Our Ultimate 2 Week Grand Circle Road Trip Itinerary

A family posed in front of Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National park - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip
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Utah boasts 5 national parks, commonly referred to as “The Mighty 5” when done as a single road trip. But why stop there? In addition to all 5 Utah national parks, you can easily add Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, and Lake Powell (Glen Canyon Recreation Area) to your itinerary. All together this makes up the Grand Circle road trip.

How To Use This Itinerary

We’ve tried to make this itinerary as customizable as possible. As it stands, it can be done in a busy 2 weeks. We would love it if everyone could spend 3 weeks on a Grand Circle road trip, but totally get that for most people that isn’t possible. Whenever possible, we’ve indicated places that are good to add time (if you have it!) or cut if you’re super short on time.

This itinerary starts from Salt Lake City, Utah. You could pick it up from somewhere else. Las Vegas, Nevada is another common starting point. If you start in Las Vegas, go to Zion or Grand Canyon first.

We’ve listed approximate drive times and distances. That’s only “in the car” time. Your travel time will vary depending on breaks and sightseeing.

Google Maps route of a Grand Circle road trip itinerary

2 Week Grand Circle Itinerary

Day 1: Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah

Driving Time: 5 hours

Today is the first day of your Grand Circle road trip. I know you’re excited, but today is largely a travel day. Settle in with a good audiobook and start your engines.

Make use of any evening time you have left with a visit to Arches National Park.

If you arrive in time, Delicate Arch is postcard-perfect at sunset. It’s also a massive crowd scene. If anyone in your group is afraid of heights, Delicate Arch may not be the hike for you.

Day 2: Arches National Park

A family in front of Delicate Arch at Arches National Park - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Today is your chance to enjoy all that Arches National Park has to offer. You really can’t go wrong with what you decide to see. The only mistake you can make is arriving too late. By 8:00 am the entrance line will be huge.

Today we recommend you:

  • Enter the park early.
  • Hike Delicate Arch first, if you missed it at sunset on Day 1.
  • Pick up a Junior Ranger book at the Visitor Center
  • Drive through the park hitting several of the short, gorgeous hikes. You should be able to fit in several. Great choices include Park Avenue, Windows, Double O Arch, Balanced Rock, and Tower Rock (AWD required).
  • Finish off your day outsid the park on a heart pumping sunset jeep tour with Dan Mick’s Jeep Tours.

One longer hike worth the time and advanced planning is Fiery Furnace. This is our favorite hike in all the national parks we’ve visited. A permit is required so make sure to read our detailed trail guide.

Day 3: Canyonlands National Park & Dead Horse State Park

Dead Horse Point Overlook at Dead Horse State Park - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Driving Time: 2 hours

Today you are headed to the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park. Like Arches, Canyonlands offers lots of shorter hikes that are great for families and multi-generational trips.

Canyonlands is divided into 4 parts and roads do not connect the different areas. The area closest to Moab is Island in the Sky.

Today we recommend:

  • Start your day with the short hike to Mesa Arch (0.5 miles). You’ll probably just catch the sunrise photographers finishing up.
  • Clamber up the dome of Whale Rock (1 mile, but steep)
  • Stop at the Green River Overlook
  • Hike to Grand View Overlook (2 miles)
  • Complete your Canyonlands NP Junior Ranger badge at the Visitor Center.
  • Spend late afternoon in Dead Horse State Park. At minimum, do the short, paved walk to Dead Horse Point Overlook Trail and complete the Utah State Park Junior Ranger badge.

Extra time? We recommend river rafting and more time in Arches.

Day 4: Canyonlands National Park Needles Area

Driving Time: 2.5 hours

Short on time? Head straight to Mesa Verde National Park. Skip Canyonlands Needles area, Hovenweep, and Anasazi Heritage Center.

Forget the crowds in Arches and Canyonlands Island in the Sky. Today, you leave them all behind in the Needles area of Canyonlands. Seriously, I don’t think we saw another person on the trails.

After you drive from Moab to Canyonlands Needles, we recommend you:

  • Explore the 0.6-mile Cave Spring trail.
  • Traverse the wild landscape of the Slickrock trail (2.4 miles).
  • Appreciate the Newspaper Rock petroglyphs from 2000 BC.

Stay the night in the small town of Monticello, Utah.

Extra Time? Natural Bridges National Monument features three magnificent rock bridges.

Day 5: Hovenweep National Monument and Travel to Mesa Verde National Park

Driving Time: 2.5 hours

Today you’re headed to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado! Luckily, the drive offers several great stops to learn about ancestral Puebloan cultures as you head towards Mesa Verde.

For more details, read our Hovenweep travel guide.

Today we recommend you:

  • Visit Hovenweep National Monument. Hike the Square Tower Group loop trail including Tower Point (2 miles)and earn your Junior Ranger badge.
  • Enjoy the hands-on activities at the Anasazi Heritage Center
  • Stop at the Mesa Verde NP Visitor Center. Pick up a map and Junior Ranger book. Book your ruins tour, if you didn’t do it in advance (ideally you did).

We recommend staying inside the park. The drive from the park entrance to the sites is 1-1.5 hours. Otherwise, stay in the nearby towns of Mancusco or Cortez. 

If you stay in the park, make sure and look up tonight. The high altitude and dark skies make stargazing AMAZING.

Day 6: Mesa Verde NP

Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Driving Time: 2 hours

Unlike the natural beauty of the Mighty Five, Mesa Verde is all about immersing yourself in ancestral Puebloan history and culture.

For more details on visiting this unique national park, read our complete guide to Mesa Verde.

2021 Closures! Both Balcony House and Cliff Palace are closed in 2021. Other Cliff Dwelling tours are still available.

Today we recommend you:

  • Get up close with history on a cliff dwelling tour. Try to book your tickets in advance. Our favorite cliff dwelling is Balcony House tour as it’s a little bit adventurous, but if you want less climbing consider Cliff Palace.
  • Send a postcard from the second smallest post office in the USA
  • Drive the Mesa Top Loop and stop at the Far View sites. Our favorite is Sun Point View across the Cliff Palace.
  • Get sworn in as a Junior Ranger.
  • Relax under the stars!

Day 7: Monument Valley & Page, Arizona

Monument Valley - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Driving Time: 4.5 hours

Monument Valley is a must-stop on the drive from Mesa Verde to Page, Arizona. We recommend driving US-163 through Mexican Hat. That route has the best views!

We took a slight detour and also crossed Four Corners Monument off the bucket list. After all, who doesn’t want to be four places at once?

Milepost 13 on US-163 is the “Forrest Gump” spot where Forrest famously decided he was done running back and forth across the US.

Monument Valley lies entirely on Navajo Nation land. Right now, you need to book a guided tour to see the valley up close. We can’t recommend a specific tour as we did the self-drive on our visit.

From Monument Valley, continue driving to Page, Arizona. You should be early enough to catch a stunning desert sunset.

Day 8: Page & Lake Powell

Extra time? Page, Arizona is worth at least 2 days of time. If you have extra time, consider adding a day. We especially like the trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

Today we recommend you:

  • Admire the beauty of Antelope Canyon
  • Enjoy the sparkling water of Lake Powell
  • Admire the sunset at Horsehoe Bend

Page is one of the larger cities on this road trip. Take some time to stock up on supplies.

Day 9: Page, Arizona to Grand Canyon

Driving Time: 2.5 hours

You have a big decision to make. Will you go to the North Rim or South Rim of the Grand Canyon? This itinerary works with either. Honestly, you can’t go wrong. The Grand Canyon will blow your mind no matter where you choose to go.

We prefer the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s quieter (but not quiet) and more wooded. The drive time is also shorter for this itinerary.

The South Rim is where you’ll find the classic Grand Canyon photo views. It’s lower, more deserty…and more crowded.

After your travel day, we recommend you:

  • Pick-up a map from the Visitor Center and get tips on viewpoints and hiking trails.
  • Start your Junior Ranger badge.
  • Find a place to unwind and enjoy a sunset view.

Day 10: Grand Canyon

A family on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Your goal today is to enjoy Grand Canyon views above and below The Rim.

A hike below The Rim will leave the crowds behind. Definitely watch the temperature and your water. You DO NOT want to be caught short of water on the hot, uphill hike out.

If you’re on the north side, take the North Kaibab Trail. Turn around by Supai Runnel (4 miles).

If you’re on the south side, try the Bright Angel Trail. Turn around by 1.5 Mile Resthouse (3 miles).

Day 11: Zion

A boy posed in The Narrows in Zion National Park - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Driving Time: 3 hours (from North Rim)

Driving Time: 5 hours (from South Rim)

Zion is gorgeous, but it’s also crowded. You must arrive early or the parking lots and trails will be full.

Today we recommend:

  • Hit the trails early! Our absolute favorite hike is The Narrows. If wading up a river isn’t your thing, Pa’rus Trail, Watchman Trail, and Lower Emerald Pools are all scenic, family-friendly hikes.
  • Attend a ranger talk and earn the Junior Ranger badge.
  • Drive Route 9 through the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel to Bryce National Park.

Extra time? Spend an extra day hiking inside the park or canyoneering outside the park.

Day 12: Bryce

A view down into the hoodoos in the Bryce Amphitheater - part of a Grand Circle Road Trip

Driving Time: 2 hours

The hoodoos are the highlight of the show at Bryce National Park. Enjoy them from above and also make sure you get down into Bryce Amphitheater to see them up close.

Today we recommend you:

  • Get oriented at the Visitor Center. Make sure and pick-up the Junior Ranger book and ask about the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” program.
  • Enjoy the viewpoints at Bryce Point and Inspiration Point.
  • Hike the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise points (1.0 mile).
  • Explore the hoodoos on the Queen’s Garden Trail to Navajo Loop (2.9 miles).
  • Drive the Scenic Southern Loop to Rainbow Point. Walk the Bristlecone Loop (1.0 mile) for the best views.
  • Enjoy pristine stargazing on your own or with a free Ranger-led program.

Extra time? Bryce or nearby Red Rock are perfect horseback riding territory. You could add on a day or swap out the Scenic Southern Loop to fit this in.

Day 13: Capitol Reef National Park

Driving Time: 2 hours

Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpected gem. Overshadowed by the more famous Bryce, Zion, and Arches, Capitol Reef is stunning in its own right.

The star attraction is the Waterpocket Fold – a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s surface.

Today we recommend you:

  • Stop at the Visitor Center to pick-up the Junior Ranger book and get a map
  • Drive the Scenic Drive, stopping wherever catches your fancy.
  • Hike Hickman Bridge (1.8 miles) or Cassidy Arch (3.5 miles).
  • Enjoy pie at the Gifford House Store and Museum (fingers crossed there’s still pie).
  • Pick fruit in the Fruita orchards.

Day 14: Head Home

Driving Time: 3.5 hours (to Salt Lake City)

You finished your Grand Circle road trip! Today is about getting home.

If you’re heading back to Salt Lake City, then consider a longer drive and a stop at Goblin Valley State Park. The weird and wonderful scenery is worth the detour.

We hope you have a great time on your Grand Circle road trip! Did you have a great time or have any suggestions for our itinerary? Either way, we would love to know. Drop us a comment below.

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