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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Spend the rest of your day browsing the 16th street pedestrian mall, searching for the iconic blue bear, or sampling many of the city's boutique breweries and craft beer scene.
Today you'll venture north into Wyoming and Sinks Canyon State Park, a trip that will take around six hours. Sinks Canyon is a rugged canyon at the base of the southern Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. Located on the eastern slope of the mountains, the canyon is named for its unique geologic formation, “The Sinks”, where the river vanishes underground near the mouth of the canyon.
Take a 3.5 hour drive to Jackson, a cute mountain town with a cowboy feel. Soak up the easy-going vibes with a visit to the Million Dollar Cowboy bar, or get your heart bumping on a rafting adventure on the Snake River.
Prepare for a jaw-dropping drive through Grand Teton National Park, a wonderous place where snow-capped mountains stand watch over golden plains and fast-flowing rivers. The spectacular national park will serve as the entree to Yellowstone's main course. Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, is a stunning 9,000 square kilometre tract of wilderness home to bison, bears and grizzly grey wolves, who were only reintroduced in 1995. The day will be split between the two parks, depending on the wishes of the group.
Return to Yellowstone National Park for a driving tour. See all of the park's main highlights, such as serene lakes, tumbling waterfalls and volcanic geysers. There will even be a visit to the famous Old Faithful geyser, so named for its predictable eruptions that take place every 35 to 120 minutes. If you're lucky enough you may even come across a herd of bison along the way.
Buckle up for a longer drive today as you leave Yellowstone and head to the Devils Tower National Monument in eastern Wyoming, a journey that takes around 8 hours. The Devils Tower is an imposing laccolithic butte composed of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Mountains. The Kiowa refer to the monument as the 'rock tree' due to its height. Spend a night under the stars, camping in the shadow of the Devils Tower. Listen out for coyotes howling in the distance.
Today there is a short drive (approximately 2.5 hours) to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. See the famous sculptures of former presidents that are carved into the face of Mount Rushmore and visit the nearby Crazy Horse National Monument, a giant Native American Indian sculpture in progress. Learn about the incredible Mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and the work they are doing to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the Native American Indians. Admissions support advancements in Mountain carving, the museums, and the developing of Indian University of North America.
Drive approximately two hours this morning to Badlands National Park. Witness the lunar-like landscape of the park and discover a wide array of intriguing creatures on a short hike. Continue approximately four hours across South Dakota to the Sioux Falls area.
Drive from Minnesota to neighbouring Wisconsin (approximately 5-6 hours). Your destination tonight is the mighty Mississippi River and Goose Island. Along the way you may stop at the Spam Museum (they have free samples!) There is an opportunity this evening to rent canoes and go for a paddle on the world-famous river.
In the morning travel east into the state of Illinois to the ‘City of Skyscrapers’ (also ‘The Windy City’ and ‘Chi-Town’) – Chicago (approximately 5-6 hours). Laidback, lakeside and with a famously friendly local vibe, Chicago is a regular highlight of many a trip to the States. Located on Lake Michigan and with over 45 kilometres of lake-front paths, Chicago is one of the world's most walkable (or bikeable) cities. Amble up N Michigan Avenue to check out the shops, pass the beautiful downtown buildings along the ‘Magnificent Mile’, or drop by the Art Institute. Perhaps connect with the locals, who will be happy to tell you about their favourite restaurants, cafes, blues bars, or where to find the best slice of the city's legendary deep dish pizza. The city is also great for experiencing music in the evenings, so possibly head to Chicago Blues for a memorable night.
Today is a full free day in Chicago. Perhaps hire a bike and cycle around the city or walk the lakefront paths. For a panoramic view of the city, scale the Willis Tower (with a Skydeck that has huge glass panels and a glass balcony) or head up the John Hancock Centre. Alternatively, check out one of the city's museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago or experience the rides on Navy Pier. Take a river cruise to see the soaring buildings and numerous bridges, and don’t miss the Bloomingdale Trail (‘The ‘606’), the city’s answer to New York’s High Line – a 4.3 kilometre old freight train route turned into a park.
Leave the state of Illinois and head east into Michigan and Detroit (approximately 4.5 hours). The city is gritty and urban, but it also has an undeniable energy that its recent bankruptcy hasn't been able to dim. More recently, Detroit has been reinvented with young artists and entrepreneurs moving in, as well as the opening of quirky bars, urban farms, and street art installations like the Heidelberg Project. You could also pay a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a look at one of America's most significant art collections. Alternatively, head to the Motown Museum and Ford Museum for an insight into two of the city's famous exports. The balmy evenings in the city are also perfect for strolling riverside paths and sitting on brew pub decks.
Skirt the edge of Lake Erie and cross the Midwest into Ohio, with Sandusky as your destination (approximately two hours). Make your way to Cedar Point Amusement Park, the so-called ‘Roller Coaster Capital of the World’. Cedar Point also features the Millennium Force, which has been voted the greatest roller coaster in the world, making it the place to be if you love an adrenaline hit. If the thrill of the ride gets too much for you, head to the nearby beach and simply stretch out on the sandy shoreline. In the late afternoon, set up camp near Lake Erie and wander down to the lakeshore for a memorable sunset.
Visit one of the country's greatest natural attractions – Niagara Falls. Follow the edge of Lake Erie all the way up to this famous sight, which sits sandwiched between the borders of the United States and Canada (approximately 4.5 hours). There are numerous viewpoints from which you can appreciate the power of this amazing set of falls, but there's no better way than to approach them from the water. Don a blue poncho and experience the full force of the falls with an optional Maid of the Mist cruise. A word of warning though, prepare to get a little wet. For the ultimate show, head to the falls at night and see them lit up in all of their glory.
Cross into upstate New York and drive to the town of Seneca Falls on the Finger Lakes (approximately three hours). This area is named for its 11 finger-like lakes that stretch north to south between Lake Ontario and the state boarder. As New York’s largest wine producing region, the Finger Lakes region has over 100 wineries to discover (just don’t try and visit them all today!) Perhaps indulge in a wine tasting session or head out on a hike to a nearby waterfall. Taughannock Falls State Park is home to a 215-foot waterfall, 33 feet higher than Niagara Falls itself! The park's walks are dotted with little waterfalls along the way and the surroundings are just beautiful. Set up camp for the night in the state park.
Leave the natural setting of the Finger Lakes and head to the urban jungle of New York. This journey usually takes around five hours, but as the traffic can be really busy, please be prepared for delays. While in New York, we actually stay across the Hudson River in Newark, New Jersey. It is a short subway ride over to Manhattan for your evenings and free day, and your leader will assist you with directions for getting around.
This is a free day in New York. Take the subway over to Manhattan and spend the day exploring this bustling metropolis. Perhaps check out the view from the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, take a stroll around Central Park, or be moved by the World Trade Center museum and memorial. Tonight, why not see what's playing on Broadway or head to one of East Village's craft cocktail bars?
Today, drive south towards the nation's capital of Washington DC, stopping at Philadelphia on the way for a quick look at some of the highlights of the Old City, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the 'Rocky' steps. After touring around Philly, continue onto DC. The total driving time from New York to Washington DC will take about seven hours.
Today is a free to explore Washington DC, with the city being easily discovered on foot. To see as much as you can today, it may be an idea to get a map and make a plan. Choose from any of DC’s almost 100 world-class museums – the National Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Newseum are just a few. There are also many other small fascinating museums hidden around the city. The city is overflowing with iconic monuments and buildings, so don’t miss the White House, Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, MLK Monument, FDR and Jefferson Memorials. You’ll most likely do a lot of walking today, so maybe reward yourself with a relaxing evening.
Journey into the breathtaking scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains (500 km). Shenandoah National Park is one of the highest and most scenic portions of the Appalachian Mountains. Taking the Skyline Drive along the crest of the mountains, travel through deep woods and past spectacular vistas. Stop to stretch your legs under the impressive oak trees and admire the gorgeous views. Later in the afternoon, drive to your campsite for the night. Total driving today will take around eight hours including stops.
Drive for around six hours further south today to Nashville, Tennessee. Once settled into the campground perhaps visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, which contains the golden Cadillac that once belonged to Elvis. Another point of interest is Music Row, where more than 50 recording studios and approximately 200 music publishing houses are located. The Wildhorse Saloon is a great spot in the evening to experience authentic southern food and live music.
Head west this morning to Memphis, which should take around four hours. Just out of the city you can visit Graceland, Elvis Presley's former home and the site of his tomb. Here you can see the famous jungle room, as well as his cars, private planes and much more. In the evening, consider heading down to check out Beale Street's traditional blues clubs, made famous by legends such as W.C Handy, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. For those with an interest in history, there's the National Civil Rights Museum (at the former Lorraine Motel) where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. If you have time, a must-see in Memphis is Sun Studio - the 'Birthplace of Rock'. It boasts the first recordings of legendary performers like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Today make the long drive across the state of Mississippi to New Orleans (the 'Big Easy'), which usually takes around eight hours. After checking in to your hotel in the French Quarter, use your free time getting to know the ‘Big Easy’. An eclectic mix of European, Creole and Cajun culture manifests in the city's architecture, cuisine and music scene. Possibly take a walk down rowdy Bourbon Street or through the former plantation area of the Garden District. Perhaps join the rest of the group tonight for a typical Cajun-style dinner and toast to your adventure.
Today is free to fit in as much of New Orleans as you can. Founded by French traders in 1718, there are many layers of history in this city and its many attractions combine to make it one of the most visited cities in the USA – a trend that was only momentarily halted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tour the Honey Island Swamp (watch out for ‘gators), cruise the Mississippi on a riverboat or visit the fascinating little Voodoo Museum. In the evening, perhaps check out a jazz show and dance the night away in the bars along Frenchman Street.
It's quite a journey from Louisiana and into Texas (nearly 700 kilometres). You'll be on the road for around nine hours today, so sit back and enjoy the ride. There may be the chance to stop for a swamp tour along the way, and you'll get other chances to stop and stretch your legs as well.
Join the truckers along Highway 10 to San Antonio. Mexican-influenced San Antonio is the home of the Alamo, an original reconstructed Spanish-Mexican fort from the 18th century. On arrival, you can stroll along the famous River Walk or walk in the footsteps of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo. Total driving time today is around three to four hours.
After traversing the state of Texas, enter the deserts of New Mexico on the way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. One of the largest caverns in the world, Carlsbad Cavern is still only partially explored. Hike deep into the 'Big Room' and beyond. In the evening, witness the overwhelming sight of a bat flight - thousands of bats swarming out of the caverns. As the bats migrate south in October for the winter, this is a seasonal sight and is best viewed in July and August. Total driving today is about nine hours.
Continue the journey north to Santa Fe today. The total drive should take around five hours. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US. You might like to check out the pueblo architecture surrounding the town plaza or see the San Miguel Mission, the USA's oldest church. If you're an art buff, then a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is a must.
Continue on to Mesa Verde National Park, home to the largest and best-preserved cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians. The park protects over 4,000 known archaeological sites. Explore a cliff dwelling on a short walk, or (for a small fee) join a ranger-led walk to the harder-to-access sites. Total driving time today is approximately five hours.
After a drive through fascinating desert regions, reach Monument Valley. Monument Valley is so-named after 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 is home to more than 200,000 Navajo Indians. Perhaps see the sights from the back of a jeep with a Navajo guide. Visit areas only open to the Navajo, see traditional Navajo homes, hike up sand dunes and gaze at spectacular rock formations. Total driving time today is around three-and-a-half hours.
Today drive from Monument Valley to the Grand Canyon, stopping at a Native American trading post along the way. The total drive will take around four hours. Words don't do justice to the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. 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.
Today is a free day to explore the Grand Canyon. Stroll along the meandering South Rim Trail or hike your way along the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton 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.
Head out of the Grand Canyon and cross the western deserts of Arizona to Las Vegas. Along the way, you'll drive along a section of the famous Route 66, stopping in at the nostalgic township of Seligman. The total drive will take around five hours. Las Vegas 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).