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The Ultimate Grand Circle Road Trip Itinerary

The Ultimate Grand Circle Road Trip Itinerary

The Grand Circle Road Trip is a popular loop taking you through Utah and into parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Travelers journey through some of the most iconic parks in the southwestern United States on this famous road trip:

  • Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
  • Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Monument Valley
  • Antelope Canyon

We’ve done the research to bring you a couple of itineraries so you can see and do as much as possible on your Utah Grand Circle road trip. Although our 1 and 2-week Grand Circle national parks road trips are an excellent way to pack in the parks, we’re going to tell you about some other side trips.

The Grand Circle road trip passes through the red canyon lands of Utah

You know, just in case you’ve got a few more days to spare… And when you could use a day or two off the road, the Grand Circle Road Trip passes near some amazing and accessible cities.

And when you could use a day or two off the road, either Utah Grand Circle road trip can start from some amazing and accessible cities. Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Denver offer plenty to do and offer fantastic hotels and resorts for relaxing and pampering.

Start sorting out what kind of RV or van will accommodate your particular needs and collect some Grand Circle maps. Then let’s explore our options.

1 Week Grand Circle Road Trip Itinerary

Our 1 week Grand Circle road trip is mostly Utah with a bit of Arizona mixed in. We’ll begin in Las Vegas–a fun city that deserves a day or two of your vacation.

We’ll also include details about originating in Denver later. From there, it’s about a three-hour drive northeast into Utah to Zion National Park. If you’re after some world-class hiking, this is the place.

Zion National Park

Zion has trails for all types of abilities, from walking paths to backcountry hikes. But no matter which route you choose, you’ll get amazing views. Because of all the beauty and hiking, you’ll want to spend two days here. Set up camp outside the park or find a hotel in nearby Springdale.

St. George is about an hour away but is larger with more choices for accommodations and activities. Zion National Park is best accessed by its free shuttle. There are shuttle stops in Springdale that will take you to the entrance where you can pay for your entry.

Then you can hop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle and take a nice, guided tour of the canyon with stops along the way. Take advantage of the unlimited hop on and off at Zion Museum, Canyon Junction which is by the river, and The Grotto.

The Grotto is your stop if you’d like to hike the trail to Zion’s famous Angel’s Landing. This is not an easy hike, but the view is worth it.

The chains on the trail to Angels Landing Zion National Park

If heights don’t bother you, then tighten your boots because you’ve got quite the climb ahead of you to the top. It’s a 5-miles round-trip. The elevation change is 1,488 feet with sheer drops and switchbacks. Best to start this trail early in the morning as temps climb with the elevation.

As you approach the top, you’ll want to use the chains embedded in the rock for assistance. But once you’re done, you’re entitled to bragging rights. And did we mention the views? To die for. But, seriously, be careful because that would be bad.

If you’re not crazy about being crazy enough to tackle this kind of trekking, then take the Kayenta Trail to the Emerald Pools Trail. It’s rated at moderate in difficulty and usually not crowded. You’ll get a lovely view of the falls and pools.

The amount of water you’ll see will depend on the time of year you go. These hikes are best done from April through October. For your second day in Zion, you’ll want to explore another iconic park feature with a hike through The Narrows.

The Narrows at Zion National Park

The Narrows is the narrowest section of the canyon in Zion. The canyon walls are 1,000 feet high and the river is only about 20 to 30 feet wide. The effect is dramatic and makes for a terrific way to spend the day. You can do a “bottoms up” or “top-down,” depending on where you want to start.

Bottoms up is the most popular and starts at Sinawava Temple which is the last stop on the shuttle line. For this route, you hike through the Virgin River up through the canyon and you’re able to turn around at any time to make your way back.

Top-down requires a backcountry permit and is about 16 miles down through the canyon. It’s strenuous but exciting. Either way, you decide to go, it will be an exhilarating day on your Grand Circle road trip. Private guides are available and can take care of the details, like wetsuits if necessary.

While you’re exploring this part of the country, you’ll want to spend the next day in neighboring Bryce Canyon National Park.

An arch made of redrock in Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is famous for its rock formation called hoodoos where a hard rock cap forms on a sandstone base. The drive from Zion to Bryce is about 80 miles, so you’ll get there in under two hours. Take the Zion Mount Carmel east to route 89 north.

Then take Route 89 north to route 12. Follow Route 12 into Bryce. Route 12 is also known as Utah’s Scenic Route 12, so it’s a gorgeous drive. Your non-driving traveling partner will want to take tons of photos and I’m sure they will share them with you.

There are two campgrounds at Bryce. The North Campground is first come-first served. Sunset Campground takes reservations.

Once inside Bryce, explore the amphitheater with a (strenuous) hike or on a guided horseback ride.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

There are also glorious vistas to see or photograph at Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce viewpoints.

A good short hike to see the hoodoos is on the Navajo Loop Trail. Hike down Wall Street side down to the floor. It’s also great to get photos from the base of the canyon too. There are big differences in perspective.

Have some extra time? About 20-minutes south of Mount Carmel Junction is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. It’s great for hiking the dunes that are constantly changing with the winds. The sand is from Navajo sandstone in shades of pink and red.

Even though every fiber of your being is telling you to stay another day in Bryce, it’s time to move on to another soul-feeding natural wonder–the Grand Canyon.

View from the south rim of the Grand Canyon

Half of this day will be spent on the road as it is 300 miles to the South Rim. The North Rim is half the distance. But it’s the South Rim that is the most iconic and will give you incredible photographs for your Instagram and to share with the fam back home.

It’s also open year-round and has lodging and campgrounds inside. The North Rim closes for winter and bad weather. Plan to arrive at Grand Canyon Visitor Center to pay your entry fee. Then you’ll make your way to Grand Canyon Village.

It’s the busy hub of the South Rim but you can pick up maps, souvenirs, and get a good meal or snack here. There are also historic buildings and the original Grand Canyon Railway Depot to explore. Check out our full Grand Canyon packing list to help you prepare for your visit.

Exterior of the Grand Canyon Railway Depot

From the village, take the shuttle, ride a bike, or hike Hermit Road to see the breathtaking overlooks into the canyon. The road is about 7 miles along the rim. You’ll also find a good spot to watch the sunset too if you time it right.

Points of interest for day one of the Grand Canyon:

  • Grand Canyon Visitor Center and Mather Point–pick up maps and meet shuttles at the visitor center. Right outside, Mather Point will give you your first look into the canyon.
  • Yavapai Geology Museum and Yavapai Point Lookout–About a mile away from the visitor center with exhibits and programs.
  • Trail of Time–Take a walk through the geological history of the Grand Canyon on this easy, paved trail. It will take you to Grand Canyon Village.
  • Historic Grand Canyon Village–Find the 1901 Railway Depot, Verkaamp Visitor Center for village history, Hopi House for Hopi Tribe heritage, and El Tovar which is a European-styled restaurant.
  • Hermit Trail Overlooks–Don’t miss Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point, and Hermit’s Rest.

For your second day, wake up early to catch a gorgeous sunrise. Mather Point is a good place to do this and you’ll be able to catch a shuttle there too.

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

There are a couple of trails to consider depending on your hike-life goals. You can and should see the canyon from below the rim. Bright Angel Trail will take you to the floor of the canyon. This is a rigorous, all-day hike for which you need to be prepared.

That means bringing plenty of water and salty snacks. Expect a steep trail with many switchbacks. Or, you can hike down part way and turn around at Indian Garden lookout for a moderate-to-hard 9-mile round trip hike.

Another option is the shorter, sunnier South Kaibab Trail. It also goes to the bottom, but there are turnaround spots. After spending the morning hiking below the rim, you’ll be ready for a nice, relaxing drive to see the canyon from the viewpoints along Desert View Drive.

You can take your private vehicle along this scenic portion of SR 64 from Grand Canyon Village east along the rim until the East Rim entrance. There are uncrowded viewpoints and picnic areas along the way. At the end is the historic Desert View Watchtower.

The old stone watchtower at the end of Desert View Drive
Desert View Watchtower

If you have another day, the Antelope Canyon & and Lake Powell Flight with River Adventure originates at the Grand Canyon National Airport.

Start with a fantastic airplane tour of the Grand Canyon. Land in Page, Arizona, and take a tour of Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon where light magically plays off windswept sandstone walls. It’s a sacred space to the Navajo people and you must have a guide to see it.

Your tour continues with a smooth boat ride and guided tour along the Colorado River and ends back at Grand Canyon National Airport. Your 1 week Grand Circle road trip itinerary comes to an end with your return to Las Vegas.

Take a break from the desert roads and treat yourself to a fancy Las Vegas hotel or resort. Our next Utah Grand Circle road trip itinerary will take two weeks and include more parks. Two weeks is the ideal amount of time to experience it all.

Iconic Monument Valley

We’ll also originate in Denver this time. Note that you can do half of this 2-week Grand Circle road trip if you prefer Denver over Las Vegas as a point of origin.

Or, combine part (or all, hey, why not?) with the 1 week Grand Circle road trip itinerary to start and end in Las Vegas.

See Related: Day Trips from Salt Lake City, Utah

2-Week Grand Circle Road Trip

Our 2-week option for a Utah Grand Circle road trip will begin in Denver. Why Denver? Because Denver is a great starting point in the middle of the US, which makes it is an easy city to get to if you don’t live in the western half of the country.

Fly into Denver International or Colorado Springs. Plus Denver should be on your travel bucket list because it’s an incredibly friendly and beautiful city.

Either before or after your visit to the Grand Circle national parks, you should take some time to explore them.

Denver with Rocky Mountains in the distance

Denver has world-class hotels, including the historic Brown Palace Hotel. Or try quirkier digs because Denver is cool like that.

Even if you’re not staying at the fancy-dancy Brown Palace, you can still make a reservation for afternoon tea. Then browse shops, galleries, and museums until you’re ready to hit the road for the RV or van life westward.

You’ll travel through the Rocky Mountains passing the ski towns favored by the rich and famous. Stop for the night in one of them or go for Glenwood Springs where you can take a soak in their hot springs–not a bad way to start your expedition.

Find plentiful camping around Glenwood Springs as well. There’s also excellent camping outside of Grand Junction at the Colorado National Monument.

Colorado National Monument

The monument’s red rock canyons will give you a taste of what Utah’s Grand Circle national parks are all about. In Grand Junction, take I-70 west to the Moab exit. Before you leave Grand Junction, replenish your gas tank, water supply, and food.

Pickings get slim as you continue. The two parks you’ll see first on the Grand Circle road trip map are Arches and Canyonlands. These two parks are outside of Moab, Utah, which will be your base. You’ll find all kinds of gear here for any outdoor activity you’re into.

Find a campsite or a hotel so you can wake up super early and get started. Breakfast and coffee at one of Moab’s cute coffee shops will help. Plan to stay in Moab for three nights.

See Related: Do You Need a Car in Denver?

Arches National Park

The visitor center is only a few minutes from Moab. From there, it’s a steep drive to the park. Find the trail to Delicate Arch. It’s about three miles roundtrip to see in person the famous arch that’s on the Utah license plates.

Delicate Arch in Arches

If you’re game, you can see eight more arches on the seven-mile Devils Garden Primitive Loop. This is an advanced trail with ledges covered in rocks.

Canyonlands National Park

About a 40-minute drive past Arches is the Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District. Find it along US191 before you get to UT-313. From there, you can see the Green River and other incredible views. The visitor center is about 22 miles from UT-313.

Misty Canyonlands

Grab a map and pick a trail for the last hike before going back to Moab. As an alternative, there are a variety of guided tours from Moab that will take you through Arches and Canyonlands via 4X4 vehicle.

If you have an extra day, you can also do a Colorado River Rafting or boating trip, canyon climbing, helicopter tour, and other options direct from Moab.

The next leg of our 2-week Grand Circle road trip starts with a drive along UT-191 South. Along the way, you’ll see Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument which is a petroglyph panel made by the ancient Puebloans (100 B.C. to 1540 A.D.).

More about the Puebloan people can be found at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah. See the ruins too. As you continue on UT-191 South, then west on UT-163, you’ll come to one of the most scenic drives in the country.

Monument Valley

You’re in Monument Valley now. See if you can capture your own personal Forrest Gump moment on the highway on the Utah and Arizona border.

The road into Monument Valley

This would be a good place to camp for the night so you can explore the area’s museums and enjoy the views. There are many valleys and plenty of backcountries to tour and hike.

Lake Powell/Antelope Canyon

The next day, continue on UT-163 South, then west on Highway 160 to west on AZ-98 for Lake Powell. Enjoy the gorgeous shoreline and scenery with a houseboat rental or campground.

You’ll also want to book a required Navajo guide for Antelope Canyon, visit the other slot canyons, and see Glen Canyon Dam.

Antelope Canyon

Zion National Park and Bryce National Park

Spend a day or two in Zion, where you can hike outstanding trails like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. Check out the suggestions outlined in our 1-week Grand Circle road trip itinerary. After exhausting the splendor of Zion, head to Bryce, about an hour and a half away.

Set up camp. Then enjoy the stars and maybe even attend one of the park’s astronomy programs.

Stargazing in Utah

Plan to wake early though to catch the sunrise at either Sunrise Point or Bryce Point. Then start a hike. The 1.3-mile Navajo Loop Trail is highly recommended. Then take the shuttle throughout the park to see the gorgeous views.

We have other ideas that you can find above in our 1 week Grand Circle national parks itinerary. When you’re ready to hit the road again, take the scenic byway 12 for 124 of the most gorgeous miles in the country.

See Related: Best Day Trips from Phoenix

Capitol Reef National Park

Torrey, Utah, is home to Capitol Reef National Park, famous for its unusual rock formations, cliffs, and red canyons all tucked in a 100-mile fold. The geologic history of this country is around 200 million years old. The first humans here appeared about 7,000 years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park

More recently, Mormons settled here and planted the fruit trees you’ll see close to the visitor center. There’s also a lovely scenic drive accessible from the visitor center you don’t want to miss.

The road is paved and there are two unpaved spurs–to Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge–you can add, weather permitting. Your two weeks are almost over. If you can possibly peel yourselves out of paradise, you’ll want to go northeast to I-70 East.

Yep, that’s the road back through the Rockies to Denver. Take all the time you need.

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