How To Plan The Grand Circle Road Trip Of A Lifetime

Follow These Steps For The Coolest Possible 1 Week Grand Circle Road Tip Ever!

As time goes on, we’ve become a little disconnected from nature. It’s something to be expected in the digital age, but people are increasingly pushing back, finding ways to bolster their interrupted relationship with nature. One way people have been doing this is by visiting green spaces and embracing adventures like the Grand Circle road trip. The problem is, most people are a little intimidated by the prospect. We’re here to help, though. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to ensure your Grand Circle road trip is fun, fulfilling, and successful. 

Locales that Make Up the Grand Circle Road Trip

There are tons of National Park round trips out there, but the Grand Circle road trip is perhaps the most famous of them all. This tour is an epic drive that mainly takes you through Utah and crosses over into Arizona territory. 

It’s comprised of visits to several different National Parks that can be completed anywhere from a week to two or more and boasts not just amazing views but also incredible hiking opportunities, awesome visitor exhibits, fun biking trails, and a range of other activities. Want to learn more? Here are the six parks you can expect to visit on your road trip.

red rocks of Zion National Park

Zion National Park

If you’re looking for a fantastic kickstart to the trip, you can’t choose a better first stop than Zion National Park. This southwestern Utah locale offers all the scenic wonders you could ask for. Steep, rising red cliffs, gorgeous, preserved greenery, and the amazing Emerald Pools are breathtaking to see in-person. They’ll surely leave an impression and one you won’t forget anytime soon. 

a young man hiking through the Narrows of Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

While Zion offers much in the way of natural beauty, Bryce Canyon offers its own magic. Unlike the former, forests and waterfalls aren’t the attraction here. The dusty orange rock is the real star, a collection of vast spire-shaped figures that dot the entirety of the landscape. Beyond just these awe-inspiring formations, dawns and dusks are incredibly impactful at Bryce Canyon and make for some of the best photographs money could never buy.

lava flowing rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Much like Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park is known for its striking rock formations, intimidating yet beautiful canyons, and many ridges. Out of all the stops on the Grand Circle road trip, it’s perhaps one of the most rugged and rocky of them all, making for particularly strenuous rock-climbing outings and hiking adventures. None of it’s for the faint of heart, but it’s ideal should you find yourself wanting some excitement. 

capitol reef national park at sunset

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for, well, it’s 2000 plus sandstone arches. They’re a sight to behold, massive and towering yet also somewhat delicate. The skies also tend to be rather dark around the park, even with the rising light pollution of neighboring towns. That makes it not only a fabulous stop for camping and backpacking but also for viewing the stars at night. 

arches national park at dusk

Canyonlands National Park

It may sound a bit like an amusement park, but Canyonlands National Park is as rough and natural as it gets. This park features unbelievably scenic views and has just a bit of everything in it. The landscape is mostly a dramatic desert (and one that looks amazing on camera). Still, it also has remote canyons, whitewater rapids, a flat-topped mesa, and pinnacles known as the Needles to explore. Be sure to bring good shoes and plenty of water when you visit, because you’re going to need it.

a high vantage point of canyonlands national park

Grand Canyon National Park

Last but certainly not least, you’ve got the Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Circle road trip just wouldn’t be complete without it. This northwestern Arizona park is home to the famous Grand Canyon – a massive gorge considered one of the major world wonders – and is endlessly inspiring. Most of your visit will probably be centered around the park’s more-accessible South Rim, although the North Rim provides excellent hiking for seasoned travelers. 

a high vantage point of the grand canyon

Plant-Based Food Options On The Grand Circle Road Trip

So you’re not stuck eating fast food or at gas stations. 

While you may feel like you’re able to live off pure enthusiasm and that road-tripping can-do attitude, you’re still going to need a little actual sustenance on the road. Sorry, but food is a non-negotiable. Unfortunately, that can get a bit rocky for vegetarians and even more so for our vegan friends out there. Uncertain how to navigate that? We can guide you a bit here.

First thing’s first, we recommend getting some provisions together for snacks and light meals. Utah and Arizona have progressed much as the rest of the US in recent years. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are popping up more and more, and you can typically find some plant-based option in most establishments. But that doesn’t mean they’re always great options nor ones you’ll actually be interested in. That’s where plenty of supplies comes in handy. Dried fruit, nuts, power bars, veg-friendly sandwich fixings, and basically anything else you can throw in a pack or cooler will come in handy both on the road and out and about.

vegan breakfast bowl

Restaurants

Back to those restaurants, it might take a little looking around. Suppose you’re craving something fast and not particularly good for you. In that case, most Burger Kings have plant-based burgers, and both Taco Bell and any pizza joint you find allow for extensive customization, making them okay for vegetarians (and even some vegans) in a pinch.

Actually looking to fuel your body for all the outdoor activities you’ll be indulging in? Café Rio, Xeteva Gardens, and Benja’s Thai Garden in the St. George area all have vegetarian-specific options and several other options that can be made such with a couple of simple swaps. Benja’s is especially great for this thanks to how veg-heavy Thai naturally tends to be. Need to find something in a different area? The Happy Cow app is a must-have, helping find vegan and vegetarian options no matter where you are.

a nice restaurant

Tips For Pre-Planning The Grand Circle Road Trip

It’s all about the prep work.

The Grand Circle road trip is a fairly large undertaking. It’s not a short trip by any means, and it can be a bit of a challenge to prepare for. That’s especially true for any newbies out there, folks who haven’t before had the pleasure of exploring National Parks at large. That can make planning fairly stressful, but don’t worry. Here are our biggest tips to ensure you ace your pre-trip planning.

a high vantage point view of bryce canyon national park

Tip 1: Do Your Research

It should go without saying, but doing your research is an essential step in your trip’s success. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to figure out all the basics. Keep a close eye on the weather, any travel advisories, and closures that might impact your travel and time at the parks. You don’t want to drive or fly for several hours just to turn back home! You should get informed on park hours and closings, attraction hours, fees, and required passes or permits, too.

a camera and notebooks on top of a map

Tip 2: Don’t Forget to Pack the Essentials

Your backpack (or whatever else you’re carrying on your trip) is a major lifeline. This is just compounded whenever you’re out in the park hiking, rock climbing, rafting, etc. Always remember to pack all the essentials. These include:

  • Maps, a compass, and GPS. Yeah, you may have a phone and Google maps at your fingertips, but solely relying on these is a bad idea. You can easily run out of battery, be in an area out of service, or have your phone get damaged, so it’s always a good idea to keep navigation stuff on hand. And above all, you need to know how to use it.
  • Protection from the sun. You’ll most likely be out in the sun for long periods of time. Since burns can quickly turn serious when out for hours at a time, pack and use sunscreen and a shady hat.
  • Warm clothing. Temps may be super hot during the day, but desert climates can feel frigid at night, especially if you’ve had an accident or been in the water/rain recently. Pack extra clothing like a jacket, gloves, thermal base layers, socks, and a raincoat.
  • Lights. We wouldn’t recommend wandering around late at night, but things happen. You could get lost or simply be in an area without any artificial light available. Bring your own via lamps and flashlights to guarantee you’ll never be left in the dark.
a family hiking in canyonlands national park with hiking gear

Additional Supplies

  • First aid kit. You should bring everything mentioned, but if you only bring one thing, let it be this. Emergencies always happen when you least expect them, and you should be prepared. Pack a pre-made kit and fit it with anything else you think could come in handy.
  • Basic survival tools. You’ll hopefully never need them, but basic survival gear and repair kits can save your life should you run into trouble. Matches, lighters, or fire starters, duct tape, a knife, scissors, and a multi-tool should immediately find a place in your pack. Oh, and while you can’t pack this, be sure to also tell a friend/traveling companion where you are at all times. Better yet, always travel with someone else! There really is safety in numbers.
  • Food and water. Staying hydrated and well-fed is crucial when you’re out exerting yourself. Dehydration and a lack of food can turn seriously impact your health – or turn dire in an emergency situation. Keep plenty of snacks on hand and continuously sip on water throughout the day. Don’t forget to refill it throughout the day.
First-Aid Kit Checklist For Your National Parks Trip

Tip 3: Figure Out Your Must-Do Activities

The Grand Circle road trip is an absolute blast. The views and the general vibe of all the parks are incredible, but a good part of the fun has to do with the activities you do during your trip. Before you ever even get to your destination, be sure to figure out what you want to put on your personal itinerary. What you can do is dependent on the individual parks, although some of the most common activities include hiking, fishing, rock-climbing, guided tours, camping, and more. Some locations even allow for whitewater rafting or tours on donkeys. Do a little extra research, and you’ll surely find other once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

angels landing, zion national park

Tip 4: Have Fun!

All the planning for your road trip and in-between travel can be exhausting and stressful. There’s no doubt about that. But remember, the whole point of this is to have a good time. So, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Plan plenty of cool activities. Push yourself to try new things. Take lots of awesome photos. Find time to relax and unwind. The Grand Circle road trip is as good as you make it. Make it a good one.  

a first person view of grand canyon national park with feet hanging off edge
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