The jaw-dropping Grand Circle road trip

  • Post last modified:November 23, 2023
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The Grand Circle road trip takes you to dramatic canyons and unearthly rock formations. It’s a loaded road trip that combines the best sights in Arizona and Utah’s 5 mighty national parks. Are you ready for a jaw-dropping drive through the American Southwest?

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  • Total distance: 1,177 mi / 1,894 km
  • Total driving time: 20.5 h

1. Las Vegas, NV

The Grand Circle road trip is all about the unique nature of the American Southwest. But if you’re up for it, the best Las Vegas attractions are ready to entertain before the road trip takes off.

Have fun on the Strip

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

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

If you feel lucky, there’s no better spot to try your luck.

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

Where to stay

Some of the most renowned hotels in the world line the Strip. Do you prefer romantic gondolas or soaring fountains?

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

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

Route info: There are two Grand Canyon rims: North Rim and South Rim. This Grand Circle road trip 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 the Arizona wonder. Luckily the Golden Circle road trip takes you right to the start of the Grand Canyon adventure, where you can see the magic for yourself.

Pick a favorite Grand Canyon overlook

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. On the Grand Circle road trip you can drive your car more or less to the very edge of the over one mile (1,847 m) deep canyon.

The Rim Trail, located in Grand Canyon Village, beautifully stretches out along the canyon’s edge. By the easily accessible trail there are more spectacular vistas than you can count.

Where to stay

Grand Canyon Village is the best place to stay at Grand Canyon South Rim. In the first row the village offers walking distance to the trails of Grand Canyon National Park.

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

Page is an Arizona city spoiled with natural beauty. At its eastern end you find Antelope Canyon, and across the city Horseshoe Bend is located.

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 from late March to mid October, you in Upper Antelope Canyon also have the chance to see so called light beams. These natural sunlight shows occur at midday during the warmer months of the year.

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 that’s unique even for the mighty Grand Canyon.

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

Where to stay

Don’t look past Page for your Antelope Canyon lodging and Horseshoe Bend lodging. From hotels in Page it’s just minutes to the two awe-inspiring Grand Circle sights.

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 might 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.

Park at Forrest Gump Point

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

This exact spot, the Forrest Gump Point, is an epic stop on the Grand Circle road trip itinerary.

For much more scenery the nearby Monument Valley Tribal Park is filled with huge stone structures. As you drive by on the Grand Circle road trip, it’s certainly a must to enter.

Where to stay

Are there places to stay in Monument Valley? Monument Valley is the definition of remote, but there’s one place within the tribal park and another one just outside.

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

Additional stop: Do you want to include even more sights on your Grand Circle road trip? If so you on the way from Monument Valley can make a detour to Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, which is home to signature cliff dwellings. However, it adds 151 miles (243 km) and about 3 hours to the Grand Circle road trip 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. 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 Grand Circle journey. It’s home to 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 the arch from a roadside viewpoint, or for more intimate views a 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip hike takes you all the way there.

In addition to arches there are many other peculiar rock formations in Arches National Park. Towers, pinnacles and balanced rocks are other park features to enjoy on the Grand Circle drive.

The namesake Balanced Rock continues to defy gravity. One day its balancing boulder will come down. However, let’s hope that the Grand Circle attraction will keep its balance for many years to come.

Where to stay

Moab is the perfect choice for Canyonlands lodging and Arches lodging. With two parks around the corner complemented by top amenities Moab is an oasis in the Utah desert.

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. It’s the least visited of all the national parks on the Grand Circle road trip itinerary.

Learn Fruita’s story

You might not find the most dramatic canyons or rock formations in Capitol Reef National Park. Yet it might just be the best stop on the Grand Circle road trip 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 Fruita valley. Over the years Fruita families, to put food on their tables and money in their pockets, 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, picking fruit in Fruita is a memorable activity.

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

Where to stay

Torrey is the ultimate choice for Capitol Reef accommodations. It’s just 11 miles (18 km) from Torrey to the visitor center within the park.

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 biggest concentration of rock hoodoos, make jaws drop daily. It’s a must to include the best Bryce sights on the Grand Circle road trip itinerary.

Count Bryce’s hoodoos

Hoodoos are sandstone pillars typically topped by higher density, less easily eroded, rock. These formations, also known as tent rocks and fairy chimneys, make Bryce Canyon a place like no other.

In Bryce you find thousands of hoodoos.

Particularly Bryce Amphitheater, the park’s main area, is dotted with hoodoos. Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point are hoodoo vistas that you easily reach by car on the Grand Circle road trip.

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

Where to stay

There are convenient Bryce Canyon hotels not far from the hoodoos. The only lodge within Bryce Canyon National Park offers the best hoodoo access, but you find more amenities in the nearby Bryce Canyon City.

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 the Grand Circle itinerary. The best things to do in Zion include some of the most awe-inspiring hikes in America.

Conquer Zion’s trails

Zion is filled with gorgeous trails to try. Surrounded by reddish sandstone cliffs and evergreen plants every Zion hike is something special.

Angels Landing is Zion’s most storied hike. The 5 miles (8 km) long adventure features thrilling climbs with huge drops. Its demanding elevation change of 1,488 feet (453 m) is as hair-raising as unique.

Due to its popularity an Angels Landing permit is required for the bucket list hike.

Other strenuous hikes in Zion National Park 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 Zion family favorite, is the round trip 2.2 miles (3.5 km) Riverside Walk. It follows Virgin River until the canyon gets so narrow that only the river fits.

Where to stay

Comfy Zion National Park hotels give you the best of both worlds. You can stay at the lodge inside the park or just across the park border in Springdale.

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

Additional stop: Valley of Fire State Park makes your jaw drop one more time on the Grand Circle road trip. The famous Nevada state park, positioned 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) completes the 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.

Grand Circle road trip FAQ

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

The Grand Circle road trip is 1,177 miles (1,894 km) long. Driving the Grand Circle loop takes 20.5 hours, not including any 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 Grand Circle destinations along the route 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 National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

If you go for the additional Colorado stretch between Monument Valley and Canyonlands National Park, you add Mesa Verde National Park as a seventh Grand Circle national park.

When is the best time to do the Grand Circle road trip?

The American Southwest is always open and the Grand Circle road trip is suitable for every season of the year. However, a summer Grand Circle road trip is much different than a winter Grand Circle road trip.

Summer is the busiest period of the year for the parks on the Grand Circle road trip itinerary. Expect hot temperatures and heavily frequented trails if you take a summer Grand Circle drive.

For many spring and autumn are the best periods of the year for the Grand Circle tour. The moderate spring temperatures, and smaller crowds, make shoulder season a pleasant time to explore the Southwest.

Winter means low season in the Grand Circle national parks. At higher elevations along the route snow is likely, and winter Grand Circle roadtrippers get to see the parks in a way most visitors miss out on.

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

Some spots on the Grand Circle road trip, such as Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, can quickly be explored. Others, including Grand Canyon and Zion, require more time if you want to scratch deeper than just the surface.

Even though it’s possible to take the Grand Circle road trip in just one week, it’s not the recommended course of action. For a more relaxing Grand Circle itinerary, filled with casual driving, hiking, and stargazing, two weeks or more are recommended.

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