Grand Circle Road Trip

The Grand Circle road trip is like wrapping the best of the Southwest’s national park system up in a bow. Ancient volcanic mountains, protruding plateaus and buttes, and deeply carved canyons reveal themselves in a rainbow of colors. Civilizations dating back thousands of years, followed by the Navajo, Apache, Spanish, Mormons, crystal readers, and adrenaline junkies have created a multicultural mix unique to this part of the world. The Colorado Plateau has the densest concentration of national parks in the US and this Grand Circle tour connects the best of them.

Drive away from the neon metropolis of Las Vegas and the cityscape will quickly give way to the country’s most precious natural monuments, including Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, and Grand Canyon national parks, and a slew of wonderful nature preserves and cultural destinations. This national park loop would woo any road tripper but it holds a special spot in our hearts because we completed the full circle (including the Utah Mighty 5) with my mom over the course of two road trips for her 77th and 78th birthdays.

To share some of our favorite destinations, take her glamping, and have some true firsts…like ice trekking slot canyons and sleeping on the rim of the Grand Canyon, were moments made more incredible with her on our travel team. This Grand Circle road trip guide includes all we’ve gleaned over the years of visiting these national treasures and how we connected the dots for an epic family road trip.

Grand Circle Road Trip Map & Itinerary

This Southwest national park loop is around a 1,000-mile journey with hundreds of miles worth of awesome detours. We’ve packed this post with our favorite tips for the greater Grand Circle Road Trip, so pick and choose destinations per your schedule and bookmark the rest for when you are ready for more adentures.

What is the Grand Circle Road Trip

In its simplest definition, this iconic USA road trip travels between Utah and Arizona, hitting six national parks: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, and Grand Canyon. Though it can be a bit confusing because if you subtract Arizona’s Grand Canyon, this collection of national parks is also called Utah’s “Big Five.” So forget catchy titles and exact waypoints, the beauty and intrigue of this Southwest road trip goes well beyond definition. This is the heart of a geological wonderland with so much to see and do! With slight detours, you can explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Monument Valley Tribal Park, Goose Necks State Park, and more natural reserves, charming towns, and unique attractions that make it worth expanding your “Grand Circle” road trip into an unforgettable journey.

When to Go & for How Long

The classic Grand Circle tour is doable in 10-12 days. Though the longer you have the better and if you can break it up into two trips…that’s double the fun! Each season offers unique opportunities and appeal. Spring brings the most greenery and pleasant hiking weather, while winter has the fewest crowds and a dusting of snow on the red rocks is pure magic. Summer is by far the hottest and most crowded so if that’s the only time you can go, think about saving the second half for another time of year.

Where to Start

Grand Circle Road Trip and Utah Mighty Five national park itinerary

The best place to start this national parks road trip is really based on what’s the most convenient for you. While many people think of this trip as the “Grand Circle Utah” because this state boasts most of the national parks, Utah doesn’t have any big airports along the route. So if you are flying and renting a vehicle, our suggestion would be to land in Las Vegas, where flights, hotels, and car/RV rentals tend to be the most affordable and abundant. Plus, the airport is a mere 2.5-hour drive to the nearest Grand Circle park (Zion) so you can hit the ground running on your first day. We’ve written this blog traveling clockwise from Las Vegas, that said, if you’re finding better deals out of Phoenix, simply do this itinerary in reverse. Just remember, no matter which direction you begin the Grand Circle tour, it will be an epic drive!


Zion National park

As you approach Zion National Park, the Navajo sandstone cliffs grow taller and closer; the rocks redder and the vegetation greener from the Virgin River that sculpted this geological cathedral. Zion will leave your mouth agape and lift your foot off the gas. Since no one can help but pull over at each stunning vista, and there are so many visitors in high season, a hop-on-hop-off shuttle is the mandatory mode of transport from March through November. This does help congestion and preserve the park’s natural beauty, so roll with it or consider coming off-season.

What to Do: Zion National Park

Angel’s Landing. If you aren’t afraid of heights and love an adrenaline kick, hike along the steep switchbacks and hang on to the chain railing for one of the most rewarding hikes in the park.
Narrows. This is another iconic Zion hike, wading your way up the Virgin River and its sheer canyon. Due to its incredible popularity, you’ll need to get a permit in advance.
Canyoneering Orderville Slot Canyon. Rappel down the waterfalls and swim through the emerald pools on a full-day excursion.

Where to Stay: Zion National Park

Zion Lodge. The only in-park lodging with upscale and recently renovated cabins.
Watchman and South Campgrounds are the go-tos for tent and RV campers in the park. Reserve your spot early on
Glamping…choices, choices! A slew of glamping camps (our favorite way to stay) has recently opened around Zion. Open Sky and Zion Wildflower look particularly fab.
Dispersed Camping. If you’re the type to wing it and travel on a budget, check out Campendium’s roundup of free & affordable camping spots near Zion


Bryce Canyon, one Utah's Mighty Five and stop on the Grand Circle national park road trip

Continuing your national park loop, the incredibly scenic Route 12 winds 80 miles from Zion to Bryce. In a short distance, the smooth monoliths change to craggy pinnacles, and the color palette is cranked up to fiery hues. The desert’s extreme heat and nightfall’s temperature drop start a near-daily process of freezing and thawing which sculpts the landscape into hoodoos or as some call them, “fairy chimneys” for the rocks’ whimsical drip-castle effect.

What to Do: Bryce Canyon

The Scenic Drive. From the visitor’s center, take the 18-mile route for a fantastic park overview. Note, it’s an in-and-out road so if you’re short on time, the first half offers the most impressive scenery.
Fairyland Loop. Hike this eight-mile trail with scenery well worth your efforts.
Night Hike with Bryce Astronomy Rangers. During full moons, (1-2 consecutive nights each month), when the mix of shadows and light cause the hoodoos to take on an otherworldly look, join the pros for these ~2 mile-long magical moonlit hikes.

Where to Stay: Bryce National Park

To be honest, we’d suggest not staying in Bryce and driving the extra hour to Escalante at the end of the day. At 7,664 feet in elevation it’s a little cold for the campgrounds (Mike and I tented in July, trust us), RV boondocking spots are super remote, and the lodging outside the park is pretty outdated. If you do want to stay at the park, Bryce Canyon Lodge is definitely the best way to go, and if you’re looking for more options in the area check out this roundup:


Grand Staircase Escalante

Unlike the manicured national parks, the beauty of Escalante is that it remains wild. This million-plus acres of rugged terrain (low-lying desert to coniferous forest) made it one of the last places in the lower 48 to be mapped. Don’t expect many ranger stations, signage, or paved roads; it’s made for blazing your own trail and remembering the land as it once was. For the purposes of this national parks road trip, you’ll likely only make it to the north half but we’ve included our favorites from the south, as well.

What To Do: Escalante National Monument

willis creek

Willis Creek Slot Canyon. For an easier hike with a high reward, try this 2.6-mile roundtrip trail near Cannonville. You’ll dip into a river valley and walk the shallow waters (or in winter, have an impromptu ice skating session as we did) until it narrows to a rippling red slot canyon, framing a sliver of blue sky.
Spooky & Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon. This three-mile loop trail in the Dry Fork area is a full-body rock scramble through a labyrinth of narrow and multi-level passageways—some only a foot wide. While that may sound intimidating, we did this hike with our friends at y Travel Blog and Crazy Family Adventure, including kids as young as seven, and they had the time of their lives. Check out y Travel’s great hiking overview.
Pariah Canyon. In the southerly section of Escalante, adjacent to the Vermillion Cliffs, this striped mountain range and canyon system had us hiking for days! Start at the old “Movie Set” built for Western films in the 1930s to bop around or go deeper with the 8.4-mile round-trip hike to Buckskin Gulch.

Where to Stay: Escalante

Pariah Movie Set: This is one of our favorite camping spots of all time. Epic views of the rainbow mountains, the camping basics (table, pit toilet, etc), and endless hiking opportunities.
Escalante Yurts. We used this glamping camp in the town of Escalante as our base for both the national monument and Bryce Canyon. It’s so lovely we featured it in our book Comfortably Wild.
Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Tons of free dispersed camping options exist along this road to Spooky Canyon. Just keep driving and pull off where it suits your group, our crew rounded up 4 RVs, no problem.


Capitol Reef national parks road trip

The gorgeous Highway 12 section of the Grand Circle Tour continues from Escalante to Torrey…the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park. What’s different about Capitol Reef? A Waterpocket Fold. This defining geological feature is a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that has left colorful cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges extending a hundred miles through the park.

What to Do: Capitol Reef

Capitol Gorge on the Grand circle national parks road trip

Capitol Gorge. Take this dramatic drive beyond the pavement, through an alley of sheer cliffs, with glimpses of the 1,400-foot-high Golden Throne formation, until you hit the trailhead. The two-mile trail is shaded most of the day for a nice walk, even in the hottest months. Pay close attention to the canyon walls, you’ll spot everything from pioneer signatures to Native American petroglyphs.
Catch a Ranger Talk. From a geologic and human history perspective, this is a particularly interesting park for a lecture. Check the ranger station to see what’s on.
Fruita. A green oasis in a sea of red rocks, people have lived in this valley for thousands of years. See the old Morman homesteader buildings, 2,000-tree orchard, and rock art from the Freemont culture.

Where to Stay: Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef Resort, among the best places to stay in Utah's Grand Circle

Capitol Reef Resort. This hotel and glamping camp is a great place to try covered wagons and tipis for a refined taste of the Wild West.
Fruita Campground. Adjacent to the river, orchards, historic village, and dramatic cliffs, this is a unique full-service campground in the middle of the park. Cabins also available.
Cathedral Valley. A great free camping option; though with just six spots, don’t arrive on a Friday at 6 pm hoping for a spot.


Moab, Utah is where to stay near Arches National Park and the Grand Circle

Often dubbed the adventure capital of the Southwest, Moab (featured in Ultimate Journeys for Two) is the gateway to Canyonlands and Arches national parks, plus Dead Horse Point State Park and countless adrenaline-pumping activities. The little city of Moab first boomed in the 1950s, when uranium was discovered in the hills. Those days are long gone, but the old mining roads are now legendary for 4×4 and biking trails along their grippy “slickrock” sandstone. Everyone from climbers to crystal readers flock to this stop, which means you’ll find more international cuisine, good brews, live music, and a whole lot of fun.


Arches National Park on the Grand Circle Road Trip

The forces of erosion are working a special kind of magic in this park, crafting over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of towering pinnacles, mega rock fins, and precariously balanced rocks. As if this landscape wasn’t pretty enough, viewing them through the lens of a soaring sandstone frame makes the Grand Circle that much more photogenic. Drive the entirety of the park, with special stops at the Windows Section, Devil’s Garden, Balanced Rock, and at least one trailhead for a multi-mile hike.

What to do in Arches & Moab

moab utah things to do on the grand circle road trip

Off-Road Hell’s Revenge. Hop in a 4×4 and traverse the sandstone domes and slickrock fins on this legendary 6.5-mile trail. Steep climbs and descents ride rodeo-style through Abyss Canyon and past striking vistas of the La Sal Mountains and Colorado River. Stop to check out the fossilized dinosaur footprints, and take lots of hard-core selfies.
Devil’s Garden. This section of Arches National Park contains the largest concentration of significant natural arches in the country and arguably the world. Begin your hike between two sandstone fins and reach the 306-foot-long Landscape Arch. Admire the desert views framed in Partition Arch, and countless other wonders on this 7.5-mile loop.
Scenic Flight. Grasp the magnitude of the valleys, peaks, and plateaus of both Arches & Canyonlands with an hour in the air. Flying low in a Cessna, look into the Maze, the Island in the Sky, the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, and spot rock formations you’d never see from land.
Dead Horse State Park. A great place for mountain bikers of all levels, this park lets you cruise up the mesa, ride the rim, and flow down groomed trails for 14 miles (or less with bail-out options). Not a biker? Just go gawk at the formations at twilight; it’s the best sunset spot in town.

Where to Stay: Moab & Arches

where to stay grand circle utah road trip

Moab Under Canvas. Try these sophisticated safari-style tents and tepees at the scenic juncture of Arches and Canyonlands.
Moab Springs Ranch. My mom and I loved this place, perfectly located at the edge of town (read: views!) with buildings on the national historic register and brand new bungalows.
Devil’s Garden Campground. Some Grand Circle national park campgrounds are more akin to a forested parking lot. Not Devil’s Garden. Tucked 18 miles from the park entrance, enjoying a quiet corner of the park under the stars is worth an advanced reservation.


Canyonlands utah national park loop

The last national park in the series of Utah’s Mighty Five is the expansive Canyonlands. Unlike the other parks, Canyonlands has three distinct sections. With main entrances a couple of hours apart, it’s best to see the north section (Island in the Sky) from Moab, and on your way south, dive into the more remote Needles District, and skip the third section unless you want to get into some serious backcountry.

What to do in Canyonlands

Newspaper rock in canyonlands national park, Grand Circle Utah

Island in the Sky Scenic Drive + Hikes. The 34-mile out-and-back road up the mesa brings you 1,000 feet above the surrounding mountain and desert terrain with tons of excellent vista points and short hikes along the way. It takes an hour to get to Grand View Point but you’ll want to buffer in time for the half-mile hike to Mesa Arch or longer to hit up the 2.5-mile West Rim Trail.
Newspaper Rock. On the way to the Needles District Ranger Station, you’ll find one of Utah’s most famous petroglyphs. Over the course of 2,000 years, different Native American groups—starting with the Ancestral Puebloans to the Navajo—have left their mark, revealing different values and moments in time.
Needles’ Big Spring Canyon. Where the main park road ends, rocks poke out like thick spires, or “needles” as they say, hovering over the deep streambed. Hike the 2.6-mile trail along the upper canyon or just enjoy the panoramic views with a picnic. On the way back take the short trail to the Ancestral Puebloan granary tucked under the cliff.

For where to stay near Canyonlands, see Moab above.


Bears Ears Utah grand circle road trip

The Utah Grand Circle road trip focuses on the national park system and all its natural beauty, but with a slight detour, you’ll experience a wealth of first nations culture for a well-rounded American journey. You’ve probably heard more about this national monument in the news than from travelers. This highly sacred region containing more than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites fell victim to Trump’s national monument cuts, despite its cultural value.

And we’ll admit, we didn’t know much about the region until we lived here for two months in the home of the park’s only ranger. In exchange for caring for their farmlet with 36 animals, they gave us their best tips to explore this little-known park. Ancestral Puebloan cave dwellings, granaries, petroglyphs, and artifacts are literally everywhere; the only caveat he gave was to leave no trace—words that are always true but hold even deeper meaning in sacred spaces at risk.

What to Do: Bears Ears

things to do on Utah grand circle road trip

Butler Wash Ruins. Just off the main road and a short trail away, this village carved into the cliffs dates back to the 1200s. Good signage explains how the village was laid out and functioned.
House on Fire. This rock outcropping is a granary circa 1150 CE and when the light is right, the textured red rock looks like it’s going up in flames. While just a short 2.2-mile hike and unmanned area, be sure to pay the day-use fee at the collection box.
San Juan River Kayak Trip. We did a self-guided paddle (in our basic rec kayak) along the calm waters and red cliffs from the town of Bluff to Sand Island Petroglyphs and it was one of our favorite days during our two-month stay in the area. If you want to do a bigger guided trip, go all the way from Sand Island to Mexican Hat.
Moon House. This one requires a permit and 4WD to get here but it’s freakin awesome. These millennia-year-old cliff dwellings at the top of the mountain are spectacular and with a keen eye, you can spy even more hidden dwellings in the canyon.
Grist Mill Inn & Glow-in-the-dark Mini Golf. Grab a drink at the only bar in San Juan County. From the lobby, enter through the secret bookcase and it opens up to a speak-easy, serving top-notch cocktails like the Gun Smoke, a cinnamon-smoked peach pecan whiskey. Walk down the street to the ACE Hardware store, where their extra warehouse has been turned into a glow-in-the-dark, gold-mining-themed putt-putt course (it’s as bizarre and amazing as it sounds).


Goosenecks state park just off the 
Utah grand circle

By adding Bears Ears to the Grand Circle road trip, you’ll see this park is right up there with the Utah Mighty Five and see so many more gorgeous places along the way. Heading south on Highway 261, take a short detour to Mule Point for views over Valley of the Gods all the way to Arizona. (Pro Tip: Muley Point is epic for boondocking.) Continue down the famous Moki Dugway section for a 3-mile roller coaster of switchbacks. When you hit the flats, head to Goosenecks State Park for one of the most spectacular and little-known gems in the Southwest. This section of the San Juan River takes the sinuous shape of a gooseneck as it wraps around the canyon floor and exposes 300 million years of geology. Tip your hat to the town of Mexican Hat and keep on moving to Monument Valley.


monument valley, Utah grand circle road trip

Following Highway 163, you’ll reach the rock skyline of Monument Valley and the heart of Navajo Nation. With sandstone pinnacles towering as high as 1,000 feet and with miles of mesas and buttes, you’ll have plenty to gawk at from the road but the way to truly explore the area is with a native guide to Monument Valley Tribal Park. This not only allows you to see much more of the park, but their local and ancestral knowledge will also vastly enrich your experience. FYI: Check the park’s website for possible closures.

Where to Stay: Monument Valley

Gouldings Trading Post, one of the best places to stay on the grand circle road rip

Gouldings Lodge. An early 20th-century trading post and base for many a Western movie (including John Wayne’s Stagecoach), Goulding’s has a wide range of options, from hotel rooms to RV sites to new tiny houses, set to a red rock backdrop.
Monument Valley Tipi Village. When in the Navajo Nation, a hogan is the most authentic way to stay. The Navajo people’s traditional dwelling, an octagonal log cabin with an east-facing door to welcome the sun, is honored alongside the iconic Plains Indians tipis at this native-owned camp. Featured in the Living History chapter of Comfortably Wild.


grand canyon national parks road trip

Welcome to Arizona and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Grand Canyon needs no introduction, though it should be said that this profound gash in the Earth’s crust is 277 miles long and there are no bridges across, so you need to pick a side to explore. The South Rim is the most accessible and the most logical for this national parks road trip (we’re still dying to get to the North Rim but it’s so darn remote and closed half the year!). Unlike many of the other parks that are built for scenic drives, the Grand Canyon can only really be seen well on foot (or river raft, but that’s for another trip!).

The park also has a free hop-on-hop-off bus to help you skip ahead or get a break from the heat. While you shouldn’t hike to the bottom without good fitness and a sound plan to stay there overnight, it’s worth hiking down a wee bit to see the layers up close. Just remember this ranger rule of thumb: However long it takes you to hike to your destination, plan on twice the time to hike out.

What to Do: Grand Canyon

Wake up for Sunrise at Mather Point. While sunset is obviously gorgeous at the Grand Canyon, it’s the busiest time of day. Set your alarm, brew that coffee, and get out there before dawn to enjoy it without the throngs.
Hike South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. This six-mile out-and-back trail is the best way to see the canyon walls up close without going all the way to the bottom. If three miles straight up sounds like too much, turning around at Ooh-Aah Point or Cedar Ridge will still give you a lovely winding trail and views to the Colorado River.
Have a meal at El Tovar. This grand historic lodge is the first one to be built (est 1905) in national park system. And while it’s tough to get a room and it’s a bit spendy, you should at least enjoy a meal in their grand dining room with painted ceilings and carved beams.
Get Your Kicks on Route 66. The Grand Canyon Gateway town of Williams is one of our favorite stops along the iconic Route 66. Enjoy the retro vibes along their main street’s mid-century diners, bar, and gas stations. Extend your national parks road trip with the Arizona section of our Route 66 guide.

Where to Stay: Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Lodge Grand Canyon one of the best hotels on the Grand Circle road trip

Bright Angel Lodge: While El Tovar would be a fabulous place to stay, Bright Angel is also right at the edge of the canyon for a better price and its own charm as a registered historic national landmark. Spring for a cabin on the rim, sunrise from your room will blow your mind. (Just look at the photo from our room, above).
Wander Camp: This glamping outfitter actually has pop-up camps outside a number of the national parks on this list (Bryce, Zion, Arches, and the Grand Canyon), they are usually about 20-minutes from the park but offer far more serenity than the heart of the parks.
Forest Road 302. Just south of the park entrance, this is the closest option for free camping AND there’s cell service!

More Grand Circle Lodging Resources

Everyone dreams of staying inside the national parks, which means they fill up fast. Book ahead or consider staying in the more laidback public lands or incredible glamping camps in the surrounding areas, they often provide more serenity, less advanced planning, and more unique experiences than the crowded campgrounds. The place to book all national park campgrounds on-site. Great site for both formal and free campsites, with photos and reviews. Unique sites on private land near the national parks and along this Grand Circle route.
Ultimate Public Campgrounds Project. “UC Pubic CG” is our go-to camping app! It maps out over 44,000 sites on public lands, (15,000+ of which are free). Can’t decide which spot will be better than the next? This site lets you look at photos and videos from over 16,049 campgrounds.
Comfortably Wild. Our guide to the best glamping destinations in North America features 13 camps across the Southwest and 150 more across the continent. It’s the ultimate resource for unique outdoor accommodations and your purchase helps support our blog.
Mix it Up! Stay at a historic hotel, go glamping, and sleep under the stars; changing up your lodging style will keep things interesting and make you appreciate nature in new ways.

Making the Most of Your Grand Circle Road Trip

national parks road trip

Get the National Parks Pass. At around $30 per park, entrance fees add up fast. Get the annual pass for $80; it grants you (and a car’s worth of people) entry into all these parks and 100s more.
Always go to the visitor center for their maps, museums, and events and talk to the rangers to help you select the best activities for that day and your group. Ask them to mark up your map with their favorite vista points and hikes.
Time Your Week Right. Try to visit these popular national parks on weekdays and lesser-known regions on the weekends to minimize the crowds.
Get to trailheads early. Parking lots tend to fill up by 10 am and the heat comes on fast in the Southwest.
Download AllTrails to scope out hikes, read recent reviews, and download offline maps.
Road Reads. Get copies of National Geographic’s Secrets to the National Parks & Scenic Highways & Byways books to find the hidden gems and cool stops along your route. And for extra Southwest tips, check out the Road Trip chapter of Ultimate Journeys or Two.
Rock Shop Hop. This is an incredible area for geology, paleontology, and quirky people passionate about it all. Stop at the rock shops, meet the diehard rockhounds and bring home a treasure from the store (not the ground. #LNT)
Do at least one big adventure. Rappel down waterfalls, take a slickrock 4×4 ride, soar over the golden buttes in a Cessna, and see some of the world’s most incredible landscapes with the wind in your hair. After all, this trip is what bucket lists are made off.

More Photos From Our National Park Loop

Grand Circle Reading Companions

We love this region of the Southwest so much, we featured it in both of our books! A special twist on the Grand Circle Road Trip and the Moab region each gets their own section of our National Geographic book, Ultimate Journeys for Two. And when it comes to finding more awesome accommodations in the Grand Circle states of Utah and Arizona, plus more of the Southwest, you’ve gotta check out Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America. Pick up a copy on Amazon or get it through HoneyTrek (below) and we’ll personally autograph a copy for you!

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  1. I truly think this is one of the best road trips in the world! We’re so lucky to be able to visit so many stunning places and national parks all within a drive of each other. Canyonlands was my favorite, but Zion and Angel’s Landing was a close second!

  2. We did much of the Grand Circle route on our trip to Utah and Arizona although we missed a few of the spots you visited. I agree with breaking the trip into two or more trips. In most places we had only a day or two and crammed those days full. Next time we would move slower. We sure would want to visit Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument on our next trip. We were happy we did an off road jeep and a speedboat adventure on this trip. A great way to add an exciting memory into the mix.

    1. Glad you agree on breaking it up…the opportunities for adventure are truly infinite! love that you stepped it up with a 4×4 jeep and a speedboat–what fun! Hope you get to go back and do the national monuments!

  3. The other day I was watching a video by an Indian YouTuber who has been doing the same circuit in his motorhome–it’s legendary! The views are indeed stunning, you did a beautiful job with the photography too.

    1. it’s certainly one of the most iconic USA road trips. Sometimes we debate writing about such popular trips but we’ve found so many uncommon and awesome detours that we decided to finally put it together as one comprehensive post–hope you can give this trip a go someday!

  4. Wow this looks such an amazing road trip covering the best National Parks.. I have of late been reading so much about the National Parks in US and it raises my desire to be there. Although I have been to National parks in other countries the reddish look of the Mountains is just fascinating. Great post for planning our trip. The wild beauty of Escalante is intriguing and love the looks of the Monument there. Capitol Reef Resort looks a lovely place to stay.

  5. This is such an epic road trip. All the national parks are stunning and I wish I could travel to them now. 1000 miles road trip through these canyons and mountains would be mindblowing. I did have Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks and Monument Valley on my list. I am adding the rest of them too and I will definitely consider doing the Grand circle sometime in my life.

    1. all these parks are incredible, and the national monuments are no exception. the lack of people alone makes them worth the addition.

  6. “1,000-mile journey with hundreds of miles worth of awesome detours”??? I’m already hooked, but I know this means taking a sabbatical! Escalante National monument is a gem. I would spend so much time here photographing everything. The tipi glamping at Capital Reef would be definitely where I spend the night. Gouldings Lodge looks so picturesque. No wonder it was the shooting location of many movies.

    1. while you could certainly have plenty to do if you made the southwest your sabbatical spot (love that idea ; ) it is totally do-able in a two-week trip…whatever amount of time you can give the grand circle, you def should!

  7. I’ve been to a few of these, but it will be wonderful to do them in one road trip. I always like a bonus stop during a road trip, like the Bears Ears and Escalante NM. I would like to hike the Willis Creek Slot Canyon in Escalante. It looks pretty cool! Hope to finish the grand circle soon although doing it in part.

    1. This area has infinite adventures and certainly leaves a huge impression to do it in a sequence. Bears Ears and Escalante are so underrated–people just blow by them on their way to the national parks and they don’t know what they’re missing.

  8. What a great road trip and useful tips! These places never stop to amaze me. I’ve been to them all several times, and I still want to come back. The last time I visited them during an 8-month trip in an RV. Unfortunately, our journey was interrupted by the pandemic. From the described places I love the most, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Escalante.
    I add to my bucket list Night Hike with Bryce Astronomy Rangers. It seems to be a fabulous adventure. I also like the glamping accommodation you suggest. I would love to stay in such a fabulous glamping camp one day. And I haven’t been to Bears Ears yet, so I add it to my next road trip itinerary!

    1. how cool you did an 8-month road trip, this area is the country’s best and brightest. Sorry to hear the pandemic set back your trip, you should definitely add glamping next time you go. We find it totally refreshes our RV journeys to have a couple of nights out of the rig and these camps are so dreamy!

  9. So glad I found your website! I’ve been convincing my hubby we need to do a giant road trip (starting from Vegas) and hitting all the major parks in Utah/Arizona. We’ve been to Zion (and Grand Canyon North – which isn’t officially on this route), but all the other locations are on our bucket list. We’re hoping as life gets back to normal the national parks will be a little less busy before we head out. Thanks for the awesome info!

    1. So glad you found us too : ) This is such an incredible road trip and even better when you get off the beaten track. We’re actually missing Grand Canyon North…it’s always been snowed in when we were in the area! How was it?

  10. We haven’t been to the South Rim yet so it’s hard to compare, but the North was great! We went on a short hike and checked out the visitor center. If you’re coming from Zion (like we were), you get to go through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Unique experience getting up to the tunnel if you’re wary of heights like I am. 😉

  11. I love your blog guys. just wanted to say that.

  12. I have visited all these places too and did a similar journey to you.

    Love these national parks. Some of the BEST!

  13. Both of You are really good adventurers. I appreciate your detailed information, Mike and Anne!

    1. thank you! We live for adventure and are thrilled share the info to get more people exploring this wonderful world!

  14. Good stuff. I think you were a little harsh on Bryce Canyon lodging, though. Yes, Ruby’s Inn & it’s nearby hotels are a little dated, but their rustic charm is part of the fun! Plus Ruby’s Inn’s included hot country breakfast is one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. I suppose if you’re someone from Florida or Texas or Arizona who isn’t good with cool weather then you best not stay in Bryce/Ruby’s, but personally as a lifelong Utahn (SLC) with dozens of trips to this area under my belt, Bryce Canyon area is my *preferred* camping/lodging location in the summer because everywhere else is HOT HOT HOT (highs 100°+) during the day. Red Canyon campground or Tropic, UT, both within 20-30mins of Bryce, are also scenic locations for lodging and less crowded than the park itself or Ruby’s where you’ll need to reserve many months in advance.

    Speaking of bonus sights, DO NOT look past the incredible wonders of highway 12 (between Bryce & Capitol Reef NPs) just because they are not in a National Park! While Bryce & CRNP are the most popular sights along UT12, this highway is one of the most scenic roads in the US, and much less crowded than the NPs so don’t be so awestruck by the NPs that you overlook this beauty. You will be well rewarded to take some extra time at any one of these sights along or near Hwy 12: the afforementioned Red Canyon, lower calf Creek falls (6mi non strenuous hike), Zebra slot & Devil’s playground & Coyote gulch in GSENM (Coyote gulch is a 14mi hike, so only for the adventurous, but WELL worth the effort), head of the rocks overlook, escalante natural bridge hike, the Hogsback, hell’s backbone. The route takes you from desert to Alpine landscapes, as it ascends the eastern slope of Boulder mountain on the Aquarius plateau, giving you some of the best scenic views of both alone forests and desert sandstone mesas anywhere. Hwy 12 ends in Torrey, Ut & CRNP. A part of the charm are the quaint little towns along the way: Bryce Canyon Town, Tropic, Escalante, Boulder, & Torrey. I hear that these towns have some of the best burger joints in the state. You’ll also pass by 3 State Parks: Kodachrome Basin, Anasazi, & Petrified Forest SPs. Don’t overlook the gem that is hwy 12!!!

    1. Rich, we totally appreciate your thoughtful comments and travel suggestions. We’re in total agreement, people are way to national park focused and need to soak in the beauty in between. Highway 12 is absolutely stunning with tons of opportunity for adventure. And that’s great to hear you enjoyed the Bryce Canyon lodging and breakfast! And we’ll have to start training for Coyote Gulch, sounds epic!

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