What they often find are hiking-path bottlenecks, trailheads packed with tour buses and competitive jockeying for position at scenic overlooks.
One way to beat the crowds this summer may be just a short drive away at a state park.
Many of the nation's 2,200 state parks offer views similar to those in nearby national parks, but without the crowds, hassles and expense. Many offer lodging and activities, including horseback riding and kayaking, that don't require reservations months in advance.
Attendance at the 10 most popular national parks in 2013 of 36.8 million was 16.2% higher than in 1990, according to the National Park Service. Meanwhile the amount of land in the national park system has risen 5.4%, mainly due to boundary adjustments and new national memorials, monuments, historic sites and recreation areas. In the same period, attendance at all state parks declined 2.7%, while acreage increased 30%, according to the National Association of State Park Directors.
Created and funded by Congress, national parks typically receive a higher level of protection than other public lands in part because of their environmental, historic or cultural significance, says Theresa Pierno, chief operating officer at the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group. Surely the most remote of the 59 national parks, and the newest park that hadn't previously held another national status, is the National Park of American Samoa, designated in 1988. State parks' operating budgets are funded by states and in some cases rely heavily on park revenue, says Lewis Ledford, executive director of the state park directors group.
Here are six state parks to consider, either as alternatives to popular national parks or bases from which to explore them.
Both Acadia National Park and Camden Hills State Park feature a rare combination—mountains that meet the sea. Both offer diverse forests and bald granite peaks.
At Camden Hills, there are seven peaks in all, with panoramic views of Penobscot Bay. The 6,200-acre park is in Maine's popular midcoast region (think lobster boats and lighthouses). Camden Hills' 25 miles of trails include gentle inclines that are bike-friendly as well as a great place to hike with children.
As in Acadia, summits in Camden Hills are covered with wild blueberries, ripe for picking in mid- to late summer. Without the restaurants and carriage rides that operate inside Acadia, the state park retains a low-key feel, with plenty of hotels, B&Bs and restaurants nearby in the scenic town of Camden.
There are 106 campsites in the state park; reserve in advance for July and August.
Camden Hills "is close enough to civilization that you can get an outdoor experience but also have all your needs met," says Nick Lund, a Maine native and manager at the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association. "You're not really roughing it."
Insider's Tip: A reconstructed wood cabin at the base of Mount Megunticook is available for rent, says park manager Bill Elliot, with six bunks, a wood-burning stove, fireplace and outhouse ($32.40 a night; bring your own water).
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