In addition to "longest walk possible" are there any good guidelines for finding trails/areas in the southeast that are typically less crowded on holidays such as the 4th of July? State parks here in Georgia, and most of the States, become overcrowded and very loud on summer holidays.
Since you write on the 4th, does that mean specifically for single day trips?– gerritJun 18, 2013 at 12:39
Day or multi-day trips.– Russell SteenMar 9, 2016 at 13:18
My answer is not specific for a particular area or a particular date. I like to find trails, areas, that are less crowded in general, and estimate the seasonal pattern mostly on availability. Signs of less popular areas:
- A relative lack of photos on things Google Photos, Flickr, Instagram, etc.
- A relative lack of uploaded tracks on sites such as Wikiloc and Alltrails.
- A relative lack of google hits for places uniquely along this particular trail.
- A general lack of information online.
- A lack of services in the area.
- Trails not mapped on Openstreetmap; for example, as of 2020, Openstreetmap maps only two trails skirting the corners of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana (USA), but the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map (which can be browsed online) betrays a relatively dense network of trails throughout the wilderness.
- Look through some of the websites listed at the answers to this opposite question on Travel Stack Exchange, which essentially asks what's hot right now (or what's popular in general). My most recent hike was at spectacular Børgefjell (photos) and I met nobody, and indeed, it's completely black on sightsmap, as is the part of Iceland I hiked in the year before (photos).
- Check the Strava heatmap, or other heatmaps. If you can't see the trail you want to hike, it's probably not too crowded. If I had looked at the Strava heatmap for the Grand Canyon Corridor Trail (extremely bright), I could have mentally prepared for the hundreds of trail runners 24 hours per day rather than expecting the total number of hikers to be limited by the total number of overnight permits. Compare quiet Grasslands National Park or deserted Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (invisible — Americas best kept secret?). Although running is not a perfect substitute for hiking, it surely correlates. Note that The same color only locally represents the same level of heat data, so although this method may find relatively less crowded trails in the same state park, you can't compare between areas far apart. I don't know if/how the Strava heatmap works when there is no mobile phone coverage (does it upload later or is it marked as unvisited?).
Of course, this has the marked disadvantage that it's also harder to find those areas at all. It helps to know the area, to get a good map that includes not only popular trails but also less popular ones, etc. In northern Scandinavia, I've almost never met another hiker in routes that I designed on my own (though in some areas I have frequently come across people fishing or hunting recreationally, unaware that a specific area had been recently recommended in a popular paper fishing magazine that I don't read; some recreational activities may have less online presence than others).
1Great answer. I hadn't thought of the "lack of a google presence" solution, but it makes perfect sense. Jun 18, 2013 at 15:29
@RussellSteen Indeed, I hate hiking in crowded places, there's a thing about hiking that requires PEACE, PEACE that I can't find when there's almost a traffic jam of people hiking in the same place I am– KyleMar 30, 2016 at 17:45
@RussellSteen I hadn't thought of it, either, but actually have been using it! I've been looking for empty trails this year and hard to find info + more than half day hike has meant never seeing anyone on the trail. Mar 29, 2021 at 1:14
In the U.S. you have a huge system of national forests. Many of these have extensive trail networks. Many have parts that are too rough for economic logging.
Places that are far from a major urban area are far less likely to be used at any time of year. Most people will be reluctant to drive more than a few hours for a 1 day event.
Take more time and go deeper
One report on Jasper Park said that of all visitors that got out of their car other than for a ski-resort never got more than a mile from their car. There are only a scattering of trails in Jasper that have much use that are more than 10 km from the trail head. (The Skyline trail is a notable one.)
My experience with Willmore Wilderness (Just north of Jasper) is that 90+ percent of all encounters have been within 15 km of the Rock Lake trailhead.
Time shift your day.
By default people get up travel to the trailhead, and start their walk. This means starting mid morning for a nearby location. If you arrive at the trailhead at first light you're several hours ahead of the Rush Hour.
I did the opposite, and due to various delays arrived at the trail head at 3 p.m. We met one party coming out, and saw one party fetching water from a stream for their camp.
Time shift your trip.
Depending on what you do, you may be able to score points by working on the holiday, and taking time off in lieu during the following week. This works particularly well for ski resorts, as midweek lines are a fraction of what weekend lines are.
Space shift your trip.
Example: In Alberta Calgary and Edmonton have different weeks off for spring break. Since many families time their winter holidays for this, it results in overcrowding nearby vacation spots. However, an Edmonton family willing to travel a bit further can hit one of the Calgary popular sites during a time when Calgary is still in school.
Example: Some holidays are different in Canada vs the U.S. Canada has the August long weekend. Our Thanksgiving is the 2nd Monday in October; You have Memorial Day, We have Queen Victoria's Birthday a week or two earlier. You have the 4th of July. We have Canada day on the 1st of July. If you live near the border you may be able to take advantage of this.
Take advantage of the off seasons.
Depending how tough you are/how well equipped you are many places have an off season. Canyonlands is hot in August, and can be bitter cold in winter. West coast parks can be very wet. Spring melt and the uncertainty of fall freezeup can be daunting. These can also be spectacularly beautiful. Instead of canoeing in August, try it in October, as the shorelines are fringed with ice. Hike the alpine country in fog and mist.
"Space shift" is a great idea! I live near the Canadian border, but I had never thought to make strategic use of the holiday differences before. Would +1 even just for that section alone. Might want to remind people to check up on their passport status though. I haven't been to Canada since back when they just let you pass through without checking anything. I hear that you now have to go through a lot more, including passport checks.– LoduwijkSep 10, 2018 at 16:00
The Skyline is actually one of the most popular trails in Jasper NP. It's too long to do in a day for normal people, and to get a spot there in a popular summer weekend you'll need to reserve months ahead. I found Jasper NP quite busy, even on the decommissioned Maligne Valley Trail, but maybe my "I met people every day" standard is a bit too strong. The adjecent White Goat Wilderness Area was deserted, but that might have been due to the load of snow that fell when I was there.– gerritFeb 20, 2020 at 14:17
White goat is almost always deserted. There is a trail on either side of the Cline, but the south side trail is not in the WG, and is less hilly. Once you get off the Cline, either by going up Coral Creek, or MacDonald Creek there is essentially no one. Feb 20, 2020 at 23:33
I definitely agree on the mile-from-the-car bit. The forested trails around here I see a lot of people near the trailheads, but once you get in a bit they thin out very quickly. You can pick them out easily by noting water in their hand and a lack of gear. The desert trails are more numerous, the crowds are at the short stuff. Mar 29, 2021 at 1:10