If you have not heard of the Grand Circle road trip, you have come to the right place.
Grand Circle is one of the most popular road trips in the U.S. It includes famous National Parks, such as: Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef National Parks, and more. While this road trip, for most people, is supposed to be done in the span of at least 1 week to 2, we did it in 4 days.
Well, not to scare you away, but we actually did a mini version of the Grand Circle, of course, with skipping a few parks. In my opinion, each location is worth at least a day or two whether you choose to hike, camp out, or book your own hotel/resort. If you are on short on time like us, have been wanting to explore Arizona and Utah similar ways like how we have done it, and can be able to hike for 4-6 hours, this blog post is for you! This was also highly requested by many of you, so hope you enjoy!
A few things to note: We flew to Las Vegas, rented as SUV to accommodate 4 people (me, my boyfriend, my boyfriend’s cousin, and his girlfriend) and dirt roads.We did not spend a lot at fancy hotels, so if that is something you concern about, feel free to upgrade. Food was not our priority while road tripping, so we just stopped by places with decent Yelp reviews and went from there. In some areas, we did not have any internet service, so download or pre-load Google Map is definitely helpful from point A to point B! We packed clothes for light hiking conditions, sneakers, and sandals. Feel free to wear hiking boots if you are planning to camp in or hike longer than 4-6 hours.
I would suggest you bring a light but warm enough jacket. I was not aware of the cold and windy mountainous conditions, so I was freezing almost the whole time, especially at night and early morning. Important things to check before booking anything or driving to any of these places are road closures, park closures, construction, and weather. I’d recommend plotting all of the locations that I am going to bold them below on Google Maps, add or remove locations, and plan your time and budget accordingly.
$30 entrance fee/vehicle
We arrived at Zion, paid the fee, and finally were able to find a parking on the side of the street after passing the park entrance. As it got quite late, an hour behind our schedule, we decided to take the shuttle to Angel’s Landing trailhead. I’d definitely recommend hiking Angel’s Landing early. We started hiking at around 3 p.m, got to the top at around 6 p.m, and made it back just in time for the last shuttle pick up at 8:30 p.m. I mean we did take many breaks for snacks and photos, so I’d say the hike is do-able in half day.
Angel’s Landing hike was by far the most challenging yet rewarding hike I’ve ever done. There were a lot of zig-zag turns and up-hill segments right off from the beginning. It especially got scary near the top when the only thing you got to hang on to was a metal chain. Thank God it was not too windy nor did it rain, otherwise we could not be able to finish the hike in any shapes or forms. We were a few of the last people towards the top, but we decided to push through and finish it till the end. And we did! And to be honest, the 360 degree view from the top was beyond words to describe.
*I had to give a shout-out to my boyfriend since he had always been afraid of height but was able to make it to the top. If you are like him, you can stop and make a U-turn at any points, so keep in mind that you’ll gain about 1,500 feet in elevation. I loved every second of it though!
$30 entrance fee/vehicle
We woke up at around 7:30 am and drove to the Lodge about 45 minutes before our tour started. Greeted by cowboys at the front desk, we were told to go change into sneakers and long pants. Also, water bottles or backpacks were not allowed either. At 10 a.m, we had to gather in front of the horse pen and were assigned horses based on our body height and weight. I was assigned to Jay-R or JR, a darker brown, skinnier, and much faster horse compared to many others. I wanted a white one, but one of the tour guys/cowboys said I would need to weigh around 220 lbs in order to ride him. Jay-R was awesome though! It was so funny that the guy and his horse in front of me got so slow any many uphill points, Jay-R would get so fast and close but would politely slow down. I guessed they were all trained to not pass the horse in front of them. At times, I felt kind of bad that they had to carry another human trying to go up and down the rocky and hilly trail. The views were incredible! I kept on pulling out my phone to capture every second of it. I had to put my phone in the waist of my pants since my phone was too big for the pants’ pocket to fit in.
It smelled like shit in there, like literally, the horses peed and pooped everywhere in the pen and along the trail. The horses would often make pit stops, pee like 2 gallons each time, so don’t be so shocked and get your butt prepared to be hurt. Our tour guide would often stop to check up on us who got behind and informed us the names of some cool rock formations, plant species, and other cool things that only happened down in the canyon valley. We saw some black burnt trees and turned out they actually got hit and burnt by lighting since there was so much Iron collected on the ground.
Horse-riding has always been a dream of mine ever since I was little. Horses are my favorite animals, and coincidentally, I was also born in the year of the horse. Others would rate the experience 4, 6, or 8.5 out of 10 because of the smell and how slow they all were, but you guessed it! Mine was a 10. Jay-R was so cute! I was the happiest girl alive. I would love to do a mountain trail in the future, and of course, try a faster horse-riding tour in a near future.
After horse riding, we grabbed some sandwiches at a Subway nearby and drove to Inspiration Point. It was only about 20 minutes away from Bryce park entrance. This was an excellent Bryce Canyon overlook, filled with colorful ‘hoodoos’ that awe almost everyone who had ever seen it in person. I heard that you can always hike down there. Since we were short on time, we just spent about half an hour here. Coyote Buttes: Wire Pass, UT
Wire Pass is rated easy, but it’s not your average hike.
Wire Pass trailhead (Kanab) is marked with a sign, and Google Maps was able to navigate us to the parking lot. After about 8 miles off the freeway driving on a dirt road and a mile hike along a wide and meandering stream bed over soft sand, we were surprised by huge reddish cliffs that gradually become higher and narrower, followed by two stretches of narrows or slot canyons. Not to mention many cool and interesting rock formations that kept me in awe the whole time. There was also an 8-foot drop in one of the slots. Perfect for a half-day wanna hikers, kids, & dogs, or family in general.
The Wave or White pocket at Kanab are other alternatives! We did the Wire Pass trail instead since it required no drawings nor reservation ahead of time! To enter the Wave, there is a drawing. If you never win drawings, or you’re bad at planning ahead, the White Pocket area East of the Wave is just as swirly with a fraction of the traffic. Getting there takes some effort I have heard. I am sure I will have to come back very soon, and I already know that it will take me a century to do so.
We did the Lower Antelope at Ken’s tour.
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon. It is on Navajo land, East of Page, Arizona. It includes two separate sections, The Upper Antelope’ known as ‘The Crack’ and the Lower Antelope or ‘The Corkscrew.’ Both are accessible by guided tour only.
Our tour guild, named Rock Rock, from Ken’s tour, was a native American.
Even though the Upper Antelope is more well-known for some areas that have light beams, you can only get those on bright sunny days. It is also more expensive and crowded, however. We did the Lower Antelope which was a complete all-walking and accessed via a few steep stairs down the canyon. Occasionally, strong winds would blow the sand flying from the above cracks everywhere. Regardless, I thought it was very impressive and stunning in person and in photos. Nature is amazing!
Oh, that famous Horseshoe Bend!
It is huge!
Even though it is located in Glen Canyon, it is often known or is included as a part of the Grand Canyon experience. The Horseshoe Bend trailhead is about 3/4 mile hike, just outside of Page, Arizona. It overlooks one of the most spectacular views on the Colorado River (the river that flows through Grand Canyon). It was a bit crowded as we had to wait for our turn to take photos at certain spots. We spent a good half hour taking in the incredible view, took lots of photos, and left since the wind was so strong that it kept blowing sand on our face.
After Horshoe Bend, we drove South exploring the North Rim of Grand Canyon. Needless to say, the drive through this area was incredibly amazing, canyons after canyons. The left photo below was taken at the freeway which cuts through the Marble Canyon and reveals the vast land that belonged to Grand Canyon on the other side. It is hard to explain this part, but I hope that you will get to experience this as this is truly amazing. Just make sure you fill up a full tank of gas before these long hours of driving. We drove about 2.5 hours trying to catch early sunset hours in the North Rim, but it turned out that the park was closed. We ended up making our way back down South, and luckily we caught the very last rays of the sun that day, in Navajo Point, Grand Canyon.
A few viewpoints in South Rim were also closed for the season, but we were able to catch the very last rays when the Sun was going down that day. It was so cold and windy but so worth it!
$30 entrance fee/vehicle
OUTFIT | SWEATER: JCREW old | LEGGINGS: LULULEMON (worn underneath) and layered them with TOPSHOP pants | SNEAKERS: ALLBIRDS THE WOOL RUNNERS
Again, my outfit above was not a good example. I would definitely recommend wearing a warm jacket since it was so high up in elevation and early in the morning. The wind made it a thousand times worst. We drove back to our hotel and slept for an hour, packed up, and left since we had night flights to catch. We made it back to Las Vegas around 2:30 pm, had late lunch at Gangnam Asian BBQ restaurant and had the best relaxing experience getting our foot and body massage done. Oh, and we also got some bubble teas at Kungfu tea, right next to The Foot Spa. My boyfriend’s cousin and his girlfriend (now fiance) had to catch an earlier flight than us, so we took the car and drove to Seven Magic Mountains.
Congrats on making it to the end of this post. As mentioned at the beginning, we did skip some other major places in the Grand Circle. I thought we accomplished and got to see a lot in those short 4 days. I really hope you have enjoyed reading through this blog post. Feel free to leave me any questions you might have in the comment section below. Again, photos often time don’t really do nature its justice, but shout out to my boyfriend who captured and edited all of these amazing images.
You can check out his work, here.
All photos by Toan Chu Photography.