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The American dream comes alive in this southwest corner of the USA, as epic landscapes follow one after the other. From staring down into the depths of the Grand Canyon to being on top of the world looking over Yosemite National Park, each day on this trip brings mindblowing scenery. If two-weeks aren't enough, longer itineraries are available that include the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, and watching the sun set over Arches National Park.
Explore Tour Leader
14 nights comfortable hotel
2 nights premium hotel
Trip maximum 13
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in San Francisco. Hugging the shores of San Francisco Bay, the city has a fascinating mix of culture, commerce and character that cannot fail to charm.
Due to the number of evening flights into San Francisco, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. We don't provide arrival transfers on this tour, but information on how to reach the hotel will be provided in your final documentation.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, why not explore Fisherman's Wharf with its views over Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Kensington Park Hotel (or similar)
Today is spent exploring some of the city's highlights as we wander its famous streets, taking in the delightful Victorian architecture of Alamo Square and the colourful eccentricity of Haight Ashbury, San Francisco's once thriving 'hippie district' of the 1960s. We'll also drive up into the elegant Twin Peaks district of the city to enjoy some of the stunning views across the city and the bay (weather dependant), before moving on to the Golden Gate Bridge and finally the eclectic bustle and resident sea lions of Fisherman's Wharf. The afternoon has then been left free to continue exploring at your own leisure, perhaps paying a visit to Lombard Street and Coit Tower, before returning by the city's famous cable cars back to Union Square and Market Street. This evening there is the option to walk to Chinatown, discovering the labyrinthine chaos of the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
This morning we leave San Francisco behind and drive east, heading through the fertile landscapes of Stanislaus County towards Yosemite National Park, passing the highly productive agricultural region of the Central Valley, where numerous orchards and vineyards line the roads. As we climb into the Sierra Nevada, we begin to witness the fabulous natural beauty of Yosemite National Park, a region which in 1864 became the first protected land in the world, a landscape which caused one of the first white men to see it to gasp in admiration. As we arrive in the valley, the towering presence of the two most demanding peaks of the park will be visible - Half Dome (the sheerest cliff in North America) and the vast granite bulk of El Capitan (twice the size of the Rock of Gibraltar) - both of which attract serious rock climbers from all over the world. The central valley is a mere 20km long by 5km wide but is hemmed in on either side by dramatic 2km-high sheer cliffs, its cascading waterfalls and skyline of jagged pinnacles and smooth domed granite presenting an awe-inspiring backdrop. We spend some time visiting various viewpoints in the valley this afternoon, depending on the seasonality and which roads are open. We may take a walk to the bases of Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, before continuing to follow the course of the Merced river to our final destination in Mariposa, just outside the park boundaries.
Yosemite Southgate (or similar)
More than 90% of Yosemite is designated wilderness area and today we will take the opportunity to explore it in a little more depth. Away from the main tourist areas of the Yosemite Valley the park is filled with a myriad of options to make the most of its spectacular natural charms. One possibility is a drive up to Glacier Point then hike along the Panorama and Mist Trail back down into the valley (a challenging walk of some 4-6 hours). The hike takes in an ever-changing tableau that includes the impressive cascades of Nevada and Vernal Falls, as well as some breathtaking views of Half Dome and the High Sierras. There are a number of other possibilities available, some scenic cycling options or a relaxing day along the riverbanks. As well as some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes on earth, the park is filled with a variety of wildlife too, including hummingbirds, deer and of course the ever present black bears, ensuring you a captivating encounter whatever you choose to do. It is not possible to do all the options, so your Tour Leader will explain the possibilities and you can choose the ones that interest you most. Options may also be affected by the weather.
Leaving the park this morning we plan to drive across the scenic Tioga Pass (3032m), taking in the sub-alpine meadows of the Toulumne Meadows, an area that has been christened America's very own Switzerland. We continue through the dramatic mountain vistas down towards the alkaline waters and surreal volcanic 'tufa' rock formations of Mono Lake at the base of the High Sierras. This incredible body of water is two and a half times as salty and eighty times as alkaline as seawater and whilst its waters can sustain no fish life it does abound in brine shrimp and flies, which provide food for millions of migratory birds and waterfowl. At the height of summer the shrimp population alone is believed to number some 4 trillion! Continuing south from here our journey lies in the shadow of a range of towering peaks that rise to over 4200m as we make our way towards our overnight stop in the small settlement of Bishop. On early season departures, if the passes over the Sierra Nevada are closed we may have to amend our itinerary and re-route the tour.
Mammoth Mountain Inn (or similar)
Starting early to avoid the heat, we descend into Death Valley today, one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. We then journey into the heart of one of the most remarkable settings on earth, where the marbled rocks, salt pans and black mountains provide us with an incredible backdrop. In marked contrast we end our day in Las Vegas, America's extraordinary desert playground, where exploding volcanoes share centre stage with Venetian canals and ancient pyramids. This evening we have some free time to explore this unique city.
The Strat Hotel (or similar)
This morning we will head to Zion National Park to get there just after lunch. Zion itself was established as a national park in 1919 and can boast an impressive array of natural credentials, encompassing some 8 geological formations, 4 major vegetation zones and a landscape that has been carved and honed by the Virgin River over a million years. This afternoon we will perhaps take a walk along the Watchman's Trail or one of the park's other trails. The position of the park, at the meeting of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mohave Desert means the region is rich in a vast diversity of flora and fauna that range from desert bush to Ponderosa Pine, cottonwood to red birch. Wildlife includes elk and mule deer, coyotes and black bear and turkey vultures and majestic golden eagles. We will be staying overnight in nearby Springdale.
La Quinta Inn - Springdale (or similar)
This morning we will continue to explore this magnificent creation, first paying a visit to the impressive visitor centre before taking the park's shuttle bus to the start of the walks. There are so many possibilities to explore here that it is not possible to do them all - your Tour Leader will outline the options to you taking into account the conditions on the day. Walks range from approximately 5-13km in length, and some are predominantly flat while others have elevation gains of up to 600m. You may wish to walk up to Scout's Lookout, a meandering hike that begins with 21 steep switchbacks, known as Walter's Wiggles, and culminates in one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Zion, a challenging journey of some four hours that affords us some quite breath-taking views down across the valley. There are also plenty of easier options for people to enjoy. Later, we drive to Bryce Canyon, travelling via Buffalo and Mt Carmel Junction.
Bryce View Lodge (or similar)
Bryce is without doubt one of the natural highlights of the journey, as we enter a world of surreal formations of multi-coloured sandstone that are steeped in the legend of the Paiute. Indian legend has it that the sandstone 'hoodoo's' of Bryce are in fact the petrified followers of the Coyote God, turned to stone as they stood listening to his angry tirade. The reality is somewhat less dramatic, with water playing the main part in the creation of these remarkable landscapes; the constant freezing and thawing and the violent summer storms causing the soft rocks to erode and split into the towering pillars that litter the floor of its great amphitheatre. This morning we see Bryce at its most radiant, in the golden hues of sunrise as we drive up to Sunrise Point to watch the dawn break across the landscape. This afternoon we will explore something of the myriad colours and shapes of this fairytale realm, hiking along the Navajo Loop, or taking in the grandeur of the Queen's Garden. Bryce was created as a national park in 1928 and is actually a part of the Grand Staircase that follows the rim along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. As you look out across the pink, orange and red spires it is easy to sympathise with Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon farmer who is best remembered for the profound words. 'Well it's a hell of a place to lose a cow!'
Today we drive to Capitol Reef National Park, where we can stop and take a short hike. Capitol Reef encompasses a landscape of coloured sandstone cliffs, twisting canyons, monoliths and spires. From here we then drive to Moab, the largest town in south-eastern Utah, where the rest of the evening is free to relax and enjoy at our own pace. Time permitting we may visit Dead Horse point.
Big Horn Lodge (or similar)
Located a short distance from Moab is Arches National Park, home to the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. With over 2000 arches, giant sandstone fins, balancing rocks and towering spires, the park provides a unique setting for today's hike. We take in the Devil's Garden, a four-hour hike that takes us through a landscape littered with arches. We also enjoy a more gentle walk around The Windows Loop (approximately 1.5 hours), before returning to Moab for a free afternoon. We then head back to Arches to walk to Delicate Arch for sunset (2 hours). Probably one of the most photographed arches in the American southwest, Delicate Arch, with its backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of La Sal, provides the perfect setting for our late afternoon hike. After our walk we then head back to Moab for the evening.
After breakfast, and a quick visit to the News Paper Rock, we continue on to Mesa Verde National Park this morning. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde is home to some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world. After viewing the Native American exhibits at the Visitors Centre, we then take a guided tour of the site and pay a visit to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. After our visit we continue to the city of Cortez.
Retro Inn at Mesa Verde (or similar)
Today we drive to the town of Page, via the Navajo Reservation, the biggest in the country, founded in 1888 to provide a protected region for the Navajo people. The Navajo Nation constitutes the largest tribe left in the United States, the last survivors of a people who were decimated by the arrival of the white man and his rapacious quest for land and gold. Monument Valley, our highlight destination today, lies within the heart of this vast tribal area and in spite of its familiarity through the exposure by Hollywood, nothing can truly prepare you for the sheer grandeur and spectacle of this incredible setting. Isolated monoliths, sandstone pinnacles and towering spires rocket skywards, as much as 1000m above the desert floor. As the only way to experience Monument Valley's dramatic backcountry, we offer you the chance to take an optional guided jeep tour of the valley with a Navajo guide, affording a closer exploration of this compelling land before we head on to our night stop in Page. As we continue through Native lands towards Page, the warm embrace of the late afternoon colours alters the landscape's appearance as the sun dips towards the horizon.
Courtyard Marriott (or similar)
This morning we have the option to visit the famous Antelope Canyon, a beautiful peach-gold coloured canyon formed by the force of flash floods coming from the plains above, or otherwise spend time at the enormous Lake Powell, with its scenic azure waters. Later on we take a short walk to Horseshoe Bend, with its lookout point over the eponymous river bend, before continuing our journey towards the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, arriving this afternoon. Once described by Theodore Roosevelt as 'the one great sight every American should see', the canyon extends some 277 miles from east to west, from the western edge of the Navajo Reservation, to the Nevada border around Lake Mead. Reaching a depth of 1600m the canyon's floor is littered with some of the oldest rocks on the planet and as we take in the views from Yavapai Point, we gaze out across a land that has taken over 2 billion years to create.
Red Feather Lodge (or similar)
Today has been left free to make the most of this natural wonder at your own pace. You may want to follow the path down from the South Rim into the canyon itself, walking down to Indian Gardens and maybe even heading out to Plateau Point for some incredible views down onto the Colorado River below. Those not wishing to undertake the walk in and out of the canyon might prefer to take a helicopter flight over the canyon, or make use of the park's shuttle service to explore something of the rim, enjoying the vast panoramas from the crest of this remarkable setting. Sunsets at the Grand Canyon present an altogether unforgettable experience, with the possibility of condors circling on the thermals above to add to the majesty of the moment.
This morning we drive along one of the most historic highways in America, the famous Route 66. A shadow of its former self, the road is nonetheless still rich in the Americana of its glory days, when it used to be known as the 'Main Street' of America. Our drive back to Las Vegas takes us through the towns of Kingman and Seligman, home to the wonderfully eccentric 'Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-in'. On arrival in Vegas we then have a final free evening to make the most of one of America's most notorious cities.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Las Vegas.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Las Vegas at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Las Vegas International Airport (LAS), which is a 15 minute drive away.
There are great variations in the altitude and terrain of the areas visited and this is reflected in the temperatures. Desert areas can be extremely hot in the summer months (49°), though temperatures can drop dramatically at night. The mountains are cooler and wetter especially in the north of the Rockies. At the beginning and end of the season there may still be some snow around in the high passes and it can be cold, whereas in mid-summer the day time temperatures can soar.
2 Pin Flat
There are a number of exciting optional excursions you can do on tour. These activities are booked and paid for direct with the supplier and do not form part of your Explore holiday contract. Page - Antelope Canyon jeep or boat excursion US$ 45 - $78 (depending on seasonal peak hours and availability) Monument Valley - Jeep excursion US$ 45-75 including dinner. Grand Canyon - Helicopter overflight approximately US$ 349 San Francisco - If you want to visit Alcatraz, we strongly recommend that you book your tickets in advance, especially during August. Please visit www.alcatrazcruises.com for tickets. Las Vegas - Limousine ride US$40 per person Moab - Float trip US$ 57; Jet Boat US $89 for 1/2 day; Hummer sunset tour US $90
Pack for hot conditions for June, July and August departures. For departures earlier and later in the year, the weather can be cooler, especially at night in the desert so make sure you bring some warmer layers including a fleece. Include a long sleeved shirt and warm trousers. Also a lightweight waterproof jacket, swimwear and a sun hat.
Lightweight walking/hiking boots with good ankle support, trainers and/or sandals for travelling.
Bring only the bare essentials - one main bag plus a small daypack for walking and for personal items. Main luggage cannot be accessed during the day. Soft luggage is more practical. Bring plastic bags to keep things dry. Laundry facilities are available at various points during the trip.
Bring a water bottle (3 litre capacity), high factor sunblock, dry bags to keep things dry and a (head) torch and a towel. You may find a walking pole useful and insect repellant especially in June and July.
We use a range of comfortable rated motels, lodges and hotels during this trip, in order to make the most of the USA's natural wonders. In Vegas we use the Stratosphere hotel at the end of the tour, which is at the end of the famous strip and has all the bizarre charms that you'd expect from a Vegas hotel, including fairground rides on the roof! We say that there is no breakfast included during this tour, but in San Francisco, Springdale and Page the hotels usually do provide a small continental offering. However, for customers who want more there are plenty of local cafes, diners and bakeries available that the Tour Leader will recommend in order for you to pick something up before the day begins. At other locations you'll be eating en route, or in local eateries.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
USA: You will require either a visa or an ESTA (an evisa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html ETA - only if transiting via Canada Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ETA here - http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp - other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
An ability to swim is essential for your safe enjoyment of the water based activities on this trip. If you wish to participate in these activities then we insist that you are able to swim.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.