National Park Secrets

To find the emptiest hideouts in seven iconic parks, we called on the guys with the keys to the back door: the rangers and staff.

May 4, 2009
Outside Magazine
Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

When Wallace Stegner wrote that America's national parks were "the best idea we ever had," he did not mean "It's a good idea to steer your RV through Yosemite with the A/C on." Over the past decade our great playgrounds have devolved into drive-through tourist traps—even as visitation held steady at around 275 million, backcountry trips plummeted by 13 percent. But change is afoot. The government is pouring $920 million into the parks to rebuild roads and relieve congestion (read: less pre-playtime spent sucking exhaust). Come this fall, Ken Burns's latest PBS mega-series will give the parks 12 hours of high-profile lovin'. Throw in a recession that has adventurers planning vacations closer to home and you've got a recipe for what we prefer to call a revival. How to take Yellowstone & Co. back from the map-and-camera crowd? Start with our guide to the wildest, least-trafficked spots in America's last best places.