Summer Camping Secrets: Avoid Crowds, Hit the Trail Faster

With a little pre-planning you can hit the trail and beat the crowds all summer long.


1. Start at sunrise You’ll find empty trails—and also boost your chances of seeing animals, which are typically more active at dawn and dusk.

2. Venture farther The majority of dayhikers stop within the first few miles of a trail, guaranteeing solitude for those willing to work for it.

3. Hike at night Busy trails empty out after sunset, so avoid conga lines and see the park in a whole new way—by the glow of moon and stars. Four key tips for walking in the dark:

>> Choose trails that are wide and free of low-hanging branches or roots that could trip you up. Ask rangers for their recommendations.

>> Time your hike to coincide with a full moon. This summer, they occur on June 15, July 15, and August 13. Some parks, such as Bryce Canyon (p. 96), even offer free, guided full-moon hikes.

>> Instead of turning on your headlamp, wait about 30 minutes in the dark before setting out, to let your eyes fully adjust to low light.

>> If you need to read a trail sign or check your map, use the red light on your headlamp (many models now come with this) to preserve night vision. White light obliterates it.


>> Organize your gear into tubs. “I sort everything into clear plastic bins labeled according to use (summer, winter, tents, first aid, survival, etc.), so I can find it all quickly,” says Tim Kish, backpacking-school director at the Colorado Mountain Club’s Denver chapter.

>> Stock up on backpacking meals and fuel canisters. This way, you can grab and go on a Friday afternoon without a detour to the store.

>> Clean and prep gear as soon as you return from a trip. Wash clothes, air-dry tents, and make repairs so everything’s ready for the next outing.