Visiting the Southwest in Monsoon Season

Expert Advice
Jun 2013

Many people who visit the Southwest are unaware that the region is home to not four seasons but five, the fifth being monsoon season. Every July and August, the climate changes dramatically from the dry arid climate of May and June to one of humidity and seasonal rains. This weather change is important to consider when planning a visit to the Southwest during monsoon Season. People planning an active vacation like hiking or backpacking through the Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, or other less-known areas are often heavily affected by the Monsoon storms.

What and When is Monsoon Season?

The North American monsoon is less famous than its tropical counterpart in India and Southeast Asia, but both are formed by similar global weather patterns. The hot summer sun warms the air temperatures and causes a shift in wind patterns, forcing clouds heavy with ocean rain far inland. This creates heavy rains and thunderstorms across the Southwest, air temperature drops and humidity increases. Monsoon season in the Southwest “officially” begins in mid-July and ends in mid-September. Storms are most common in the afternoon but they can happen at any time.

Are Monsoon Storms dangerous?Lightning strike in Sedona, Arizona

Monsoons are vital to the environment in the Southwest, they keep wildfires in check and provide an important water supply to the people and animals who live in the deserts. The most common hazards of monsoon storms are lightning strikes and flash floods. Hiking in Grand Canyon or the many other Utah or Arizona hiking trails through famous canyons requires great caution in monsoon season, but with proper preparation, monsoon weather is nothing to be scared of.

Flash floods are the greatest threat to visitors, but you can stay out of trouble by never crossing moving water either on foot or in your vehicle and always checking the weather forecast before hiking into any canyon. It’s important to also check the weather in areas “upstream” or up the canyon from where you will be hiking. It is possible to have blue skies overhead but a canyon may still flood due to heavy rains upstream.

 

Should I visit the Southwest during monsoon season?

Yes! Monsoon rains bring the desert to life. After the dry heat of May and June, the local wildlife is exhausted and in need of rejuvenation. The much-needed precipitation tempers wildfires, making hiking and mountain biking trails safer and providing wonderful opportunities for seeing the animals that call the Southwest home, like the desert tortoise and gila monster in the lower elevations or elk and even rare desert bighorn sheep in the higher elevations.

Visiting the desert during the Monsoon season is a great way to see another lesser-known side to the Southwest. It is the perfect time to adventure and explore with somewhat cooler temperatures and abundant flora and fauna. If you’re not sure how to prepare for potential hazards while doing outdoor activities in monsoon season like hiking in the Grand Canyon, being part of a guided trip such as our guided mountain biking and guided hiking trips is a great option. Our guides can tell you all about the plants and animals that thrive in the summer rains.

To learn more about guided trips with us call us a 1-866-455-1601 or contact us online.

Thunderheads over Hualapai canyon
Monsoon Thunderheads rolling in over Hualapai Canyon on the hike into Havasupai. Photo courtesy of our Havasupai guide Sarah.