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Great American Road Trips #2: The Grand Circle

Written by  Thursday, 19 June 2014 11:38

Grand CircleImage by Tom Babich

Buckle up, open your eyes and mind, and then get ready to bear witness to millions of years of geologically aided landscaping. With National parks, numerous points of interest and amazing views, The Grand Circle remains one of the most popular routes for a road trip in the whole of the US.

This suggested road trip covers over 1,500 miles of asphalt, taking in the Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon National Parks, as well as other spectacular rock formations. But because we start our suggested trip in Las Vegas, you'll be able to contrast natural wonders with those that are manmade, for what is arguably the widest spectrum for experiences of anywhere in the world.

Touching down on the strip

McCarran International Airport is the main commercial airport that serves Las Vegas and the surrounding area, and this will more than likely be where you touch down for the first leg of your trip. A good thing to do is rent your car from the airport. This will be more expensive than a pick up point further away, but you could save on the price of alternative travel and you'll need the car for the remainder of your road trip anyway.

It's only natural that you want to spend some time in Vegas whilst you're in the vicinity. The strip and the many casinos of course remain eternally popular. But if you're looking for something slightly alternative to experience, you could check out the Pinball Hall of Fame, the city's famed shopping malls or one of the many exhibitions, such as the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor Hotel.

Death Valley Road Trip

Although not officially part of The Grand Circle, when you are in the area Death Valley is a must-see. There are a number of routes that you can drive to Death Valley to from Las Vegas, with some being more scenic than others. The quickest totals approximately 135 miles from Las Vegas to the Furnace Creek resort at the heart of the Death Valley National Park, but it's the least scenic.

The longer, more scenic route is approximately 165 miles in length, and involves -traveling on Route 160 out of Las Vegas until you reach the Pahrump Valley Winery. Should you choose to stop and treat your pallet, the winery boasts 245 national awards for the quality of its wine. After the winery, head onto route 178 via Badwater, the Devil's Golf Course and Artist's Drive until you reach Furnace Creek.

The Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places in the world, with the highest ever temperature recorded there peaking at 134 °F (56.7 °C) on July 10, 1913. Despite the extreme temperatures, the highest peaks of the park have been known to be frosted by snow in the winter, and an amazing array of nature and wildlife exist in the park alongside the dry but beautiful landscapes.

Due to the number of National Parks you're likely to visit, you should buy a National Park Annual Pass on arrival that will permit you entry to all the National Parks on the road trip.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is part of the traditional Grand Circle tour and to get there you will need to travel back to Las Vegas and continue your journey from there. The drive from Las Vegas to Zion is approximately 166 miles, predominately along Interstate 15.

The park presents a mix of intriguing trails, canyons, emerald pools and wildlife that is making it an increasingly popular stopping off point for those traversing the Grand Circle. The scenic drive along Highway 9, between the east and west gates, is a must.

If you plan on sleeping and eating nearby, the Desert Pearl Inn and the Bumbleberry Inn are great. The Desert Pearl Inn features modern, luxurious rooms and is wonderfully set against the backdrop of the nearby river. The Bumbleberry Inn, meanwhile, is famed for its delicious homemade pies.

Four National Parks succinctly summarized

Bryce CanyonImage by Paul Fundenburg

After Zion, the next National Park is Bryce Canyon. The drive is approximately 86 miles long and the last stretch takes in the impossibly scenic stretch of Highway 89. Bryce Canyon itself is perhaps most famous for its remarkable assortment of hoodoos – tall skinny rocks that protrude from a solid base and resemble a Native American totem pole.

The drive from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef is approximately 125 miles. The end of the drive once again takes in a spectacular stretch of road. This time in the shape of 'scenic byway' Route 12 that will undoubtedly compel you to stop the car to take pictures, such is the grandeur of the scenery that it offers. As for Capitol Reef National Park, the Waterpocket Fold – a 100 mile long fold in the earth's crust – is the park's most striking and beautiful attraction.

Both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are close to the town of Moab – an approximately 144 miles drive from Capitol Reef. In Arches National Park, Delicate Arch is the park's standout geological giant and one of the most recognized arches in the world. The park's 18 miles scenic drive that takes in the majority of the park's best attractions is also a worthy consideration.

The Canyonlands National Park, the other side if Moab is a must-see in terms of the amazing geological wonders that is presents. Arches, rivers, vast canyons and spires, are all present within the park, offering a range if spectacular vistas en route. If you are going to visit both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, the Aarchway Inn and the more luxurious Sunflower Inn are both great places to stay overnight in Moab.

Monument Valley Tribal Park

The drive to Monument Valley from Moab is approximately another 150 miles across Route 191 and 163. In keeping with the theme of the rest of the road trip, the drive is an extremely scenic one, encompassing many alluring pit stops and photo opportunities.

Once you get to Monument Valley, you will witness one of the most famous landscapes in the world. The huge towers of red sandstone and desert wilderness that represent Monument Valley have featured in a number of westerns, most notably by John Ford.

There is both a tour and a mapped out scenic drive that you can embark on through the valley in order to fully soak in its splendor. If you feel famished by the day's adventure you can stop for food at the excellent Stagecoach Restaurant at Goulding's Lodge – named after the film Stagecoach, the famous John Ford and John Wayne collaboration shot on location.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand CanyonImage by werner22brigitte

The drive to Grand Canyon National Park predominately takes place along Route 160 for approximately 153 miles. The Grand Canyon is that famous that it doesn't need to be described, however to bear witness to it in person is truly something special.

For more information on guided walks, tours, entrance fees and the outdoor activities that are available in Grand Canyon National Park and all the other National Parks included on this suggested road trip, click here to visit the National Park Service website and search for the park of your choice by name.

The journey back to Las Vegas to complete the entire loop of the Grand Circle is a near five hour drive from the Grand Canyon – if you decide to take in the world's most famous road, Route 66. From there you can either catch your flight home or stay in Vegas to sample some more of its delights, the choice is yours.


Contemporary car rental companies offer an almost endless array of options and extras that can make choosing those that are most suitable for you difficult.

What type of rental car will I need?

Because of the extended nature of the road trip under suggestion, you should consider a car that is going to have sufficient luggage space and be comfortable for all passengers.

There is even the possibility of hiring an RV or a motorhome from Las Vegas for the journey. The added benefit of this is that you could save money on your accommodation at the same time as securing transportation for the trip. An RV or motorhome will also allow you even greater flexibility to be spontaneous on the trip.

Beware of stealth charges

When hiring a car for a vacation, many holidaymakers get caught out with stealth fuel charges. Therefore you always need to be aware whether you're expected to return the car with a full tank of gas, otherwise you could be charged in the way of a heavy fine on your credit card. There are other common stealth charges that people often get caught out by such as a fine for returning the car dirty. For these reasons, it is important to read the full terms and conditions of your rental before stepping into the car.


Again, before stepping into the rental car, you need to be familiar with the insurance policies you have in place. This means checking your personal auto insurance and your credit card to see what level of coverage they can provide you with in relation to rental car insurance.

When picking your car up from the rental counter, the staff of rental car companies may try and sell you additional insurance. Collision & Damage Loss Waiver (CDW & LDW) is the main type of insurance they will try and sell you. Both CDW and LDW ease the financial burden you would face if your rental car became damaged in an accident or stolen.

However, buying this type of insurance direct from your car rental company is often more expensive than it needs to be. Insuremyrentalcar.com offer LDW policies from $5 a day, potentially saving you up to 70% on over the counter prices. Click here for more information on LDW and to get a quote from insuremyrentalcar.com that suits your need.

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