The Grand Circle
Grand Circle is a commercially-coined term, but a useful one nevertheless, tying together southwest USA’s most spectacular national parks, monuments and roads into a huge circle encompassing much of Utah, part of Arizona and smaller sections of Colorado and New Mexico. This area is geologically known as the Colorado Plateau and 300 million years ago used to be seas and dunes that dried and solidified into wild coloured sandstone that was then eroded into weird shapes – buttes, spires, arches, canyons and cliffs – by rivers and rains.
Geologically speaking the Plateau’s youngest rocks can be seen at Bryce, the middle-aged at Zion and the positively geriatric at the base of the Grand Canyon.
The Plateau’s first residents, known as the Anasazi ( aka Ancient Pueblo Peoples) arrived around 2, 000 years ago, building into caves and alcoves of canyon walls. Examples of their structures and art can be seen in Canyon de Chelly pictures.
Zion Canyon, Utah
Our trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Circle
Route 24 to Moab, Utah.
The Bug Crew used an RV (the one in the photo above) and roamed the area for six weeks; for a normal holiday however, a one week trip is possible, a two week trip would be fine and three weeks would be perfect.
Even with 6 weeks time and moving fast it’s not feasible to visit all the National Parks in the Grand Circle, so we have distilled The Circle into a two week trip-of-a-lifetime route of magical roads and fantasy landscapes, choosing our favourites and correcting some of our (logistic) mistakes.
This is only a suggested itinerary. Bearing in mind that the Bugcrew were primarily interested in demented visuals with moderate walks attached, had no 4WD available, nor a lot of time, but were RV based, our preferred parks reflect our situation. Locals or tourists with more time or differing inclinations may well prefer other parks, or to spend more time in fewer parks. This latter option is probably the most sensible way to go.
Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
Best time to go there
The best time to drive this route is September, May or June as crowds will multiply astronomically during July and August and winter months can get chilly. All locations are open year round, except the Grand Canyon’s North Rim which opens only in the summer months. Wild flowers bloom primarily from April to July.
Booking rooms or RV spaces ahead is essential on this tight schedule, even in off-peak months, though with more time you could afford to call and book only a couple of days ahead as you travel.
Double Arches, Arches NP, Utah
Most visited National Parks in ALL of USA 2015
The Baxter Creek Trail up to Mt Sterling is one of the toughest trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, 12 miles there and back with an elevation of 4,000ft. It isn’t technically difficult and the surrounds are gorgeous but the trail just keeps on rising! Tennessee/North Carolina, USA. Photo by Miguel V.
According to the U.S. National Park Service top ten visitor numbers of all US National Parks in 2015 were:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (800 sq miles of North Carolina and Tennessee): 10,712,674 visitors
- Grand Canyon National Park (1,900 sq miles of northwestern Arizona): 5,520,736
- Rocky Mountain National Park (415 sq miles of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, north-central Colorado State): 4,155,916
- Yosemite National Park (1,200 sq miles of central Sierra Nevada, California): 4,150,217
- Yellowstone National Park (3,472 sq miles of mostly Wyoming along with 3% Montana and 1% Idaho): 4,097,710
- Zion National Park (229 sq miles of Utah): 3,648,846
- Olympic National Park (1,440 sq miles of Washington state): 3,263,761
- Grand Teton National Park (480 sq miles of northwest Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone NP): 3,149,921
- Acadia National Park (77 sq miles of Maine islands): 2,811,184
- Glacier National Park (1,583 sq miles of Montana, bordering with Canada’s Alberta and British Columbia): 2,366,056