The lower elevations of the southwest offer comfortably warm temperatures April through June, a great time to shake off the winter chill before the high heat of summer sets in. In this article I share my recommendations for three mini-vacations, including side trips, ideal for this time of year.
Destination #1: Moab, in eastern Utah
Take I-70 to Crescent Junction, then head south on Hwy 191.
Moab is not just for mountain bikers and river runners. With temperatures averaging in the 70′s and 80′s in April and May, Moab is a perfect place to warm the bones with outdoor activity.
If you go to Moab in the Spring, keep one thing in mind: 4X4 enthusiasts have the run of the town during Easter break for the annual Jeep Safari. This year the event runs from April 9th – 15th. Don’t show up in town without a reservation or you’ll be pitching a tent in Blanding. Don’t show up at all during this time if you’re not into 4-wheeling. You won’t see Moab through the crowds, and if you’re not with them, you’ll feel old.
Arches National Park, home to 2,000 natural arches, is five miles north of town on Hwy 191. A 40 mile paved road winds through the park for a comprehensive car tour. Easy hikes along the way put some of the best arches within reach. Stop at the Windows section, walk up to several impressive arches and see for yourself what millions of years of wind erosion will do to sandstone.
If you’re feeling hearty, stop and hike up to Delicate Arch. Teetering on the edge of a cliff, this Utah state mascot is best experienced by touch. Don’t rely on the overlook one thousand feet below unless you absolutely have to. The bottom of the trail is wide with a gradual climb. Toward the top the trail narrows with some steep switchbacks. Maneuvering children up the last 30 vertical feet can be tricky. Use caution or wait until they’re older. No one can avoid the dizzying temptation to stand beneath the great arch, to grab a smiling photo with the La Sal mountains in the background, but in so doing, we speed up the erosion process with the mere vibration of our feet. Savor the moment, take a photo, then come down and see the rest of the park.
Side Trip: Dead Horse Point State Park
North of Moab off of Hwy 191.
Don’t let the name intimidate you. It’s worth the 18 unpaved miles down Hwy 313 to the edge of this plateau to see the Colorado River sculpt the canyon. The same geology is shared with the Grand Canyon further south. The park entrance is relatively narrow, then the plateau branches out in a circle.
Cowboys of the wild west used the plateau to corral horses, selling those they could rope. Many horses were left, but couldn’t find their way down to the river, and died of thirst under the baking desert sun. If only they’d walked out the way the came in, this place may have been given a name more appropriate for its beauty.
A sunset picnic will allow you time to relax while the canyon walls change from orange, to lavender, then burgundy as the light of day fades. If you’re quiet, you may see a pair of hawks, or other wildlife, come out for their evening hunt.
Moab is built for tourism and outdoor activity. The town entertains travelers with a full plate of events, including horse racing, extreme sports, a hot rod tour and an arts festival (and that’s just before Memorial Day). Various flavors of restaurants, including a couple of great local brew pubs, will satisfy the hunger that comes from outdoor exploration. Check out this web site for information on hotels, campsites and upcoming events:
Destination #2: Zion National Park, southern Utah
Exit I-15 at Hurricane and follow Hwy 9 to Springdale
Springdale is a growing community near the entrance of Zion National Park. Treat yourself to a couple of nights in one of the many beautiful hotels there and awake under the guard of The Watchman, one of the park’s many towering mountain shrines. Meander through town. Spend some time in the art galleries. You’ll find an eclectic mix of rustic southwest collectibles, slick photography, pottery, jewelry and more. Great meals await in a number of local restaurants, including two of my favorites, The Bit & Spur and The Switchback Grille.
Much of Zion is only accessible through extensive back-country hiking (permits required), but fortunately, there is still much to see. High season crowds and high temperatures reign June through August, so a springtime trip treats you to moderation in both. Elevations in the park range from approximately 3,600 to 8,700 feet, so temperatures vary a great deal. But, unless you’re planning to backpack into the high country, you’ll enjoy daytime highs in the 70′s and 80′s.
If you’ve never been to Zion, there are many trails for beginners as well as experienced hikers . As in any part of color country, the cliffs show off their finest hues in the early morning and at dusk. Start at the visitor center for an overview of the park and its highlights, and grab a map. Continue into the park and take the easy River Side walk, also referred to as Gateway to the Narrows. Melting snow from the upper elevations keeps the Virgin River water level high through early summer, so hiking all the way into The Narrows is restricted until summer. Emerald Pools in another easy hike on a paved path in Zion Canyon. The lower pool is easily accessible; the upper pool is a moderate climb. Canyon Overlook is a moderate hike, short but steep in places, on the east side of the tunnel.
Side Trip: Kolob Canyon, northwest of Zion
The red rock here is as red as red rock gets. From Springdale, take Hwy 9 west to northbound I-15. Follow I-15 for approximately 25 miles. The park entrance is just off the freeway. Not many visitors see this side of Zion, so it’s relatively quiet compared to the main gate. Take half an hour to drive through the park, or get out and hike the Taylor Creek trail. Winter run-off may restrict your hike as this trail crosses the creek several times. Temperatures may be a bit cooler because of the shelter of 1,500 foot cliffs that make the canyon. Kolob is also an excellent choice for summer.
Check out lodging and other facilities for Springdale at this web site:
Destination #3: South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Take Hwy 180 north from Flagstaff (80 miles), or Hwy 64 north from Williams, Arizona (60 miles).
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet, so spring temperatures will average in the 60′s during the day. While a bit cooler than the other destinations, the payoff for traveling here off-season is solitude. Perhaps you’ll be able to take a photo or two without strangers in your picture frame.
The cliffs drop over 5,000 feet from the rim before finding the Colorado River. Temperatures warm quickly as you descend into the canyon, so if you’re hiking down, be prepared for changes. The South Rim is open year-round with all services available, including a shuttle bus from Grand Canyon Village to the South Kaibab Trail. Additionally, the shuttle runs along Hermit Road from March through November.
The National Park Service maintains a very informative web site on the Grand Canyon. Visit the site for details on camping and other facilities:
For more information of lodging and tour operators, try this site:
Side Trip: Lake Mead National Recreational Area
For a warmer climate after the South Rim, travel down river where Hoover Dam blocks the Colorado River to form Lake Mead, a scenic, boater’s paradise on the Nevada/Arizona border. Summer temperatures in this area reach a scorching 110+, often the hottest place in the United States, so see it while the climate is bearable. Details on campsites and lodging facilities can be found here: