Top-10 Things To Do In The Grand Circle

In a previous article we outlined the perfect 2-week itinerary for the Southwest USA, focusing on an area known as the Grand Circle. Made up of mostly southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico — This region is jammed pack full of some of America’s best national parks, unbelievable scenery and world-class hiking. With so many amazing things to see and do narrowing our list down to just our top-10 was definitely a challenge but we did it. Here are the top-10 things to do in the Grand Circle.

Grand Circle MapA map of the Grand Circle, showing the location of each of the top-10 things to do.

2-Week Southwest USA Itinerary

Top-10 Things To Do In The Grand Circle


Watch the Sunset and/or Sunrise at Dead Horse Point State ParkThe morning sun illuminating the canyon as viewed from Dead Horse Point State Park.

10) Watch the Sunset and/or Sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park

Located just outside of Canyonlands Island in the Sky district is Dead Horse Point State Park. With near 360-degree views of the amazing canyons below, this is the perfect place to watch the sunrise and sunset. Spending the night at Wingate Campground within the park will give you the opportunity to easily experience both. Click here to find the exact sunrise and sunset times for when you visit.

Learn more about Dead Horse Point State Park.


Freshly Baked Pies at Gifford Homestead in Capitol Reef National ParkPie options includes apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, mixed berry, peach and more.

9) Freshly Baked Pies at Gifford Homestead in Capitol Reef National Park

If visiting or driving through Capitol Reef National Park make sure to stop at Gifford Homestead, a rustic and historic house selling delicious freshly baked mini-pies. I tried the strawberry-rhubarb and cherry on separate day and while both were amazing, cherry was the hands-down winner. Get there early because there will be a line before opening and they will sell out before the day is out. Don’t forget to grab a mini vanilla ice cream as well because pie is always better à la mode.

Learn more about Capitol Reef National Park.


Devils Garden Hike in Arches National ParkDouble O Arch along the Devils Garden Loop Trail in Arches National Park with fins in the background.

8) Devils Garden Hike in Arches National Park

The Devils Garden Loop Trail is one of the best hikes in Arches National Park as it takes you to many of the park’s famous arches and fins. The full loop is 7.2-miles long, however there are several spur trails (which depending on how many you take) can make the make the hike as long as 11-miles. Highlights include Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel (a 150-foot tall sandstone tower), Private Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch.

Learn more about Arches National Park.


Star Gazing in Grand Staircase-Escalante National MonumentSome of the darkest skies in the USA can be found along Hole-in-the-Rock Road in the Grand Staircase.

7) Star Gazing in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Find an existing campsite along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and spend the night around a campfire looking up into the night sky. Being so far from civilization there is little light-pollution around, making the Grand Staircase one of the best places in the entire United States for dark skies and stargazing. The stars were so vibrant that it didn’t even look real and everyone in our group all agreed, it was the best night sky any of us had ever seen.

Learn more about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


Horseback Riding in Bryce Canyon National ParkHeading down into Byrce Canyon on horseback.

6) Horseback Riding in Bryce Canyon National Park

Explore the strange, alien-like rock formations called “hoodoos” up close without having to hike by taking a guided horseback tour of Bryce Canyon National Park. Choose the tour length and book in advance or in the lobby of the Bryce Canyon Lodge. If the scenery doesn’t entertain you, your cowboy guides jokes certainly will.

Learn more about Bryce Canyon National.


Canyonlands: NeedlesA typical view along the Chesler Park and Joint Trail hike in Canyonlands National Park Needles district.

5) Chesler Park & Joint Trail in Canyonlands National Park (Needles District)

The Chesler Park and Joint Trail is one of the best hikes in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park because it has a little of everything this park has to offer. Starting at the Elephant Hill Trailhead, the whole loop is a strenuous 11-miles and takes about 5-6 hours to complete. The Joint section of the trail is an amazing narrow slot canyon and the highlight of the hike, as well as being the furthest-most point from the trailhead.

Learn more about Canyonlands National Park (Needles).


Monument ValleyMonument Valley along the Arizona-Utah border is a Hollywood icon.

4) Scenic Drive in Monument Valley

This self-guided scenic drive down a dirt-road in Monument Valley takes you to all the major spots and viewpoints within the valley. The drive starts and ends at the visitor center and can easily be navigated in just about any type vehicle (unless it has recently rained when the road can become impassable, even with four-wheel drive). Bring a camera as there are lots of stops and photo opportunities along the way. The entire scenic drive is 17-miles long and takes about 2-3 hours to complete.

Learn more about Monument Valley.


Grand Staircase slot canyon Peek-A-Boo & SpookyPeek-A-Boo and Spooky are some of the most accessible slot canyons in the Grand Circle.

3) Peek-A-Boo & Spooky Slot Canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

The dual slot canyons of Peek-A-Boo and Spooky, just off of Hole-in-the-Rock Road in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, are some of the most accessible in the entire Grand Circle — Even so, it is still a strenuous hike requiring plenty of climbing and squeezing between the narrow walls. The entire loop is 3.5-miles long and takes about 4-5 hours to complete. Don’t confuse it for Dry Fork Slot Canyon which is a third, but not as narrow, slot canyon at this location (also worth exploring) that is frequently mistaken for either Peek-A-Boo or Spooky.

Learn more about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


Mesa Verde National ParkThe Pueblo ruins of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park.

2) Visit Balcony House and Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park

Located near the Four-Corners region, Mesa Verdre National Park is home to the best Pre-Columbian sites in the entire United States. Both Balcony House and Cliff Palace require tour tickets to enter and do sellout. Balcony House, while smaller, is fun to visit because it requires climbing and crawling to access. Cliff Palace is the largest and most impressive of the ruins in the park and can be seen from above without a ticket. These Ancestral Puebloan ruins are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Learn more about Mesa Verde National Park.


Narrow Canyon and Virgin RiverThe Virgin River flowing through The Narrows in Zion National Park.

1) Hike The Narrows Top-Down in Zion National Park

Our #1 pick was never in question. Zion National Park is home to one of the top-10 hikes in the entire world and perhaps the best in the USA — The Narrows. As the name suggests, it is a deep narrow canyon carved out over millions of years by the Virgin River. While The Narrows can be done as an upstream day-hike, we strongly recommend the top-down overnight hike which starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch and ends at the Temple of Sinawava. This is a strenuous 2-day 16-mile hike with an elevation change of about 1,359-feet and takes between 12-15 hours to complete. Unlike the other activities on our top-10 list, hiking The Narrows top-down requires advanced planning and a difficult to obtain permit. Click here for our detailed guide about hiking The Narrows that contains lots important information and helpful tips.

Learn more about The Narrows in Zion National Park.


Top-10 Things To Do In The Grand Circle

Don’t agree? Give use your thoughts or list in the comments below. Here is our full list of the best things to do and see in the Grand Circle:

  1. Hike The Narrows Top-Down in Zion National Park
  2. Visit Balcony House and Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park
  3. Peek-A-Boo & Spooky Slot Canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  4. Scenic Drive in Monument Valley
  5. Chesler Park & Joint Trail in Canyonlands National Park (Needles District)
  6. Horseback Riding in Bryce Canyon National Park
  7. Star Gazing in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  8. Devils Garden Hike in Arches National Park
  9. Freshly Baked Pies at Gifford Homestead in Capitol Reef National Park
  10. Watch the Sunset and/or Sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park

2-Week Southwest USA Itinerary

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