Even if you stick to lesser-known parks this summer, chances are good you'll still want to check out Yellowstone, Yosemite, or some other charismatic megawilderness along the way. To help you avoid the crowds, we compiled this list of the most trafficked hikes in the park systemplus a few smart, easy alternatives.
THE HIGHWAY: John Muir Trail. Possibly the most tromped route in the park system, this eight-mile highway to Half Dome sees up to 2,300 people daily.
THE BACK WAY: Pohono Trail. Start at the Glacier Point trailhead to access Yosemite Valley's southern rim. You may encounter a handful of people at the scenic overlooks along this eight-mile trek to Bridalveil Creek, but keep moving and you'll experience something rare: solitude.
Great Smoky Mountains
THE HIGHWAY: Clingmans Dome Trail. The good: The end of the trail affords the highest view in the park. The bad: The trail is just a half-mile long. The ugly: It's paved.
THE BACK WAY: Low Gap Trail. Start near the Cosby Entrance and take this 7.4-mile track, which joins the Appalachian Trail, to the restored Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower for views without the traffic jam.
THE HIGHWAY: Anything near Old Faithful. A total of nine day hikes originate around the big spouter.
THE BACK WAY: Garnet Hill/Hellroaring. Get on the trailhead at Tower Junction. When it forks, head west to Yellowstone River and Hellroaring Creek for an eight-mile out-and-back trip that the geyser gazers never experience.
THE HIGHWAY: Bright Angel Trail. Any inner-canyon route will be busy in early summer, but this 7.8-mile, rim-to-river trail sees the most map-and-camera toters.
THE BACK WAY: Rim Trail. This mostly paved 12-miler follows Hermit's Road to nine scenic points along the South Rim, but crowds stay on the shuttle bus. Feeling restless? Follow Hermit's Trail 3.5 miles into the canyon to Dripping Springs.
THE HIGHWAY: Glacier Gorge. This trail is the gateway to no fewer than five scenic vistas, including views of Longs Peak, Alberta Falls, and Mills Lake.
THE BACK WAY: Mummy Pass Trail. Access the northern tip of the park from the Coral Creek trailhead for a remote, 6.1-mile hike on the Mummy Pass Trail. You'll score great views of Comanche Peak and end up at the placid waters of the aptly named Mirror Lake.