The Grand Circle
In October of 2011, Sam and I set off on an RV road trip adventure through the national parks of Utah and Arizona, also known as the Grand Circle. We purchased the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 which would give us access to ALL of National Parks. During our 8-day RV Road Trip we visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Grand Staircase Escalate, Horseshoe Bend State Park, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon.
Our journey began in…
Zion National Park
We made the 5-hour drive from San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada to pick up our 27-foot Cruise America RV, in order to start our RV Road Trip closer to the location of the parks. This prevented us from putting an extra 300+ miles on a vehicle that ended up only getting about 8 miles to the gallon!
Following a harrowing 3-hour drive, we arrived late in the evening and had to find our RV site (Watchman Campground – Loop B/Site B059) by literally shining a flashlight out the window to see the site numbers. I heard the drive into Zion is absolutely breathtaking, but we may never know, because it was pitch black and raining upon our arrival. Despite the slightly stressful start to our journey, we were excited to relax and spend our first night in an RV.
We had no idea what to expect when we awoke in the morning, because we couldn’t see a thing the night before. I stepped out of the RV and was blown away by the majesty of the surrounding beauty! Since it was October, the air was crisp and the morning fog hung right below the tips of the surrounding colorful sandstone cliffs. It was a sight to behold!
Zion Shuttle Service
Our goal for the day was to explore as much of the park as we could! Since the road into the actual canyon (Zion Canyon Scenic Drive) is closed to private vehicles from mid-March to November, we had to rely on the Zion shuttle.
First Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava
Here we found Riverside Trail (1.5 hours / 2 miles round trip), the gateway to the Narrows. Riverside Walk is an easy paved trail that follows the North Fork of the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow, high-walled canyon. We stopped once we reached the entrance to the Narrows, because we didn’t have waterproof hiking boots and weren’t interested in having soggy socks for the rest of the day!
Shuttle Stops: Big Bend & Weeping Rock
This is where visitors can view the Angels Landing Ridge Trail. Angels Landing is a 5-mile round trip, fairly strenuous hike known as one of the most outstanding trails in the US. Because of our limited time in each park, we would have to skip major hikes and stick to the shorter paths! Weeping Rock was our next stop. We took the Weeping Rock Trail (1/2 hour / .4 mile walk round trip). This was a short but mildly steep, paved trail that ended under a rock alcove with dripping springs.
The Grotto shuttle stop is where serious hikers can pick up the Angels Landing trailhead (4-5 hrs / 5 miles round trip). Although we were not planning to embark on this strenuous adventure, we decided to depart the shuttle and just take a look around. I’m glad we did, because there was a park ranger standing by to point out various wildlife (mostly birds) in this particular region of the park.
At the Zion Lodge we enjoyed checking out the lodge and resting our feet while enjoying some snacks and delicious hot chocolate. Feeling rested and well nourished, we walked across the street to the Emerald Pools trail head (1-3 hrs / Lower-1.2 miles round trip / Middle– 2 miles round trip / Upper– 3 miles round trip).
Again, due to our limited time in the park, we settled on just going as far as the lower portion of the trail, and we were not disappointed. The dual waterfalls created a refreshing mist along the trail as we approached the 100+ foot waterfall.
Final Shuttle Stop: Court of the Patriarchs
This stop included a short 5 minute / .1 mile walk leading to a stunning view of the Three Patriarchs and the Sentinel.
Because of the time of year we visited the park, the crowds were almost non-existent, the shuttle wasn’t packed and we only passed a handful of other visitors on each trail. I also strongly recommend this time of year (fall) because of the crisp, cool weather, which is great for hiking!
Canyon Overlook Trail
The next day, we took the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, which is a 10-mile road that connects the east and south entrances. One of the highlights of this drive was a mile-long tunnel, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel is the start of the Canyon Overlook Trail. The trail is well marked and leads hikers through a variety of topography.
What’s great about this hike is that, although it’s a 1-mile (roundtrip) moderately difficult hike over rocky terrain, it offers high altitude, spectacular views of lower Zion Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon without the work of hiking to the top of something like Observation Point or Angels Landing.
Although we didn’t want to leave the beauty of Zion National Park, we knew that we had many more parks to visit along our road trip adventure, so we elected to move on. For visitors serious about learning more about nature, the Zion Canyon Field Institute conducts a variety of one-day and multi-day workshops covering subjects such as photography and geology. For information on workshops, visit www.zionpark.org.
East of the Canyon Overlook Trailhead is Checkerboard Mesa, a sandstone mountain etched with a spectacular criss-crossing of lines and shapes, made through the forces of erosion.
After a brief stop at Checkerboard Mesa, we continue our journey by making the 85-mile drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Continue on this journey with us, as we head to Bryce Canyon National Park!