Road Conditions in April at Grand Canyon and Utah Parks
February 13, 2017 9:19 AM   Subscribe

We are wondering how the roads in northern Arizona and southern Utah will to be in early April. What about some of the shorter trails in the national parks?

We will be visiting Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. We are not big hikers and will be feeling the elevation, so we only plan on taking short and/or level trails. Most of our vacations include plenty of scenic driving with lots of stops for views and short walks. We drive in Minnesota winters, but ice is still a concern.
posted by soelo to Travel & Transportation around Utah (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They should be great. I went to Zion in December and didn't have any problem with ice on the roads. April should be downright hot.
posted by Marinara at 9:35 AM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: The south rim of the Grand Canyon should be open. The north rim is better, but won't be open until mid-May. There are some forest service roads that may or may not be passable on the north rim (jughead point, etc.) if you are keen on seeing that. If the weather cooperates and you've got a decent AWD/4WD it's not out of the question. A call to the Kaibab forest service office will tell you more definitively whats open when you get there.

The rest are pavement, or well kept gravel road* for the most part and should almost certainly be open.

April is a funny month out here, though. It can be in the 80s, and sunny. It can be 20s and snowy. Sometimes, in the same day. Most likely, if you encounter weather, it will be rain with snow at elevation. Just pack accordingly. Ice shouldn't be a problem unless we have a storm - generally by then, it's melted off the roads and trails.

The bigger problem isn't snow/ice, its rain. But watch the weather and drive carefully and stick to pavement unless you really do know what you're doing and you'll be fine. The road from UT 313 to Gemini Bridges is one of these - in good weather, any Buick could drive it. When it rains.... The road can be bad. Often a few hours can make a difference, though, so don't get discouraged.

The Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands has lots of neat shorter hikes. The hike to Delicate arch in Arches is a moderate 3-4 mile there and back. Show up early and bring water and food.

Whatever the weather, there is a ton to see and do. Just plan to be a bit flexible in your plans, and you'll have a great time**.

*Canyonlands, Arches and such have lots of neat dirt roads that go to some great sites. White Rim road, for instance. They're gorgeous and not too treacherous when weather has been good. They go very bad, very quickly in bad weather. If the warning says 4x4 or high clearance, they mean it. Rent a jeep in Moab and go see it. A Rav4 or a Subaru won't cut it.

** I'm always down for a mefi meetup at Moab Brewery if my schedule allows. This is my backyard, and I love it here.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:07 AM on February 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

The park rangers in each of those parks are the experts and generally would love to talk to you about how to enjoy their park, whether that be by driving or by finding appropriate hikes.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:12 AM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: I've seen snow and ice at the South Rim in early April. Road conditions were totally fine, but I couldn't hike into the canyon at all because the trails were totally iced over.
posted by cnc at 10:56 AM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: In the Spring of most years my hiking buddy and I do a two-week loop around the Southwest that looks generally like:

Fly into Las Vegas, NV => Zion NP => Bryce NP => Capitol Reef NP => Arches and Canyonlands NPs (accessible from Moab, UT) => Colorado rest break => Bandelier NM (near Santa Fe, NM) => Grand Canyon NP => LV to fly out.

Usually we target the last two weeks of April to avoid the warm-up in May (when it can get hot fast) as well as the melt down in late March / early April (if there has been a lot of snow over the winter).

In 2008 we flew out for a one-week "quickie" that cut out Colorado and New Mexico, and ran from March 30 to April 6. The prior winter had produced a fair amount of snow with the result that, while the roads were completely clear, some of the trails we like were not. Because we did not have traction devices for our boots, we turned around on the Observation Point Trail in Zion NP after about a mile as the trail above that elevation was packed in snow and ice. For the same reason, we turned around after about a mile and a half on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon.

The prompt purchase of Stablicers upon our return eliminated any possible inconvenience posed by ice in the future.

But like I said, the roads were free and clear.

That having been said, the weather can change on a dime especially at high elevations. I've driven into the Grand Canyon Village in 27 degrees with light snow in late April, and wandered around Santa Fe in the snow in May. But I've never had problems with the roads (at least not yet).

As to hiking opportunities, the parks offer a little something for everybody and all offer easy, short and / or level hikes. The rangers at the visitor centers can provide maps, trail recommendations and other advice.

Happy Trails!
posted by cool breeze at 1:32 PM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: Roads should be fine. For Grand Canyon, the only easy trail is the Rim Trail, which still gets you fantastic overlooks. If you want to go into the canyon a bit (assuming the trails aren't icy) then I would suggest going down South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point or, if you're ambitious, Cedar Ridge. Ooh Aah is 1.5 miles round trip. Cedar Ridge is 3. Take water as there is none along the trail. The trail is steep but these are shorter options than a full canyon hike. A lot of people will suggest Bright Angel Trail, but a) that trail is CROWDED near the top and b) it's in a walled drainage so while the views are nice, they don't change much. South Kaibab has much bigger views. (I've been to the bottom of the canyon four times, and the views on SK are unbelievable. Bright Angel is better for the way up but once I get within a mile of the top the crowds start getting really thick.)
posted by azpenguin at 5:50 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding most of what azpenguin and Pogo_Fuzzybutt had to say. I would suggest skipping any Forest Service roads around the North Rim in April. We recently had some heavy snow that brought down a lot of trees on the South Rim. You may find that some Forest Service roads (if they are otherwise passable) are blocked by downed trees, and you could burn the better part of a day in order to make that discovery. North Rim visitor center facilities will be closed anyway; better to visit the South Rim instead.

South Kaibab Trail has great views. There is no visitor parking at the trailhead. You'll want to park early in the day at the visitor center (or Backcountry Information Center) and take a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Parking spots are quickly exhausted on busy days, and illegally parked cars may be towed.

Bring water but don't over-hydrate. The Park Service publishes hiking tips for Grand Canyon.

For an easier hike, try part of the Rim Trail. I like the section between Pima Point and Hermits Rest. If you're still excited to go hiking once you reach Hermits Rest, you can try a little bit of the Hermit Trail. With canyon hiking, a rule of thumb is to plan on spending twice the time (and energy) to hike up as it takes to hike down.

The road to Hermits Rest is shuttle-bus only in April. Take the shuttle from the village to Pima Point, and you can ride it all the way back from the end of the line at Hermits Rest.

Capitol Reef is an under-appreciated gem and I commend your choice to visit this beautiful park! It's been a while since I visited, but I enjoyed the Cohab Canyon Trail when I was there. However, I'm not super-familiar with Capitol Reef, and I would ask a ranger his or her recommendation.

Precipitation can cause some back roads to quickly become impassible. Paved roads that are open in April should generally be in good shape, although there's still a chance for precipitation to fall as snow, especially at higher elevations.

Bring YakTrax or Microspikes if it looks like there is any snow in the forecast, or if any snow has recently fallen. Ice will persist in the shady uppermost section of of the South Kaibab Trail (especially the first 1/4 mile or so) longer than it does elsewhere. It also persists in the upper reaches of the Bright Angel Trail. I find snow-packed ice to be fairly passable with grippy boots once enough dirt and mule poop has been ground into the surface, but "enough mule poop" is a highly subjective measurement. If you don't like ice and heights, you may want YakTrax/Microspikes.

All that said, I would be a little surprised if there was much (if anything) in the way of ice on the ground. It's not impossible, but it would surprise me.

A good safety guideline is to stay one body length away from any edges. E.g., if you are six feet tall, stay six feet away from the edge. The Grand Canyon is literally trillions of times larger than you, and one body length of camera positioning will not significantly alter your photos.

PSA while I have your attention: Please don't throw rocks!
posted by compartment at 8:18 PM on February 13, 2017

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