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The Grand Circle

September 28, 2010

The Grand Circle is the king of all road-trips covering several spectacular national parks in Utah and Arizona. Between them, these two states are home to 8 national parks, not counting the various national monuments and national recreation areas! Utah has the majority – 5 national parks and 1 tribal park – making it the crown jewel state of America’s National Parks. A trip to Utah is incomplete without a visit to at least one or more of the following –

  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Monument Valley Tribal Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park

With 5 days and more national parks than we could cover, we had to choose some for now and save the others for later!

We planned for Zion, Bryce, Arches, Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon in this trip. One good thing we did was decide to fly to Vegas. It’s perfectly doable with a long drive to Vegas and on to Zion and so forth from the West Coast, provided you have enough time to both drive and enjoy the park(s). But with a limited number of days and the ambitious goal to do the Grand Circle, we booked flights to Vegas (yay for http://www.cheaptickets.com) and this gave us plenty of time to plan for the travel between the parks as well as spend at least 1-2 days in each place.

Whenever possible, we try to combine one or two additional vacation days with the regular 3-day long weekend. That way you get the advantage of beating the traffic and getting better deals with flights/accommodation if you leave a day before, and come back a day after. Our itinerary was –

Day 1 – Set out after the work day. Fly in to Vegas in the evening. Viva Las Vegas! Who needs sleep?!

Day 2 – Drive to Zion in the morning (3 hours). All day in Zion. Hikes, sight-seeing. Drive to Panguitch (2.5 hours) near Bryce. Stay in Panguitch. Bryce is 30mins away.

Day 3 – Morning at Bryce. All day in Bryce. Sunset at Bryce. Stay in Panguitch again. With this, you can do both Sunrise and Sunset at Bryce Canyon (a must-see!)

Day 4 – Sunrise at Bryce. Drive in the morning to Arches (5 hours). All day in Arches. Stay in Moab (45mins away).

Day 5 – Drive in the morning to Monument Valley (3 hours). Afternoon in Monument Valley. It’s a long 8 hour drive back to Vegas from Monument Valley. We decided to break the journey  in Page, AZ (2.5 hour drive) for the night.

Day 6 – Morning in Antelope Canyon, sightseeing tour at midday. Continue remaining drive (5.5 hours) to Vegas for return flight.

Each park has tons of things to do, with many enticing and often strenuous hikes. We had to choose carefully and plan for each day so that we could do the main things and enjoy them without tiring ourselves out senseless.

It would be unfair to breezily cover all the parks in one post because each one is so different and there is so much to write about them all. So, watch this space for more! For now, I will leave you with one of our favorite photos of Monument Valley from this trip – the iconic wild wild west.

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