The flexibility of this trip allows you to do what you want, when you want, without the restrictions of an overly packed itinerary. Enjoy a full day to explore Washington DC. There’s lots to see and do in the US capital, and most of it is free. Visit the White House, Capitol Hill and the National Mall, and feel small next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln. The cities of Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans are notorious for their rich music and nightlife scenes. See live performances of blues, jazz, country and rock in celebrated musical venues. 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
This all-encompassing journey takes you to America’s best sights. Beginning in San Francisco and ending across the river from New York, spend time at the country’s most magnificent national parks, walking among giant sequoia trees at Yosemite and marvelling at the vastness of the Grand Canyon. Travel to the Lone Star State to Remember the Alamo in San Antonio and delve into Santa Fe’s quirky art scene. Be overwhelmed by the neon lights of Vegas and southern hospitality in New Orleans. And get amongst the music in Nashville and Memphis. This action-packed adventure plays out like a greatest-hits mixtape of classic Americana. What makes this one of the best countries in the world? Come and see for yourself.
Welcome to the chilled-out City by the Bay. Make your own way to the hotel, where your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. After the meeting, the evening is yours to explore. As this is the only day spent in San Francisco, we recommend arriving a few days early to see the sights. San Fran is a vibrant city with a multicultural heart and offers plenty to do and see. The iconic Golden Gate bridge, the Painted Lady Victorian houses (featured in the opening credits of beloved American sitcom, Full House) and perhaps the most famous former prison, Alcatraz, are just a few of San Francisco’s instantly recognisable attractions. You might consider doing one of the one-day sight-seeing tours of San Francisco offered by our sister company, Urban Adventures.
Yosemite National Park
Drive about 3 hours east into the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Yosemite National Park. Famous for its towering giant sequoia trees (some of the largest trees in the world), plunging waterfalls and colossal granite cliffs, Yosemite is a treat to explore any time of the year. There’s natural wonders everywhere you look, such as the cascading Yosemite Falls (dropping a total of 739 metres/2,425 feet), Glacier Point (which offers breath-taking panoramic views of Yosemite Valley), and two of the parks most magnificent granite monoliths, Half Dome and El Capitan. You’re free to get active and explore the national park however you like upon arrival. You might want to lace up your hiking boots and explore the 1,200 kilometres/800 miles of hiking trials that weaves throughout the glacier-carved surrounds. Those after more of a thrill may prefer to rent a raft and take to the Merced River.
Yosemite National Park
Today is a free day to get out and discover some more of the park. With so many miles of trails leading you to Yosemite’s best attraction, you might choose to spend your day hiking. Your tour leader can offer advice on the steepness, length and difficulty of available trails. The Nevada Falls loop is a popular choice and allows you to climb nature’s giant staircase through gorgeous forest to two incredible waterfalls. This hike is of moderate difficulty and generally takes 4 to 5 hours. For a more leisurely walk, the hike to Mirror Lake takes you past postcard-worthy views of lush forest, Zigzag Valley and Mount Hood. Don’t be surprised if the lake is noticeably smaller (or completely absent) in late summer, however, when the water dries up and is replaced with grass and sandy areas, earning Mirror Lake the nickname, ‘Mirror Meadow’. Alternatively, you might prefer to hire a bike and explore Yosemite Valley, visiting the parks photo gallery, shops and restaurants along the way. After a day of exploration, a few drinks at the park’s cafe is just the trick.
Leave Yosemite behind and drive into the eastern Sierra Nevada towards the quaint town of Bishop. If it’s open (usually from June to September), the drive goes over the stunning 3,050 metre/10,000 foot Tioga Pass via Tioga Road (highway 120). It’s about 4 or 5 hours of travel, but the views more than make up for it - spectacular mountain scenery, crystal clear lakes (including Tenaya and Mono) and breathtaking vistas are in store for us today. You’ll make numerous stops along Tioga to admire the views and take some photos, before continuing on to Bishop, where you’ll camp for the night.
Travel east through Death Valley to Las Vegas (about 6 hours). Despite its ominous name, Death Valley is home to some incredible geological phenomena. Huge rolling sand dunes, sculpted rocks, winding canyons, sun-cracked salt flats, isolated valleys and volcanic craters can all be found here. Death Valley is also one of the hottest places on the planet, with temperatures rising to 56°C in the summer. If it’s not too hot, stop at Death Valley National Park to marvel at the otherworldly scenery and perhaps take a walk on the stunning salt flats. Then it’s on to Sin City. Las Vegas may be the gambling capital of the world, but if that isn't your thing there's a lot more to do in town. Shop, check out a world class show, or simply marvel at the over-the-top hotels, where it’s possible to ride a gondola (at the Venetian), take a photo in front of a scale model of the Eiffel Tower (Paris Hotel) and see an erupting volcano (at the Mirage). Whatever you do, make sure to spend some time simply soaking up the neon lights and craziness of gaudy and glitzy Strip.
You have another free day to explore the entertainment capital of the world. Use this opportunity to have a crack at black jack, find a swimming pool to relax by, or dine at a renowned restaurant (Wolfgang Puck and David Chang are just two famous chefs who have restaurants here). For something different, why not learn about Vegas’s underworld past at the Mob Museum or check out some long-gone neon signs that helped make Vegas, well, Vegas, at the Neon Museum. Many A-list musicians, like Elton John and Cher, have done residencies in Vegas. In the evening, why not check out a concert (you’ll likely need to book in advance, so make sure to check the calendar before you come) or put the city’s famous slogan, ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ to the test and party the night away at one of its many hotspots.
While the lights of Las Vegas might be dazzling, your eyes are in for a real treat today as they'll fall on the incredible Grand Canyon. Leave Vegas and drive along a section of famous Route 66 to one of the world’s seven wonders (approximately 5 hours). You’ll have two nights here to help you’ll fully take in this amazing sight. There are plenty of things to see and do during your time here, so be prepared for busy and active days. Peer over the rim and stand in awe as you watch the setting sun ignite the multi-coloured rock walls. For the next two nights you’ll camp out in one of the world’s most magnificent settings, surrounded by the smell of pine and cedar and enveloped by a stunning canopy of stars at night.
Take time today to explore at your own pace. Maybe rise early for an incredible sunrise, then soar like a California Condor over the canyon with a scenic helicopter flight (not included). If you feel like getting active, then descend through pine trees into the heart of the immense abyss, hiking from red rock to white powder. Discover this stunning gorge – 1.5 kilometres deep and formed by over six million years of erosion from the Colorado River – by strolling around the edges, or hiking along the South Kaibab trail or to Plateau Point. Or perhaps join rangers to learn about the park’s geological story, watch an IMAX film to discover the canyon from a different perspective, or simply relax with a book and a backdrop like no other. Whatever you choose, you’ll find that the canyon depths are nothing short of mind-blowing.
You’re in for another scenic ride today. Cruise the backdrop of classic Western cinema into the heart of the Navajo Nation (about 4 hours). The reservation here is the largest in the US and home to more than 200,000 Indians of the Navajo tribe. It is also home to Monument Valley, a striking landscape named after it’s towering sandstone formations. As the sun changes angle as it rises and falls throughout the day, the landscape constantly changes colour and it's near impossible to take a bad photo. When you arrive, you can go on an optional Jeep tour with a Navajo guide, who will provide an insight into their culture as you drive past flaming red cliffs and sweeping sand dunes and visit traditional Navajo homes. In the evening, you have the choice of joining the locals for an authentic Navajo dinner around a campfire, and be regaled with traditional songs and stories in the process (both of these optional activities have a fee).
Mesa Verde National Park
Step back in time today and gain an insight into human history in North America with a visit to one of the best and largest archaeological sites in the country, Mesa Verde National Park (travel time is about 3.5 hours). Although the desert-scapes and cactus-spiked mesas might seem pretty uninhabitable, this part of the American south-west has actually been settled for thousands of years. The park protects over 4,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans, who made the area their home from AD 550 to AD 1300. Explore a cliff dwelling on a short walk and descend a ladder into a kiva (a round, subterranean ceremonial structure), or (for a small fee) join a ranger-led walk. The ranger will help you access the more difficult sites like ‘Cliff Palace’ or ‘Balcony House’, and help you learn more about this ancient site.
Travel north to Santa Fe (about 6.5 hours), a city whose artistic, musical and culinary offerings are greater than its size suggests. Upon arrival, enjoy free time to explore its quality museums, galleries and other artistic offerings. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a great place to start. Spend time checking out her brand of American modernism and some of her New Mexico landscapes, or perhaps explore the diversity of the world’s folk artists and cultures at the Museum of International Folk Art. Santa Fe itself is a living museum, owing much of its old-world look to its Pueblo-style architecture. Stroll the crooked streets of the historic district to view a range of adobe landmarks, including San Miguel Chapel, which has the distinction of being the oldest church in continental United States.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Head south and unearth a world hidden beneath the stark, barren desert after leaving Texas behind for New Mexico (approximately 5 hours). When you arrive, head deep underground for a world-class cave experience in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Marvel at the massive, ornate formations that burst from the cavern’s edges in the 8.2 acre ‘Big Room’ and beyond. One of the largest caverns in the world, Carlsbad Cavern is still only partially explored, with 119 caves recorded so far. There are yet more wonders outside the cave – take a seat outside the park at sunset and watch hundreds of thousands of bats spiralling out in a swarming column in search of food. Please note that as the bats migrate south in October for the winter, this is a seasonal sight and is best viewed in July and August. You’ll spend the night in a campground near the town of Carlsbad.