Grand Circle road trip: see the wonders of nature


The United States is a country of many landscapes — red rock canyons, mesmerizing salt flats, eerie deserts, lush rainforests, tropical coasts — and that’s just the beginning! It could take a lifetime to discover the many earthly paradises that comprise this great nation, and there’s no time like the present to get started. 

One of the best adventures you can embark on is a Grand Circle road trip through Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Driving through the Southwest’s dramatic terrain will leave you in awe — stopping for a day or two to explore the following national parks is downright unforgettable. With a van rental from Greenvans, you can kick back, enjoy the scenery, and hit a few or many of our 12 recommended Grand Circle travel destinations!

Interested in turning your national park tour into something more? Take l-80 from east to west for the ultimate cross-country road trip!

1. Zion National Park

There’s no two ways around it. Zion National Park is quite a place. Littered with slot canyons, nature trails, and rose-colored sandstone cliffs, visitors will find themselves immersed among unique plants and animals they’ve likely never seen before. 

If you have one day to spend in Zion National Park, here are a few places to visit:

  • Pa’rus Trail
  • Zion Visitor Center
  • Watchman Trail

Hiking in Utah isn’t for the weary, so come packed with plenty of water and snacks. If you follow the itinerary above, you’re sure to work up an appetite — follow up your Zion adventure with a hearty dinner in Springdale where a handful of cafes, Mexican restaurants, and sports grills await.

Timeline: We suggest spending two full days here to fully enjoy the park.

Pro tip: Take a scenic drive or hike through the underrated Kolob Canyons. 

Photo by Jamie Hagan on Unsplash

2. Antelope Canyon

You’ve seen it slathered all over social media for a reason — Antelope Canyon is one of the most stunning slot canyons in the world due to its wave-like walls and dancing light beams. The natural wonder is of profound spiritual significance for the Navajo people and therefore must be visited with a licensed tour guide. 

Both the upper and lower canyons are open to tourists, with the upper being more popular due to its access to sunlight and photo opportunities. The lower canyon provides more of a physical challenge but is also much less crowded. Either way, tours sell out months in advance so book early.

Timeline: A full day visit is recommended, though an overnight or two gives time to visit nearby attractions like Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell. 

Pro tip: If you’ll be there in the summer, plan a midday tour for more intense light beams.

Photo by Fudo Jahic on Unsplash

3. Arches National Park

For a captivating landscape featuring over 2,000 natural stone arches and wild rock formations, take a ride to Arches National Park. There are trails for all levels of physicality, so whether you want something more leisurely or you’re looking for a challenge, this park has it all. 

Top sights to see in Arches National Park include: 

  • Devils Garden Trail
  • Delicate Arch
  • Landscape Arch

The small but mighty desert city of Moab is a short drive from the park’s entrance and overflows with galleries, eateries, and gift shops. It’s also one of our favorite spring break road trip destinations!

Timeline: Arches is often combined as a day trip with Canyonlands National Park, but we recommend dedicating one full day so you can see everything without feeling rushed.

Pro tip: Sign up for a thrilling 4×4 tour that takes you to places off the beaten path.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

4. Grand Canyon National Park

One of the biggest attractions on the Grand Circle tour is the breathtaking Grand Canyon, 277 miles of ravine carved out over thousands of years by the Colorado River. The most popular way to see it is from the South Rim, home to a plethora of trails and viewpoints. 

Don’t miss the following sights and trails on a day at the South Rim:

  • Mather Point 
  • Yavapai Point 
  • Bright Angel Trail

Between hiking into the ravine, rafting on the river, and stargazing at night, you won’t be at a loss of things to do for a few days in Grand Canyon National Park. When you’re ready to relax, head to Grand Canyon Village for a bite and an overnight.

Timeline: We recommend two to three days in Grand Canyon National Park.

Pro tip: Wake up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise over the canyon. It’s stunning!

Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

5. Mesa Verde National Park

Catch a glimpse into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, known for its fascinating archaeological sites and well-preserved cliff dwellings. Hike the unique trails like Petroglyph Point and Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. 

Since the highlight of a visit to Mesa Verde National Park is a tour of a cliff dwelling or two, book a ranger guide to bring you inside.

Things you’ll definitely want to do are:

  • Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
  • Cliff Palace and Balcony House
  • A ride along Mesa Top Ruins Road

There are some incredible scenic drives here and the best way to see them is from a spacious, air-conditioned van rental. Cruise down Wetherill Mesa Drive, Mesa Top Ruins Road, and Park Road for unforgettable views and overlooks.

Timeline: Two days is a good amount of time to spend at Mesa Verde National Park.

Pro tip: Spring and fall see fewer crowds and more reasonable temperatures.

Photo by Laura Seaman on Unsplash

6. Canyonlands National Park

As one might suspect, Canyonlands National Park is full of canyons. Amazing, multicolored ones, chiseled long ago by the powerful Colorado River. The park is expansive and visitors might want to focus on exploring a particular section, such as Island in the Sky, to make the most of their time. 

There are countless viewpoints and hiking trails, like Mesa Arch Trail and the White Rim Overlook Trail. Not to mention scenic drives, like the 100-mile White Rim Road that loops around Island in the Sky.

Timeline: Two to three days in Canyonlands National Park is ideal, but if you only have one, spend it in Island in the Sky for maximum use of your time.

Pro tip: Plan to see the sun rise above the park from Mesa Arch.

Photo by Dann Petty on Unsplash

7. Bryce Canyon National Park

If the Grand Circle tour of your dreams includes a visit to another planet, put Bryce Canyon National Park on your list. It may be located in Utah, but the terrain is otherworldly. Incredible rock spires, known as hoodoos, blanket the landscape in bright shades of red, pink, and orange, contrasted by deep green leaves of Ponderosa pines. It’s truly a sight to behold.

Descend into the heart of these wild rock formations with a hike down the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail. You’ll also want to make sure to hit Inspiration Point, an overlook with a direct vista of the Bryce Amphitheater.

Timeline: We recommend spending two days at the park.

Pro tip: Sign up for a ranger-led stargazing experience.

Photo by Sean Lee on Unsplash

8. Capitol Reef National Park

Nestled smack in the middle of red rock country is Capitol Reef National Park, a remote geological wonder dating back nearly 200 million years. Its most unique feature is the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the earth’s crust that has since formed natural bridges and canyons optimal for exploration.

If you’ve rented a van, start your visit with a ride along the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, which highlights the park’s distinctive terrain. Hiking enthusiasts should then head to Hickman Bridge Trail or the Grand Wash Trail for a day of discovery. Nightfall offers yet another unforgettable activity — the park’s extremely low levels of light pollution make it one of the best in the country to stargaze.

Timeline: One to two days is a sufficient amount of time at Capitol Reef.

Pro tip: Have a slice of pie at the Gifford House, a historic farmhouse and bakery that uses fruits grown in its on-property orchard in its tasty creations.

Photo by Jahmanz Williams on Unsplash

9. Petrified Forest National Park

Painted deserts and rainbow forests — what more could one ask for on a Grand Circle tour? The Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona is a hotbed of history and natural phenomena, like petroglyphs to Triassic-era plant and animal fossils.

Things you won’t want to miss when visiting Petrified Forest National Park:

  • A scenic ride on 28-mile-long Main Park Road
  • Painted Desert Visitor Center 
  • Rainbow Forest Museum

Hiking opportunities abound in the park. Start your day early in the Painted Desert section, where you can walk along the 2.3-mile Jasper Forest Trail that cuts through multihued rock formations and countless pieces of petrified wood.

Timeline: To see the main attractions, one day is enough, though two days is recommended to experience the park in more depth.

Pro tip: Unlike many national parks, Petrified Forest National Park closes at 5:00 p.m., so plan your day accordingly. 

Photo by Ben Soyka on Unsplash

10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Millions of years ago, the Gunnison River artfully sculpted one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes. Located in Colorado, the Black Canyon’s steep cliffs and jagged rock formations are juxtaposed by a fast-flowing river at the base. We recommend starting at the North Rim, home to an abundance of activity including scenic drives, hikes, kayaking opportunities, and rock climbing.

Hiking enthusiasts who can handle a moderate level of activity should try out the following self-guided trails:

  • Rim Rock Nature Trail
  • Oak Flat Loop Trail
  • Warner Point Nature Trail

If you have the time, dedicate two days to the park so you can spend one day exploring the North Rim and another checking out the South Rim.

Timeline: One to two days.

Pro tip: Bring snacks or an easy-to-carry picnic lunch to enjoy at the overlook of Gunnison Point, located near the South Rim Visitor Center.

11. Navajo Nation Reservation

Not a park, per se, but still something to incorporate into your Grand Circle road trip, Navajo Nation Reservation spans nearly 30,000 square acres of terrain that encompasses canyons, mesas, and vast desert. 

Within the reservation are many earthly marvels to behold, including:

  • Monument Valley
  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument
  • Navajo Zoological and Botanical Park

Arts-and-craftsy travelers can join an artisan-led workshop that teaches basket weaving, pottery and jewelry making, while culture aficionados will delight in local celebrations open to the public, like dance contests and intertribal powwows. 

Timeline: Anywhere from three to fives days is an ideal amount of time to discover the reservation.

Pro tip: Art and history lovers won’t want to miss a visit to the extensive Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of Navajo Nation.

12. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Bring it all together with a visit to one of the most remote of the Grand Circle national parks. Comprising nearly one million acres of land in southern Utah, the monument is drowning in arches, monoliths, slot canyons, and natural bridges of varying colors and textures. It’s rugged, it’s desolate, and it’s well worth a day or two of your Grand Circle road trip.

Start with a drive on Scenic Byway 12 before a hike on Wire Pass Trail. Pin your must-sees on a digital map ahead of time, including quirky places like Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon and Calf Creek Falls. 

Plan out ample time to discover the park’s three main sections:

  • Escalante Canyons
  • Grand Staircase
  • Kaiparowits plateau

Timeline: Two days is a suggested period of time to spend here.

Pro tip: Cell service can be unreliable due to the park’s remote location, so pin everything ahead of time or use an old-fashioned paper map.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

One week Grand Circle road trip itinerary

A one week Grand Circle road trip itinerary can be approached in a variety of ways. If you’re a first-timer looking to hit as many parks as possible, it’s best to dedicate one full day to each of the following seven parks. 

Map out the itinerary in this particular order to maximize time and guarantee the most beautiful scenery while on the road.

  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Antelope Canyon
  • Grand Canyon National Park

Two lovely times of year to visit this part of the U.S. are springtime, from March to May, and fall, from September to November. The temperatures are mild, the foliage is vibrant, and you’ll encounter smaller crowds.

Two week Grand Circle road trip itinerary

A two week Grand Circle road trip can mean one of two things: either spending more time in each of the parks suggested above, or hitting more parks. 

If you decide that seeing as much as possible is more important to you, consider the following itinerary in this order:

  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Monument Valley Tribal Park (Navajo Nation Reservation)
  • Antelope Canyon
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park

This itinerary also weaves in the ability to spend two nights at the magnificent Grand Canyon National Park.

What to pack for your national park tour

After planning your ultimate Grand Circle tour, packing is the next important activity on the list. To have a stress-free experience, you’ll want everything you need at your disposal. Renting a van from Greenvans is a great way to guarantee the necessary space to bring all the essentials while still ensuring everyone on board has the best view!

Don’t forget to put the following items in the back of your rental van:

  • Reusable water bottles
  • Snacks for the road and the parks
  • Wet wipes and tissues
  • Handheld fans and spray bottles for hot days
  • Cash 
  • Portable chargers
  • Hiking boots and gear
  • Light rain jacket or poncho
  • Compact backpacks 
  • Small first aid kit
  • Map or GPS devices for hiking
  • Sun protection, including creams and hats
  • Extra clothing layers for cool nights
  • Podcasts, audiobooks, and music for entertainment while on the road

See the wonders of the world with Greenvans

Discover the breathtaking beauty of the Southwest United States on a Grand Circle road trip. Rock climbers, hikers, photographers, and wildlife lovers will be blown away by the endless activities and spectacular landscapes that sweep the regional landscape. Perfect for travelers of all styles, the most challenging thing you’ll have to do in this part of the world is leave!

No matter where you want to go on our list of Grand circle national parks, Greenvans can take you there. Concerned that your starting point is outside the range of our Northeast offices? Not to worry! We can easily ship a rental van right to your front door.

What’s more, our comfortable, sleek passenger vans come with 24-hour roadside assistance and a team working around-the-clock to make sure your journey is unforgettable, in a good way!


The quality & service you’re looking for is right here.