Best national parks: Avoid the crowds

Get outdoors and skip the lines during the high season

Capitol Reef, UT
Photo by James Kay; written by Mackenzie Geidt

Capitol Reef, UT

Annual attendance: 700,000

Why it’s awesome: It’s Utah’s second-largest national park, with slot canyons, arches, cliffs, and 31 miles of well-marked trails—yet only one-fifth the number of Zion’s visitors. Throw in ancient petroglyphs, a river running through a lush valley of 2,000 fruit trees, crazy geology like the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, and the knockout 8-mile Scenic Drive (sans traffic).

Trail to yourself: It’s a steep 2 miles up the Golden Throne Trail, ​but the views will do their mightiest ​to distract you.

OMG moment: Walking the Hickman Bridge Trail, a 133-foot-long natural stone bridge, with the Fremont River rushing nearby.

Where to pitch a tent: With a free wilderness permit from the visitor center, you can pitch a tent in the backcountry. Or choose one of the 71 shaded sites along the river at Fruita Campground ($10).

Where to book a room: Head to the funky town of Torrey, 10 miles away, for budget motels, or to the luxe Lodge at Red River Ranch in Teasdale (from $160;



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