Amazing Trip to Grand Circle National Parks

The Grand Circle Road Trip is one of the most famous National Parks road trips in the country. Located in the Southwestern United States and encompassing portions of five states – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada – and America’s largest concentration of national parks.

(Capital Reef)
(Our Grand Circle National Parks route)

The trip is predominantly in the state of Utah but crosses into Arizona as well. The Grand Circle Road Trip includes parks: Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks, Grand Canyon National Parks and more! While this road trip is best done in around 2 weeks or more, we went for 4 days to explore these spectacular parks.

There is a variations on this road trip itinerary due to Covid-19 days and that not all parks were open. Parks hours changes periodically so please call and/or check their website for the National parks and monuments in advance. This amazing trip was organized by friends in California. Las Vegas, Nevada was the start and end point for this road trip but you could consider Salt Lake City, Utah or Phoenix, Arizona for major flight destinations.

(Zion National Park)

Day 1 (Sat May 30 ) Las Vegas – Zion – Bryce Canyon

The first stop in our Grand Circle road trip was Zion National Park. It is a short 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. The shuttle bus was not running that day so if you take your car, there is limited parking spots. Although we didn’t get to do any hikes, we took in the scenery and had some great photos here. I have been here many times and some of the popular moderate to strenuous hikes are Angels Landing, The Narrow and Observation Point.

Lower Emerald Pools trail (2 hours) is perfect for a short hike, it is easy enough but also exposes you to the spectacular landscape and breathtaking scenery. We stopped by what might be the world’s largest arch – Kolob Arch, spanning 310 feet.

( Kolob Arch in Zion)

After Zion, the next National Park is Bryce Canyon. The drive is approximately 86 miles long and the last stretch takes in the breath-takingly scenic stretch of Highway 89. Bryce Canyon itself is most famous for its remarkable assortment of hoodoos, pillar-like structures that have been brought about by various forms of erosion. One of the popular trail is –

Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail

The Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop runs through the most spectacular section of the park. This hike takes in outstanding views from the rim and then descends along ridges into the canyon and meanders among the towering hoodoos. Be sure to be on a look out for chipmunks!

The total length of the hike is 2.9 miles, and the elevation gain is about 600 feet. Although listed as moderate hike, it is easy enough that anyone in reasonable shape can do it.

( Hoo Doos in Bryce)

The best way to do this hike is in a clockwise direction beginning at either Sunrise or Sunset Point. From Sunrise Point, the trail winds down the canyon on the Queen’s Garden trail, with great perspectives at every turn. At the bottom, you can also do a short detour to the Queen’s Garden, where you’ll find a hoodoo resembling Queen Victoria.

( Navajo Loop Trail )

At this point, the trail joins with Navajo Loop and eventually begins a gradual ascent up the canyon. On the last section of Navajo Loop, two trails lead up to Sunset Point.

We hiked Navajo Loop Trail, it is a short hike but spectacular views all around. You will come across the often-photographed “Wall Street” where colorful hoodoos cluster like skyscrapers on either side of the winding trail. You’ll pass ancient Bristlecone pines, unique arches, and stone bridges before ascending back to Sunset Point. For more mileage, continue on to see the delicate rock structures of Queen’s Garden after descending through Wall Street.

( Deer at Capitol Reef)

From Bryce, we headed close to Capitol Reef. The driving time is approx 2 h 5 min. We spend a night in Austin’s Chuckwagon Lodge in Torrey, Utah.

Day 2 ( Sun May 31 ) Capitol Reef National Park – Arches National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is filled with green valleys, domes, cliffs and arches. It is a literal wrinkle in the earth’s crust (also called a water pocket fold) and years of erosion have caused the exposed rock ( referred to as “reefs” with all their colorful layers seen here. We took the Scenic Drive which is a beautiful 8 miles drive south from the Visitor Center with views of giant rock walls and gorges.

There’s a variety of things to do in this park – from exploring the historic settlement of Fruita to picking fruit in the orchards, to scenic drives and hikes.

Capital Gorge Trail and the tanks is about 2 miles round trip and takes you past Petroglyph panels, a pioneer register, and the popular water tanks. Another name for the water tanks is potholes or water pockets.

From Capitol Reef to Arches National Park, the driving time is approx 2 h 2 min.

Arches National Park is one of the most popular and top places to visit in Utah so expect more crowds. There are more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches in the Arches National Park.

The Windows Trail is a short hike featuring three massive stone arches. The one-mile loop follows an easy well-constructed trail with very little elevation gain. This hike is perfect for hikers of all skill levels.

Double Arch Trail is two grand arches joined at a common pillar at a 90-degree angle. The 0.8-mile round trip hike passes a unique sandstone formation known as the Parade of Elephants while ascending 125 feet to the Siamese spans.

The start of Double Arch Trail is just a few hundred feet from the trailhead for the Window Arches and Turret Arch and easily possible to visit five arches in less than an hour.

( Double Arch at Arches National Park)

Delicate Arch – There are three ways to see Delicate Arch, a popular stop for all visitors.

Lower Viewpoint is only 100 yards from the parking lot, but Upper View Point is about 0.5 mile round trip with a steady climb. However, I recommend hiking to Delicate Arch starting at Wolfe Ranch. It’s a moderate 3 mile round trip, but the view is well worth it. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the arch if you’re walking at a steady pace. This is a nice spot for sunset or for stargazing.

We overnight at a brand new 4 Bedroom Condo in Downtown Moab, UT.

Day 3 ( Sun Jun 1 ) Monument Valley – Lake Powell

We headed south to see the most photogenic spots of Monument Valley.

( Monument Valley )

On our way, we made a photo stop at Mexican Hat Rock in Southeast Utah.

It’s located a few miles north of the small village of Mexican Hat (named after the sombrero-looking formation) and about 25 miles (40 km) north of the Utah/Arizona border. Mexican Hat’s 60-foot (18.3 m) diameter cap rock is known to be the oldest being over 300 million years old!

( Mexican Hat, Utah)

Monument Valley is located on the Utah-Arizona border, Monument Valley is part of the Colorado Plateau. It is not officially a National Park since it sits within the Navajo Nation Reservation. Although they were closed we got some excellent photos from afar. Most of the area that is visited by tourists is called the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Monument Valley was on John Ford featured films ( Stagecoach and Rio Grande ) and also has been featured in a large number of popular movies, including Forrest Gump, National Lampoons Vacation, Mission: Impossible II, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the new HBO series Westworld.

Visiting Monument Valley is restricted and most of it is accessible by a private vehicle and by joining a guided tour on limited roads.

Lake Powell is located mostly in southern Utah and is a reservoir on the Colorado river created by the Glen Canyon Dam. It is one of the most impressive sight, and the lake has over 250 square miles of surface area – making it the country’s second-largest man made lake.

The Lake is a series of canyons with beautiful reddish pink rock formations. We were able to capture some photos but not able to take a boat tour as they were closed due to Covid-19.

We spent a night at Best Western View Of Lake Powell Hotel.

Day 4 ( Tue Jun 2 ) Horseshoe Bend – Las Vegas

Before heading to Horseshoe Bend, we stopped at Glen Canyon Dam and Water Holes Canyon for a photo stop. Horse Shoe Bend is located about 4 miles SW of Page, Arizona. It was formed by the Colorado River and looked like the shape of a horseshoe. There is a small hike of 1.5 miles round trip down and back up to see this unique site. The height from the look out point is approx 1,000-foot drop!

( Glen Dam Canyon)

We were a group of 6 adventurous individuals. From Page, AZ we arrived safely back to Las Vegas, NV.

( Horse shoe Bend)


  • Which parks to visit? Focus on one park at a time and look at photos, watch videos, or check out things to do. Narrowing down your list of parks can be easy if you already know where you want to go. Ask yourself: how long do you have? What states would you like to visit? What season are you traveling in? What’s your overall budget for the trip? You can download free audio books onto your phone from your local library
  • Make reservations on lodgings and tours
  • Bring enough food and water on hikes
  • Bring hot and cold weather outfits
  • Plan for pit stops if you forgot somethings, it is pretty easy to find them in national parks, and this area is packed with them
  • The National Parks America the Beautiful Pass is worth the money! $80 for unlimited park visits for a year. Pays for itself after your fifth park!
  • Whether you’re going on a day hike or exploring the wilderness, it is important to let someone know where you’ll be going and how long you’ll be gone. If you’re going with friends, make sure that the group has an emergency contact for each individual.
  • Get up early and stay in the parks late to avoid the crowds
  • Check the weather before you go at each location. Also, check all of the current conditions at each park and trail.
  • Each of us plays a vital role in protecting our national parks. I strongly believe in Leave No Trace Principles. As we spend time outdoors, in the natural world and in wilderness, it’s important to be conscious of the effects our actions may have on animals, plants, other people, and even entire ecosystems. Following the Leave No Trace Principles can help us minimize those impacts. They can be applied anywhere, at any time, while taking part in recreational activities.

In conclusion, this trip was an awesome time of creating new adventures, friendships, sharing meals and memories together and learning more about other travelers and their journeys.

Have you been to any of these National Parks? what are your questions and thoughts, please comment below.


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