Go Here, Not There: Low-crowd alternatives to top outdoor getaways
For city travelers second city tourism means skipping a country’s most famous city to enjoy a destination that’s still impressive but less well-trodden. Think: Chicago instead of New York City or Manchester, England instead of London. This concept can easily be transferred to outdoor getaways as well. Just trade less-visited but equally stunning natural spots for the more crowded ones.
It may sound simple, but prioritizing less-visited getaways can yield serious results for high-capacity destinations. The trend is also gaining momentum as crowds devastate the world’s most iconic outdoor destinations. We’re not suggesting you avoid popular spots forever, as they’re iconic for a reason. But if and when you do decide to visit them, lessen your impact by going in the off-season or off-season. (Follow our Responsible National Parks Travel Guide for more low-impact travel tips.)
If you’re already ready to get off the beaten track while helping curb overtourism, you’ve come to the right place. Here are eight of the best national and international Second Escapes, designed to give you an epic outdoor experience and give nature’s most overcrowded destinations a well-deserved break.
Visit Rattlesnake Canyon instead of Arches National Park
Thanks to Utah’s successful “Mighty Five” national park campaign, Moab reached its tourism tipping point — and that of Gateway Town — well before the pandemic Crowds have not decreasedespecially in Arches National Park.
your alternative? A lesser-known but equally fascinating arch-studded harbor is just two hours away: Colorado’s Rattlesnake Canyon.
This western Colorado retreat, located within the 120,000-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, is home to the second largest concentration of arches in the United States. The rugged terrain surrounding these otherworldly wonders naturally limits guests – sandstone arches are accessible with either a rugged 4×4 drive or a 15 mile round trip hikeso the deserted vistas are a well-deserved treat — but the bites and mixes here Colorado’s Wine Country are additional bonuses after the adventure.
Instead of Hawaii, visit the US Virgin Islands
Hawaiian communities are Travelers ask to stay at home– to the point of being the Mayor of Maui County urged airlines to pause flights last summer. Give Hawaii a break and find that island vibe elsewhere, and without leaving the country, by booking a trip to the palm-studded US Virgin Islands (USVI) in the Caribbean, where your tourism dollars are needed.
Tourism accounts for 60 percent of the USVI’s gross domestic product, and that’s what the territory has been doing for the past five years fought with declining traveler numbers due to hurricanes and COVID-19. Is it the same travel experience as Hawaii? Of course not. The targets are in two different bodies of water, and the USVI is only a fraction of the size of Hawaii. But these islands, islets, and cays don’t skimp on adventure—especially St. John, where Virgin Islands National Park offers hiking, kayaking and snorkeling.
Instead of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visit the Monongahela National Forest
Many U.S. national parks were operating at peak capacity during the pandemic, but few have been as successful as our nation’s most-visited park: the Great Smoky Mountains. This getaway welcomed a whopping 14.1 million visitors in 2021 – an increase of 50 percent over the past decade.
Instead of adding to the traffic jams, set off at another Appalachian haven: West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, which has rough visibility a million visitors a year. Its 900,000-acre northern red spruce hardwood forest is a Success story reforestation; Deforestation and wildfires devastated the ecologically diverse region until the early 20th century, when conservationists stepped in. Now its undulating green hills and rocky outcrops reflect America’s favorite park, as does its landscape backpacking potential.
Visit Sawtooth National Recreation Area instead of Grand Teton National Park
There’s a reason travelers flock to the Grand Teton trailheads: Wyoming Park’s rugged peaks are among America’s most scenic hikes. But the national park and its gateway city of Jackson are struggling overtourism throughout the pandemic. The consequences, from traffic jams to rubbish and human feces on the roads, are becoming increasingly unsustainable.
You can help by swapping Grand Teton for a trip to admire the equally amazing fangs of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. The 756,000 hectares Sawtooth National Recreation Area, just two and a half hours east of Boise, offers 700 miles of hiking trails, 40 peaks over 10,000 feet and campgrounds galore. Compared to Grand Tetons 3.5 million visitors per yearsawtooth mountains’ 1.3 million Visitors feel like nothing.
Instead of Torres Del Paine National Park, visit the Sierra Baguales
Chiles Torres del Paine National Park is a staple on adventure bucket lists. The soaring granite massifs and aquamarine lakes that dot the famous W and E loop hiking routes are as dramatic as landscapes can get. However, some fear the park’s scenic drama could lead to its demise. Like many of America’s most popular national parks, overcrowding left Torres del Paine with everything from trash on the trails to trampled flora.
Pandemic travel closures gave the park a much-needed rest, and you can further ease the strain on the ecosystem by visiting a virtually undiscovered Patagonian haven on the border with neighboring Argentina: Sierra Baguales. Described by guidebooks as the hinterland of Chile, this wild frontier is new to the tourism game. It’s a patchwork of privately owned estancias that have only recently opened up their vast, unspoilt grounds to hikers. agencies like W Circuit Patagonia Work with estancia owners to embark on uncrowded excursions that show the peaks of Torres del Paine on the horizon and offer hikers glimpses of wildlife like guanacos and condors that outnumber visitors by at least five to one.
Drive the Diamond Circle instead of the Golden Circle
Few destinations are as synonymous with overtourism as Iceland, whose visitor numbers skyrocketed to 2.5 million (more than eight times the population) in 2018. The capital was Reykjavík described as Transforming into Disneyland, with rising rental costs reducing the quality of life for local residents. The overtourism effects have also extended to the Golden Circle, a scenic road trip route near Reykjavík, where popular destinations like UNESCO-listed Thingvellir National Park and Gullfoss Waterfall are struggling with issues like trampled vegetationvisitor management and Defecation by the wayside.
Icelandic tourism officials don’t attribute the problems to widespread overtourism, but to overcrowding in certain areas, such as the Golden Circle. Venture off the main tourist track, however, and a surreal, deserted landscape awaits.
One of the best alternatives to the Golden Circle is the diamond circle in the far, mountainous north of Iceland. This new loop, completed in 2020, is a wild 160-mile journey that begins in Iceland’s largest northern city, Akureyri (a five-hour drive from Reykjavík), and takes in fishing villages, lava fields, hot springs, waterfalls and snow – dusty mountains.
Safari through Ruaha National Park instead of Masai Mara National Reserve
With sightings of wildebeest migration and an impressive concentration of Africa’s famous Big Five animals (rhino, leopard, lion, elephant and buffalo) it’s easy to see why Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve has so many on the radar. But it may have surpassed to many bucket lists. That’s what experts fear Safari people in the Masai Mara actually harm the animals now, with evidence of it Vehicular traffic disrupts natural wildlife patterns.
The good news: there’s a stunning and secretive alternative over in Tanzania, and we’re not talking about the Serengeti. southern tanzania Ruaha National Park, a 7,800-square-mile wildlife paradise and one of the largest national parks in East Africa, is well off the beaten track. You won’t see crowds, but you will see elephants, zebras, lions, giraffes, gazelles, crocodiles and hippos.
Ruaha offers only a handful of places to stay. You can stay at one of the Tanzania National Parks Authority’s public campgrounds or take advantage of one of the region’s newest offerings: Asilia’s Usangu Expedition Campa small, conservation-focused glamping resort due to open this summer, where guests will meet scientists to conduct vital hands-on research that will inform the region’s future conservation strategies.
Hike to Gokyo Valley instead of Mount Everest Base Camp
While fewer than a thousand climbers attempt to reach the summit of Everest each year, tens of thousands trek to Everest Base Camp on the south side of the mountain. The hordes mean you’re unlikely to experience much solitude during the beautiful multi-day trek through the foothills of Nepal, and it’s impossible to escape the constant hum of helicopters evacuating people along the route.
For an alternative that promises Everest views without Everest traffic jams, try Nepal Gokyo and Renjo La route. According to adventure outfitters world expeditions, less than 10 percent of the region’s trekkers hike up the Gokyo Valley. This two-week expedition includes many of the typical Base Camp Trek experiences: a flight to Lukla and views of the highest peak on earth with landscapes such as glaciers, azure lakes and monasteries along the way.