With or without teens, April has our vote as the best time of the year to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Both parks are relatively small and prone to crowding during peak summer months, due to the fact that a single road provides access to each Park’s iconic sites. In April, you have an opportunity to quietly experience each Park’s unique and beautiful transition from winter to spring. This timing also aligns well with Easter and spring break holidays from many schools.
Zion Canyon is located at approximately 4,000 feet elevation with popular trails like the hike to Angel’s Landing rising much higher. Bryce’s high point is over 9,000 feet, meaning that snow is still possible even in early April. On our recent visit, sans teens, we found both parks in the midst of early spring blooms. A major storm had brought rain to Zion and snow to Bryce just days before so the Virgin River in Zion Canyon was racing, the waterfalls were still running and Bryce had patches of snow at higher elevations.
What we enjoyed most about our mid-April visit was the lack of crowds and the mild temperatures. At Zion, the park had just started running it’s mandatory shuttle, which is the only way to access the main canyon road from April through October. We suspect they fill fast in the summer, but we never had a problem finding seats and sometimes had them all to ourselves. The wait times were short. The Lodge was full, but you could walk into the restaurant and most eateries in nearby Springdale had no wait as well. With daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the trails were comfortable to stroll almost any time of day. In summer, Zion typically hits the mid to high 80s and the facilities in the park and in Springdale are used to capacity. We think the intense sense of serenity that we found in the park might be harder to come by then.
Like Zion, Bryce also has one main road. It offers an optional shuttle in the summer as crowds build and temperatures reach into the 80s. In April, it was easy to stop at any viewpoint and to stand for as long as you wanted in silence overlooking Inspiration Point and the other amazing views around the Park. We needed sweaters, jackets, hats and optional gloves, but were comfortable enough that we opted for a picnic lunch at Rainbow Point’s 9,000 foot+ elevation.
Heading out of the Parks we stopped by the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, there, the temperatures were close to 90 and with minimal shade hiking and exploring were still bearable — but we would not have wanted it to be much warmer. Because of the recent rain we were able to enjoy views of wildflowers along the road and green spring growth of many desert plants. Nonetheless, by the time we got to Vegas, the pool at the Mirage looked pretty inviting!
We’ll be sharing more about our recent southwestern trip, but if you are planning to see these wonderful National and State parks consider April vacation week, when the crowds and temperatures are moderate. The only real downside to a Spring visit is that the famous Zion Narrows trail, which calls for miles of walking in the River through the narrowest part of the Canyon, is off limits until June temperatures warm the waters and the water level drops with the end of spring storms and winter melt-off.