April is the perfect month to visit the Grand Canyon. While many people are confused by the South Rim's wintry look and feel (there are so many more pine trees than you'd expect), below the rim in the canyon it's nearly an endless summer. Long warm sunny days are followed by dipping your feet in cool streams. The nopales and Utah Agave are blooming. It's also the time of year *everyone* wants to go, for exactly these reasons.
I've been to the Grand Canyon for five consecutive years. Four of those trips were in April. Each year I submitted an application to the lottery by December 1. Three times, I had to come up with alternative dates or campsites in consultation with the Rangers based upon limited availability. Earlier this month, I applied for a permit to take a family into the Canyon over DC's school break, but was informed by the Backcountry Rangers that nothing in that date range was available. So now we're trying to determine if another itinerary or another park makes more sense.
Options at the Grand Canyon and Elsewhere
If you've never been to the Grand Canyon, don't let missing out on a backcountry permit keep you from going. There's always car camping and day hikes — which is probably what I'll set this family up for. You can hike a third of the way down to the river and back up easily in a day, with enough time. (You can easily hike down all the way down to the Colorado River too, but the coming back up, that’s not so easy!) You can even book a mule ride for the day! The park is 250 miles wide so no matter how long you're there, there's plenty to see and do.
More adventurous groups can apply for permits for less well-traveled routes, such as descending to the River via the Hermit Trail or Grandview Trail. Not for the faint of heart and not recommended for kids or those with bad knees.
Another alternative is skipping the Grand Canyon this time around. The Desert Southwest contains thousands of miles of canyons in other national parks and public lands. Grand Escalante may be shrinking but it's still magical. Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks will be a little more wintry in April than the Grand Canyon would be — which could be a plus for some visitors. Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks don't draw nearly the crowds that the Grand Canyon does, partially due to being even more remote (which also may be a draw for you!).
Regardless, the whole region is so manifestly different from DC that anywhere you go you'll have your eyes opened. Let us know how we can help you explore this fascinating corner of the country!