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The Best Roadtrip!

The Best Roadtrip!

Posted in: Outdoor adventures, Travel on November 22, 2022.

The Big One

There is one road trip in Southern Utah that is quite simply the best. It’s the best because it’s the biggest, sure, but it’s also the best because it incorporates all the individual amazing parts of our state into one unforgettable trip. It’s the big one. It’s the Grand Circle Tour.

The Grand Circle is a massive route that stops in each of Utah’s five national parks, a handful of monuments, and allows for a state park or two. Plus it throws in the Grand Canyon as a sort of dessert, (not desert, although it is that too.) Let’s talk about some of the stop you will want to make as you tackle the Grand Circle.

You know that expression, “go big or go home?” If you want to go big in Southern Utah there’s nothing like the Grand Circle Tour. Of course, once you drive it, you may never want to go home anyway…

A road in Zion National Park

Photo by Untitled Photo via unsplash.com

Zion National Park

First on our list is Zion National Park. (See it on Google Maps.) Which is fitting, since it’s the most popular park in Utah, one of the most popular in the country, and the one that you absolutely must visit in your lifetime. While it is not the biggest national park in Utah, it is the most geologically diverse – which means there is so much to see. Here’s a couple suggestions off the top of our head. (And we’ve written a whole lot more about it here.)

What to Do:

  • Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, complete with one-mile tunnel hand-cut into the cliff. (If you’re 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. But you will need a permit soon.

A man hikes near hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

Photo by Arnaud Steckle via unsplash.com

Bryce Canyon National Park

Next up is Bryce Canyon National Park! (See it on the map.) This park is much, much smaller than Zion and considerably less crowded too. The main attraction is a central amphitheater of hoodoos. (In case you don’t already know, hoodoos are sandstone pillars that have been worn down by erosion into fantastic shapes. See the image above.) If you want to discover more about Bryce Canyon, check out this blog post.

What to Do:

  • Hike along the rim of the Amphitheater on the Rim Trail. The hoodoos appear to change shape when viewed at different angles.
  • Check out Mossy Cave. It’s unlike any other section of the park. It has had a recent surge in popularity, so be aware that you might need to visit during the off hours.
  • Hike some, or all, or Fairyland Loop. This trail offers the most comprehensive tour of Bryce.

White sandstone in the Grand Staircase

Photo by Lisha Riabinina via unsplash.com

Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument

The Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument is one of Utah’s best little secrets. Most people don’t know about it until they discover it while driving between the national parks. This part of the Grand Circle Tour (Highway 12) is one of our favorites. See the Grand Staircase location here.

What to Do:

A sweeping vista of Capitol Reef's plateaus

Photo by Madalyne Staab via unsplash.com

Capitol Reef National Park

This is our favorite national park in the whole state! (Which is why we built the Lodge here, after all.) Highway 12 will drop you off right at Capitol Reef’s door, in the little town of Torrey, Utah. Or if you took the Burr Trail, you’ll arrive via the Waterpocket Fold – our favorite part of our favorite park. Here’s what you’ll want to do while you’re at Capitol Reef.

What to Do:

  • 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.

We have more suggestions too. Check out this post, this list of the Top Ten Things to Do in Capitol Reef, and this customizable itinerary.

Mesa Arch with the sun shining behind

Photo by John Fowler via unsplash.com

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are right just across the metaphorical street from each other. (See them on the map. Here’s Arches. And here’s Canyonlands.) So we’ve lumped them together, because you’ll want to stop and explore both over the course of a few days. But can read more about them in detail here and here. Moab is the gateway town for both national parks, so that’s where you’ll want set up camp (again, metaphorically, since there are lots of hotels in Moab) while you do your explorations.

What to Do:

  • There are over 2,000 natural arches in Arches National Park. See as many as you can. Don’t miss the iconic Delicate Arch. And also 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 (metaphorically, again… last time we promise) 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. See its location here.

What to Do:

  • 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.

Sandstone monoliths rising from Monument Valley

Photo by Helene Blanquet via unsplash.com

Monument Valley National Tribal Area

Monument Valley is a stark desert area with some pretty famous monoliths. If you’ve ever seen a western, you’ve probably see Monument Valley. It’s a great detour, and one we’ve written about before.

What to Do:

  • Visit some of the local Navajo Tradesmen in Monument Valley. They are true artists.
  • Drive the 17-mile scenic loop. You’ll need a guide for all hikes and drives in the Tribal Area. Reserve your spots online.

The Grand Canyon at dusk

Photo by Omer Nezih Gerek via unsplash.com

Grand Canyon National Park

You’ve made it! The last spot on your Grand Circle Tour! The Grand Canyon is one of America’s favorite national parks, and very popular. And there is plenty to see and do there. If you’re coming from Southern Utah, you’ll likely want to go to North Rim, as it is closer, but that’s up to you. We’ve written a little about the Grand Canyon before, so check out this post for more details!

What to Do:

  • 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.

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