Spring Hiking in the Southwest: 5 Pro Tips

Escalante Twisty Road

Last month one of our staff members road tripped through the southwest. Here are five of her tips on how to make the most of your adventure.

1. Layer, layer, layer.

Springtime means unpredictable weather. When the sun was out I happily stolled along in short sleeves and sunglasses. When clouds, rain, snow, or nightfall rolled in, however, I had to be ready to layer up quickly. My go-to pieces of gear were a thin pair of wool gloves, a wind shirt, a hooded quarter-zip base layer (I now want hoods on everything), and my down Eos jacket.

2. Hike in the morning or evening for the best light.

This held true no matter where we went, from Bryce to Arches. The low light of dawn and dusk has long been praised as the “golden hour” by photographers, and I can see why. In the southwest, the red, pink, yellow, and white rocks become incredibly vibrant and even more spectacular. Plus, there are usually fewer people around.

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

3. Have a backup plan

In the early spring, the parks are waking up after a slower winter season. This means that campgrounds may not be open yet, trails can be blocked or closed, and operating hours can be different. And of course we can't forget about the weather, which went from sunny and bluebird to snow within less than a day. It also rains in the Southwest, and when it does it can be extremely dangerous. Always check flood risk at the local ranger station or land management office. With this in mind, I had a backup hike and hotel in mind at each park if conditions turned for the worse.

4. Go stargazing

Some of the clearest nights I have witnessed were in the southwest. The combination of few clouds, expansive views unhindered by big peaks or forest, and the silhouettes of rock formations in front of the milky way make for an incredible experience. Bring along a flashlight with a red light setting to preserve your night vision as you move to or from your chosen stargazing locations. It is also worthwhile to check in with local astronomical societies to see if they are having any events in the National Parks. I encountered one in Arches, and the astronomers kindly gave me a tour of the night sky, from seeing the rings of saturn to multi colored stars and galaxies. If you do find these groups, be respectful and ask nicely, as they are usually more than happy to show you the sky, but sometimes have specific stars they are following and do not want to be disturbed.

Arches National Park, Hiking in Devil's Garden

5. Explore lesser known trails

National Parks get extremely crowded, and it can sometimes feel like an amusement park when a trail is filled with a constant stream of people going up and down. To avoid this, hit the most popular trails early (and on weekdays), and then explore other trails in the afternoon. Some examples include the rim trails in Zion, longer loops in Bryce that link the rim and canyon trails, and Devil’s garden in Arches. Before you head out on these adventures, however, carefully assess your group’s fitness level, preparedness, and comfort with slickrock.

Bonus Tip: The Southwestern landscape captures the imagination like no other landscape I’ve visited. Take your time when exploring these parks to take it all in.