Yellowstone. Yosemite. The Rockies. Tick them all off on this ambitious American adventure.

Only in the great US of A can you be equally awestruck by the natural beauty of an ancient redwood forest as you can by the hand crafted wonder that is Mount Rushmore. Spot bears in Yosemite National Park, be awed by Niagara Falls, and camp by the Mississippi River on an epic American road trip from East to West, encompassing some of the country’s iconic cities and sprawling national parks.

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Get 25% off our trips to the USA! See our terms and conditions for applicable departures. Hurry, offer runs out 31 August 2017.

Terms & Conditions

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

Why we love this trip

  • Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and pine trees, Lake Tahoe is idyllic. Shake off the driving dust with a late afternoon dip in the alpine blue waters or relax on a sunset cruise.

  • Drive along the majestic Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the States, and stare in awe at the sweeping views of Rocky Mountain National Park in all directions. Hike though outstanding landscapes and see elk, pikas, marmots, ptarmigans and bighorn sheep.

  • Spend an evening on the banks of the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn style, and rent a canoe to paddle along the famous river

  • Spend two nights in Yellowstone and keep your eyes open for bison, bears and even rare grey wolves

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.

  • Road tripping is the ultimate way to see the USA. So on this trip 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, however, and you might even make some lifetime friends.

  • Some of the places visited on this trip are at high altitude, which mean they can be cold, even in summer. Mountains in summer also mean mosquitoes, so repellent is recommended.

  • This trip visits places that are at high altitude, and as a result some people can suffer from altitude sickness, regardless of age or physical health. Please see the ‘Health’ section of the trip notes for more important information on this.

  • Traffic in and out of the larger cities can be hectic, especially during holiday periods. There may be delays, so be prepared to take part in car games to keep you entertained.

  • Many of the cities on this trip are best explored on foot. To get the most out of these, plus also the hikes within the national parks, it is best if you have a reasonable level of physical fitness and are able to walk moderate-to-long distances.

  • This trip only allows for limited time at some destinations, so you may have to move quickly, and may not be able to see everything on your to-do list

Itinerary

Welcome to the USA! With spectacular coastline, iconic sights, and a humming cultural mix across its unique neighbourhoods, San Francisco is the perfect chilled-out place to start this American adventure. Your trip begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today – double check with reception to confirm the time and place. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have these on hand. There are no activities planned today so you can arrive at anytime before then. If you can't arrange a flight that arrives on time, you may wish to arrive a day early. We’ll happily book you additional accommodation (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception.

As there’s so much to do in San Fran, and little time spent here on this trip, we recommend arriving a few days early. You can catch a tram to visit the waterfront, feast like a king in Chinatown, peruse zany artwork in SoMa, or do a one-day sightseeing tour of San Francisco with Urban Adventures, such as ‘Temples, Tea and Beatniks’. Tonight maybe kick off the trip by gathering your group for a bowl of famous clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Notes: This trip doesn't allow time for a visit to Alcatraz, so you'll need to make your own arrangements to visit. Tickets must be booked in advance as they are limited and sell out quickly. You can make your reservations online: http://www.alcatrazcruises.com/ or by calling +1.415.981.7625 between the hours of 8am-7pm, Pacific Standard Time (USA). We recommend you reserve your tickets for the day before the tour commences.
Leave the city behind and head east into the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Today you’ll be trading skyscrapers for giant sequoias at the incredible Yosemite National Park (approximately 4.5 hours). Pass scenery that will have you itching to get on your hiking boots and go exploring. With so many options, you're bound to find a walk or hike that suits your steepness and difficulty preference. Choose to take a short walk through the valley for views of towering granite cliffs, or take a more vigorous hike to higher elevations – such as a trek under the cooling breezes of Nevada Falls (4-5 hours) or to the serenity of Mirror Lake (45 minutes).
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.
Explore the vast wilderness of Yosemite National Park at your own pace today. With such amazing scenery surrounding you it certainly pays to keep your camera on hand at all times! Visit the park's museum, photo gallery, shops and restaurants, pick another a hike and be amazed at the cascading waterfalls, or perhaps cycle through the valley. Tunnel View and Tuolumne Meadows will leave your jaw on the floor. In summer you can take it easy and soak up the stunning vistas as you float down the Merced River, with a finishing drink at the park’s café doing just the trick.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Yosemite - Raft Rental (seasonal) - USD30
  • Yosemite National Park - Hiking - Free
  • Yosemite - Cycling in Yosemite Valley - USD12
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Hit the road to Lake Tahoe, exiting the park along the Tioga Pass (if it’s open). This is a stunning stretch of road that twists and turns through the Sierra Nevadas, opening up to panoramic mountain, lake and canyon views. Heading up to an elevation of 9,945 feet, it’s California’s highest pass for cars. Continue north along a road known for its great views, with the drive to Lake Tahoe taking around six to seven hours. You’ll arrive at your lakeside campground in the afternoon, and enjoy the rest of the day free to hike, swim, or simply relax. Lake Tahoe straddles the state border between Nevada and California and is surrounded by towering peaks. The stunningly blue colour of the lake water is unforgettable and, as Mark Twain said, the air is “very pure and fine…it is the same the angels breathe”. As the sun sets, you can choose to cruise across the lake for incredible twilight views. In the evening, return to camp for dinner with the group.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Head out onto the highway and take the kind of long, open roads that you see in the movies. You’ll cross most of the state of Nevada, headed for the town of Ely. Today is mostly a driving day, with the journey taking approximately 6-7 hours. To get to Ely, we take Highway 50, known as 'The Loneliest Road in America' due to the lack of towns and of civilisation along the way. Originally used for the Pony Express, this is a stunning drive where the tarmac continues straight to the horizon, surrounded by wide-open spaces of high desert plains and scatterings of low rocky hills.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is another road trip day, crossing the remainder of the state of Nevada and entering Utah. Head towards Salt Lake City, then travel southeast towards Moab (approximately 8 hours). At the border you’ll round a small range of hills then summit a little peak, where below a vast expanse of whiteness comes into view. This is the Bonneville Salt Flats, the partial remains of an ancient lake of the same name, and the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake. This has been the atmospheric setting of many eerie scenes in Hollywood movies and also land speed record attempts. Pass Salt Lake City then travel down the interstate through a narrow valley to reach Moab. Close to the incredible Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, Moab is a small city in Utah that attracts hikers, mountain bikers and nature enthusiasts.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Explore the scarlet desert scenery of Moab, a rocky playground of giant sandstone formations, canyon mazes, and thousands of natural arches. Head out to Arches National Park and see a landscape punctuated with spectacularly eroded sandstone formations. This geological marvel contains the world's largest concentration of natural stone arches, over 2,000 of them. Take a hike and marvel at the changing colours of famous sights like Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch. Depending on time, this afternoon you may choose to take a Hummer tour of the area, explore the shops and galleries of the town, or cool off at the pool. Late this afternoon, perhap visit Dead Horse Point for incredible views of the canyon country of southeastern Utah. Up at 610 metres (2,000 feet) above the ground, cowboys used the point to round up wild mustangs in the 19th century.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Arches National Park
Optional Activities
  • Moab - Mountain Biking - USD50
  • Moab - Float Trip on Colorado River - USD45
  • Moab - Slickrock Hummer tour - USD100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Colorado is home to 25 different scenic byways, 11 of which are recognised by the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. What does that mean? That the roads from Moab to Rocky Mountain National Park are by no means ordinary and that the journey, while long (approximately 8 hours), will definitely be memorable. From Utah cross into Colorado, passing the Dinosaur Diamond route, home to the fossils and footprints of prehistoric creatures, and Grand Mesa, which crosses the world’s largest flattop mountain. Continue along the top of the Rockies, then fork off northeast towards Trail Ridge Road and the sky-scraping expanses of Rocky Mountains National Park. With majestic peaks in every direction and some of the most incredible outdoor adventures on the planet, it’s no wonder more than three million people flock to the park each year.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Travel the mighty Trail Ridge Road along the Continental Divide through some truly spectacular scenery. As the road meanders upwards to the tundra's highest point at 3,700 meters, the Trail Ridge Road offers you thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of your vehicle. There will be plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and appreciate the outstanding landscapes. With around 355 miles of hiking trails, you'll also enjoy the opportunity to hike along picturesque streams, watch elk grazing in the grassland and climb steep mountain terrain. The snowy peaks and mountain lakes of this superb national park will leave you falling head over heels for this incredible area of the USA.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Farewell the Rocky Mountains and drive the short distance to Denver, the capital of Colorado (approximately 2 hours). Follow the road up and down and enter the progressive town of Denver, which will feel like a real metropolis after the wilderness and frontier-like towns of the past week. Spend the rest of your day browsing the 16th street pedestrian mall, searching for the iconic blue bear, or sampling many of the city's boutique breweries and craft beer scene.
Accommodation
  • Hostel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As this is a combination trip, your leader and the composition of your group may change at this point. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary. You're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new travel companions.
Today you'll venture north into Wyoming and Sinks Canyon State Park, a trip that will take around six hours. Sinks Canyon is a rugged canyon at the base of the southern Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. Located on the eastern slope of the mountains, the canyon is named for its unique geologic formation, “The Sinks”, where the river vanishes underground near the mouth of the canyon.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Take a 3.5 hour drive to Jackson, a cute mountain town with a cowboy feel. Soak up the easy-going vibes with a visit to the Million Dollar Cowboy bar, or get your heart bumping on a rafting adventure on the Snake River.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Grand Teton National Park
Optional Activities
  • Grand Teton - River rafting - USD70
  • Jackson Hole - Town shoot out - Free
  • Grand Teton - Jenny Lake Hike - Free
  • Grand Teton - Jenny Lake Boat Ride - USD8
  • Jackson - Aerial tramway - USD35
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Prepare for a jaw-dropping drive through Grand Teton National Park, a wonderous place where snow-capped mountains stand watch over golden plains and fast-flowing rivers. The spectacular national park will serve as the entree to Yellowstone's main course. Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, is a stunning 9,000 square kilometre tract of wilderness home to bison, bears and grizzly grey wolves, who were only reintroduced in 1995. The day will be split between the two parks, depending on the wishes of the group.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Yellowstone National Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Return to Yellowstone National Park for a driving tour. See all of the park's main highlights, such as serene lakes, tumbling waterfalls and volcanic geysers. There will even be a visit to the famous Old Faithful geyser, so named for its predictable eruptions that take place every 35 to 120 minutes. If you're lucky enough you may even come across a herd of bison along the way. 
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Buckle up for a longer drive today as you leave Yellowstone and head to the Devils Tower National Monument in eastern Wyoming, a journey that takes around 8 hours. The Devils Tower is an imposing laccolithic butte composed of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Mountains. The Kiowa refer to the monument as the 'rock tree' due to its height. Spend a night under the stars, camping in the shadow of the Devils Tower. Listen out for coyotes howling in the distance. 
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today there is a short drive (approximately 2.5 hours) to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. See the famous sculptures of former presidents that are carved into the face of Mount Rushmore and perhaps take a look at the nearby Crazy Horse National Monument, a giant Native American sculpture in progress that will soon match the main presidential attractions. 
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Custer - Crazy Horse Memorial
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Drive approximately two hours this morning to Badlands National Park. Witness the lunar-like landscape of the park and discover a wide array of intriguing creatures on a short hike. Continue approximately four hours across South Dakota to the Sioux Falls area.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Badlands National Park
Optional Activities
  • Mitchell - Corn Palace - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Drive from Minnesota to neighbouring Wisconsin (approximately 5-6 hours). Your destination tonight is the mighty Mississippi River and Goose Island. Along the way you may stop at the Spam Museum (they have free samples!) There is an opportunity this evening to rent canoes and go for a paddle on the world-famous river.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Austin - SPAM Museum - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
On the final day you'll drive for about 5-6 hours through Wisconsin to Chicago, famous for its old architecture and a skyline bristling with skyscrapers, such as the iconic John Hancock Centre. Time permitting you may stop in Madison, America's most liveable city. Your adventure concludes on arrival in Chicago. We highly recommend taking extra time to explore this incredible city. Weave your way along the Lake Front Trail, stop for a spot of shopping on Miracle Mile and visit Chicago’s internationally recognised Planetarium: the Alder.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Private vehicle

Accommodation

Camping (with facilities) (16 nights), Hotel (2 nights)

Included activities

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Custer - Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Badlands National Park

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. This trip finishes on arrival into Chicago in the afternoon on day 19.

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.