While crowds are part of the appeal of many US tourist hotspots, the nation's many natural wonders are best enjoyed in as much solitude as possible.
While a visitor's experience of places like Times Square or Miami Beach is as much about the crowds as it is the location, beautiful natural spots like the National Parks are at their best when you have some time and space to yourself. With a little local knowledge and some determination, it's possible to experience such wonders as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls without jostling for position among the hordes. Here's how...
One of the USA's must-see destinations for dramatic scenery, Yosemite Valley can get pretty during the peak visitors months of June to September. With most of the park's 3.5 million travellers wanting to experience the towering granite walls and huge waterfalls of Yosemite Valley, it can be tricky to pick a time to really soak up all the natural splendour in peace.
However, there is a way... if you really want to avoid the crowds then visiting in winter is best, but spring or autumn trips will also give you much more space to yourself. If you visit the Valley during peak season, early morning arrivals or late evening visits are a good way of avoiding visitor peaks. Lesser-used trails, such as the Snow Creek walk or the longer Loop Trail also provide a handy escape from the hordes.
A truly iconic American landscape, the Grand Canyon attracts 4.4 million visitors a year, and most of those during the summer. Even off-peak months will be busy, but there are a few ways to get some peace and quiet while you gaze out over the plunging ravines and jagged layers of sandstone, shale and limestone.
The South Gate is the park's busiest entrance, so try the East Gate for a good selection of viewpoints. Around the hub of the park - the Grand Canyon Village - only visitors willing to rise with the sun will get some solitude in which to enjoy the scenery. For the ultimate 'alternative' Grand Canyon experience away from the crowds, a five-hour drive from the South Rim is the North Rim, where few tourists venture. The extra effort is well worth it but remember facilities are only open here between May and October.
A popular excursion for visitors to New York, there are the usual ways of experiencing the majestic Niagara Falls - namely the Maid of the Mist boat or the Niagara Gorge elevator. However, visitors seeking a more unique experience have a few great options.
Obviously, avoiding summer visits is one way to beat getting caught up in the majority of the Falls' 8 million annual visitors, and the spring and autumn provide beautiful seasonal backdrops to the falls. Other Alternatives including heading to the Three Sisters Islands, which can be accessed via footbridges and offer some unusual views of the falls and Upper River Rapids, well away from the crowds. Walking into the nearby Devil's Hole State Park also takes you away from the crowds and offers a closer look at the raging rapids of the Niagara Gorge.
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Banner image: Jeff Pang