The granddaddy of all Utah road trips is the Grand Circle. It’s a comprehensive tour of all five national parks in the state — plus throwing in the Grand Canyon for good measure. You also get a chance to see Lake Powell, Monument Valley, and the Grand Staircase. The Grand Circle Tour covers a lot of ground, but is not to be missed.
Those of us at the Red River Ranch know a lot of different ways to make this journey. Some are better than others. In this Blog, we’ve compiled the best information to create “The Lodge’s Best of the Grand Circle.” You can start from any point on the map, and circle back to where you began.
Zion National Park
First on our list is Zion National Park, especially if you’re coming from the direction of Las Vegas. Zion is the most famous national park in Utah, so expect some crowds during the summer season.
• Ride the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, complete with one-mile tunnel. This is when a convertible becomes a necessity.
• Get dirty in the Narrows. Explore why many people specifically come to Zion.
• Tour the Zion History Museum and The Zion Canyon Visitor’s Center.
• Hike Angel’s Landing at sunset. You’ll never forget the spectacular view.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Take the scenic routes along UT-89 and Highway 12 to Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park is much smaller and less crowded then Zion National Park. The main attraction is the amphitheatre of hoodoos.
• Hike along the rim of the Amphitheatre. The hoodoos appear to change shape when viewed at different angles.
• Walk among the hoodoos at sunset. The experience can be incredible.
• Explore one of the many trails in the upper highland forests. Mountain biking in these pines is great fun.
Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument
The Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument is one of Utah’s finest scenic routes. The winding elevated roads are a huge hit if the kids are tagging along. Be sure to stop at some of the scenic overlooks to look back at what you just drove through. This road (Highway 12) is one of our all-time favorites.
• Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Most of the hike is the river, which is refreshing on hot days.
Capitol Reef National Park
This is our favorite national park in the whole state. (But, we may be a little biased.) Highway 12 will drop you off right at Capitol Reef’s door, in the little town of Torrey, Utah. Capitol Reef National Park is one of the least visited parks in the state, which means more for you to enjoy.
• Stop by the Gifford House. The history is interesting, but the specialty foods, desserts, and handmade gifts in the gift shop are the real draw.
• Drive the Scenic Road to Capitol Gorge trailhead. This is a toll road; cost is $5.
• Hike one of the trails near the visitor’s center. Try the Rim Overlook, The Castle or Cassidy Arch.
• Take a guided horse tour in the backcountry.
• Time permitting, go into the Waterpocket Fold for some canyon exploration.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
Drive east along Highway 24 from Capitol Reef and connect to I-70. If you feel inclined, stop by Goblin Valley for a picnic. Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are virutally just across the street from each other. Moab is the gateway town for both national parks and is a perfect place to spend the night.
• There are over 2,000 natural arches in Arches National Park. See as many as you can. Don’t miss the iconic Delicate Arch. We also recommend Double Arch.
• Check out some of the sandstone formations like The Tower of Babel and The Organ in Arches.
• Go Jeeping or ATV riding in the desert.
• Canyonlands is the perfect outdoor playground. If you can, shoot the rapids in Cataract Canyon on a guided tour.
Natural Bridges National Monument
This is a fun detour on the way to the Grand Canyon. Leave Moab and head down Highway 191, exit at Blanding and get on Highway 95. Natural Bridges National Monument is a collection of three of the world’s best natural bridges. It also boasts extensive Indian archeological treasures.
• Look at the historical artifacts inside the Visitor’s Center.
• Drive to each of the overlooks for the natural bridges. You can also see Indian dwelling sites.
• Hike to one of bridges. You can even get on top and look down.
Monument Valley National Tribal Area
For us it’s the drive to Monument Valley that is the most fun. Take Highway 261 to the town of Mexican Hat. You will get to drive through The Valley of the Gods and a terrific winding road that makes a 1200-foot descent into the plains below.
• Visit some of the local Navajo Tradesmen in Monument Valley. They are true artists.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
You can really work this into your route before or after the touring the Grand Canyon. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area holds the legendary Lake Powell, 186 miles of open water fun.
• Rent a houseboat and watch the Earth spin under the stars at night.
• Hike to Rainbow Bridge. It is the tallest arch in the world and worth the effort to see.
• Play around on personal watercraft. These are the best way to get into the remote water-fileld canyons.
Grand Canyon National Park
After leaving Monument Valley (or Lake Powell), continue south on Highway 160. This will take you to Grand Canyon National Park, with the option of visiting the north or south rim. The Grand Canyon is one of America’s favorite national parks. The depth and breadth of the Grand Canyon is awe inspiring.
• Hike or take a burro ride to the canyon bottom.
• More rafting anyone? Take a trip on the Colorado River.
• Watch the sunset paint the cliffs. This is one of the most beautiful moments you will ever see.
Head back to your starting point
You have now completed the Grand Circle! “The Lodge’s Best of the Grand Circle” route is about a thousand miles. Budget plenty of time to see the sites — around 10-14 days. This is a trip you will never forget. Happy trails from all of us at the Lodge at Red River Ranch.