National Park Substitutes: Great Spots Without the Crowds

National Park Substitutes: Great Spots Without the Crowds
Coping with crowds at national parks can get tiresome, especially during the peak tourist season. If you want to escape from the herd, or just take a breather from the bustle of bigger attractions, the United States has plenty of less-visited but still worthwhile spots to see. Add an extra element of exploration to your vacation by including a more remote or less well-known attraction in your travel plans.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

A two-hour drive on NM 15 north of Silver City drops you straight into America's past at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This remote destination in southwestern New Mexico requires an out-and-back trip, which makes for far less traffic than you might expect to find at this accessible archaeological site. Rangers give guided tours through the cliff dwellings, which Mogollan people called home 700 years ago.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
HC 68 Box 100
Silver City, NM 88061

Russell Refuge

In northeastern Montana, discover the out-of-the-way Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, home to the enormous Fort Peck Reservoir. Twelve recreation areas, including Hells Creek State Park, lie scattered throughout the refuge. Along with developed campgrounds, these areas allow access to the reservoir for boating and fishing. Wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities abound. At its western edge, the refuge gives way to the secluded Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River.

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 110
Airport Road
Lewistown, MT 59457

Muir Woods

Tucked north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, see some of California's towering redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, completely removed from the nearby bustle of the big city. Though the trees don't quite reach the staggering heights of their northern neighbors in Redwood National Park, they still amaze with their enormity. The farther from the parking area you hike, the fewer people you'll encounter.

Muir Woods National Monument
Mill Valley, CA 94941-2696

Red River Gorge

The National Wild and Scenic Red River meanders through the brilliant sandstone arches and formations of the Red River Gorge Geological Area in eastern Kentucky. A popular rock-climbing destination in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge also offers hiking trails, archaeological sites, the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center and campgrounds. Natural Bridge State Resort Park provides a more upscale Red River Gorge experience.

Red River Gorge Geological Area
USDA Forest Service
Daniel Boone National Forest
1700 Bypass Road
Winchester, KY 40391

Smith Rock State Park

Just outside Redmond, Oregon, Smith Rock State Park features rock formations with the Crooked River flowing beneath them. A destination for rock climbers, hikers, mountain bikers and campers, Smith Rock offers wildlife-watching opportunities, such as the chance to see river otters frolicking in the water, as well as golden eagles, beavers and deer.

Smith Rock State Park
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
State Parks
725 Summer St. NE, Suite C
Salem, OR 97301

Article Written By Alli Rainey

A professional writer since 1997, Harvard graduate Alli Rainey has written several books, including "Wyoming: An Explorer's Guide." Her articles have appeared in "Climbing Magazine," "Rock & Ice," and "Men's Fitness," among many others.

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