CONNECTING CANYONS: Zion and The Great, Grand Circle
Yes, the Grand Canyon is perhaps the most aptly named destination in our national park system. It’s also one the busiest.
But, it’s hard to bypass it when planning a Utah hiking trip, even though it’s in Arizona.
So, how about a compromise?
The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is much less frequented, significantly less commercial, and much harder to get to than its southern counterpart, and it’s 1,000 feet higher. Plus, you can link the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to our very own Zion National Park and postcard-perfect Bryce Canyon National Park to make a hotel-based loop called the “Grand Circle.” What can be better?
North Rim of the Grand Canyon
From the legendary cookie stop of Jacob Lake, a lodge-camp-restaurant layover high above the Vermillion Cliffs and Paria Canyon, the official entrance to the North Rim is 40 miles down Highway 67, or Grand Canyon Highway.
What you’ll notice along the way is the plateau’s resemblance to places like Montana or Wyoming, with its expansive, verdant meadows, Aspen trees, and cooler winds. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like the desert anymore—until you find the edge.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has a much smaller commercial presence, with no real town or retail center full of visitors.
There are lodges and places to buy gifts and eat great meals that overlook the colorful, layered chasm, but it’s not necessarily a place for the day visitor.
Long, forested roads tentacle to remote trailheads and old-growth wilderness, and only those who know can get you to the best, hidden places.
And once you’ve hiked along its cliffs and edges, you’re left wanting more of this great land of sandstone and pinyon pine and open sky, and that’s why Zion and Bryce make such good park partners to the Canyon.
Zion National Park
No longer unheralded or bypassed, Zion has quickly become an incredibly popular Instagram hashtag, with no shortage of people taking summit-selfies on Angel’s Landing or strolling the streets of Springdale.
To truly experience Zion’s glory, hikers should look to tackle the steep, winding path up to Observation Point.
The earlier you start, the better; and rest assured that when your guide serves you lunch at the best table view you’ve ever had, you’ll forget how many switchbacks it took you to get that reservation.
Zion is a small park with a big reputation, and it can be hard to get lodging or know where to hike to earn views and solitude. Consider hiring a hiking guide to coordinate your lodging, hiking, meals, and experiences when venturing into the other world that is southern Utah.
Bryce Canyon National Park
When linking the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion, travelers are always surprised at what they see upon first glance into the jagged depths of the region’s highest park.
Bryce is hard to describe to those who haven’t seen it, regardless of how many photos they’ve seen. (But isn’t that always the case in canyon country?)
Hiking in Bryce Canyon is totally unique to the Grand Staircase, as its trails undulate from its narrow floor to its most prominent ridgelines, and wind for miles between its namesake walls and galleries of hoodoos, the park’s primary draw.
It’s hard to get enough of the geologic wonder that rests beneath the rim of Bryce Canyon, but the tour has to end at some point.
The good news is that the limestone, weather-worn towers of Bryce Canyon, the sandstone monoliths of Zion, and the endless miles of river-carved canyons in the Grand, will be there waiting for you the next time you choose to take a lap around “The Grand Circle.”
And the even better news is that they’ll each look a little different than last time, so the discovery never ends.