi­cal­ly tak­ing a mid-week vaca­tion day will often yield few­er crowds than head­ing out on the week­end. Beat the Week­end War­riors and set out on, say, a Wednes­day morn­ing rather than a busy Saturday.

5. Camp It Out
Be cre­ative with your tim­ing, and you may out­smart the crowds. For exam­ple, if your hike of choice is up to a moun­tain peak with a lake two-thirds of the way up and most peo­ple hike it in a day, con­sid­er plan­ning a mid-route overnight camp­ing trip at the lake. You can start lat­er of the day when most peo­ple have already come and gone; you get to spend a glo­ri­ous night under the stars; and when it final­ly comes to reach­ing the peak, you’ll have a head start over those who start­ed from the bottom.

This only works if there is a poten­tial camp­ing spot along the route and of course, you have to make sure camp­ing is indeed per­mit­ted. The point is that there’s often anoth­er way of tack­ling a hike than the way that most peo­ple do it.

6. Go Explore
It’s a sad day when your favorite trail offi­cial­ly jumps the shark and becomes a hec­tic tourist attraction—but when one door clos­es, anoth­er one opens, right? Con­sid­er this your oppor­tu­ni­ty to find your new favorite hike. Go a lit­tle fur­ther abroad or deep­er into the back­coun­try, as your skills and expe­ri­ence per­mit. You may just dis­cov­er the next big thing a few years ahead of every­one else.

There you have it. Now you know the tips and tricks to beat the crowds on a hike, even if it’s the most pop­u­lar one in town.