This unique tour explores the crown jewels of America's National Park system, whilst enjoying the luxurious comfort of its historic lodges. Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon showcase some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the US, and their expansive vistas and abundant wildlife have been attracting visitors for over 100 years. Lodges that were built at the turn of the century to cater to this early wave of tourists are still operational in all their former glory, and today they're more than just places to stay, they're pieces of history!
Day 1: San Francisco
Welcome to the 'City by the Bay' in sunny California. San Francisco is a city which the locals are fiercely proud of and for good reason. There's plenty to keep you entertained but the best introduction is to jump on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour or book one of our 'Urban Adventures' around the city. A welcome meeting will be held at 18:00 hrs in your hotel.
Day 2: San Francisco and Yosemite National Park
After departing San Francisco you head east through California's historic gold country then high into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the magnificent Yosemite National Park. You begin with an easy trail walk to the Giant Sequoia Trees before your two night stay at your Yosemite Lodge.
Day 3: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park sits nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range of northern California. Here green forest meets granite walls measuring several thousand feet in height. Rock climbers come from all over the world to scale the rocks whilst hikers get to walk to the base of some of the largest waterfalls in the world. The Yosemite Valley beckons. Here you may cycle, take a dip in the Merced River or wander the meadows.
You will get to hike on one of the many trails enabling you to leave the crowds behind. The famous sites situated along these trails include Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, Mirror Lake and Half Dome. The views are breathtaking from every vantage point - the granite formations of Half Dome, El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks are sure to be forever etched on your minds. In the evening you return to your historic lodge and have the chance to relax with a cocktail on the veranda.
Day 4: Death Valley National Park
One of the hottest, driest and lowest places on earth, Death Valley is blessed with some of the most extreme and beautiful landscapes. Sculpted by erosion, richly tinted mudstone hills and canyons await exploration, with sand dunes and salt pans making for some exceptional photos. You cover a long distance today and you'll see some fascinating and contrasting scenery on your journey.
Day 5: Zion National Park
Make your way back to Utah and onto the soaring red and white cliffs of Zion, one of the most spectacular destinations in the USA park system. Zion Canyon was named by the early Mormon settlers of Utah who thought of it as their 'promised land'. Some of the best hiking in this desert terrain of Southwest USA can be found here, in and around the fertile Virgin River as it meanders below massive, cathedral-like sandstone walls. Upon arriving you'll enjoy a hike along the narrows of the Virgin River.
Day 6: Zion & Bryce Canyon National Park
With an early morning rise you have half a day to spend as you wish, perhaps spend some time hiking the wonderful park trails. Warm up your legs by taking some of the short hikes from the valley floor to view the Lower Emerald Pool and then continue on to the sparkling Upper Emerald Pools, passing a beautiful waterfall along the way. Cool off from the summer sun by exploring the Riverside Walk section of the Virgin River. Zion is also home to epic red rock vistas, tiny grottoes, hanging gardens and meadows of mesa-top wildflowers - it's a wonderful place to spend a couple of days.
Leaving Zion National Park you climb in elevation to almost 2,438 metres (8,296ft.) and traverse a high plateau to Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is a fascinating natural amphitheater of pink, orange and white sandstone spires, known locally as hoodoos. There are a variety of scenic overlooks and trails that range from easy to moderate in difficulty. The Navajo or Peek-a-Boo Loop Trails will enable you to hike right in amongst these unique rock formations. Some may prefer to hike on the Queen's Garden Trail or remain on the rim and photograph the ever-changing shadows and hues as the sun makes its way across the wide-open sky.
Day 7-8: Grand Canyon National Park
Head to the Grand Canyon, for the ultimate desert showstopper! Traversing the eastern entrance of the canyon, you'll catch your first glimpse at Desert View. This incredible spectacle is difficult to comprehend, stretching for almost 300 miles and plunging to depths of over 6,000ft., there's plenty of rock to go round and viewing points from the south and west rims enable some jaw-dropping moments. Aside from the views, you'll also discover plenty of opportunities to get active with hiking trails. Snaking through the canyon floor is the mighty Colorado River, which runs 1,450 miles (2,330km) through seven US states and two Mexican states.
In your free time, we highly recommend a scenic flight over the canyon, which offers a perspective that you simply can't see visiting on foot. Also recommended is the film show at the IMAX Theater, which'll give you an excellent overview of the area and how it developed. Alternatively, stroll the easy meandering South Rim Trail, hike your way down the more challenging trail to Plateau Point, or relax at the canyon's edge and enjoy a spectacular sunset over one of the world's natural wonders.
Day 9: Monument Valley
In the heart of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Monument Valley is sacred land to those who call it home. The red sandstone monoliths and spectacular sunsets and sunrises have been the backdrop to countless Westerns and the best way to experience this special place is on a Navajo guided backroads tour, where you'll be taken to parts of the park that you can only reach by jeep. Listen to traditional stories and learn more about the history of the Navajo Nation. As you come across geological wonders, petroglyph drawings of animals and pottery crafted by local people, you'll soon realise why this place is so special to all who visit. There's also ample time to relax and view the valley's surreal sunset.
Day 10-11: Moab & Arches National Park
Today you are treated with yet more spectacular scenery amid the magnificent splendour of Arches National Park. Your base will be in Moab, the perfect place for restaurants and activity providers and your home for the next two days. These stunning red sandstone arches have been created over millions of years by the whipping wind down the west slope of the Rocky Mountains. Here you have the opportunity to hike to many of these incredible arches, some of which are known as Landscape Arch and the famous Delicate Arch, the latter being the most iconic and more photographed of the arches in the park. Alternatively, why not tackle the terrain high above on a guided `hummer' tour or take a float trip down the Colorado River. Arches National Park is a photographer's playground with many a sandstone edifice providing the foreground against a clear blue or flame red sky. With hardly any light pollution there's plenty to see after dark too.
Day 12: Salt Lake City
Your next destination is the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City. With a city population of 186,000 and a metropolitan population of 1.13 million, it's the largest city in the state. Founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and his Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) followers. Salt Lake City is still the base for the religion although less than half the population in the city today are Mormons. Enjoy a city tour with a local Mormon guide and see the city from a local's perspective.
Day 13 - 14: Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park
Arrive in Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park and home to a large variety of wildlife including Grizzly Bear, wolves, bison and elk. This park is so large that its boundaries cross into three states. Most of the park sits in Wyoming, but parts of the reserve extend into Idaho and Montana. Yellowstone has one of the highest concentrations of geothermal activity on the planet. Herds of bison roam amongst the erupting geysers and steam rises from the various rivers running through the park. A fire in the 1980s destroyed much of the park, but it has recovered to the extent that it is now a living monument to nature's power of regeneration. From lush mountain meadows and vast freshwater lakes to sensuous pine forests and flower strewn hillsides, lovers of infinite wilderness will be in their absolute element in Yellowstone National Park.
Day 15: Grand Teton National Park & Jackson
You continue your journey in Wyoming, travelling through Grand Teton National Park where you have a scenic ferry included across Jenny Lake and the chance to hike up to Inspiration Point past waterfalls to a viewpoint that will take your breath away. Your tour finishes in the Western town of Jackson.
It's recommended to spend a few extra nights to experience this truly authentic Western town. Once home to trappers and a hideout for outlaws and rustlers, Jackson is now the base for hikers to take on some lovely hiking trails, as well as a town renowned for its cafes and Western style saloons! With a permanent population of around 8,600 people and a far greater transient tourist population, it attracts many of the rich and famous and is a great base for exploring the nearby wilderness.