The Grand Circle road trip (USA) has always been a dream of mine. Ever wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, and the famous Horseshoe Bend? Some have the luxury of time to explore, but if you only have 7 days here’s how to maximize time to experience national parks in Southwest Utah and the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona, and even enjoy Las Vegas in Nevada.
This is one the most popular road trips in the US because of the spectacular views and scenic drive. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this with my family during spring. We rented an SUV for this trip, which was perfect for 4 of us.
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Another cool thing to do would be renting an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer camper rental community. That way, you can try out van life without committing to buying one, and it will already be built up for you. Check out the options near your location or Las Vegas and book in advance for the best prices and options!
- How To Choose The Best Car Rental – Turo, Zipcar, Hertz
- 7 Scenic Road Trip Ideas For Nature Lovers
- Yosemite 2-Day Itinerary: The Best Sights For Weekend Warriors
Day 1: Arrive in Las Vegas
Las Vegas can be reached via a flight or drive. If you only have 7 days, I recommend resting from the jet lag, and choose to fly in to Vegas rather than drive. On this first night, have a good dinner and rest up before the hiking and exploration begins. Hit up any of the restaurants in Vegas, such as the Gordon Ramsay Burger place, or Sekushi Japanese Restaurant, etc. If you arrive early enough, consider having a sumptuous buffet, since many of them open till 9pm.
In terms of budgeting, I suggest going for a cheaper hotel at the start, and splurge at the end of the Grand Circle road trip loop.
Day 2: Zion National Park
The first hikes in our Grand Circle road trip will start today. Zion National Park is a short 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. You could easily do a day trip to Zion National Park if you want to do 1 short hike during the day. If you have time, I suggest making a 1-hour detour to drive through the Valley of Fire State Park, a route that promises breathtaking scenery and towering rock formations.
Lower Emerald Pools trail (2 hours) is perfect for a family, as it is easy enough but also exposes you to the spectacular landscape of Zion every way you turn. Other popular trails are the Angel’s Landing, and hiking the Narrows, which are more time consuming and spending more than 1 day in Zion might be a better idea for those who are up for the challenge.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
We opted to stay in Glendale, Utah for 2 nights, as it is conveniently situated between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon is a slightly smaller park, but there are many lookout points (sunrise point, sunset point, etc.) that are worth stopping by on the way to hiking trails. Hoodoos are the highlight of this park, pillar-like structures that have been brought about by various forms of erosion. Truly a geography lesson.
The most popular and doable trail is the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trail (2-3 hours), where you descend down into the canyon, allowing you to get up close and personal with the Hoodoos, and view them from a different perspective. The landscape is almost unearthly, but very interesting to explore.
Day 4: Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend
The Antelope Canyons are split into the upper and lower section, with the upper being more expensive and crowded because of the light rays and the opportunities to photograph sand falling into the canyon. The lower section has fewer people (still crowded) and is generally cheaper, and the canyon itself descends deeper (more stairs). In my opinion I think both would be great, and if you are not too picky, it would not make a huge difference as you will have a great time in either.
Do note that you will need to join a tour to enter the Antelope Canyons, you do not have access to them on your own. I booked my tour for $50 USD per pax with Ken’s Tours for 1-1.5 hours. One advantage of having a tour is that the guide might show you good photo spots and help you take pictures.
Also consider the time of day you choose for the tour, as you want to have optimal sunlight shining into the canyon. Most sources say that mid-day is the best. If it is too late in the day, the canyon could look dark in pictures.
Overall a very fun place to explore and take pictures in, but the crowd makes it difficult to take good photos and you might feel rushed.
In between our mid-day tour to Antelope Canyons and sunset viewing at Horseshoe Bend, we bought frozen yoghurt in the nearby supermarket to cool off. Then, we headed to the Glen Canyon Dam nearby where The Chains hike starts. We chose to stay near the parking lot, exploring rock formations and taking pictures. It was unexpectedly fun, and you can even see people fishing and going really close to the water.
Last but not least, a beautiful sunset to end the day. Aim to arrive at the observation area about 1 hour before sunset so that you can enjoy golden hour. You can also watch the colours of the sky change if you stay a while after the sun sets.
On hindsight, I should have brought some picnic mats/towels to put on the rocks for a more comfortable sunset experience.
We stayed in Tuba City, Arizona since it was on the way to Grand Canyon. Do note that in Arizona there is time difference in the Navajo Nation regions, which includes Tuba City. The rest of Arizona follows Pacific Time.
Day 5: Grand Canyon National Park
This is probably where you will find the ‘Grand’ in the Grand Circle road trip. Our family camped 1 night in Grand Canyon National Park (Mather campground), giving us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the park. After all, it is one of the wonders of the world, a geographical landform visible from space. We rented camping equipment from Airbnb and collected them in Cameron, AZ on our way to Grand Canyon.
There are many lookout points in the park, and here are the ones I visited and recommend:
1) Along east entrance, with views of the Colorado River:
- Desert View
- Lipan Point
2) Near the village and Mather campground
- Mather Point/Amphitheatre (sunrise views, closest to campsite and has seating area)
- Rim trail views
3) West of the village along Hermit Road (accessible only by shuttle bus from Mar-Nov)
- Hopi Point (sunset views, toilets available)
- Would have also gone to Mohave Point for sunset if we had more time
Most people also recommend hiking the South Kaibab trail (near the east side of the park). However, we chose another trail called the Bright Angel Trail, and hiked down to the 1.5 mile rest stop. The climb back up takes 2-4 hours. This trail would be closest to Hermit Road where we will be going for sunset.
Where to go for sunset?
- Hopi Point (red route)
- Yavapai Point (drive, walk or orange route)
- Lipan Point (drive)
- Prima Point (red route)
Day 6: Grand Canyon, Las Vegas
As mentioned earlier, Mather Point is one of the best places to watch the sunrise (shown in the picture above). We also happened to meet 2 other Singaporeans and they were smart enough to bring coffee and breakfast along.
Where to go for sunrise?
- Yavapai Point (Walk, drive or orange route)
- Navajo Point (Drive)
- Hope Point (red route)
- Mather Point (5 minute walk)
Sunrise tips: arrive at the lookout point about 30-45 min before sunrise to watch the light slowly creep in. The photo shows the sun after it has risen. We woke up at 4:45am and waited till about 6am before leaving. Sunrise time was about 5:30am.
Cook some ramen and drink some coffee before starting the day. Head out to explore the Rim Trail to see more viewpoints of the Grand Canyon before driving to Las Vegas.
We passed through several towns and dropped by Williams to return the camping equipment. There was some decent coffee at Brewed Awakenings Coffee.
To end the day, we pigged out at a buffet place. It was perfect after many days of hiking. You could choose to watch a live show after dinner too, or simply walk around exploring the many hotels/the Strip.
Day 7: Leave from Las Vegas
On our last night in Vegas, we and booked a room in Bellagio Hotel to reward ourselves.
If you can wake up early, spend some time in the hotel pool area to soak in the sun. Spend this last day shopping at the outlet stores too. We shopped at the South outlet stores since it was nearest to McCarran airport and the car return area.
The time of the year to go to these places could play a role in several decisions. For example, camping at freezing temperatures and deciding which trail to hike as some might be closed due to snow. However, many of these places look spectacular with snow sprinkled on them, and not everyone gets to enjoy such view. I would love to visit Capitol Reef National Park and Monument Valley if we had more time.
With that, the perfect Grand Circle road trip has concluded. I hope that this has helped you in planning and getting inspired to hike a little. You can also check out these tips on how to take great photos of yourself hiking. Now let’s get packing!
What to bring for your hiking trip
To make the most of your adventure, it’s essential to come prepared. Here’s a checklist to ensure you have everything you need.
Hiking essentials and comfort items
- Hiking boots or shoes: Comfortable and supportive footwear is a must so you’ll have the best experience. Waterproof boots can be useful for muddy trails.
- Hiking day pack: It should have enough space to store snacks, water, and any extra clothing. Here are some affordable hiking backpacks below $100 to consider.
- Water: Stay hydrated, especially during warmer months. Water reservoirs with up to 3-litre capacity are useful for longer hikes. In general, bring at least 0.5 litres for every hour of hiking.
- Map and navigation: Having a map adds an extra layer of security. Offline Google Maps also helps.
- Snacks: Pack energy-boosting snacks to keep you fueled throughout the hike. These could be energy bars, nuts, or some sweets.
- Sunscreen and cap: Protect yourself from the sun, especially during the open sections of the trail.
- Layered clothing: For example, bring a fleece sweater and wear a sweat-wicking base layer. Rain jackets can also act as a windbreaker.
- Phone tripod: If you’re hiking alone, having a phone tripod is great for filming shots of yourself.
- Trekking poles: Provide extra stability on uneven terrain and downhill sections.
Shop hiking gear
A reliable hiking day pack for carrying essentials – even comes with a rain cover.
Lightweight and warm, perfect for staying cozy in chilly weather.
Keep dry and comfortable with a reliable waterproof jacket for unpredictable weather.
Lightweight hiking poles that support you both uphill and downhill.
Insulating mid layer fleece that repels water and keeps you warm.
Budget-friendly waterproof hiking boots for casual hikers.