The Grand Circle is a term used to describe the ultimate road trip through the American southwest by way of 20 scenic byways that neatly tie 11 national parks and 16 national monuments together in a loop. US Park Lodging makes reservations for the national parks in this rugged and colorful country. The Grand Circle is a trip that will never be forgotten. It takes planning, so allow the professionals at US Park Lodging to assist you in reserving this trip of a lifetime once you have determined your route. Here is an example of an itinerary for your Grand Circle vacation. This blog can serve as a starting point for your research so when you call US Park Lodging, you will have a better idea of the route and stops you want to include.The most strategic places to enter the Grand Circle for your adventure of a lifetime is from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Since this is a loop, you can hop on the Grand Circle loop from any point and return to the starting point for the same experience on the Grand Circle.
Zion National Park photo by StuSeeger on Flickr
A good place to begin your Grand Circle adventure is in Zion National Park. It is recommended to spend two or three nights in Zion National Park on your Grand Circle tour. Stay at the Zion Lodge for an accommodating and authentic park experience. During your stay at Zion National Park, you will definitely want to spend a day trekking through the Virgin River Narrows, which is the main artery of the park. There are several easy to moderate hikes at Zion National Park. Another great way to see a different perspective of the park is to take a hot air balloon tour.
After you explore Zion, head 89 miles over to Bryce Canyon National Park for your second stop on your Grand Circle adventure. If you head to Bryce Canyon National Park in the morning, you can drive to Rainbow Point for a 37 mile round trip and catch all the viewpoints on the return trip.
Queen’s Garden, Bryce Canyon National Park photo by Alaskan Dude on Flickr
A good place to stay for the night is the Bryce Canyon Lodge. In the morning, take a half day guided hike or horseback tour to get up close and personal with the curious hoodoos in the amphitheater.
After your second day in Bryce Canyon National Park, you might think your Grand Circle loop has been fulfilling enough. Just wait, there is much more to enjoy on this adventure. A good option for lodging after day two at Bryce Canyon National Park is to head 15 miles down the road to Kanab, UT which is the gateway to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Stay a comfortable night at the Vermillion Vacation Homes and check out Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in the first half of the day.
Arches National Park photo by james.gordon6108 on Flickr
Once you get a taste of what Grand Staircase Escalante is all about, hit the road to Moab, UT for about 289 miles. (Some people might choose to include Capitol Reef National Park in their itinerary which would break up the 289 mile drive into two sections and also would avoid the interstate.) A fun place to stay in Moab is The Gonzo Inn, which has unique accommodations close to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park for your ultimate convenience. You will get there just in time to enjoy a yummy dinner and settle down for the night to start the next leg of your Grand Circle adventure tour. Depending on your Grand Circle goals, you may want to stay in Moab for as many as five nights. This area has a lot to offer and while you are here, you may as well immerse yourself.
Canyonlands National Park photo by NPCA Photos on Flickr
Moab is your Grand Circle hub for Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. In Arches National Park, make sure you drive all of the paved roads and stop at the viewpoints along the way. This is yet another opportunity for a van tour or a hot air balloon tour due to the crowded parking lots. Check out the Devil’s Garden hike, the Fiery Furnace hike and make sure to go see Delicate Arch. For an unpaved adventure, if you have the right kind of vehicle, head through the Salt Valley to Klondike Bluffs. The road back to the center of Arches National Park is only recommended for southerly travel due to sand and hills. You will want to spend time in Canyonlands National Park as well on your Grand Circle vacation. A great place to check out is the Island in the Sky for easy access and some fun little hikes. During your Moab stay, one of your nights should include a late night stargazing tour at either Arches or Canyonlands National Parks. The milky way is calling your name.
Petroglyph Point, Mesa Verde National Park photo by Alaskan Dude on Flickr
After you have had your fill of the Moab area, continue your Grand Circle adventure and head 131 miles to Mancos, CO to visit Mesa Verde National Park for a couple of days. Definitely stay in the park at the Far View Lodge. From the Far View Lodge, you will have central access to the main highlights of Mesa Verde National Park. You will want to venture across Wetherill Mesa to take the Long House tour and the self guided Step House tour. On your second day explore the Chapin Mesa and sign up for the Balcony House and the Cliff Palace tours. While you wait for one of your tours to start, perhaps enjoy the self-guided Spruce Tree House tour, the Chapin Mesa Museum or the archaeological village sites nearby.
At this point in the Grand Circle journey, you will want to ask yourself whether or not you want to visit Canyon De Chelly National Monument. If you do, head south from Mesa Verde National Park 164 miles. If you skip Canyon De Chelly, you will save 116 miles from the Grand Circle loop and you will drive past the Mexican Hat formation and the Valley of the Gods. If you do choose to head to Canyon de Chelly, stay at the Thunderbird Lodge. One full day here will probably be enough just checking out the scenic drives and taking a self guided hike or two. Next stop on your Grand Circle tour is Monument Valley 98 miles northwest.
Monument Valley photo by Moyan_Brenn on Flickr
Monument Valley is a gorgeous valley of buttes, pinnacles and volcanic cores left behind from the winds and rains of time. Monument Valley is within the Navajo Nation Reservation, so your national park passport will not apply on this part of your Grand Circle adventure. You will want to stay at The View Hotel. This hotel is inside Monument Valley with stunning views of the park highlights. This is another great place to learn about the Ancestral Puebloans who settled in the area a few thousand years ago. Take some time to enjoy the local artisan booths as well.
From Monument Valley, the next stop in the Grand Circle is Lake Powell. Depending on your goals, this could be a nice place to spend a day or three. A good lodging choice for Lake Powell is the Defiance House Lodge. If you want to stay awhile, a houseboat rental is a great way to spend your time. Rainbow Bridge is a must-see destination here as well as Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is considered to be one of the most beautiful slot canyons in the world, so definitely make this a priority. Another way to spend a day is on a Colorado River float trip. Check out Horseshoe Bend either from the river or the lookout. Lake Powell area is much more than a vast reservoir, there are several diverse things to enjoy here as well as water play.
Yavapai Point Grand Canyon National Park photo by Moyan_Brenn on Flickr
In the Grand Circle loop, the Grand Canyon is the final stop before returning to the start of the Grand Circle loop. Grand Canyon National Park has two distinct and separate areas you can explore, the North Rim and the South Rim. You might want to choose one or the other, or if you have time, both. The South Rim is the populated area and the North Rim enjoys more peace and quiet. On this itinerary, I suggest visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon because it is convenient, cooler due to higher elevations, less crowded and has what many believe to be better hikes.
If you visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the lodge to stay in is the Grand Canyon Lodge. The downfall of the North Rim is that it is closed during the winter and the road can close for inclement weather. Check ahead for closures if you are planning to travel to the gorgeous North Rim. If you are combining North and South Rims or perhaps you want to be where all the action is at the South Rim, the sweeping depths and awe-inspiring vistas of Grand Canyon National Park will not disappoint you. Visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon will add quite a few more miles to your Grand Circle trip. If you go all the way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you should stay at the famous El Tovar Hotel. The El Tovar Hotel was one of the pioneering national park hotels of the style made famous by the national park service.
The Grand Circle is a vacation that will go down in your history books, no matter what your travel preferences are. No other area compares to the Grand Circle with it’s many parks and sights. This itinerary is a good basis of a typical Grand Circle trip. You can enter this itinerary loop at any point and you can travel clockwise or counter-clockwise on the circle. After you have sketched out your route and plan, give the professionals at US Park Lodging a call to book all of your National Park lodging on your Grand Circle adventure. Remember to gas up often, watch for little critters on the road and expect the driving times to be longer than they would normally be on the interstate. Most of all, have a great time in the Grand Circle. The mysterious and colorful southwest landscape is waiting for your arrival.
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