The Grand Circle Road Trip
By Dejan B.. Published on November 21, 2019
The Grand Circle Road Trip is one of the most popular routes to take for people who love visiting National Parks. This trip can take over a week to complete if you want to stop and look at all the sights, and will take you through six national parks, various national monuments, and miles and miles of scenic countryside in the American Southwest. It doesn't get much better than this!
We'll start our trip in Las Vegas, though you can start it in Utah as well. The majority of the parks on this trip are going to be in Utah, but it's so stunning there that we didn't mind one bit. We are going to recommend that you pick up the National Parks pass before you start, however. It lasts for a year after your purchase, so it's useful for more than just this trip. I gets you into all the National Parks and monuments at no additional charge – which will save you a lot of money on this trip and future ones!
Our first stop is at Zion National Park, which is 168 miles from Las Vegas.
At Zion, there are so many trails to take, and an entire canyon to explore. There are the Emerald Pools, a quick hike down to a stunning oasis in the desert. These pools are a popular destination for park visitors. There's a shuttle that will run you through all the attractions, including Weeping Rock, a perpetually dripping formation with its own hanging garden. There are a half dozen trails and desert rivers here, as well as Kolob Arch. It's 310 feet tall!
When you're finished there, it is 86 miles down to Bryce Canyon. On the way, you'll drive through Red Canyon, a beautiful selection of colorful desert rock formations called "hoodoos" that can easily be seen from the road. At Bryce Canyon, there's a 38-mile scenic drive through a huge selection of viewpoints. From these viewpoints, you can see the canyon and the entire desert surrounding it. If you're looking for a more hands-on experience, you can hike the Navajo Loop. This will take you to points not reachable by car, and some very photographic views.
Capitol Reef National Park is up next. Here there's another 10 mile scenic drive, where you can see sandstone cliffs and uniquely-shaped rocks and shale right from the road, you'll continue back on the same road, so you only have to watch one side at a time! Also at Capitol Reef is Waterpocket Fold. They call it a 'wrinkle' in the Earth's crust that runs for about a hundred miles. It's one of the most unique geological formations on the continent!
It is 114 miles to the Arches National Park from Capitol Reef. Here, there is the largest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. Take some time to take in the views here, the most popular of which is the Delicate Arch viewpoint. If you're feeling ambitious, you can hike out to one of the numerous viewpoints about an hour before sunrise in order to see one of the most picturesque views in all of North America.
From Arches, you can make your way to Canyonlands. It's just what it sounds like – a National Park built around a vast geological playground. There are huge canyons, rivers, shale buttes and rock spires. There are so many trails and sights to see here that you could spend the whole day just walking around taking pictures of everything, and not see the same thing twice.
Next up is Monument Valley, which is about 150 miles away down into Arizona. You will get a taste of what this place is like just from the drive there, though you've probably already seen it. Monument Valley is the backdrop of hundreds of westerns. This is the famed Wild West. Along the way, you can stop at Four Corners, where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado meet. There's a monument here, and it's worth taking a few pictures standing in all four states at once.
Monument Valley is quite a drive. You can stop at various historic towns along the way while you enjoy the red mesas and unique sandstone formations in this desert.
Our next stop is the Grand Canyon National Park. This route will take you to the North Rim, which is said to have some of the most spectacular views in the whole park. You can see what everyone calls the Painted Desert from some of the higher areas here, like Point Imperial. There's plenty of hiking as well as picture taking opportunities all over the area. Take some time to take in one of the most idolized destinations in America.
When you're finished here, you've basically finished the loop. It's 266 miles from here back to Las Vegas for full completion of the circuit, but you could take in some other sites while you're in the area. Your National Parks pass will get you free or discounted admission to any National Park or Monument, so you could go anywhere from here and find something amazing to look at.
The Grand Circle is one of the most well-traveled roads in the Southwest. You can expand the loop to include other sites, but this is the 'tried-and-true' route for the Grand Circle. Enjoy your trip!