What are some of your favorite National Parks/Lakeshores/Monuments? We all know of the most popular ones, and while they are popular with good reason, I prefer less people in my nature! That's not to say we're not going to enjoy our trip to Zion next summer, but as we continue to explore these parks, we're creating a "must-do" list that's not necessarily comprised of all the most popular.
Chiricahua National monument in southeastern Arizona is a great park to visit. It’s small, not very crowded and has some very impressive hikes and natural features. The wildlife is also impressive, I saw javalina, black bear, coatimundis and turkey vultures during my stay there.
I love Acadia National Park in Maine. To your point... it's not exactly the most "people free" place to be, particularly in the Summer, but less busy and no less beautiful in the Spring and Fall. Tons of amazing day hikes.
We're visiting lots of National Parks this summer, and we live near Great Smokies, so I understand why you ask! So far, our favorite has been the east side of Glacier National Park. Few people, no parking issues, and absolutely stunning trails! We've heard it gets busy after the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens, but we were there before that and loved it.
We have also learned that in many parks (even Yellowstone!) if you are willing to drive a little further and hike some longer trails (like day-hiking parts of overnight trails), you can get away from most of the crowds. We had a great day hiking at Slough Creek in Yellowstone and saw very few people.
Glacier is my all time favorite park. So much so that we bought land near the west side of the park. So many different activites to do all year round. There is nothing like walking the Going to the Sun Road when there are no cars! It's truly a magical experience. The west and the east side are so different also. I agree that the east side can be less crowded than the west, but you can't forget the North Fork.
I love Glacier too, for the exact opposite reason I love Zion. You can see mountains all around you in the distance in all directions in Glacier, whereas the main part of Zion is dominated by monoliths right on top of you. The contrast is amazing between the two parks. There is so much to explore in Glacier and so many of the trails are incredibly special. It is impossible to pick a favorite. There is something for everyone in Glacier.
We've been to 11 so far and have found that it just takes a little hiking to get away from the crowds no matter which park we are at. Glacier, Yosemite, Arches, and Great Smoky Mtns are my top parks - they are popular but for a reason! We hit Yosemite, Glacier, and Arches in shoulder months so we avoid the majority of the traffic.
For a little more unknown gems - we have Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georiga that has amazing camping under hanging moss oak tree, steps away from the beach. You have to camp in order to stay overnight so it's extremely quiet after the last ferry leaves for the day. There are wild horses still on the island and overall it's so incredibly beautiful.
We also did Biscayne and Everglades in January and had an amazing trip - those are definitely under rated parks!
Glacier is by far my most favorite National Park I have visited, with the Grand Tetons a close second. Both parks have areas where there can be crowds, but they also provide some great backcountry spots where it doesn't take much hiking to get away from the majority of the crowds. I've found in both parks that it only takes a little research and a little hiking to find yourself in the midst of beautiful country and able to see some amazing wildlife.
We backpacked the North Fork section of Glacier and it was the most beautiful backepack trip we've taken. Tough trail. The first day camping was crowded and the last day as well as they were along the lake and people canoed into the camping areas, but once we were past that, it was rugged, steep, wild, and we only saw one other person on the trail going the other way around. We were there after Labor Day so kids were back in school which cut down on the crowds throughout the park.