Avoiding the Crowds

Although many regions of California exist where you can hike without seeing another soul, even on holiday weekends, some of our better known parks and public lands are notorious for crowds. No matter where in California you want to hike, there's no reason to subject yourself to packed parking lots, long lines of people snaking up and down switchbacks, and trail destinations that look like Times Square on New Year's Eve. If you take a few simple steps, you can avoid the crowds almost anywhere, even in well-traveled parks near urban areas and our famous national parks.

1) Whenever possible, hike in the off-season. For most public lands, the off-season is any time other than summer, or any time when school is in session. Late September through mid-May are excellent times for hiking trips, except during the week between Christmas and New Years and Easter week. Try to avoid periods such as right after Labor Day or right before Memorial Day. Many people try to beat the crowds by traveling right before or after a holiday, and the result is more crowds.

2) Whenever possible, time your trip for midweek. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are always the quietest days of the week in any park or public land.

3) Get up early. Even Yosemite Valley is serene and peaceful until 8 or 9 in the morning. In most parks, if you arrive at the trailhead before 9 a.m., you'll have the first few hours on the trail all to yourself. As an insurance policy, get to the trailhead even earlier.

4) If you can't get up early, stay out late. When the days are long in summer, you can hike shorter trails from 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. or even later. You may see other hikers in the first hour or so, but they'll soon disperse. Trailhead parking lots are often packed at 1 p.m., then nearly empty at 5 p.m. Note that if you hike in the late afternoon or evening, you should always carry a flashlight with you (at least one per person), just in case it gets dark sooner than you planned.

5) Get out and hike in foul weather. Don your favorite impermeable layer and go where fair-weather hikers dare not go. Some of the best memories are made on rainy days, cloudy days, foggy days, and days when the wind blows at gale force. The fact is, the vast majority of hikers only hike when the sun is out. Witness Nature in all her varied moods and you may be surprised at how much fun you have.

Above: Autumn quaking aspens in Bishop Creek Canyon

Above: Skunk cabbage and spruce forest in Redwood National Park