Experience North America's diverse wilderness while exploring three national parks on a road trip from San Franisco to Denver

Roads that wind through forests of wooden giants, slip through narrow mountain passes, and stretch endlessly onto the horizon. Highways that cross ancient salt plains, snake through red rock landscapes of towering arches, and summit the peaks that divide continents. America is simply made for driving. With bookends in hip San Francisco and Denver, journey through California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado, and find the diverse wilderness that lies at the core of this great continent. Experience Yosemite’s glistening falls, Lake Tahoe's incredibly crisp air and water, and the daunting peaks of the Rockies – this is true American Beauty.

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Terms & Conditions

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

Why we love this trip

  • Discover the huge diversity of the US’s landscapes with explorations of three national parks in just 10 days. Start with the lush beauty and waterfalls of Yosemite, cross the red earth and rock formations of Arches National Park, and end with the jaw-dropping vistas of Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Bookending this adventure through the country’s wilderness are two of America’s most hip and progressive cities – San Francisco and Denver.

  • 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

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.

  • This is a real American road trip, crossing four states from the west coast to the mountains of the Continental Divide, so there is a lot of driving. There are some very long driving days of around 8 hours – enough time to really get to know your travel companions and break out your best car games.

  • 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.

  • Please note that there is not much time spent at Lake Tahoe, so there is only limited time for swimming and watersports.

  • Some travellers have reported feeling unsafe in San Francisco due to the large number of homeless people. Unfortunately homelessness is a fact of life in San Francisco and the problem is widespread throughout the city. It is very likely that you will see homeless people on the street during your time in the city, and while it can appear intimidating, they are mostly harmless.

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 - 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.
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)
Optional Activities
  • Lake Tahoe - Kayaking/watersports - USD25
  • Lake Tahoe - Sunset champagne cruise - USD50
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. This trip finishes on arrival and there in no accommodation included tonight. Perhaps choose to stay on and explore the city’s innovative art, nightlife, food and shopping scenes – we’ll be happy to help you book additional accommodation (subject to availability).
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) (8 nights), Hotel (1 night)

Included activities

  • Yosemite National Park - Entrance
  • Arches National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. This trip finishes on arrival into Denver in the afternoon on day 10.

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 California to the Rockies trips score an average of 4.8 out of 5 based on 10 reviews in the last year.

California to the Rockies, August 2017

Steven Adams

California to the Rockies, August 2017

Lauren Davis