The National Parks are considered by many to be “America’s Best Idea.” Having recently celebrated their centennial anniversary, the United States National Parks are busier than ever, expected to be patronized by over 300,000,000 people in 2016 alone.

But what if all this well-meaning adventure travel is actually breaking America’s national parks?

It’s Time to Stop Visiting America’s National Parks

There are over 400 properties among the national park portfolio. Studies suggest over 85% of Americans have visited at least one national park in their lifetime, and over 75% of Americans say certain national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite are “must-sees” for any traveler. All of this adoration is certainly good for the U.S. travel industry, but is it actually in the best interests of the land and wildlife found in our national parks? Some aren’t so sure.

In 2015, US Park Rangers issued a staggering 52,000+ “resource warnings” in the parks for human infractions such as approaching wildlife too closely and littering. Experts warn that an increase in foot and vehicle traffic, as well as adjacent development, could be the death knell for certain national parks; and over 6,500 non-native species are actively being cataloged inside America’s parks today, a vestige of outside contamination. Enthusiastic visitors, as it turns out, may be the single biggest threat to the health of our national parks.

The National Park Experience is in Jeopardy

Not only do the hundreds of millions of annual visitors threaten the parks’ longevity, they also make for some supremely uncomfortable travel conditions. Limits on number of visitors are being proposed (and adopted) at a number of prominent national parks already, and several have had to turn people away at the gates in recent years. There is certainly nothing peaceful or tranquil about miles of cars lined up at a ticket booth, or hundreds of pedestrians blocking a boardwalk path to gawk at a hot spring.

No one imagines a relaxing, nature-filled vacation that includes bumper-to-bumper traffic or sardine-packed campsites. For children, in particular, the experience of the American National Park is being ruined by overcrowding;the beauty of our country’s nature lost in a sea of water bottles, sneakers, and backpacks. For many Americans, though, visiting the national parks is a rite of passage – a hallmark of the best family vacations! But is there a better way?

Above photo: Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico (a Ted Turner Expeditions property)

The Alternative to America’s National Parks

All across America, particularly in the southwest, large, privately-owned “national parks” are enchanting visitors who’ve grown weary of the challenges facing the National Park Service. Ted Turner Expeditions, a concierge travel service that invites visitors to enjoy one of the many expansive natural oases of noted conservationist Ted Turner, is experiencing a sharp increase in visitors seeking a national park alternative. On one of Turner’s portfolio properties like  the 585,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch or the 245-square-mile Ladder Ranch, visitors can hike, birdwatch, mountain bike, ride horseback, or simply enjoy the silence that comes with having acres and acres of protected land to oneself.

Private national parks, often more luxurious and full-service than traditional national parks, are bastions of local culture, haute cuisine, and rejuvenation services such as massages and meditation. At these properties, guests appreciate the ability to explore the natural world around them by day, but return to an all-inclusive ranch resort at night for a delicious meal and well-appointed accommodations. Their amenities are a far cry from the dated cabins and bustling lodge hotels found inside true national parks, to be sure.

Preservationists offer a series of recommendations for thoughtful – and enjoyable – exploration of the U.S. National Parks: Go early, visit during off-peak seasons, and consider visiting a less-popular nearby park instead of one of the “headliner” parks that tend to overcrowd quickly. Excellent alternative destinations, though, are found throughout the southwestern desert, the islands of the Carolinas, and the mountains of New Mexico. At a private national park like those owned by Ted Turner Expeditions, conservation will always come before open access; a battle the national parks will continue to fight for years to come.

It may be time to consider a new “Great American Vacation” for your family this year. The national parks will thank you.