Half Dome might be on the postcards, but Yosemite's best-kept secrets are on the other side of the park. Every year, millions of people gravitate to a few marquee wilderness attractions, choking up parking lots, snatching up campsites, and leaving equally spectacular spots largely untouched. "To get the wilderness experience, you have to dig deeper," says Kathy Kupper, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. That means discovering the less-traveled park entrances and looking regionally – maybe rafting the Colorado River through Utah's red rocks instead of the Grand Canyon – for great trips without the hassles.
Olympic Peninsula Solitude
High season in Washington's San Juan Islands, with hordes of weekend warriors jockeying for space to ogle the orcas, can get pretty hectic. For an equally iconic Northwest escape, head 60 miles southwest to Olympic National Park, where you'll find 1,442 square miles of wilderness, with dramatic views of Mount Olympus, day hikes through the moss-laden Hoh Rainforest, and 73 miles of untouched oceanfront to hike and kayak. Ray Hendricks, a guide and the owner of Just Roughin' It Adventure Company, says, "Giant sea stacks, crashing surf, pristine tide pools full of life, and wide, deserted beaches rimmed by lush forests are all part of the experience."
A few favorite treks along the shore include a 17-mile, three-day trip along the South Coast wilderness trail and the more remote 40-mile Shipwreck Coast trail. Both routes offer varied terrain, winding along the headlands and traversing the depths of some of the Pacific Northwest's densest forest. Just be sure to study your tide table or hire an experienced guide. High tide can quickly overtake beaches, turning a leisurely stroll into a grueling scramble. But according to Hendricks, huge rewards are waiting on the other side: "miles of broad, sandy beaches devoid of people, beautiful campsites where the forest meets the beach, and finishing the day with a driftwood fire, surrounded by miles of wilderness."
Stay: Camping is allowed anywhere above high tide along the coastal trails, and campsites with toilet facilities are also available.
Do: Hendricks' company offers all-inclusive backpacking trips. justroughinit.com
Credit: Michael Hanson / Aurora