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.
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.