You know that expression, “go big or go home?” If you want to go big there’s nothing like the Grand Circle Tour. Of course, once you drive it, you may never want to go home anyway…
The “Grand Circle” is a massive road trip that stops in each of Utah’s five national parks. And it throws in the Grand Canyon as a sort of dessert, (not desert, although it is that too.) The Grand Circle Tour covers a lot of ground, and you won’t be disappointed. Plus because it’s late fall, the temperature will be perfect in most of the places you visit.
So, without further ado, we present the Lodge’s updated Grand Circle Tour itinerary:
Zion National Park
First on our list is Zion National Park. (It is the crown gem of the Utah park system.) While it is not the biggest national park in Utah, it is the most diverse – which means there is so much to see.
• Ride the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, complete with one-mile tunnel. If your riding the Grand Circle on a motorbike, this is when you get to have the most fun.
• Get dirty in the Narrows.
• Hike Emerald Pools. This easy hike is perfect for families.
• Hike Angel’s Landing. You’ll never forget the spectacular view.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is much smaller and less crowded then Zion National Park. The main attraction is the main amphitheater of hoodoos.
• Hike along the rim of the Amphitheater. The hoodoos appear to change shape when viewed at different angles.
• Check out Mossy Cave. It’s just as cool in winter as in summer. (Pun obviously intended.)
• Hike some, or all, or Fairyland Loop. This trail offers the most comprehensive tour of Bryce.
Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument
The Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument is one of Utah’s finest scenic routes. And, while it is not technically a national park, it is worth spending a little time in. This road (Highway 12) is one of our all-time favorites.
• Hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls. In the summer you can jump into the pools, but since it is October, (as of this writing) you might want to think twice.
Capitol Reef National Park
This is our favorite national park in the whole state. (But, it’s also our backyard.) 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, so if you like solitude…
• 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. Then hike Cassidy Arch
• Hike one of the trails near the visitor’s center. Try the ever popular Hickman Bridge.
• Take a guided horse tour in the backcountry.
• Time permitting, go into the Waterpocket Fold for some canyon exploration. (If you have read any of our other blog posts, you know this is our favorite part of the park.)
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
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.
• In Canyonlands, go to Mesa Arch.
• And if you really want to get lost (figuratively) explore the Devil’s Garden in Arches, or the Maze in Canyonlands.
Natural Bridges National Monument
This is a fun detour on the way to the Grand Canyon. Natural Bridges National Monument is a collection of three of the world’s best, and longest, 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
Monument Valley is a stark desert with some pretty cool monoliths. But the best part is driving 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), head to Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon is one of America’s favorite national parks. You will likely want to go to North Rim, as it is closer, but that’s up to you.
• Hiking, hiking, and more hiking. There are a lot of trails, both on the rim and into the canyon.
• There is history in this region. Check out the visitor centers (yes there are several) to learn more.
• Watch the sunset paint the cliffs. This is one of the most beautiful moments you will ever see.
You have now completed the Grand Circle Tour! Take plenty of time to enjoy everything you see. We hope you have an amazing time.