Jaw-dropping Grand Circle road trip

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Hit the asphalt for the bucket list Grand Circle road trip, taking you to dramatic canyons and unearthly rock formations. It’s a loaded journey that combines the best sights in Arizona and Utah’s mighty national parks. Are you ready for a jaw-dropping drive through the American Southwest?

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Head southeast from Las Vegas towards the one-and-only Grand Canyon, breaking off the drive with a stop at the Hoover Dam. After visiting Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, venture into Utah via the bordering Monument Valley.

While you can take your Grand Circle road trip in either direction, this itinerary runs counterclockwise. It begins with the longest drive (Las Vegas to Grand Canyon), saving the shorter legs and the red national parks in Utah for the end.

Map showing the classic Grand Circle route
Click for interactive mode.
  • Total distance: 1,177 mi / 1,894 km
  • Total driving time: 20.5 h

1. Las Vegas, NV

Yes, the Grand Circle road trip is mostly about the unique nature of the American Southwest. But if you’re down for it, the flashing Las Vegas is always ready to entertain.

Las Vegas Boulevard South is a melting pot of extravagance. Also known as the Strip, it’s a stark contrast to the rest of the Grand Circle itinerary.

On the Strip, one casino after another towers up. Caesars Palace, the Venetian and Bellagio are just a few of the many institutions where activity flows day and night.

If you feel lucky, there’s no better spot.

But you don’t have to gamble to have fun on the Strip in Las Vegas. A prime example is Bellagio’s popular musical fountain show, which caters to roadtrippers of all ages.

Rising Statue of Liberty at New York Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, or is it New York?

Extra stop: The Hoover Dam, an awe-inspiring National Historic Landmark, is located on the way from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim. It’s just too good of an opportunity to miss.

Route info: There are two Grand Canyon rims: North Rim and South Rim. This itinerary takes you to the South Rim. It’s the most renowned Grand Canyon rim, and it’s open year round.

2. Grand Canyon, AZ

Driving distance: 279 mi / 449 km
Driving time: 4.5 h

Grand Canyon is so long, wide and deep that it’s hard to grasp. Luckily, this Golden Circle road trip takes you right to the start of the Grand Canyon adventure, where you can see the magic for yourself.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the USA. It’s an Arizona wonder talked about around the entire globe.

Such celebrated views must be hard to access, right?

Actually, the opposite is true at Grand Canyon South Rim. You can drive your car more or less to the very edge of the over one mile (1,847 m) deep canyon — wow.

The Rim Trail beautifully stretches out along the canyon’s edge. By the easily accessible trail, there are more spectacular overlooks than you can count.

Sign marking out Ooh Aah Point at the edge of Grand Canyon South Rim
Ooh Aah Point at Grand Canyon South Rim.

3. Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend, AZ

Driving distance: 132 mi / 212 km
Driving time: 2.5 h

The town of Page, Arizona, is spoiled with natural beauty. At its eastern end, you find Antelope Canyon; across the city, Horseshoe Bend awaits.

Capture the otherworldly Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, boasting wavy canyon walls, is on every photographer’s bucket list. Split into two distinctive parts, both Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon offer surreal shapes.

If you take the Grand Circle road trip during the year’s warmer months, you in Upper Antelope Canyon also have the chance to see the so-called light beams. These natural sunlight shows occur at midday between late March and mid-October.

Just pay attention to that you need a guide to venture down into Antelope Canyon. In particular during peak season, from June to August, Antelope Canyon tours book up long in advance.

Fall in love at Horseshoe Bend

It’s just over 5 miles (8 km) from Horseshoe Bend to the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park. Because of the proximity, Horseshoe Bend is often referred to as Grand Canyon East.

But the truth is that Horseshoe Bend offers something unique even for the mighty Grand Canyon.

At the Horseshoe Bend viewpoint, you can enjoy unrivaled views of the Colorado River, the tireless creator of the Grand Canyon. Especially if you visit early or late in the day, it’s one of the most romantic spots on the Grand Circle itinerary.

Pile of rocks at Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, during daytime
Morning light at Horseshoe Bend.

4. Monument Valley, AZ/UT

Driving distance: 121 mi / 195 km
Driving time: 2 h

Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border, may be the coolest road trip destination of them all. It’s a valley in the middle of nowhere where the landscape feels like a different planet.

If you know your movie history, this is nothing new. Monument Valley is where Forrest Gump, in the namesake movie, finally stopped his cross-country running.

The exact spot, the Forrest Gump Point, is as epic as easy to tick off.

For much more scenery, the nearby Monument Valley Tribal Park brims with huge stone structures. As you drive by, it’s certainly a must to enter.

Straight stretch of bitumen road leading past Forrest Gump Point, backdropped by iconic Monument Valley buttes
Monument Valley’s Forrest Gump Point.

Extra stop: Want to include even more sights on your Grand Circle road trip? If so, on the way from Monument Valley, make a detour to Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, home to stunning cliff dwellings. However, it adds 151 miles (243 km) and about 3 hours to the itinerary.

5. Canyonlands & Arches, UT

Driving distance: 148 mi / 238 km
Driving time: 2.5 h

The Grand Circle road trip welcomes you to Utah. A hub for adventurers, Moab is the gateway town to both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.

Discover Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park, southwest of Moab, is the first of Utah’s five mighty national parks on the itinerary. It protects three distinct areas: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze.

Island in the Sky is the park district closest to Moab. Here, jaw-dropping pullouts — showcasing the surrounding desert landscape — and the front-cover Mesa Arch await.

Further south, The Needles stands out for its many rock spires, or needles. It’s a hiking paradise.

The final district, The Maze, requires a warning. It’s a remote four-wheel drive area, which demands both a lot of time and careful planning.

Balance through Arches

North of Moab, a collection of more than 2,000 natural arches has given name to Arches National Park.

Its most famous photographed arch is the Delicate Arch. You can see it from a roadside viewpoint, or for more intimate views, a 3-mile (4.8 km) round-trip hike takes you all the way there.

Beyond the arches, there are many other peculiar rock formations in Arches National Park. Towers, pinnacles and balanced rocks are other park features to enjoy.

The fascinating Balanced Rock continues to defy gravity. One day, its balancing boulder will come down. However, let’s hope it will keep its balance for many years to come.

Huge balancing red rock in Arches National Park, Utah
The Balanced Rock.

6. Capitol Reef, UT

Driving distance: 146 mi / 235 km
Driving time: 2.5 h

Capitol Reef is a national park for travelers who appreciate the road less traveled. Say hi to the least visited of all the national parks on the itinerary.

Sure, you won’t find the most dramatic canyons or rock formations in Capitol Reef National Park. Yet, it may just be the best stop on the itinerary for history buffs.

Fruita Historic District, Capitol Reef’s heart, is a small national treasure.

From the late 1800s into the 1960s, pioneers planted and harvested fruit trees in the fertile valley. Over the years, to put food on their tables and money in their pockets, families planted loads of trees.

Still to this day, orchards of apples, pears, peaches, apricots and more thrive in Fruita. If you take the Grand Circle road trip during harvest season, be sure to include picking fruit in Fruita on the itinerary.

But the orchards are not the only traces of the historic community. Preserved structures, such as the Gifford Homestead and one-room schoolhouse, tell more stories about past life in Fruita.

Lonely wooden barn across the backdrop of red cliffs in Fruita Valley of Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Capitol Reef National Park.

7. Bryce Canyon, UT

Driving distance: 118 mi / 190 km
Driving time: 2.5 h

Bryce Canyon National Park, home to the world’s largest concentration of rock hoodoos, makes jaws drop daily. It’s a must to include this peculiar gem on your Grand Circle itinerary.

But what are hoodoos? Think sandstone pillars typically topped by higher density, less easily eroded rock. These formations, also known as tent rocks and fairy chimneys, come in thousands in Bryce Canyon.

In particular, the Bryce Amphitheater, the park’s main stage, is dotted with them. Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point are some of the best viewpoints easily reached by car.

For more adventure, Bryce’s famous overlooks also function as trailheads. When descending into the depths of the park, you get up close to the tall but friendly Bryce Canyon locals.

Rock hoodoos decorating Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
A tall Bryce Canyon local.

8. Zion, UT

Driving distance: 73 mi / 117 km
Driving time: 1.5 h

Zion National Park is last but certainly not least on your Grand Circle itinerary. Discover some of America’s most awe-inspiring hikes, lined by red sandstone cliffs and evergreen plants.

Angels Landing is the most storied of them all. This 5-mile (8 km) adventure features thrilling climbs with huge drops. Its demanding elevation change of 1,488 feet (453 m) is as hair-raising as unique.

Keep in mind that, due to its popularity, an Angels Landing permit is required.

Other strenuous, eye-popping hikes in Zion are the Narrows and Observation Point. The latter has an elevation change of 2,148 feet (655 m) but without the tight climbs of Angels Landing.

A less pulsating option, and family favorite, is the round trip 2.2-mile (3.5 km) Riverside Walk. It follows the Virgin River until the canyon gets so narrow that only the river can fit.

Elevated view of road winding through Zion National Park, surrounded by sheer cliff sides
Zion National Park overlook.

Extra stop: Valley of Fire State Park makes your jaw drop one more time. The Nevada state park, between Zion and Vegas, is full of fascinating rock formations.

9. Las Vegas, NV

Driving distance: 160 mi / 257 km
Driving time: 2.5 h

The final 160 miles (257 km) complete your ultimate Grand Circle road trip loop. As you arrive in Las Vegas with new memories that last for a lifetime, the road trip adventure is over for this time.

Blue road sign informing about a scenic turnout in 0.25 miles
The perfect Grand Circle drive.

Where to stay along the Grand Circle route

There’s no shortage of exceptional places to stay along the Grand Circle route. We think these two options stand out a little extra, though.

A gateway to Arches and Canyonlands, Red Cliffs Lodge makes eyes pop. Be wowed by the rippling Colorado River, towering rock faces and dusty horse corral (it’s no surprise that Hollywood has taken advantage of the setting).

When visiting Zion, treat yourself to a stay at Cable Mountain Lodge. Picture luxury surrounded by red cliffs, with the national park accessible right across the soothing Virgin River.

Best time to do the Grand Circle road trip

Driving the Grand Circle road trip appeals around the year. However, your timing will heavily influence your experience.

Take off in spring or fall to enjoy moderate temperatures, perfect for tackling tough trails, and uncrowded national parks.

Summer is the year’s busiest period for the itinerary’s national parks. Anticipate hot temperatures (bring plentiful water) and highly trafficked trails.

Go during winter to find a much quieter landscape. Freezing temperatures are likely, especially at high altitudes, but snow-dusted rock formations make up for it.

Grand Circle road trip FAQ

How long does it take to drive the ultimate Grand Circle road trip?

This ultimate Grand Circle road trip is 1,177 miles (1,894 km) long, taking 20.5 hours excluding the time you need for the stops along the way.

Where should I stop on a Grand Circle road trip?

The main stops on the Grand Circle drive are Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Monument Valley, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. Additional destinations include the Hoover Dam, Mesa Verde and Valley of Fire.

Which are the Grand Circle national parks?

The six national parks on the Grand Circle road trip itinerary are Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. If you go for the additional Colorado stretch, between Monument Valley and Canyonlands, you add Mesa Verde National Park as a seventh national park.

How many days do I need to take the Grand Circle road trip?

Some spots on the itinerary, such as Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, can quickly be explored. Others, including Grand Canyon and Zion, require more time to be fully appreciated. For a relaxing experience, with casual driving, hiking and stargazing, we recommend allowing two weeks or more.

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