Day 1 - San Francisco to the Grand Canyon - About six hours
This tour starts at the San Francisco airport, from where you will fly to northern Arizona. The cost of this flight is included in the tour price, but there will be a checked luggage fee, which you will need to pay. After landing, you will take a shuttle to the Grand Canyon, where you will meet up with one of our guides. The portion of the trip from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon is unescorted, which means you will not have a tour guide with you until you get to the Grand Canyon.
Like almost all our tours, this is a small group trip. The vehicle used generally has between nine and 14 seats. Our guides are skilled in the geology, customs, traditions, history and people of the areas through which you travel – feel free to ask all and any questions!
At the Grand Canyon we will take you to several of the main viewpoints, including Mather Point and Bright Angel. Your skilled guide will give you an overview of the layout of the South Rim, and then leave you on your own to explore for a while. You can stroll around the Canyon, take pictures, admire the views, buy souvenirs, or get something to eat.
You can now extend your stay at the Grand Canyon. Instead of leaving the Canyon now and continuing your tour, you can spend as many extra nights there as you like. When you order the tour, you will see an option to add extra time at the Grand Canyon. Simply add as many additional nights as you want to stay there. Note that we will charge your card for the extra night(s) at the time we make the Grand Canyon hotel booking for you.
The way it works is that you will be taken out to the Grand Canyon, be shown some of the sights, and you will then check into your hotel. We always try and reserve a room at Bright Angel Lodge, which is at the rim. Depending on how late you book, this is often not possible, and we may book you at either Maswik Lodge, which is about a quarter mile (0.4 km) from the rim, or Yavapai Lodge, which is less than half a mile (0.75 km) from the rim, on the free shuttle route.
You will be at liberty to explore the Canyon on your own for the extra time that you choose. Please note that there will not be a tour guide with you for the extra night. The extended Grand Canyon stay is subject to lodging availability in the park. We will check this once the order has been placed.
Please also be aware that if the helicopter tour option is available on your tour, and you order it and extend, on some days you will need to take a taxi from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Canyon airport. We can help you arrange it, and we will pick you up after your helicopter tour, and take you back into the park.
The rest of the group will continue on their way through the Canyon to Page. If you extend, you will be picked up by one of our guides after your extended stay. The tour carries on as detailed below for those who are not spending a night or two at the Grand Canyon.
Grand View Point And The East Side Of The South Rim
The route we take out of the Grand Canyon travels along the less visited east part of the South Rim. There are several photo opportunities along the road. On the way we will stop at the Desert View Watchtower, a unique building designed by the legendary architect, Mary Colter, using rocks brought up from the bottom of the Canyon. The inside of the tower is full of artwork by Hopi (Indian) artists.
Desert View Watchtower
We will start dropping down from the South Rim, to the desert that is Navajo Nation land below. On the way we pass the Cameron Trading Post, one of the best purveyors of southwestern souvenirs and native American art and jewelry. If there is time we will stop here briefly.
Climbing up to a plateau once again, we start to approach Page, on the shores of Lake Powell. In the summer months, after checking in at your hotel we invite you to join our guide for a hike to Horseshoe Bend. When there is less daylight we may do Horseshoe Bend some other time.
Horseshoe Bend is one of the west's best kept secrets. The hike there is about 20 minutes each way, up and down a hill, and at times the ground below is made up of loose sand. The views of the Colorado River far below, seen through the precipitous canyon walls, are spectacular.
Horseshoe Bend: Optional hike
You are on your own for dinner. Remember that tomorrow morning there is a free breakfast included in the tour price.
You will be touring Antelope Canyon, in a specially converted off road vehicle, led by a Navajo guide.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most striking slot canyons known to man. A slot canyon is a narrow canyon sliced through a mesa by the forces of nature. Some canyons measure less than a yard across at the top, but drop a hundred feet or more from the rim to the bottom. Slots are cut and scoured by water and wind, with the striations of the sandstone becoming almost incandescent.
From within you will see a palette of colors transmuted by light filtering down from above and bouncing from wall to wall. Antelope Canyon can only be visited using the services of an authorized Navajo Nation guide.
Leaving Page we head east, across the Navajo Reservation. Every now and again you will see small Indian dwellings scattered across the harsh landscape.
As we approach the tiny Navajo town of Kayenta, the mesas and buttes for which the area is so well known start coming into view. Soon you can just about picture yourself in a scene from an old Western movie as we travel towards Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, as it is officially known.
Up next is a tour of Monument Valley, conducted by a Navajo guide, in an off road vehicle. Visitors love to see the buttes, mesas and other sandstone formations that are so prevalent in the Monument Valley area. Monument Valley is actually not really a valley at all, but a relatively flat plain surrounded by red cliffs, with the buttes, as well as the remnants of ancient volcanoes, towering from the earth.
For fans of old western movies, Monument Valley is the epicenter of the west, with many great cowboys and Indians films having been shot in the area. The familiar rock shapes can be seen from many miles away, with the really great scenery to be seen on the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which straddles the Utah/Arizona border.
Amongst the sites that your tour may take in are movie locations, 1000 foot monoliths, rug weaving, and, of course, the famous monuments are visited.
The road from Monument Valley to Moab passes alongside several of the mesas and buttes for which the region is so well known. The scenery is great, with Mexican Hat being another well known landmark that is visible from the road. The night is spent in Moab, where you can once again make your own dinner plans. If Moab is really busy for some reason, we may stay in Monticello or Blanding instead. In the summer months, this is likely to be the case every Friday and Saturday night.
There is a LOT to see and do today! We'll be visiting no fewer than three great national parks. Normally our guides will let you take your own sweet time, to meander around the sights at will, within reason. Today, however, time is at a premium, especially outside the summer months, and it will be important to adhere to your guide's requests.
For this reason, we include a sack lunch today, to save a little time.
Arches is a park that has the wow factor! Because it is not close to any major city, or freeway between two cities, it is not as well known as other national parks. It is, however, just a couple of miles outside Moab. You will be amazed at the assortment of arches, fins and spires inside the park. In fact, most of the world's natural arches are to be found here.
If you would like to, you can spend a lot of time outside the vehicle, walking on trails and getting up close and personal with some of the arches and other rock formations. If you prefer not to do that you can also get a good view of just about everything by standing next to the vehicle.
The first stroll we like to do is down Park Avenue, with towering fins and slabs of rock everywhere you look. This is an easy, predominantly downhill walk, that should take 30 to 45 minutes.
We will stop at Balanced Rock for photographs, and also drive up to Windows Arches, where you can take a comfortable walk all the way up to both of the windows. You can expect to see many other arches and rock formations while in the park, and we will stop often to take photographs and admire the views.
Delicate Arch is Utah's state symbol, and the most famous arch of them all. There may not be enough time to hike up there but if you have the energy for a steep climb, we can take you to an overlook.
We will continue our drive through the park, stopping to take pictures of arches and rock formations along the way, until we get to Devil's Garden. We'll take a walk through Devil's Garden, and make our way to at least one of the major arches to be found here.
Canyonlands is a jewel in the national park system that is also one of the system's best kept secrets. As with Arches, it is also far away from a major city and the main freeways.
The park is divided into three sections: Island in the Sky, Needles and the Maze. We'll be going to the first mentioned, because, as the name suggests, it is situated high up with fantastic views over the canyon country all around it.
Once at Island in the Sky we will show you the dramatic vistas that seem to stretch on forever. There will also be the opportunity to take some short walks, time and energy permitting.
Amongst the sights we hope to show you are Grand View Point, the Green River Overlook, the Shafer Trail and the White Rim Trail. The views from this elevation, looking down on canyon country, are really spectacular.
We'll leave the Moab area behind as we start the trip to Capitol Reef National Park. On the way there will be a very brief detour near Green River, to enable you to get some take out food for the road.
Utah has five national parks, more than any other state in the country. Capitol Reef is the least well known, as it is situated relatively far from major centers and roads. It is long and thin in shape, and we will be traveling through a sliver of it. If you refer to the map to the left, we will generally enter the park to the east (right) of where it says Orientation Pullout, on the red line demarcating the road. We will follow the red line to the west (left) and depart the park to the west of where the map says Twin Rocks.
In addition to the beautiful scenery, Capitol Reef has a rich history dating back to Archaic hunters and gatherers. In more modern times, Mormon pioneers settled the area in the 1800's, and you will see some of the old buildings in which they conducted their daily lives.
Fruita is one of the more picturesque areas in the historic part of Capitol Reef. As the name suggests, it is home to a variety of fruit orchards, including peaches, apples, cherries, plums, apricot, pears, mulberries, almonds, and walnuts. For a nominal fee, the public is permitted to harvest fruit at certain times of the year, and we will try and do so, circumstances permitting.
The route to Bryce Canyon this morning is scenic, with forests, mountains and wilderness areas on both sides of the road almost all the way. Just before the final turn off to Bryce, we will pass the small town of Tropic, which is where Ebenezer Bryce lived, the man for whom the park is named.
Many who have seen both Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon tell us that Bryce is far more spectacular. You will marvel at the weirdly shaped hoodoos, in an amazing array of colorful hues. Bryce is not really a canyon, but a large amphitheater carved out of a variety of rock types. You will be taken to the three main overlooks, and will have time to walk around and explore these.
Feel free to spend an extra night or two just outside Bryce Canyon, at Bryce View Lodge. Please order this option when you check out, and note that it is subject to availability. If you do choose to extend at Bryce Canyon, you will continue with the regular tour after your extension.
There is a free shuttle that runs from a location that is a couple of hundred yards from Bryce View Lodge, into the park and around much of Bryce. Please be aware that this is a seasonal shuttle, which generally runs from the end of April to the end of September, although this is subject to change. We do not recommend extending at Bryce if the free shuttle is not running, as it will be difficult to get around.
You will carry on with the scheduled tour if you do not want to stay a little longer at Bryce.
Day 4 - Bryce Canyon through Zion - 88 mi / 141.59 km - About 2 3/4 hours
We will take a particularly scenic Utah back road, following first the Sevier River and then the Virgin River, towards Zion National Park. Zion's story is one of rock and water, with plenty of both to be seen. The relatively soft and porous Navajo Sandstone is often layered over impregnable Kayenta Shale, and the interaction of this rock with the water has created myriad amazing shapes and patterns.
We will enter Zion at the less used east entrance, and take in the striking rock formations, with trees actually growing in the rocks. You will see how massive sand dunes have solidified into rock over the millennia. After traveling through an amazing tunnel that was blasted into the Navajo sandstone almost a century ago, we descend down a precipitous switchback road, to discover the Great Arch of Zion, a gigantic work in progress.
You can now extend your tour by spending a night or two in Springdale, which is literally right outside Zion. There is a free shuttle system that will take you into the park. You can order this Zion extension when you check out, although we do not recommend extending at Zion unless the shuttle is running, which is generally from the middle of March to the third week of October. If you extend at Zion, you will carry on with the rest of the tour the next day.
The trip continues as normal for those who are not extending at Zion.
Leaving St. George, we travel down the picturesque Virgin River Gorge. We will pass through Mesquite, a casino town on the Arizona Nevada border, before driving across the desert and back to the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Thanks for joining us. We hope to see you again some time in the future!
The days and dates this tour operates can be seen in the calendar at the top right of this page.
Prices are based on double occupancy. Single, triple and quad occupancy rates are also available and will be seen at checkout. There is no tax. The price assumes you book with enough notice. The flight price may be more expensive if you do not.
After ordering this tour please wait to receive a confirmation email before making any plans that are dependent on this tour.
The entry fees to all parks are included.
The off road tours at Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon are included.
Three nights' accommodation are included at: the Quality Inn or similar in Page; the Days Inn or Sleep Inn or similar in Moab; the Howard Johnson or similar just outside Capitol Reef.
The price includes the services of a guide/driver and transportation.
Vehicles are mini buses or executive vans, which are vans with individual, high back, reclining seats, with the exception of the route between the northern Arizona airport and the Grand Canyon, which may be operated by a supplier in a larger vehicle.
If you extend your tour by staying a night at the Grand Canyon, you will generally be dropped off at Maswik Lodge, inside the Grand Canyon. If you are staying at one of the other two lodges, Bright Angel or Yavapai, you will need to take the free shuttle from Maswik to the lodge at which you are staying. The shuttles run approximately every 15 minutes, and the distance is about 1/3 of a mile. You will be picked up from your lodge the next day.
If you extend your stay at Zion, at the end of your extension, on some days you may travel by pre-paid taxi to St. George, where you will take a shuttle to the Las Vegas airport, where the tour will end. There will be a short wait from the taxi drop off to the time the shuttle departs.
Meals: Three breakfasts plus one sack lunch on the third day.
Portions of this tour may be subcontracted to other reputable vendors.
A minimum of two people may be required for a tour to depart. That is not two in your group, but a total of two.
This tour starts at the San Francisco airport. Please let us know if we can book you a shuttle there.
This tour drops off at most Las Vegas Strip hotels.
All times are approximate. We are not responsible for the consequences of any delays, and this itinerary may change without notice.
We are also not responsible if flight delays cause you to miss part of this tour. If that happens all we will refund is the cost of the portion of the tour that you missed.
Depending on the time of the year, there may be a short wait in northern Arizona.
Please note that in the winter months snow or other bad weather may result in tour itineraries being changed without notice, or even tours being canceled in extreme weather. Should a cancellation occur the only amount we will refund is the cost of the portion of the tour that is canceled, or a refund of the entire tour price if the tour itself is canceled.
Payment And Cancellation Details: This tour has an air leg. An amount equivalent to the cost of the flight will be charged to your card at the time we make the air booking. Half the remaining balance will be charged 45 days from the tour date, and the other half will be charged 10 or fewer days from the tour date. Once we have started work on booking the air leg we will not under any circumstances accept a cancellation. Please consider purchasing trip insurance as our cancellation policy is strictly enforced, irrespective of the reason for canceling.