Leaving San Francisco we travel over the Bay Bridge, across Yerba Buena Island, passing through the hustle and bustle of the city, before reaching more open country. The traffic and the built up suburbs will be left behind as you travel through the fields and climb up steep hills to Yosemite.
You will enter Yosemite from the west entrance, and travel through the park to Yosemite Village, which is down in the valley. The scenery is spectacular. Amongst the sights you will see is Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America. For many the highlight of the trip is El Capitan, the towering rock mountain. If you look carefully you can often see climbers attached to the sheer granite walls.
You will be able to get yourself a bite to eat and perhaps buy some souvenirs.
You can extend your stay in Yosemite. Instead of leaving Yosemite now and continuing your tour, you can spend as many extra nights in the park as you like. When you order the tour, you will see an option to add extra time in Yosemite. Simply add as many additional nights as you want to stay there. Our preferred property is Yosemite Lodge. Please be aware that lodging here sometimes sells out more than a year ahead of time! If that is the case we may be able to offer you lodging elsewhere. We will always let you know what the situation is before processing your order.
You will be at liberty to explore Yosemite 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 period. The extended stay is subject to lodging availability in the park. We will check this once the order has been placed.
The rest of the group will continue with the regular tour. If you extend, you will be picked up after your extended stay. The tour carries on as detailed below for those who are not spending a night or two in Yosemite.
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!
Most of the time that you see listed above is spent touring the park. After visiting Yosemite Valley we will start climbing up into the mountains. There are frequent stops to admire the views and take photographs. The Tuolumne Meadows are a particularly beautiful alpine valley, surrounded by tall trees and lush vegetation.
We climb all the way to Yosemite's east entrance, which is located on the Tioga Pass, at almost 10 000 feet (almost 3000 metres). Just as is the case with the Grand Canyon and Zion, the east entrance is only seen by a handful of the huge numbers of people who visit Yosemite.
The road drops in a hurry from the Tioga Pass down to the east side of the Sierras. As you might expect, the views are spectacular, and we can stop wherever you like to take photographs. The night is spent in the small town of Bishop.
Please be aware that the Tioga Pass, which is the east exit from Yosemite, is closed from winter through sometime in the spring. When this happens, the tour will depart Yosemite at the south entrance instead. As the route is a little longer, less time will be spent in Death Valley.
Please also be aware that it is possible, but unlikely, that there will be snow restrictions on the road from Yosemite Valley to the south entrance of the park. If that is the case, however, we may bypass Yosemite and once again spend additional time in Death Valley.
The road to Death Valley goes through the small town of Lone Pine, where you can get a great view of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. It is amazing to think that in just a few hours you will be at the lowest point in the entire country!
Death Valley is the lowest, hottest and driest part of North America. We will enter the park at the west entrance and drop down a steep hill, towards Stovepipe Wells, and an impressive cluster of sand dunes along the way. Just past that is Devils Cornfields.
At Furnace Creek we will stop for a while, at the Visitor Center and gift shop, to allow you to do some shopping and perhaps buy a snack.
From Furnace Creek there is a short detour to Zabriskie Point. After climbing to the top of the view point to take in the spectacular rock formations and colors, we will retrace our steps a little and pick up the Badwater Road. Badwater is about 280 feet below sea level, and we will stop there for a while to check out the views, stroll around, and shoot some pictures.
Just past Badwater are some old abandoned mine buildings, another great photo opportunity. We will leave Death Valley at the small town of Shoshone.
The road to Las Vegas travels up and down a small mountain, before passing through the desert to the town of Pahrump, where brothels are legal. From there it is a relatively short trip to Sin City.
You are on your own for dinner, and will spend the night in Las Vegas in a minimum three star hotel on the famous Strip. Upgrades are available. Please let us know if there is not at least one person in each room who is 21 or older, as only a few hotels will accept people that age.
As of early 2013, all Las Vegas Strip hotels started charging a resort fee, including those that never used to. This resort fee is a way that they make extra money. We cannot pay this resort fee in advance for you, AND YOU WILL NEED TO PAY IT YOURSELF ON CHECK IN. Please take this into account when making your plans.
If you want to, you are welcome to extend your stay in Las Vegas by as many nights as you choose! This option can be ordered on check out. Please bear in mind that weekends, holidays and convention period nights are more expensive. The way that it works is that you would spend as many extra nights in Vegas as you want, and then continue the tour the following day.
We'll leave the bright lights of Vegas in the rear view mirror as we depart town. The route to the Grand Canyon takes us past both Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. A bridge has been built over the Colorado River, and this road bypasses Hoover Dam. Because of this, some tours that go out to the Grand Canyon may no longer stop there for a photo opportunity.
Leaving Hoover Dam we travel through the desert, before arriving in the small Arizona town of Kingman, where we pick up the freeway towards the Grand Canyon. At Williams, Arizona, we head north for about 50 miles (80 kilometres), towards the South Rim.
Two meals are included today, and we'll be stopping to pick up the first one, a sack lunch, before entering the Grand Canyon at the south entrance. The first major stop is Mather Point, and after enjoying the views there, we may stop at Yavapai Point. We will then explore a part of the Grand Canyon that most people do not get to see. This is the Desert View Drive which leads to the Desert View Watchtower and the east entrance to the Grand Canyon.
There will be many photo opportunities along the road. You will see that the views are spectacular, with one of the highlights being the Watchtower itself, 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.
We will make our way down from the high Coconino plateau to the Navajo Reservation below. Every now and again you will see small Indian dwellings scattered across the harsh landscape. The route takes us through the reservation town of Tuba City, with Navajo land to the west and the Hopi Reservation to the east.
As we approach the tiny Navajo settlement 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.
We leave Monument Valley, going through the small settlement of Kayenta, before heading west over the Navajo Reservation, to Page.
On our way out of Monument Valley we'll stop to pick up a meal for the road. This is included in the tour price, as is the breakfast at your motel tomorrow morning. Your guide will drop you off at your motel in Page.
First up today is an optional hike to Horseshoe Bend. 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.
Please note that in the winter months it may sometimes not be possible to visit Horseshoe Bend, because of the lack of daylight. There is no problem outside the winter.
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 will drive over the Glen Canyon Dam Wall. A short distance up the road is a little known trail which leads to spectacular views over Lake Powell. Time permitting, we will drive up there to take a very brief look at the spectacular golden canyons partially submerged under the blue waters of Lake Powell.
The road to the small town of Kanab leads past Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Kanab itself has been the setting for many western movies. From Kanab we will travel along a picturesque Utah back road, through some tiny towns, before arriving at Bryce Canyon.
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.
Please note that depending on the routes we are running today some tours will now go directly to Salt Lake City, and not travel through Zion to Las Vegas. If you do proceed on to Salt Lake now, the route will take you through the small town of Panguitch, up over a mountain range, and north up Interstate 15 to Salt Lake.
The alternative route to Zion is laid out below. We will let you know the itinerary ahead of time, and, whatever happens, you will be going from Salt Lake to Yellowstone tomorrow.
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.
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.
As detailed above, we may transport you to Salt Lake by road or by air, and if you have not already traveled directly from Bryce to Salt Lake by ground, you will now be flying there.
Day 4 - Vegas to Salt Lake City - About 1 hours, 5 minutes
The fight from Vegas to Salt Lake is included in the tour price, and takes about an hour. After you land at the Salt Lake airport a shuttle will take you to your downtown hotel. Unless they are sold out, we use the Crystal Inn, where there is a good, free, hot breakfast buffet tomorrow morning.
The route to Yellowstone goes up Interstate 15, past the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains, before entering Idaho. At Idaho Falls you will leave the freeway behind, and start making your way through rural parts of the state. About 10 miles (16 kilometres) from West Yellowstone you go over the Continental Divide and into Montana.
When we get to West Yellowstone we will stop to get your sack lunches, before making our way into the world's first national park, and possibly the most unique!
The roads running through Yellowstone make up a massive figure of eight. The lower loop of the figure of eight comprises most of the thermal features that are to be seen in Yellowstone, including, of course, Old Faithful!
From West Yellowstone we'll follow the Madison River to Madison Junction, where we'll turn right, or south. Depending on the time of the year, this area is often teeming with wildlife. With any luck you will see bison, elk, Trumpeter Swans and other animals and birds. A special treat in the spring is the baby bison calves.
At Madison Junction we will turn right, or south, and follow the Firehole River which runs through the thermal areas of Yellowstone northward. The Firehole is famous amongst anglers for its pristine beauty and selection of brown, brook and rainbow trout.
The first main thermal area we will be visiting is the Lower Geyser Basin, and Fountain Paint Pots. There is a boardwalk system running around and through the Fountain Paint Pots area, and it is a great place to go for a stroll, if the bison haven't got there first! Apart from the paint pots, there is also a selection of other thermal features in the area, including a number of geysers, one or other of which almost always seems to be erupting.
The next stop is the Midway Geyser Basin, home to Grand Prismatic Spring - one of the largest anywhere in the world - as well as Excelsior Geyser, now dormant, but discharging thousands of gallons of water every minute.
It is a short drive to the Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful, the world's best known and most reliable gusher. There is also so much more to the area than just Old Faithful. Old Faithful Inn, a wonderful old building - recently renovated - is located there - and a system of boardwalks will take you around the various other geysers in the area.
We will take you to Yellowstone Studios and Cabins, where you will be staying in a self catering studio. After checking in you can explore the town, take a walk through the forest into Yellowstone, go to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center (a must see) or check out a movie at the IMAX.
There is going to be a lot to see and do. We'll head out of West Yellowstone towards Madison Junction, where the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers meet to form the Madison River. Turning left (north) we'll make for Norris Geyser Basin. Along the way we'll stop briefly at Gibbon Falls.
Although not as well known as the other geyser basins, Norris is the most thermally active part of Yellowstone. It is divided into two separate areas: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin.
The next stop is Mammoth Hot Springs, headquarters of the park, and home to a fascinating array of weird rock shapes, bright colors and sizzling hot springs. Elk are generally plentiful in this area, wandering around the old park buildings, and, if you're lucky, you might even see a whole herd.
You can stroll through the ever changing terraces at Mammoth, admiring the travertine creations and hot springs.
Leaving Mammoth we will travel towards Tower Roosevelt, which is where the road to the park's north east entrance, through the Lamar Valley, is. There is almost always wildlife to be seen in this area, even bears!
At Tower Junction we will branch off the main upper loop road, and head through the Lamar Valley, towards the north east entrance to Yellowstone. This is a particularly beautiful part of the park, and where the keen wolf watchers are generally to be found.
Everyone wants to see a bear in the wild at Yellowstone, and the trip from Tower Junction to Tower Falls is one of the best places to do so. The spring can be a great time to go looking for bears, as you have the opportunity of seeing mothers with their new born cubs. Tower Falls is an impressive water fall.
Assuming that it is open, the road from Tower Falls to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone towers up into the sky as it crosses the Dunraven Pass at almost 9000 feet. We then drop down to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The Yellowstone River has carved an impressive canyon through the rocks, over which two falls drop. It is in this area that you can catch a glimpse of the yellowish tinge to the rocks, from which the Yellowstone River got its name, but at a different location. We will check out the canyon and falls.
Other areas along the route that we may visit, time permitting, include Obsidian Cliff, Virginia Cascade and Undine Falls.
One of the beauties of Yellowstone is that you never know what is around the next corner. This means that extra time could be spent looking at grizzlies, or perhaps trying to spot an elusive wolf, or even being stuck behind a buffalo jam for a while. For these reasons, today's itinerary is very flexible, and one or more of the above stops may be left out, depending on other activities as the hours progress.
A sack lunch is once again provided today. After a fun-filled day it is time to return to West Yellowstone.
You are on your own for dinner and will spend the night in the same place.
You will be picked up from your motel for the ride through the southern part of Yellowstone to Grand Teton. On the way we will once again go past the various geyser basins, and then climb over the Continental Divide twice, on the way to West Thumb.
As we drop down off the continental divide there are great views of Yellowstone Lake, the largest alpine lake in North America.
West Thumb is a delightful geyser basin, located right on the shores of the incredibly blue lake. We will stop to stroll around the boardwalk system that accesses the basin. An added bonus is that there are often elk at West Thumb.
The road between Yellowstone and Grand Teton is called the Rockefeller Parkway. It is only six miles and leads directly into the north entrance of Grand Teton. The main features of the park are the Grand Teton mountains, and a number of beautiful lakes.
You will see historic Colter Bay, Signal Mountain, Jenny Lake, Jackson Lake, Mount Moran, and much more. We also know the best places to find moose, and we will do our best to locate one or more for you.
You will take a leisurely drive through Grand Teton National Park, before arriving in Jackson. A sack lunch is provided today, which you can enjoy somewhere on the road.
The days and dates this tour runs can be seen in the calendar at the top right of this page.
The entry fees to all parks are included.
Six nights' lodging are included: One night in the small town of Bishop at the Comfort Inn, Days Inn or similar; one night in Las Vegas at a minimum three star hotel on the famous Strip (please let us know if there not at least one person who is 21 or older in each room, as most Vegas hotels require this); one night at the Page Quality Inn or similar; one night at the downtown Crystal Inn in Salt Lake City; two nights at a self catering studio at Yellowstone Studios and Cabins in West Yellowstone. If lodging there is sold out, you will stay at a moderate category motel in West Yellowstone. If the night in Vegas falls over a weekend, convention or holiday period, a higher price may apply.
All times are approximate. We are not responsible for the consequences of any delays, and this itinerary may change without notice.
Prices are based on double occupancy. Single and triple options are also available and will be seen at check out. There are no taxes.
After ordering this tour please wait to receive a confirmation email from us before making any plans that are dependent on this tour.
The vehicle used is either a small mini bus, or an executive van, which is a van with individual, high back seats, with the possible exception of the route from San Francisco to Yosemite, which may be operated by a supplier, in a coach.
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.
Yosemite's east entrance only opens when the snow has been cleared. Until this happens, this tour will depart Yosemite from the south entrance, overnight in Bakersfield, and spend a little less time in Death Valley.
In the unlikely event of snow restrictions being in effect, in the winter, from Yosemite's south entrance, additional time will be spent in Death Valley. Yosemite will be bypassed, and the tour will go from San Francisco straight to Death Valley.
Pick ups in San Francisco take place in the Fisherman's Wharf area.
The tour drops off in downtown Salt Lake.
The off road tours at Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon are included.
Meals: One extended continental breakfast, one hot breakfast buffet, four sack lunches, one take out evening meal that may be pizza, or a combo meal from a fast food outlet. If we do not provide any meal, an $8 per meal refund will be given.
Portions of this tour may be subcontracted to other reputable vendors.
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.
If there are fewer than six people on the Yellowstone part of the tour we reserve the right to have a shuttle take you from Salt Lake City to Idaho Falls on the fifth day, where our guide will pick you up. The same may apply in reverse on the seventh day, if there are fewer than six people. Our guide will take you from Jackson to Rexburg on the seventh day, where the shuttle will transport you to Salt Lake City. If this happens, the tour will end at the airport, and not downtown.
At the start and perhaps very end, of the season, seasonal road closures and weather may prevent this tour being run as scheduled. In particular, the road from Old Faithful to Grand Teton generally opens in mid May. If that road is not open when you do your tour, more time will be spent in parts of Yellowstone, and Grand Teton will be omitted. In addition, Dunraven Pass (between Tower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone) also generally opens in mid May. Finally, general road maintenance in the park may affect the way this tour operates.
Payment And Cancellation Details: This tour may have an air leg between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. If you do fly that route, an amount equivalent to the cost of the air leg 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 the air leg has been booked 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. We will advise ahead of time which option is applicable. In addition with this option, if you book less than three weeks from the tour date, the tour may cost more as a result of higher air fares.
If we travel from Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake by road instead, half the amount will be charged to your card 45 days from the tour date and the balance 10 days from the tour date. In those circumstances you are welcome to cancel up to 45 days prior to travel at no charge. Purported cancellations within 45 days of travel will result in the entire amount being charged to your card. We will advise ahead of time which option is applicable.