This week we tackle on of this year’s most popular road trips — the Grand Circle road trip in the Southwest USA. And we have the perfect guest! Anne Howard from HoneyTrek shares her insights and tips after having spent weeks in this region over multiple trips.
About Anne Howard
Anne is the co-founder of the couples adventure travel blog HoneyTrek and co-author of the books Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America and National Geographic’s Ultimate Journeys for Two. Since 2012, Anne and her husband Mike have been traveling full-time across the seven continents and have road tripped from Baja to The Arctic Circle and 50 US States in between.
Mike & Anne Howard left on their honeymoon in January 2012…and never came home. They created HoneyTrek.com to chronicle their journey across all seven continents and help people mobilize their travel dreams. Their story of the World’s Longest Honeymoon, savvy tips, and blog have been featured in hundreds of international media outlets—from USA Today to Lonely Planet.
Firm believers that love and travel make the world a better place, they authored Ultimate Journeys for Two—National Geographic’s bestselling couples travel guide. To write their newest book, Comfortably Wild, they bought a vintage RV (aka Buddy the Camper) and traveled 73,000 miles across 9 countries to find the best glamping experiences in North America. Along the way, they fell in love with RVing and have made Buddy their full-time adventure mobile.
They’ve taken their 1985 Toyota Sunrader from the tip of Baja Mexico to the Arctic Circle of Canada and 50 US states in between. As full-time nomads and travel journalists, the Howards are always on the hunt for off-the-track destinations, uncommon adventures, and the human stories that make each place so special.
Follow their adventures at www.HoneyTrek.com or on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also see a gallery of photos from their Grand Circle Road Trip on Facebook and read about their Grand Circle Road Trip on HoneyTrek.com.
Tips for Planning a Grand Circle Road Trip
- The Grand Circle road trip is the loop of national parks and monuments in the Southwest including the Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, the Grand Canyon and many other national monuments, tribal lands, and state parks along the way.
- Trying to hit the six big National Parks, you need at least two weeks to adequately cover the Grand Circle road trip.
- You want to leave time to stop at roadside shops, restaurants, photo opportunities, etc along the way.
- Utah has such amazing landscapes but also has many dinosaur fossils.
- To start the road trip, fly into Las Vegas.
- Sometimes camping or RVing in the parks sounds ideal, but it can get hard to find campsites in the national parks so sometimes staying in hotels or other lodging can actually be better.
- Keep in mind that big RVs aren’t able to go in some areas of the national parks and driving a large RV on the small roads or fitting into parking lots can be a big challenge.
- If you are renting an RV to do the Grand Circle road trip, stick to an RV that is 27′ or smaller. The ideal size is probably 22 feet.
- From Las Vegas, it is only a three hour drive to Zion National Park (versus four hours from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.)
- From Zion you will go to Bryce along Highway 12, which is a gorgeous scenic drive.
- You will also pass by Escalante National Monument, which is massive and you want to leave some time to explore.
- You will then go to Capitol Reef, then Arches National Park, before heading down to the Grand Canyon.
- Don’t just follow Google Maps, which will just route you the fastest way.
- After Canyonlands, leave time to go to Bears Ears National Monument, which is underrated but is a sacred destination for various Native American nations and you will have an opportunity to see cliff dwellings and petroglyphs and it is not crowded at all.
- You will also want to leave time on your trip down to the Grand Canyon to swing through Monument Valley and the Navajo nation’s lands and tribal parks.
- Just 15 minutes or so away from Monument Valley is Goosenecks State Park. It has a double loop in the river, which is a much better photo opportunity than the popular Horseshoe Bend and it is inexpensive and not crowded. It is a true hidden gem!
- Beyond the national parks, look for other types of public lands — national forests, Bureau of Land Management land, etc.
- To find public lands and campsites, you can use iOverlander and UCPublic CG Ultimate Campgrounds app. But please leave reviews and share useful information to grow these communities.
- Don’t miss hiking the slot canyons of Spooky and Peekaboo Canyons in Escalante National Monument. It is a tough road to get there and one is a more technical hike, but doable for kids and well worth the effort. They can get very narrow at points, sometimes no wider than a foot.
- A more family friendly hike between Bryce and Escalante is Willis Creek Slot canyon. Keep in mind that this could be icy in the winter. This is also much easier to get to.
- Escalante Yurts is a great spot to glamp when you are in this area.
- Make sure you hike a slot canyon while in Utah.
- You can also plan other adventures, like canyoneering in Orderville Slot Canyon near Zion or off-roading in Moab, where there is some of the best off-roading in the world, or do a scenic flight over Canyonland and Arches.
- Bryce also has astronomy rangers and you can do full moon hikes twice a month.
- Some big adventures need permits, such as hiking the Narrows.
- Try to do the national parks midweek and state parks on the weekend to try to avoid some crowds.
- This can also be a good winter road trip when it isn’t as crowded and it can be beautiful in the snow, but not everything may be available.
- Spring is another great time because there is more water running, more flowers, and it isn’t as hot as summer.
- These areas are warmer during the day and can get colder at night, so be prepared.
- In Arches, if you can’t do the whole park because you are pressed for time, make sure you hike Devil’s Garden with the largest concentration of arches.
- Zion isn’t that large and doesn’t take too long to do.
- Canyonlands is huge, and there are also two separate entrances, which makes it almost like two separate parks. The Island in the Sky in the north end near Moab is actually hours aways from the Needle section. The Needle section is actually less traveled and very lovely.
- Make sure you spend time understanding the Native American history for all of these places. When you are traveling in the Needles section of Canyonlands, Newspaper Rock is a quick stop but it has two thousand years of history in petroglyphs. (Note: this was recently horribly and thoughtlessly defaced.)
- The Butler Wash Ruins in Bears Ears is another great place to see amazing cliff dwellings from the 1200s (similar to Mesa Verde in Colorado.)
- Glamping is a great way to experience the outdoors and this area including Under Canvas, which is usually just outside of the national parks, and Wunder Camp, which has a series of camps near national parks but at a lower price point. Be sure to buy Anne’s book, Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America , for more glamping suggestions.
- If you need to skip something, you can miss the full 18-mile scenic drive in Bryce as the best parts are at the beginning and it is an out and back drive and not a loop.
- Be careful about hiking down the Grand Canyon as you have to hike back up and it is a tough hike and plan accordingly with time, water, and energy.
- This is a good trip to buy a National Parks Pass.
- It would also be useful to buy the Secrets to the National Parks and Scenic Highways and Byways books for the trip.
- Anne also covers a lot of the southwest, including Moab and a southwest road trip section, in her book Ultimate Journeys for Two.
- When visiting this area, make sure you pack a good wide brim sunhat to block the strong sun and layers to deal with the changing temperatures.
- Anne recommends Asolo hiking boots for women and men, as well as Kyodan leggings with pockets.
- Read all about Anne’s recent Grand Circle Road Trip on HoneyTrek.
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00.060] – Kim Tate
Stay tuned, because today we’re circling around the southwest.
[00:00:16.090] – Announcer
Welcome to Vacation Mavens. A family travel podcast with ideas for your next vacation and tips to get you out the door. Here are your hosts, Kim from Stuffed Suitcase and Tamara from We3Travel.
[00:00:31.000] – Tamara Gruber
Hey, Kim, I’ve missed talking to you.
[00:00:33.580] – Kim Tate
I know it’s crazy. I feel like we just got done saying, like, we’re back and now we are. We had another break.
[00:00:39.430] – Tamara Gruber
So it’s you know, we’ve gone to these every other week episodes for a while because we weren’t traveling. And now I think we’re going to start traveling, which makes it hard find time to record. But in the meantime, we’ve gotten some feedback from our listeners. And I thought we should maybe take a little bit of time before our interview today just to share a little bit of the feedback, because I always love it when our listeners come back with some advice and some recommendations of their own.
[00:01:08.060] – Tamara Gruber
So I thought it would be great to share.
[00:01:09.700] – Kim Tate
Yeah, definitely. I love knowing that people are actually listening to us because I really like you and I just love talking to each other and it’s kind of fun. But to actually know that people actually care and like us, it’s awesome.
[00:01:21.400] – Tamara Gruber
I know we say it all the time, but we really, really do get a big smile on our face every time we get, you know, one of these kind of comments or emails or messages. And it just, you know, definitely makes us happy to know we aren’t just talking into the void. But I wanted to share about our episode, probably a month or two now ago, we talked about some of our favorite hotels in Florida with Joella.
[00:01:43.330] – Tamara Gruber
And I got a message from David and Karen from family boarding pass, and they had some to recommend also. So I thought I would share those because I feel like it is prime vacation planning time right now. And I know that hotels, especially in Florida, getting really booked up. So they had recommended the Pink Shell Hotel, which is in Fort Myers Beach and also the Hilton in Clearwater. And there’s lots to do around there. You can walk to beach locations and they also have additional activities like kayaks and bike rentals.
[00:02:12.610] – Tamara Gruber
And I know that they gave one other recommendation for old Key West, but unfortunately, that part of the message got cut off. And so, you know, thanks, guys, for sending that in. I always love finding new hotels that people that are like me have tried and liked. So check those out if you’re looking for a stay on the west coast of Florida, the summer.
[00:02:32.860] – Kim Tate
Yeah, I definitely feel like hotels are kind of people seem to be really into resort vacations right now, and I think it’s just they’re starting to get ready to branch out a little more. But organizing tours and with some things being closed down, hotels are definitely getting some good travel. I am going to share something because speaking of hotels, we recently had Episode one eight five and we talked to Nate from Room Steals and we actually had a listener, pint sized mommy who left us a message on our Instagram post about it, saying that she used her Room Steals to book a hotel and she saved four hundred and forty five dollars.
[00:03:08.980] – Kim Tate
And so she thanked us for that episode. And I think that’s cool like we were talking about. It’s fun to know that we’re actually helping our listeners, too.
[00:03:16.360] – Tamara Gruber
So it’s a reminder to go back and use that too because, you know, I, of course, like added the extension and then said, I’m not always using chrome. A lot of times I do my searches either on my phone or in Safari. And so I need to go back and try to use that because I am trying to book some things, you know, in the next couple of weeks. So maybe I can get a deal, too, because.
[00:03:36.850] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, Elisa, that’s amazing. I mean, 440 dollars. That’s that’s substantial.
[00:03:42.400] – Kim Tate
Yeah, it is. And you know, one of the cool things, you know, we had originally when we were talking to Nate, I wondered about if it defaults to a specific room taken, families might be stuck. But I actually tried it out myself when I was looking at some hotels for a trip that we’re planning coming up. And you can actually click through and then you can see different room types and the pricing that they found for those different room types.
[00:04:03.220] – Kim Tate
Even so, it’s not like you’re just buying one room or one price and you just get stuck with whatever room. So they still have the ability to choose a specific room, which was cool. But just so everyone knows, it only works on like aggregator sites like Expedia and stuff like that. It doesn’t work if you just go to like Marriott Dotcom. So the idea is that it’s it uses those aggregate bulk pricing sites.
[00:04:27.730] – Tamara Gruber
Interesting. Yeah, it’s good to know. Yeah. And I also wanted to give a shout out to Patty from following the magic on Instagram. She has been a follower for a bit and she gave us some feedback that she really loved the episode that we were talking about my road trip because remember how I went on and on and I felt like it was so long. And so she was like, no, no, I love listening to you guys, you know, share about your travels.
[00:04:48.310] – Tamara Gruber
And so I just want to say thank you. I definitely appreciate that. And I know that those always tend to get a little bit even higher downloads than some of the other episodes. And so we are traveling again. And so you’ll hear more of those coming up. But that Patti, thanks for that feedback.
[00:05:04.420] – Kim Tate
Yeah, we loved hearing that. And it’s so funny to actually have her message that because it made Tamara and I both look and we’re like, yeah, when you look at download numbers, which with podcasting, you don’t get a lot of statistics, but you can definitely see download numbers and then listening time and Tamara and I have both have noticed that you guys seem to like when it’s just us rambling on like nonsense. So that’s good to know. But we also wanted to take a moment to reach out to you guys and tell you that we’re thinking about doing a mailbag episode.
[00:05:33.520] – Kim Tate
And if you’re a podcast, avid podcast listener, you probably have heard of this where the episode will just be filled with questions from our, you know, listeners. If you guys have a question about maybe you’re planning a trip, you need advice, maybe you want Tamara and I to look at a specific destination and help you pick a hotel, maybe you need help with an itinerary or destination ideas, any of that. We would love to hear from you and help you do some travel planning or give you some travel tips.
[00:06:00.160] – Kim Tate
So if you have any thoughts or questions for us, send us an email at podcast@VacationMavens.com, or you can always reach out to us on social media @stuffedsuitcase or @we3travel or even @vacationmavens and send us a message. So just let us know and we would love to hear from you and be able to do an episode all about our, you know, our listeners questions.
[00:06:23.860] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. And if we don’t have the answer, we may know someone that does or will read it in. One of our listeners may tune in for the next episode to try to give us some answers. So it’s the great thing about the community. But in the meantime, we’re going to be talking about a really popular road trip. I feel like especially this year, I feel like everyone that I know seems to be planning a trip out here. But a lot of our listeners have also asked for an episode for us to talk about the grand circle through a lot of the Southwest, the Utah parks and some of Arizona.
[00:06:54.190] – Tamara Gruber
So we’re going to be chatting with Anne Howard, who has spent so much time in this area. And this was an interview that I absolutely loved because she just had so many great tips to share. So definitely stay tuned.
[00:07:05.770] – Kim Tate
Yeah, we already love Anne and her enthusiasm about this subject will come through in this episode. So I hope you guys enjoy.
[00:07:21.840] – Tamara Gruber
So this week, we’re here with Anne Howard and is the co-founder of the couples adventure travel blog, Honey Trek, and also the coauthor of books Comfortably Wild The Best Glamping Destinations in North America and National Geographic’s Ultimate Journeys for Two. Since 2012, Anne her husband, Mike, has been traveling full time across the seven continents and have a road trip from Baja to the Arctic Circle and 50 United States in between. So Anne, you’ve been everywhere. Where are you right now?
[00:07:48.870] – Anne Howard
We are in San Miguel de Allende Mexico.
[00:07:51.660] – Tamara Gruber
Oh, I’ve heard such good things about that area.
[00:07:54.170] – Anne Howard
Yeah, it’s always hard to leave. The camper waits and long term storage somewhere randomly outside of Sacramento, but I’m sure it’ll be fine because you got to mix up your adventures domestically, internationally. So we’ll be back to the camper in about two months.
[00:08:07.500] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. What is the campers name, Buddy?
[00:08:09.450] – Anne Howard
His name is Buddy. Yeah, buddy. The camper. Good old buddy.
[00:08:13.980] – Tamara Gruber
Well, you took our you took Buddy on a big road trip. I mean, you’ve taken Buddy on many, many road trips. But one that I know a lot of our listeners have been asking about is the grand circle road trip is kind of a I’m not exactly sure where and when it got that name, but I’ve been hearing it kind of pop up in all kinds of chat groups and Facebook groups and things. It seems to be on everybody’s radar this year.
[00:08:36.690] – Tamara Gruber
So I was hoping maybe you could tell us a little bit about what exactly is a grand circle type of Southwest road trip? What does it include?
[00:08:45.570] – Anne Howard
Yeah, the grand circle. I mean, conveniently, many of the most amazing national parks of the Southwest are in a sort of natural loop. Zion, Bryce Canyon lands arches and the Grand Canyon all connect. But what makes it even grander is that there are many national monuments, state parks, Navajo tribal parks that that actually follow this route as well. So it’s as grand as you want it to be. And in reality, we’ve actually done it over the course of two years, really many years.
[00:09:20.340] – Anne Howard
We’ve done many of these parks many times. And then a certain point we’re like, wait a second, we just did the Grand Circle Road trip. And because it doesn’t need to follow such a linear path, but in its classic sense, it’s hitting those big five national parks. But we really encourage people to take as long as they can. And rather than really rush and think about it is like a bucket list thing, like I must do it all in one loop.
[00:09:43.500] – Anne Howard
It might be two different trips for you. And that’s OK. I’d actually prefer people break it up into two trips because I’d hate to see race by all these other fabulous things just to have it be a check on your bucket list.
[00:09:57.110] – Kim Tate
Yeah, totally, I know we talked to I can’t remember who our guest was, I want to say, Alison, it was perhaps a while back like it was one of our first episodes. So we’ll have to link in the show notes to that episode. But she had mentioned, like, how amazing many of the Utah state parks are and that they can have a lot less of the crowds and offer some of the same amazing scenery. So I agree with what you’re saying.
[00:10:19.920] – Kim Tate
Like this type of thing isn’t maybe to be rushed through and split it up a little and decide, you know, take it in parts maybe. But it is a lot of ground. Yeah, definitely. It’s a lot of ground to cover.
[00:10:37.550] – Anne Howard
I missed one. So it’s Zion, Bryce Capital, Reef, Canyonlands, Arches and Grand Canyon. So six are technically on there. But like I said, there’s so many more wonderful national mountains, the state parks along the way.
[00:10:48.710] – Kim Tate
Yeah, of course. I think Grand Canyon throwing it in there throws off the big five. That is Utah’s big thing. Yeah, it is. It really is. All you tell you.
[00:10:56.150] – Kim Tate
Yeah. So do you think how many days, you know, if they are going to try and do it as the grand circle, you know, how many days do you think they. I’m I’m sure you guys are going to say two months, but somebody is going to try and do it with a standard vacation allotment. How many days do you think they need to adequately make the grand circle trip?
[00:11:15.110] – Anne Howard
I would say really two week minimum if you could. But every anything is possible, right? You could do all the parts and just, you know, one day I think it’s nicer to be at them two days each. There are some sometimes was more significant travel days. You have to realize you’re not going to do all of Zion one day and then all of the other because you’re going to be you need to actually get between those places, those you happen to be closer than the others, but it’s hard to get from Canyonlands to Grand Canyon.
[00:11:43.640] – Anne Howard
So that’s you have to buffer in a little bit of extra time. And you just you know, that is always the serendipity of a road trip, is you never know what you’re going to find along the way so that having those those stops and when you see them incredible photo stop, a fun rock shop, a neat roadside restaurant, you don’t want to squander those things.
[00:12:00.590] – Kim Tate
Mm hmm. Yeah. There’s nothing worse than being on a road trip. And, you know, like because I’ve experienced this, unfortunately, where you’re like, sorry, we don’t have time to stop. And like, you actually start skipping like turnouts. Yeah, no, we’re not going to get a snack there because we have to get to this hotel and it’s almost dark. And, you know, the office closes at ten and that’s just miserable.
[00:12:20.090] – Kim Tate
You don’t you don’t want that life.
[00:12:21.890] – Anne Howard
[00:12:23.390] – Tamara Gruber
I feel like especially that part of the country, you know, for many of us, it’s just such a different landscape. It’s such a unique place that you do want to stop. Like, would I usually want to stop at a rock shop? No, probably not. But I don’t know if I’ve really seen a rock shop, so maybe I do want to stop.
[00:12:39.740] – Anne Howard
You do want to stop at at rock shop. Utah particularly has incredible history and not just geologically, but also dinosaurs. I mean, you’d stop at a rock shot. You’re like, I’m pretty sure that’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex femur in this guy’s backyard. Like, are you serious right now? Like, there’s some crazy roadside things to see, especially when it comes to rocks and bones and probably a lot of crafts, too, right?
[00:13:06.080] – Anne Howard
For sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:13:08.300] – Tamara Gruber
So I guess the point is, like, where do you start? Do you typically would you fly into Phoenix, would you fly into Vegas. Like what is if you’re not driving buddy, you know, where do you usually start?
[00:13:20.510] – Anne Howard
And even though it seems like we have an advantage because we do have a camper, we actually have have done this road trip in many ways. So while we love RV and can sing those praises, we’ve also done it as traditional road trips where we stayed in camping camps and some of the historic park lodges. So I think it’s actually just as cool a trip either way. So don’t feel bad if you don’t have an RV if you wanted to try it.
[00:13:43.220] – Anne Howard
I think it’s an awesome way to do it. But it’s also really tricky to camp in national parks. They fill up fast. They’re crowded, like sometimes camping in RV and national parks is not the way to go. So I think you could do it whichever way makes you happy, because there are so many charming lodging options and they’re not massive distances. So you it’s you’re going to get to your destination before sunset and check into a into a camp or a hotel.
[00:14:11.030] – Anne Howard
So it doesn’t have to be that way, even though I am a fan of RV. But I would say if you are going to fly in and rent a car or rent an RV, flying into Vegas just makes a lot of sense. If you from from Vegas, it’s like under three hours to Zion and there’s plenty of cool things. One, there’s Vegas is its own phenomenon. So if you want to spend the night there just for fun, it’s it’s a great kid friendly place as well.
[00:14:33.860] – Anne Howard
But then you to get to Zion in under three hours versus if you came from Phoenix is more like four hours the Grand Canyon. And it’s just kind of a slog and it’s like Vegas ready for that road trip and you know, people are coming for it. So I that would be my recommendation.
[00:14:49.010] – Kim Tate
That’s some great advice. And I think, you know, one other tidbit about that is I’ll never forget being in Yellowstone and seeing the campers and even though they. Parking for RVs. You know, it seems like sometimes the stress for those guys getting in and out of some of those turnouts, especially when you’re looking at the bison further, you know, in Lamar Valley, there was times where you just couldn’t get in there. And that’s kind of disappointing.
[00:15:12.640] – Kim Tate
So I see what you mean about maybe RV’s aren’t the best for national parks.
[00:15:16.170] – Anne Howard
Also that also small, big RV’s are not the best for national parks. There are length restrictions on many of these like wonderful winding roads that you want to be on. So if you are going to rent an RV, like keep it under twenty seven feet, we think the smaller the better. We think the perfect size of twenty two because yeah. You’ll get boxed out of certain opportunities because of your length.
[00:15:36.750] – Kim Tate
Well so we talked about flying into Vegas. You think that that’s a good one. So does that mean then you’re like there’s a certain direction that you take the loop or a certain order that you hit the hit the six parks.
[00:15:46.480] – Anne Howard
Yeah. I mean, from there you’re going to go to to Zion and then you’re going to then is Bryce one of the Highway 12 is absolutely gorgeous, like going along that way. But then as you’re going to also be passing through Escalante National Monument, which is massive. So you want to give that some extra time, if you can, before heading into Capitol Reef, then Canyonlands. And then I had my map up and then my computer crashed.
[00:16:12.270] – Anne Howard
And I don’t have my map in front of me right now.
[00:16:14.230] – Kim Tate
And I think it’s Arches.
[00:16:16.020] – Anne Howard
Then Arches, then Canylonlands. And then down to Grand Canyon. But then once again, you’re going to pass through if you’re going to go just the straight Google map, fastest way they’re going to have you skip major things. You also have an opportunity from Canyonlands to go through Bears Ears National Monument, which is totally underrated. It is an incredible sacred destination for various Native American tribes. So incredible opportunities to see cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.
[00:16:43.110] – Anne Howard
And it’s not traveled at all. So that’s a gem. We actually lived in that area of Utah for two months doing a house that taking care of lots of turkeys and chickens. So and we lived we actually took care of a house for two park rangers. So they knew all the best places. And we had an incredible time. And then once again, they might want to speed you just to get to take the fastest highway. No, you should certainly take the very slight detour to go through Monument Valley, which is the Navajo Nation.
[00:17:10.740] – Anne Howard
So, no, that’s not a national park. But the equivalent of a Navajo national park is their tribal parks for Monument Valley. The highly recommend that before just racing down the Grand Canyon.
[00:17:22.140] – Tamara Gruber
I once drove through Monument Valley at sunset. And it was so magical. I mean, this area is not an area that I’ve had a chance to explore very much. But I did once, as I’ve told I think on the podcast before, I had to drive from San Diego to New York City after 9/11, and we were like, it was me and my boss, because we were stranded there.
[00:17:42.990] – Tamara Gruber
And we were like, if we’re going to drive this way, we’re going to see one thing. And so we decided to stop at the Grand Canyon and we basically had lunch, took a couple of pictures and then drove through Monument Valley up to Moab that night. But it was I think it was also that time that I was there that to see nature so beautifully and then the sun, it just it was kind of like a healing type of moment.
[00:18:03.690] – Tamara Gruber
But that area, I think a lot of people do kind of skip over and it’s yes, definitely beautiful.
[00:18:09.030] – Anne Howard
And then actually one of our favorite, totally underrated state parks. I swear no one goes there. It is. And it’s right next to to Monument Valley with like a 15 minute detour is called Gooseneck State Park. So everybody knows what Horseshoe Bend looks like. Right. It’s probably the screensaver on your Windows PC right now. It’s like that look like it’s an arch with a river going around this peninsula. And it’s stunning. Well, gooseneck is that Horseshoe Bend Times, too.
[00:18:36.990] – Anne Howard
So it’s a double loop around two peninsulas with this snaking river, Red Rock, turquoise water. It is absolutely stunning. And it’s five bucks to go and a million dollar photo op and you can camp there and no one’s there that night and they barbecue pits and the whole thing. So that’s that’s a fun extra that I feel like I wouldn’t have known without the help of my Utah Park Ranger friends.
[00:19:00.090] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. And I feel like especially now, like this year, I think is going to be a little bit insane when it comes to going to a lot of these national parks. I mean, I’ve already seen arches tweeting almost every day that by like ten, eleven they’re full. You know, it’s something that people are going to get to really plan in advance and hopefully really look for those other kind of opportunities. But I feel like between the desire for everyone to be outside but still travel this year domestically and then Instagram, you know, the fact that, like now I see so many people are talking about, like, I want to go to Goblin or I want to like these different places that I had never heard of until Instagram.
[00:19:37.170] – Tamara Gruber
Right. So everyone’s trying to get that photo op. Everyone’s there at sunset or sunrise or, you know, the craziness of it. And I just, you know, I couldn’t stand crowds before. So now I’m probably going to have, like, what’s the phobia for crowds? I don’t know.
[00:19:49.110] – Anne Howard
But that’s why I also because that’s I feel similarily about national parks and that’s why we discovered public lands. For every national park, it’s that’s like the most protected designation of public lands, but then it it definitely eases up and opens up from there. So I highly encourage people instead of thinking I have to stay at the the National Park campground, look at the surrounding public lands. That means National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, land, and that’s all wide open and it’s usually free.
[00:20:20.500] – Anne Howard
So and there are no crowds and there are some some wonderful apps to find that kind of thing. I Overlander is a great app to find public lands, one of our favorite, which I will share, even though Mike is sort of territorial over it. But I do. I will share it if that you are one a good steward of the land and two, you leave a review because that’s what this app lacks, is the community element of like people saying, hey, watch out for the pothole on the right or o sounds.
[00:20:49.240] – Anne Howard
That is even better over here. I Overlander has that. But the app and I’m, I tell you, UCPublic CG, which is Ultimate Campgrounds app, is an incredible, incredible resource to discover public lands and camping opportunities. It’s like five dollars for the app and it’s so worth that. So that is a great way to kind of get out of the fray of summer like the the national park traffic.
[00:21:13.690] – Tamara Gruber
So I know you don’t want to give up all of your secrets, but since we’re talking about these more off the beaten path parks and things that we should see, do you have a few others that you would recommend? That would be if you are looking for alternatives to some of the national parks or even if you can do a longer trip to add in there?
[00:21:32.440] – Anne Howard
Yeah, I mean, Escalante, national monument is massive and one of the coolest hikes ever. It’s a challenging road to get out there and it’s a kind of a typical hike. But I also did it with some friends and they had their little kids with them and they were having the best time ever. So I’ve seen, like, kids age seven do it. I’ve seen dogs do it. But please don’t bring your dog. It’s way too complicated for that.
[00:21:53.290] – Anne Howard
But Utah has amazing slot canyon. So no matter what, you can’t leave Utah without hiking a slot canyon to the technical one I was describing. It’s actually two that come together called spooky and peekaboo canyons. And it’s sometimes it’s only as wide as a foot. It’s crazy. So a slot canyon, basically these sort of sheer walls that have been carved by a river or an erosion over time. And they kind of create this magical play of light and it’s like a little bit of rock scrambling.
[00:22:23.410] – Anne Howard
And and it really is a full body experience. And it’s totally magic for those. That’s a more challenging version, another one that is super cool and very easy and family friendly. And just kind of on your way between Bryce and Escalante is called Willis Creek Canyon. Funny enough, we did it with my mom and we were staying at Escalante. It’s a great camping camp. That’s a really wonderful base for your trip. She’s like, oh, do definitely do Willis Creek.
[00:22:54.070] – Anne Howard
And she didn’t she didn’t really mention that it might be frozen. So we were like ice skating there and well, still kind of through the river at one point. But it’s only no matter what, it’s only like four inches deep. So in the summer, that’s going to feel really good. It’s a waiting. You’re wading through the water at very, very shallow levels. You’re not going to worry. That swept away. And then it’s maybe like a mile and a half and then, oh, it’s like amazing.
[00:23:19.180] – Anne Howard
Slot Canyon appears at the end and it’s not very crowded and it’s it’s really special. And that’s like an easy detour, peekaboo and spooky or like a life experience and a drive and of itself, but very cool. So do slot canyon no matter what in Utah. Also like this is the land of true adventure. Do a do something big. Don’t you see, I love hiking, but you have opportunities to try new things. So maybe it’s doing canyoneering in Orderville slot Canyon near Zion or maybe it’s doing a four by four trip in Moab because they have some of the best rock off roading in the world.
[00:23:57.700] – Anne Howard
Maybe it’s doing the scenic flight to kind of get a sense of the geology from above what you can do for many places. But there’s a great one that kind of loops over both canyons and arches that you could do another fun things if you can time your trip or with the full moon. Bryce does they have their astronomy rangers and you can do full moon hikes two nights of the month. So and that’s a totally unique way to see the park.
[00:24:25.420] – Anne Howard
So, yeah, mix it up, try new adventures, be it hiking, getting a boat at some point, strapping yourself in for some canyoneering or hopping in four by four and challenge yourself to do something new.
[00:24:38.400] – Kim Tate
Yeah, I think that’s great tips and kind of fun to think beyond, just, you know, like let’s look for some fun hikes. You know, it is the adventure and there are soft adventures, you know. You know that you don’t have to be, you know, jumping out of an airplane to have some adventures. Yeah.
[00:24:53.880] – Tamara Gruber
It’s perfect for our teens too right Kim?
[00:24:56.190] – Kim Tate
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, I could see it being much better to kind of having teenagers if you have. They always like to have something unique that’s cool and that they can brag about with friends. It’s not just we went on a hike so. Yeah. Any other, you know, a must see attractions or experiences you think. I mean we’ve talked a lot in the past about, you know, we’ve talked about the Grand Canyon, the big five, house boating even on Lake Powell.
[00:25:20.610] – Kim Tate
But do you think there’s any highlights that are certainly not to be missed? You’ve talked, of course, about, you know, getting beyond the beyond the standard, but what do you think are some of the must dos for that area?
[00:25:31.600] – Anne Howard
It was good to know that some of these truly iconic things like, say, for example, hiking the narrows, which is up around the Virgin River, is an amazing experience. But it needs a permit. So it’s not a big deal is you need to know that certain big adventures need permits, not too many. But like, that’s one of the most Instagramable things ever. Why? Because it’s that popular. And as a result, you now need a permit.
[00:25:54.450] – Anne Howard
So don’t let that deter you. But at the same time, like not, everything’s always going to be available to you. I think to avoid some of this rush in general, though, is to know what days of the week you’re going to like, maybe get your your national parks midweek and your state parks on the weekend and also your time of year. I think we chat about season later, but time of year is going to make a big difference about what things are available to you.
[00:26:19.650] – Anne Howard
We actually loved doing these this road trip in the winter when, like, no one’s around and you know it like seeing like the red hoodies embrace of the blanket of snow or the layers of the Grand Canyon like feathered with white. It’s an unbelievable. So I wouldn’t rule out I don’t want my neck to rush to do it this summer when it’s the hottest. Like you can hurry up. Actually, spring is a great time to do it. And spring and winter, our favorite times to go to beat some of the crowds and actually see some more unique things.
[00:26:47.880] – Anne Howard
More water runs in the spring. More flowers come out in spring.
[00:26:51.780] – Tamara Gruber
I’m really glad to hear you say that about winter because there’s been so many times where we’ve talked about doing it as like our we have a spring break in March. That’s two weeks. And we’re always like, is it going to be too cold or not? And dances are usually we’ll head off somewhere internationally, but obviously not now. But is that what we were actually thinking, like, well, hey, maybe next year we can try to do it for March break.
[00:27:15.660] – Tamara Gruber
So if it if it’s going to be nice in mid-March, it’s still pleasant, you know, where you can still access everything. That sounds ideal to me.
[00:27:24.360] – Anne Howard
Yeah. And most of these areas like heat up during the day, they might drop in the morning at night, but it’s usually pretty much always hiking weather. You disappear, maybe dress a little. And we actually saw the Grand Canyon in a blizzard, a straight blizzard. And but we had we actually had booked a room at the Bright Angel Lodge on the rim. Actually, that not that was luck. That happened to be one room left. And we took it and we woke up to just the sunniest Grand Canyon, all fluffy white.
[00:27:49.980] – Anne Howard
It was absolutely unreal. So I was like, what a benefit. We had seen the Grand Canyon the summer. I was like, wow, you can’t beat winter. This is unreal. So, yeah, don’t let nature deter you all year round is actually quite good. I’d say summer is probably the least desirable time to go. But hey, if that’s what your schedule allows for kids, vacations, whatever, if you can make it work.
[00:28:09.400] – Kim Tate
Are there any do you think there’s any, you know of the hikes of I mean I’m thinking about of course, Big five a little bit, but were there any hikes that you feel like you have to get there early or do you have to make time for this one? Because the the views are just epic? Or do you or do you feel like maybe there’s a hike in, say, because I’ve seen like Bryce, it looks very different than arches, you know?
[00:28:32.610] – Kim Tate
So do you are there any that you’re like, yeah, take your time, make sure you do get out and see this or anything like that.
[00:28:39.960] – Anne Howard
I see. Well, I mean, say in arches like hiking the devil’s garden, if you can’t do the whole park, what you know, if you’re really crunched for time. Well, Devil’s Garden has the largest concentration of natural arches in the world. So, like, that’s some place to prioritize. But, you know, all of these parks, like our like Zion isn’t that big a place. Arches isn’t that big a place. Canyonlands is a massive place.
[00:29:04.200] – Anne Howard
And actually, Canyonlands is good to know that it’s not one entrance. You actually it’s almost two totally separate parks. So know that in your planning that the island in the sky in the north end near Moab is like hours away actually from the other end. The needle section, the needle section is actually less traveled and a really lovely and actually I’d say in general and needles is a good place to do this, but throughout is make sure you spend some time understanding, like the Native American history that goes with all of these places, because, of course, the geology says.
[00:29:38.220] – Anne Howard
Eye popping, but really there’s there’s incredible narratives from various, you know, from ancestral Pueblo ones to the more contemporary Navajo who are who hold these places as sacred and who left their mark in their own way. So like, say, for example, when you’re driving the the long road needles to get to the section of Canyonlands newspaper Rock is a quick little stop. But you could certainly miss it if you’re not paying attention. And it shows petroglyphs dating back two thousand years and starting with ancestral lines.
[00:30:11.910] – Anne Howard
But then, like other groups have layered on and layered on so called newspaper because like literally like kind of putting the news as time goes on on this rock. So it was incredible concentration of petroglyphs that actually are go pretty close to print. So it’s very interesting the how different groups, you know, what they’re what their symbols were and and spending some time learning about that also on the ancestral puebloan and sort of Native American history of the area.
[00:30:42.180] – Anne Howard
Bear Ears there’s one place called there’s many places, but the Butler Wash ruins is very easily accessible just off the road. And that’s where you get to see amazing cliff dwellings from like the twelve hundreds. So it’s so cool to see almost like a city in the rocks and in Mesa Verde National Park is an example of that in Colorado, the canyon all the way to Colorado on this trip. We’ll know that you can also do it in Utah.
[00:31:05.730] – Kim Tate
That’s fabulous tips. I think that’s good. And I think that’s what more people need to be willing to do to help with the overcrowding that we’re experiencing in our national parks is you know, I appreciate you guys being such a great voice for that of recognizing, like you said, the heritage of these lands and then also, you know, getting beyond just the borders and the national park entrance and looking for the stories that are around those areas, too.
[00:31:28.110] – Anne Howard
Yeah, absolutely. And one thing another way to kind of beat the crowds. And I will shamelessly plug that. We we wrote a book about camping and but it’s because we’re really passionate about this way to experience the outdoors. And I think particularly when it comes to this sort of everyone checking the same camp or the national parks or trying to be at the historic lodge, they offer great opportunities to places to look into. Under canvas is the most known, but they’ve kind of built their model about finding the public lands and building their beautiful safari tents just outside the national park.
[00:32:05.050] – Anne Howard
So you can get that serenity again. They are more they are higher end or I’d say a higher price point, rather. But another really amazing company who’s doing something similar at a more at a lower price point. Equally awesome is called Wunder Camp. And they have a series of camps that are around some of these national parks to where they’re setting up tents and helping you kind of set up so that you could be they had various programing. So it could be you’re doing the cooking or they’re doing the cooking.
[00:32:35.460] – Anne Howard
But that’s that’s a great way to be outdoors. And, yeah, I think I just think life is such a cool way to get in touch with nature and have that serenity and meet the crowds and try something different.
[00:32:46.650] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, I agree. Kim and I have both stated under canvas what can you’ve been outside a glacier and Yellowstone and I was outside of Mt. Rushmore. And I love that experience. I mean, I’ve never been drawn to camping as much because I love my bathrooms and things like that. So I really like this kind of in-between world of camping. And it it’s just such a unique experience that even if you don’t do it for the your entire trip, just to do it for a few nights and have that experience, it really it makes things stand out.
[00:33:14.850] – Tamara Gruber
It’s very memorable, certainly much more memorable than, you know, staying at the Holiday Inn or whatever. So. Yeah, yeah. So, you know, we’ve talked a lot about some of the off the beaten path things. And I feel like one of the things that I know I struggle with and I think a lot of people do is letting go of something like, you know, everyone does this and you feel like this pressure like this.
[00:33:38.580] – Tamara Gruber
Well, I have to get that picture, too. How can I come back from this trip and not have a picture of Horseshoe Bend or, you know, like some of these things, like you feel this pressure of like, I must do all the things and I’m just wondering, like, what are some of the ones that people feel are so like, you have to do this. You have to do the narrows or, you know, something else that you would say, you know what?
[00:33:58.950] – Tamara Gruber
You really don’t have to like you’re not going to be missing anything. It’s OK if you let that one go. Are there any that you think maybe are worth leaving off the list and to be able to fit in some of these other great experiences that you’ve talked about?
[00:34:12.430] – Anne Howard
You know, like, say, for example, we were we showed my mom part of the Grand Circle, actually, we did the complete grand circle with her over the course of two trips and then we wanted to pack and that a lot that day and went to Bryce. And I really need to do the full 18 miles. It’s in it’s an in and out, so it’s not a loop. So you’re making the choice to go all the way out that way and turn around like the best of us, really on the front end.
[00:34:37.060] – Anne Howard
So not just because it’s not fabulous and you have all day go for it and you’re going to it’s going to get less crowded as you go. There is a benefit to completing, but that’s one small example of like, you know, you don’t need to do the full thing to feel like you’ve achieved the goal. And also knowing that when you hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you need to hike back up. So be very aware of how that it’s going to make your body feel because you probably haven’t hike straight down and then straight up to that degree ever in your life and you are going to feel it.
[00:35:08.980] – Anne Howard
So not to say you can’t do it, but know that you might just be really sore. And once whatever you do, it’s hot and it’s you need to be packing your own water and to plan for life pretty extreme. So it’s it’s more than a mile deep, but it’s a mile like you’ve never experienced before switchbacks. So it’s more than a mile. So. Yeah. So really weigh in your mind if you need to go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and plan accordingly, because it’s going to take you all day and you might with kids, you don’t want to be stuck in the dark and not make it back in time.
[00:35:41.230] – Anne Howard
So take that with a real cautionary tale.
[00:35:45.390] – Kim Tate
Yeah, that’s a great tip, so we will wrap up and just ask if there’s any final tips that you think people should consider. I was just thinking, you know, when you were talking that maybe this is a perfect kind of trip to make sure that you look into maybe buying a annual national parks pass, but maybe also Utah State Parks pass as well. I don’t know if they offer it, but might be kind of a good idea. But do you have any tips for families that are thinking of planning this Southwest Grand Circle Road trip?
[00:36:12.120] – Anne Howard
Yeah, mean, I think it’s just so great the national parks pass with 80 dollars. And if it just inspires any other trip in your year, it’s certainly worth buying because it encompasses like hundreds of sites that gets you in for free. And it’s just 100 percent do that. And it spurs our park system, which I think is great. Utah State Park Pass is actually a really good tip. I can’t tell you specifics on that, but probably worth it.
[00:36:35.190] – Anne Howard
And we are big fans of the book, two National Geographic Books, one that’s called Secrets to the National Parks and another one that is the scenic Highways and Byways book, which covers the Southwest in great detail, much less the entire country. We reference that book every time we take a big drive. It’s fantastic. And then actually we wrote two books, so Ultimate Journeys four two that’s published by National Geographic as well. We we love the Southwest and we have various sections.
[00:37:06.930] – Anne Howard
We go in super detail on MOAB, which is the home of of Arches and Canyonlands, and then we have a different Southwest road trip. Sections of that could be a great resource for you and also supports us. And it’s a really great book. And and then, as we said comfortably, while others are glad book, which has got a lot of SWS options to.
[00:37:24.590] – Kim Tate
Perfect. We’ll definitely link to those in the show notes. Thanks, guys.
[00:37:28.850] – Tamara Gruber
So now for maybe an easier question, I don’t know. But it’s a question that we ask all of our guests, and that is, what do you wear when you travel? It’s hard for you because you guys are always traveling. But so maybe we should focus it on the Southwest. What would you recommend? What is your go to gear when you’re doing one of these kind of road trips?
[00:37:47.000] – Anne Howard
Oh, my God, you need good hat. You need some strong sun, some incredibly strong sun. You need that, like wide brim, full ball caps. Not going to cut it like you need a proper sun hat. And yeah, knowing that the temperature swing is massive from morning to night. So, yes, layers being key. And I’m not a close person really. It’s hard for me. I like, you know, since I literally drive with my closet, I have all things with me at all times.
[00:38:15.860] – Anne Howard
So like I’ve become a terrible packer because like I always have everything with me. But yes, it’s a hot place and, you know, hydrating and some coverage and all that is like more important than ever.
[00:38:26.780] – Kim Tate
Do you have any favorite, like, shoes that you guys like to wear that works well for various rock shopping and hiking?
[00:38:35.090] – Anne Howard
Yeah, I mean, these are a little heavier, but I think they look cool without looking. They don’t. They are they’re heavy duty. Then they look and they’re kind of like Mike, even worse is like jeans and it still looks good. A solo makes a really great, sturdy hiking boot that’s actually like not so clunky and aesthetically pleasing. So that’s that’s great. They have women’s and men’s. So in the market for any boots I’m probably will get well is the next round.
[00:38:58.370] – Anne Howard
And I have these leggings that I swear by because now I’m discovered leggings can have pockets and I really just want like carry all my stuff, like to put a phone in my pocket, a little bit of money as needed. And even your car keys like without having to feel like you’re jingling, jangling and things are being knocked around. Is this brand called Kyodan? And they are so soft and they have deep pockets. So I kind of tend to wear those when I hike.
[00:39:30.450] – Kim Tate
Great, that sounds awesome, thanks so much for joining us and why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find you guys online and follow along on your adventures?
[00:39:39.090] – Anne Howard
Yeah, thanks so much. Has been really, really nice to you podcast. So we are we are we I say we my husband Mike and I with our couples travel blog is called Honey Trek. So Trek, like a long walk around the world and we are all over the place, but it’s at Honey Trek across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, wherever you like to hang out. And Honey Trek is also sort of the hub of our our nine years on the road and glamping tips and road trip.
[00:40:07.080] – Anne Howard
We have a lot of road trip content in general, and it’s also where you can get signed copies of our books for gifts or for your own collection.
[00:40:15.600] – Tamara Gruber
That’s perfect. Thank you so much. We’ll link to those in the show notes and you know where you’re going to be after Mexico.
[00:40:22.110] – Anne Howard
We bought a one way ticket. I don’t want to be in Mexico where the camper is parked in Northern California. So, yeah, I mean, the trajectory. Might we kind of follow the seasons to we are going to probably head more north. Check out the far reaches of Northern California, which I think most people don’t get to. Maybe check out Lassen Volcanic National Park, and the sort of the wild north of California and maybe into Idaho.
[00:40:47.070] – Tamara Gruber
Good. Well, have safe travels and thank you again.
[00:40:50.580] – Anne Howard
Yeah. Thanks so much.
[00:40:55.800] – Tamara Gruber
We are back and thanks again for listening. And if you do have any questions for us or, you know, travel advice that you need, just a reminder to send in a message, a firstname.lastname@example.org or talk to us on social media.
[00:41:09.390] – Kim Tate
And in the meantime, tune in in another two weeks, because I’m going to be sharing all about my Oregon to California coast road trip and sharing kind of some of the things we did along the way. So stay tuned for that. Can’t wait.