Experience the highlights of western USA

Discover the captivating cities and astounding natural attractions of the USA's west on a 19-day adventure that will take you from lively Los Angeles to stylish San Francisco. Experience the wonderful wilds of Joshua Tree, Zion and Yosemite national parks, explore Monumental Valley, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, and join the high rollers and hard livers of illustrious Las Vegas. With exceptional outdoor excursions, some spectacular stretches of coastline and sensational city scenes, this is the ultimate round-up of the western USA's highlights.

Start
Los Angeles, United States
Finish
San Francisco, United States
Countries
United States
Themes
Explorer
Code
SSRSC
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 13
Carbon offset
970kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Experience the south western corner of the USA in depth, visiting the iconic national parks, lesser known gems, as well as the glamorous capitals of California and Nevada
  • 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
  • From the stone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the hanging gardens of Zion National Park, see a diversity of landscapes all within a short drive of each other
  • As well as the famous must-see attractions on this trip, visit some lesser-known but no less spectacular national parks, such as Dead Horse Point and Arches National Park
  • The iconic sandstone formations of Monument Valley have played backdrop to many a cowboy western. Learn about Navajo culture and history during a jeep tour of the park, before spending a unique night in a traditional hogan hut

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2016 to 26 September 2016. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Welcome to the USA! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting today at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. 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 this trip spends little time in Los Angeles, we recommend you arrive a few days early to see the sights. The 'City of Angels' is world-renowned for the glamourous districts of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, not to mention the shopping on Rodeo Drive. From Venice Beach to Disneyland, it's a veritable smorgasbord for the senses. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). You might consider doing our one-day Urban Adventure sightseeing tour of Los Angeles (see urbanadventures.com).
Today drive south for two-and-a-half hours to San Diego, close to California's border with Mexico. Sunny San Diego is a great city to get out and explore as it serves up year-round temperate weather. Perhaps relax along the golden beaches of Mission Bay or take a stroll through Balboa Park. In the evening, head down to the Old Town for some delicious Mexican fare. Afterwards, you might like to make your way to the historic Gaslamp Quarter, a lively hub of restaurants, bars, shops, galleries and theatres.
Today head away from the coast and drive to Joshua Tree National Park. Sitting between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, the park is famous for its spectacular desert plants, including Joshua trees, cacti and Mojave yuccas. The area is also home to striking rock formations and mountain ranges. You might like to head out on a scenic hike around the park or even take a refreshing dip in the Colorado River. Today's total driving time is around seven hours.
Drive for six hours to Grand Canyon National Park. Words don't do justice to the Grand Canyon. 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.
Today is a free day to explore the Grand Canyon, one of the largest canyon systems in the world. Stroll along the meandering South Rim Trail or hike your way down to Plateau Point. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you might even opt for a scenic flight over the area (at your own expense). In the early evening, relax at the canyon's edge and enjoy a spectacular sunset over one the world's natural wonders.
Today we drive for about five hours to Las Vegas. This 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.

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. After the meeting, you'll be free to enjoy your last night in this energetic city.
Today leave Nevada and drive for around three hours to Zion National Park. The park is home to stunning desert landscapes, sculpted rock formations, waterfalls and hanging gardens. There will be plenty of time on arrival to stretch your legs and have a good look around the park. You might even like to float down the surprisingly chilly Virgin River in a tube. In the evening, set up camp for the night.
Drive for around two-and-a-half hours to Bryce Canyon. The canyon is famous for its 'hoodoos' - odd-shaped rock spires formed by centuries of erosion. You will have ample time to explore the park's extensive network of hiking trails, from the easy Rim Trail, to the moderate Queen's Garden Trail or the strenuous Peek-a-boo Loop. Wherever you walk, you'll encounter unique landscapes and a kaleidoscope of desert colours.
Continue on your journey this morning through the impressive Utah landscape. Make a stop at Capitol Reef National Park before heading to 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. Arches National Park is punctuated with spectacularly eroded sandstone formations, and contains the world's largest concentration of natural stone arches. Take a hike out to see famous sights such as Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch. The total driving time today is approximately five-and-a-half hours.
On your second day in Moab, discover the red plateaus, cliffs and canyons of nearby Deadhorse Point State Park. Enjoy incredible views from Deadhorse Point. 610 metres (2,000 feet) above the ground, cowboys used to the point to round up wild mustangs in the 19th century. You might like to take an optional float down the Colorado River, or even hire a mountain bike to explore the area.
Today drive for about three hours through southern Utah to Monument Valley. Monument Valley is so-named for 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 home to more than 200,000 Navajo Indians. Head out on a guided jeep tour of the valley. Get your camera out and snap some photos of the spectacular landscape, which changes colour with the movement of the sun. Spend the night in a hogan, a traditional Navajo hut made of logs and earth.
Drive through the unspoiled landscapes of the northern Arizona desert plateau to Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This enormous manmade lake was created from the building of the Glen Canyon Dam, the first in a series of dams along the Colorado River. Explore hidden coves and canyons, take a dip in the fresh water or laze on the lake's sunny shores. You could even paddle around in a kayak. Total driving time today is around three-and-a-half hours.
Special Information
ANTELOPE CANYON
Please note that while there are several operators running tours of Antelope Canyon, we only work with a select few who have satisfied our safety criteria. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult to get bookings for this activity, and it therefore cannot be guaranteed. If you particularly wish to do this activity, please speak to your leader on day 1 so that they have the best chance of getting a booking.
Today drive across the border into Nevada and back to Las Vegas. The drive should take around five hours in total. Tonight, you might like to celebrate the end of your Utah adventure in style, with an optional limo tour of the city or spend the night enjoying the lights of Las Vegas.
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 or go-karting.

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. After the meeting, you'll be free to enjoy your last night in this energetic city.
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.
Special Information
Please note that on extreme heat days we may not be able to visit Death Valley itself if we feel that the conditions present a safety risk. In these cases, we will visit some areas on the outskirts with similar geography (but higher elevation and therefore not as hot) and also visit a ghost town in the area.
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.
Enjoy 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.
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. In the evening, perhaps head out with the group to celebrate your last night with some dumplings in Chinatown or pasta in North Beach.
Today your adventure comes to an end. There are no activities planned so you're able to depart the accommodation at any time. As there's a great deal to do in San Francisco, we recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist. You might consider doing our one-day Urban Adventure sightseeing tour of San Francisco (see urbanadventures.com).
Special Information
Note: This trip doesn't allow time for a visit to Alcatraz, so you'll need to make your own arrangements if you want to see the island prison. Tickets must be booked in advance, as they sell out quickly and numbers are limited. You can make your reservations online at alcatrazcruises.com or by calling +1415 981 7625 between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm, Pacific Standard Time (USA). We recommend reserving your tickets for the day before the tour commences.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
1 dinner
Transport
Private vehicle
Accommodation
Camping (with facilities) (12 nights), Hogan (1 night), Hotel (5 nights)
Included activities
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Dead Horse Point
  • Jeep tour & overnight experience
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Yosemite National Park

Dates

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Trip notes

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Reviews

Our Western USA Highlights trips score an average of 4.5 out of 5 based on 8 reviews in the last year.

Western USA Highlights , June 2016

Western USA Highlights , May 2016