Shoulder Season Travel Tips

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Does it feel like your favorite places are getting busier and busier each summer? Even though the kids are in school, or your work deadlines are piling up, your public lands and waters are waiting for you to visit all year long.

As the seasons change, from summer to fall, or from winter to spring, outdoor recreation looks a little bit different throughout the year. Visiting public lands during off-peak or shoulder seasons requires extra planning but can offer a less crowded experience and better chance of securing a reservation if required.

Here are some pro tips to help you #ArriveReady and enjoy outdoor experiences rain or shine, spring or fall!

Helpful hints for exploring your public lands all year long

Tip #1: Understand the Season Dates

A solo hiker walks along a narrow gravel trail on a mountain ridge

Glacier National Park (Debbie Leff, Share the Experience)

The off-season is a great time to explore your public lands, whether you’re completing a challenging hike or camping at a popular campground. While more planning is needed for these trips, you can still have amazing experiences, in some cases with fewer crowds.

Check the Seasons & Fees tab of the campground you wish to visit to see what times of year, if any, are considered “first-come, first-served”. These dates are also indicated by a green FF box on the campground’s availability calendar. You will also see which dates the campground is closed and plans to reopen (the “out of season” dates, also indicated by a gray X box on the availability calendar). Read the campground’s Need to Know information carefully – campgrounds may have limited amenities available during these seasons (no water, electricity, flush toilets, and trash removal).

For locations that require reservations, be sure to check the Seasons & Booking tab of the location you wish to visit and note the specific release dates and times for those tickets.

Tip #2: Check Local Conditions

Two young girls in winter clothing and rain gear pose in front of a brown wooden Hoh Visitor Center

Olympic National Park (Dave Rodriguez, Share the Experience)

Weather conditions can change quickly in these remote places, so it’s important to check conditions before you set out, and even after arrival. It may be sunny and warm when you arrive in the afternoon, but can become cool to chilly by nightfall. Fire restrictions may still be in effect at your destination, and some areas may be closed due to recent or ongoing wildfires.

Keep in mind, unusual weather patterns may affect a location’s season dates. Always check current conditions, including road closures or construction, that may determine when you can visit your chosen destination.

Tip #3: Stay Informed

Four screen captures of information available on various agency webpages

There are lots of resources to stay informed of conditions, available opportunities, and potential closures. Here are a few:

Tip #4: Check Your Gear

A water bottle, rope, and other gear laid outside a tent

Manti-La Sal National Forest (Christopher Quirin, Share the Experience)

Spring or fall, one of the most important things to stash in your pack is layers. Temperatures can drop dramatically at higher elevations, and unexpected rain or snow showers could make unpleasant company for the unprepared. Rain or snow gear, thin wool or synthetic layers, extra socks, and appropriate footwear are a must!

If fire restrictions are still in effect at the location you wish to visit, you will need to prepare alternative sources for lighting, heating, and cooking. Bear-proof containers are still a good idea, whether you’re backpacking or camping in a developed campground.

Trash removal services are often unavailable during the off-season. Be prepared to pack out all of your trash, including food waste.

Do not rely on technology to save you, especially in the event of bad weather. GPS and mobile service is often unreliable in these remote destinations, so always carry a paper map with you and have a backup plan to keep you and your group safe.

Tip #5: Embrace the Off-Season

Snow patches cling to the Windows sandstone formation at Arches National Park

Arches National Park (Katie Dobies, Share the Experience)

Do you have a bucket list of outdoor destinations you can’t seem to visit during the busy summer months? The great news is, many of these locations are open in the fall and spring. Many locations that require reservations during the summer season usually end these requirements in the off-season.

Keep in mind, each of these destinations may have their own unique recreation season. For example, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Big Bend National Park are likely to be busier in the cooler months than in the summer. Public lands in the East, such as Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, might be crowded in October as leaf-peepers seek their fortune. On the other hand, this may be the best time of year to experience places like Arches National Park, the Tonto National Forest, and more.

No matter where you decide to #BringHomeaStory, plan ahead and prepare to ensure you have the best experience possible.

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