From the sweeping beaches of southern California to Utah’s deep gorges and canyons, the geography and climate of Southwestern USA are super diverse. The best time to visit depends on the activities you want to do and your tolerance for heat (and crowds). We’ve broken it down by season to make the decision a little easier.
Spring is one of the best seasons to go hiking in the Southwest’s national parks as daytime temperatures are manageable and a cool breeze pushes you along the trails. Plus, you’ll enjoy the views (and fewer heads in your holiday snaps) before the summer tourists arrive. Hike up some of Sedona’s most challenging peaks in the magical Red Rock Country, tackle the iconic Bright Angel Fault in Grand Canyon National Park or enjoy Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos in solitude. Waterfalls and rafting along the Virgin and Colorado Rivers are also great in the spring thanks to snow melt.
Popular spring trips
Southwestern summers can get mighty hot, particularly in the desert landscapes of New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, where the thermostat often tops 38°C. Despite the heat, summer is a busy time as it coincides with the USA school summer break. Some of our hiking and camping trips don’t run in mid-summer as the heat makes it too dangerous, but you could still explore Utah’s spectacular monuments and stone arches, followed by cool dips in the Colorado River. Plus, there are plenty of air-conditioned buildings to escape the heat in Las Vegas.
If you’re not keen on the heat, consider visiting a northern state like Washington, Montana or Maine where the summer is shorter and cooler. Or cruise up the coast on a California road trip.
Popular summer trips
Things cool down in September, which means camping, hiking and backpacking are back on. The cooler temps make it easier to do some of the region’s more strenuous hikes, like the Coyote Gulch in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With less foot traffic in the national parks now that the summer vacationers have headed home, you can explore iconic landmarks like Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos and the Escalante Grand Staircase at your own pace.
Popular autumn trips
Winter days in the Southwest are mild, but it can get chilly at night with sub-zero temps. It’s much colder at higher elevations and moderate to heavy snowfall is common. There are far fewer tourists in winter, and if you don’t mind rugging up in the colder weather, you could enjoy a crowd-free hiking adventure in Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley or Grand Canyon – the canyon’s snow-dusted valleys and peaks are a spectacular sight!
Popular winter trips
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