ItinerariesNational Parks Family Adventures

A Vacation High: A Family Vacation Itinerary around the Grand Circle of National Parks

So here I am—24 hours after coming home from our vacation and I am still on a high. Why am I so giddy? It could be the fact that my itinerary was executed without many problems. It could be that I was happy about getting some really great footage. But it definitely is because I got spend some real quality time with my dad and my family.

Here are some facts from our trip:

National Parks Visited: 12

Navajo Nation Parks Visited: 2

Miles Driven: 2,564

Hotels Slept In: 6

Ice Cream Breaks: 5

Pictures Taken: 382

Minutes of Video Recorded: 273

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Here is the video I shot during our adventure!

In case you are interested:
This footage was shot using 3 video sources: My Nikon D7000 with Rokinon T1.5 35MM Cinelens, Rokinon 10MM Cinelens, GoPro Hero HD, and iPhone 6+

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Now this blog post is crazy long because I am documenting our full 9 day itinerary. Many people have asked for it so this seems like the perfect place for it. A few things to note before we get started:

1. You could spend full days into weeks at each of these National Parks. See why my family is crazy about National Parks here.

2. My family is not a camping family but if that’s your deal, you could save a lot of money by doing that instead.

3. I like to detail out itineraries. It makes me happy. The process of planning out every detail makes me happy. That being said, I build in lots of slush time in case things take longer than planned (and they always do).

Ok. Onward!

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July 4th weekend kicking off in Sedona!

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on



Friday July 3rd

– Depart from RDU early AM
– Arrive in Phoenix late AM
– Lunch near Phoenix airport
– Drive 2 hours to Sedona http://visitsedona.com/

Notes: Start at the Red Rock Visitor Center at Coconino National Forest. You’ll get super great info, clean bathrooms, a great view, and ice cold water fountains!

– Drive 1.5 hours to Flagstaff
– Check-in to Hotel
– Dinner in Flagstaff, AZ

Can't stop staring! #FindYourPark

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on


Saturday July 4th
– Breakfast at hotel
– Drive 1.5 hours to Grand Canyon South Rim http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
– Visitor Center http://explorethecanyon.com/grand-canyon-visitors-center/

Notes: The National Geographic Visitor Center has a really awesome IMAX movie.

– Lunch (Food court at Visitor’s Center)
– 12:30-2:30 Pink Jeep Tour http://explorethecanyon.com/grand-canyon-bus-jeep-tours/
– 3:00-5:00 Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, Grand Canyon Village

Notes: During peak season, do not even try to park at the various locations. Park at the main visitor center and utilize the free shuttle buses. Otherwise you will waste precious time looking for parking spots that aren’t available.

– Drive 1.5 hours back to Flagstaff
– Dinner in Flagstaff, AZ
– Fireworks! http://www.flagstaffarizona.org/fourth/


Sunday July 5th
– Breakfast at hotel
– Drive 1.5 hours to Petrified National Forest http://www.nps.gov/pefo/index.htm

Notes: Blue Mesa is worth the extra drive absolutely gorgeous and something truly unique.

– Lunch at Petrified Forest
– Drive 1.5 hours to Walnut Canyon National Monument http://www.nps.gov/waca/index.htm
– Drive 45 minutes to Sunset Crater Volcano National Park http://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm

Notes: Do the Lava Flow Trail. It’s an easy hike with great views of the volcano!

– Dinner in Flagstaff, AZ


Monday July 6th
– Breakfast at hotel
– Check out from hotel by 7AM
– Drive 2.5 Hours to Antelope Canyon
– Arrive by 10:00 AM to Tour Check-in Point http://www.antelopeslotcanyon.com
– Antelope Canyon Tour 10:30-12:00PM

Notes: You can tour Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. Both are beautiful in their own right but if you are looking for the famous shot with the single beam of sunlight hitting the canyon floor you want Upper Antelope Canyon.

– Lunch in Page, AZ
– Drive 2:40 hours to Four Corners http://www.navajonationparks.org/htm/fourcorners.htm

Notes: There are long lines with no shade during peak times. Bring your water bottles!

– Drive 1 hour to hotel in Farmington, NM
– Check-in to hotel
– Dinner in Farmington

Mesa Verde National Park: our 36th park! #FindYourPark

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on


Tuesday July 7th
– Breakfast in Farmington
– Drive 1.5 hours to Mesa Verde
– Mesa Verde National Park http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm

Notes: You need tickets to visit Longview, Balcony House, and Cliff Palace. Tickets are $4 each and they sell out quickly. You cannot purchase tickets online. Also, it takes an hour to get from the visitor center to the tours so plan accordingly.

– Lunch (Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe: http://www.visitmesaverde.com/dining/spruce-tree-terrace-cafe.aspx)
– Mesa Verde National Park
– Drive 1.5 hours to hotel
– Dinner in Farmington

Easily the most amazing thing I have ever seen in this country. #FindYourPark

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on



Wednesday July 8th

– Breakfast in Farmington
– Check out of hotel
– Drive 3.5 hours to Arches National Park http://www.nps.gov/arch/
– Delicate Arch Hike

Notes: There are bathrooms but no water fountains at the trailhead. If you arrive after 10:00 AM you will not find parking. This hike is only 3 miles roundtrip but it is no joke. You need to be prepared to hike on inclines and on some narrow ledges and you WILL need a lot of water with you.

– Lunch in Moab, UT
– Drive 45 minutes to Canyonlands National Park http://www.nps.gov/cany/

Notes: Every lookout point on the Island in the Sky section is worth the trip. Hike out to Mesa Arch around sunset. You won’t be disappointed!

– Dinner in Moab
– Check-in to hotel in Moab

Wow, this place is a sight to behold! #BryceCanyon #FindYourPark

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on


Thursday July 9th
– Breakfast at hotel
– Check-out
– Drive 2.5 Hours to Capitol Reef National Park http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm
– Lunch in Torrey, UT
– Drive 2.5 hours to Bryce Canyon National Park http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Notes: The Natural Bridge is worth the drive and you can see it very close from the lookout point. Bryce Point is the place to be for the famous shots of Bryce Canyon’s Hoodoos.

– Drive 45 minutes to Cedar Breaks National Monument http://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm
– Drive 30 minutes to Hotel in Brian Head, UT
– Check-in
– Dinner in Brian Head, UT

OMG. Zion National Park. #FindYourPark

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on


Friday July 10th
– Checkout by 7:00 AM
– Breakfast in Cedar City, UT
– Drive 1.5 hours to Zion National Park http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
– Zion National Park Kolob Canyon

Notes: The Timber Creek Overlook Trail is a nice little hike with great panorama views. The parking lot has bathrooms but no water.

– Zion National Park
– Emerald Pool Trail
– Riverside Walk Trail
– The Narrows (you will need water shoes and walking sticks. Walking sticks can be purchased at the Visitor Center)

Notes: Like Arches, this park is very popular and if you arrive past 10:00 AM you will have a tough time finding parking. Try parking at the Nature Center. It opens later than the Visitor’s Center so it won’t fill up as quickly and you can take a short hike on the Pa’rus Trail back to the Visitor Center where you can then catch the Shuttle Bus.

– Lunch at Zion
– Drive 1 hour to hotel in St George, UT
– Check-in
– Dinner in St George, UT

Daaaaaaam! #byefelicia at Hoover Dam

A photo posted by Gregory Ng (@gregoryng) on


Saturday July 11th
– Checkout
– Breakfast in St George, UT
– 7:00 AM Drive 2.5 hours to Lake Mead/Hoover Dam
– Hoover Dam

Notes: If you don’t have time for the full Hoover Dam tour, try viewing it from the FREE Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge! The view is spectacular!

– Lunch in Kingman, AZ
– Drive 3 hours to Phoenix
– Check-in
– Dinner in Phoenix, AZ

Sunday July 12th

– Breakfast at hotel
– Checkout
– Turn in Rental Car
– Depart Phoenix Late AM
– Arrive RDU Late evening

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What’s Next?

Now that we tackled a great portion of the Grand Circle we have our sights on our next cluster of National parks to visit towards our goal of 100!

Most notably we are planning trips to the following parks:
– Mammoth Cave
– Yellowstone
– Mount Rushmore
– Statue of Liberty
– Badlands
– Glacier National Park

Stay tuned for our next National Park adventure!

Gregory Ng

GOAL: Visit 100 National Parks as a family by 2020. Favorite Parks: Zion National Park, Mt Rainier National Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park

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