Explore the USA from New Orleans to San Francisco

Set out eastbound across the USA's great southwest for a sampling of the classic American road trip. Journey from the vibrant jazz and colourful Creole scene of New Orleans through the deserts of New Mexico to the Carlsbad Caverns and Santa Fe's artsy hub. Learn about Anasazi Indian culture in Mesa Verde National Park, be dwarfed by the towering sandstone structures of Monument Valley, live it up in Las Vegas then wander through Death Valley and into the wilds of Yosemite. With a perfect blend of natural wonders and urban treasures, this is the perfect trip for understanding the diversities and contrasts that make up this larger-than-life nation.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
New Orleans, United States
Finish
San Francisco, United States
Country
United States
Style
Basix
Theme
Explorer
Code
SSRWC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 13

Why we love this trip

  • Learn about the ancient culture and history of the Anasazi Indians on a visit to Mesa Verde National Park, home to 600 traditional Indian cliff dwellings

  • San Antonio is a little piece of Mexico in the USA. Visit the World Heritage-listed Alamo, an 18th-century mission and fortress, and take a stroll along the lively San Antonio River Walk

  • The oldest capital in the US, sunny Santa Fe has an ancient history, a contemporary heart and a desert soul. With its adobe architecture and colourful art scene, it's not hard to see why Santa Fe's eccentric locals refer to their home as the 'City Different'

  • The Grand Canyon National Park needs no introduction. Unlike most trips, you'll spend two nights in the park so there's a full day to explore properly. See the mighty canyon up close on a variety of hikes or take a helicopter flight

  • Towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, redwood forests and epic night skies - Yosemite National Park feels like utopia. While other tour groups breeze through in a day, you'll spend two nights in the park, allowing for a full day of hiking and exploring

  • For many, Death Valley conjures up images of a flat and barren wasteland. Be surprised by the park's ethereal landscapes of sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, extinct volcanic craters and, in the spring, fields of wildflowers

  • With its 'out-there' culture and wild nightlife, Las Vegas really deserves a decent stay. You'll have a full day and two nights to make the most of this awesome city

  • Although the long drives through the desert can be uncomfortable and trying at times, they also have their rewards. Enjoy the spectacular views on your classic American road trip

Is this trip right for you?

  • This is a participatory trip. That’s a fancy way of saying you’re not just along for the ride – you’re part of a team! You know the phrase ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’. Well that’s extra true on this trip. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and help out with camp activities like food prep and washing up. It’s all about giving your new travel mates a hand – everyone knows there’s nothing worse than trying to put up a tent on your own!

  • That teamwork also extends to our optional food kitty of approximately US$10 per day, run to cover the cost of meals. This kitty saves you worrying about stuff like where to get food or what exactly sales tax is, and actually helps keep your costs down. Instead of paying individually as you go, it means we can bulk purchase items and cook our own food – though there’s always the chance to use it for the occasional pizza night! The kitty is optional and for your convenience, so if you've got specific dietary requirements you can opt out and purchase (and cook) your own food.

  • The United States is a world of endless possibilities – that’s why our Basix trips are designed so they fit together as (not quite endless) combinations. That means while you might just be starting your trip, some of your new travel mates may have been travelling together for a week or more (and so have some great tips for you). You can see how our trips fit together and all the different possible combinations at www.intrepidtravel.com/brochures. Simply click view/download on the North America brochure and look at the combo map on page 12.

  • Death Valley in the summer is extremely hot and dry. It does hold the record as the hottest place on earth after all. Hiking at this time of year isn't recommended. Sometimes in mid-summer we may be unable to visit the Valley itself if we feel that the heat presents a safety risk.

  • The USA is a big country. Distances between destinations may be longer than what you're used to, especially if you're coming from Europe. The drive across Texas on Day 4, for example, is around seven-and-a-half hours. Expect to spend a lot of time in the van.

  • As you'll be spending a fair amount of time in a van with other travellers, so conditions may feel a little cramped. This is all part of the adventure of a US road trip, however, and you might even make some long-term friends.

  • Although our vans do have air conditioning, it has to work pretty hard to keep a full group cool. Expect to feel hot during summer and cold at other times of the year, especially at night. Please consider the season and research the weather conditions to determine the best time to travel for you. Remember to come prepared with adequate clothing.

  • While you'll make an overnight stop in the city of Houston, it will be a fairly quick one, so you might not get to see everything you want to see. It's important to make the most of your time while you're here.

  • On your visit to Mesa Verde National Park, you'll be able to take a short walk around the area, but there won't be a lot of opportunity for longer hikes.

  • From the steep hiking trails of the various national parks to the towering hills of San Francisco, this trip can involve a lot of walking. Please ensure you bring sturdy walking shoes and comfortable clothes. To make the most of the trip, it's best if you have at least a moderate level of fitness.

Itinerary

Welcome to the USA! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting in the hotel lobby at 6 pm today. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

As there's a great deal to do in New Orleans, we recommend arriving a few days early to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist. Otherwise known as the 'Big Easy', New Orleans's eclectic mix of European, Creole and Cajun culture manifests itself in the city's architecture, cuisine and music scene. Take in the gaudy sights and sounds of Bourbon Street, relax in the Garden District and absorb the ambience of the French Quarter. In the evening, perhaps check out a jazz show and dance the night away in the bars along Frenchman Street.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • New Orleans - Bourbon Street - Free
  • New Oleans - Cabildo - USD5
  • New Orleans - Cemetery Tour - USD25
  • New Orleans - French Market - Free
  • New Orleans - Mississippi Riverboat Cruise - USD70
  • New Orleans - New Orleans School of Cooking - USD29
  • New Orleans - Presbytere - USD6
  • New Orleans - Preservation Hall Jazz - USD15
  • New Orleans - Ursuline Convent Tours - USD5
  • New Orleans - Voodoo Museum - USD7
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
It's quite a journey from Louisiana and into Texas (nearly 700 kilometres). You'll be on the road for around nine hours today, so sit back and enjoy the ride. There may be the chance to stop for a swamp tour along the way, and you'll get other chances to stop and stretch your legs as well.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Join the truckers along Highway 10 to San Antonio. Mexican-influenced San Antonio is the home of the Alamo, an original reconstructed Spanish-Mexican fort from the 18th century. On arrival, you can stroll along the famous River Walk or walk in the footsteps of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo. Total driving time today is around three to four hours.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • San Antonio - The Alamo Mission - Free
  • San Antonio - Riverwalk - Free
  • San Antonio - The Alamo IMAX Theater - USD14
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
After traversing the state of Texas, enter the deserts of New Mexico on the way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. One of the largest caverns in the world, Carlsbad Cavern is still only partially explored. Hike deep into the 'Big Room' and beyond. In the evening, witness the overwhelming sight of a bat flight - thousands of bats swarming out of the caverns. As the bats migrate south in October for the winter, this is a seasonal sight and is best viewed in July and August. Total driving today is about nine hours.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Continue the journey north to Santa Fe today. The total drive should take around five hours. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US. You might like to check out the pueblo architecture surrounding the town plaza or see the San Miguel Mission, the USA's oldest church. If you're an art buff, then a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is a must.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Santa Fe - San Miguel Mission - USD1
  • Santa Fe - Georgia O'Keeffe Museum - USD12
  • Santa Fe - Loretto Chapel - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Continue on to Mesa Verde National Park, home to the largest and best-preserved cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians. The park protects over 4,000 known archaeological sites. Explore a cliff dwelling on a short walk, or (for a small fee) join a ranger-led walk to the harder-to-access sites. Total driving time today is approximately five hours.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Mesa Verde National Park
Optional Activities
  • Mesa Verde - Guided Tour of Ruins - USD13
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
After a drive through fascinating desert regions, reach Monument Valley. Monument Valley is so-named after the giant sandstone formations scattered across the desert. The backdrop for countless westerns, the valley is part of the biggest Indian reservation in the US and is home to more than 200,000 Navajo Indians. Perhaps see the sights from the back of a jeep with a Navajo guide. Visit areas only open to the Navajo, see traditional Navajo homes, hike up sand dunes and gaze at spectacular rock formations. Total driving time today is around three-and-a-half hours.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Monument Valley - Navajo-guided jeep tour (2.5 hrs) - USD55
  • Monument Valley - Jeep tour & overnight experience - USD90
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today drive from Monument Valley to the Grand Canyon, stopping at a Native American trading post along the way. The total drive will take around four hours. Words don't do justice to the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. This stunning gorge is 1.5 kilometres deep, formed by over six million years of erosion from the Colorado River. You'll spend two nights here, in order to allow a full day of exploration tomorrow.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Grand Canyon National Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is a free day to explore the Grand Canyon. Stroll along the meandering South Rim Trail or hike your way along the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you might even opt for a scenic helicopter flight over the area (at your own expense). In the early evening, relax at the canyon's edge and enjoy a spectacular sunset.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Grand Canyon - Helicopter flight (45 mins) - USD295
  • Grand Canyon - Hiking - Free
  • Grand Canyon - IMAX movie - USD15
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Head out of the Grand Canyon and cross the western deserts of Arizona to Las Vegas. Along the way, you'll drive along a section of the famous Route 66, stopping in at the eccentric township of Seligman. The total drive will take around five hours.

Las Vegas may be the gambling capital of the world, but there's plenty to do if gambling isn't your thing. Hit the shops, feel your stomach drop on a rooftop roller coaster or simply stroll along the Strip, soaking up the glitz and gaudiness. In the evening, perhaps feast on an 'all you can eat' buffet, check out one of the many shows on offer or party the night away in a Vegas nightclub.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
You'll have another day to further enjoy the delights of Las Vegas. Use the opportunity to find a swimming pool to relax by, have a crack at black jack, check out a show or just soak up the craziness that is Vegas. You may also choose to go on an optional adventure on the infamous Las Vegas Roller Coaster.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Las Vegas - Big Apple Express roller coaster - USD15
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet any new travellers that join the group.
Today is a long day of driving (approximately six hours). You'll cover more than 550 kilometres through Death Valley and across the Eastern Sierra. Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet, with temperatures rising to 56°C in the summer. The park features huge sand dunes, sculpted rocks, isolated valleys and volcanic craters. The canyon and mountain walls change colour with the changing light. Elevations fluctuate from 85 metres below sea level near Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the United States) to 3,756 metres at Telescope Peak. Stop at the visitor centre and, if it's not too hot, take a walk on the stunning salt flats.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Death Valley National Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Please note that sometimes over the summer months, we may not be able to visit Death Valley itself if the heat is extreme and we feel that the conditions present a safety risk. In these cases we will visit some areas on the outskirts with similar geography so that you can still get a feel for the valley, but at a higher elevation where it is not as hot. Depending on weather and the wishes of the group, you may also be offered the option of spending the morning in Las Vegas, visiting a ghost town in the desert, or going to Mono Lake.
Driving west, travel through the Tioga Pass (snow levels permitting) into the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Your destination is Yosemite National Park. One of the most famous parks in the USA, Yosemite's colossal granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls and redwood forests attract visitors from all over the world. You'll spend two nights in the park in order to have a full day of exploration tomorrow. The total driving time today is approximately five hours, or longer if the Tioga Pass is closed.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Yosemite National Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Please note that the campsites around Yosemite National Park are limited and receive mixed feedback. We tend to use different campsites depending on the time of the year. The campsites closest to the park can get overcrowded in summer and tend to have poorer facilities, whereas the nicer campsites are a little further away, requiring more driving time to enter the park each day. Your leader will book the site they believe best suits the needs of the group depending on the time of year and availability, however please note that there may be limited access to showers whilst at this location, or that you may be camping just outside of the park.
Today is a free day to get out and discover the park. There are plenty of hikes available, each varying in steepness and difficulty. Hike under the cooling breezes of Nevada Falls (4-5 hours) or to the serene Mirror Lake (45 minutes). Keep an eye out for squirrels and perhaps even a bear along the way. You might prefer to hire a bike and explore Yosemite Valley. Visit the park's museum, photo gallery, shops and restaurants along the way. In the heat of summer, a relaxing float down the Merced River followed by a few drinks at the park's cafe is just the trick.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Yosemite - Cycling in Yosemite Valley - USD12
  • Yosemite National Park - Hiking - Free
  • Yosemite - Raft Rental (seasonal) - USD30
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leave Yosemite behind today and drive west for about four hours to San Francisco. The 'City by the Bay' has a beautiful setting and a vibrant, multicultural heart. You might like to check out the vintage stores along funky Haight Street, catch the tram down to the waterfront or take a cruise on the bay to see the impressive Golden Gate Bridge.

The trip finishes on arrival into San Francisco and no accommodation is provided tonight. The arrival time depends on each group, but if you decide to fly out on this day, please don't book a flight before 9pm. This will give you enough time to catch a shuttle from the hotel to the airport and be there two hours before departure. If you are staying in town for the evening, perhaps head out for some dumplings in Chinatown or pasta in North Beach. If you do wish to spend extra time in San Francisco we'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Optional Activities
  • San Francisco - Adventure Cat Bay Cruise - USD45
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As there's a great deal to do in San Francisco, we recommend you stay a couple of extra days to make the most of the city. This trip doesn't allow time for a visit to Alcatraz, so you'll need to make your own arrangements to visit the island prison. Tickets must be booked in advance, as they're limited and sell out quickly.

Notes: You can make your own Alcatraz reservations online at alcatrazcruises.com or call +1 415 981 7625 between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm, Pacific Standard Time (USA). We recommend booking your tickets for the day after the trip finishes. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist (subject to availability). Also consider doing our one-day sightseeing tours of San Francisco through urbanadventures.com.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Private vehicle

Accommodation

Camping (with facilities) (11 nights), Hotel (3 nights)

Included activities

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Yosemite National Park

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. This trip finishes on arrival into San Francisco in the afternoon on day 5.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.