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.

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Terms & Conditions

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

Why we love this trip

  • 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

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. .

  • You'll be travelling in a van with a group of travellers, so conditions may feel a little cramped. This is all part of the adventure, however, and you might even make some long-term friends.

  • 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. There are many long days of driving, so expect to spend a lot of time in the van.

  • 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.

  • 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 today at 6 pm. 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 glamorous 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).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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, take a stroll through Balboa Park or feast on some delicious Mexican fare. In the evening, you may like to head down to the Pacific Beach district and sample some of the bars on Garnet Street.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • San Diego - Balboa Park Museum Pass - USD44
  • San Diego - Beaches - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Joshua Tree National Park
Optional Activities
  • Colorado River - Swimming - Free
  • Joshua Tree National Park - Hiking - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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.
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, 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 helicopter 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.
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.
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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (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 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. Go for a hike in Zion Canyon, or if you are feeling adventurous (and aren't afraid of heights) tackle the famous Angel's Landing Trail. In the evening, set up camp for the night.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Zion National Park
Optional Activities
  • Zion National Park - Hiking - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
Optional Activities
  • Bryce Canyon National Park - Hiking - Free
  • Bryce Canyon - Horseback Riding - USD60
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Continue on your journey this morning through the impressive Utah landscape. Depending on time and the group's interest, perhaps make a stop at Capitol Reef National Park (additional cost) 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.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Arches National Park
Optional Activities
  • Arches National Park - Hiking - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
Optional Activities
  • Moab - Float Trip on Colorado River - USD45
  • Moab - Mountain Biking - USD50
  • Moab - Slickrock Hummer tour - USD100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today drive 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. Total driving time today is approximately three hours.
Accommodation
  • Hogan (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Monument Valley - Jeep tour & overnight experience
Meals Included
  • Dinner
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 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.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Optional Activities
  • Lake Powell - Antelope Canyon tour - USD35
  • Glen Canyon - Dam Tour - USD5
  • Lake Powell - Swimming - Free
  • Lake Powell - Horseback ride - USD64
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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.
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 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.
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 - Entrance
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

1 dinner

Transport

Private vehicle

Accommodation

Camping (with facilities) (12 nights), Hogan (1 night), Hotel (4 nights)

Included activities

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Monument Valley - Jeep tour & overnight experience
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Yosemite National Park - Entrance

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. This trip finishes on arrival into San Francisco in the afternoon on day 18.

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.

Reviews

Our Western USA Highlights trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 2 reviews in the last year.

Western USA Highlights, August 2017

Aaron Bond

Western USA Highlights, May 2017

Joseph Donnelly