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!
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.
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.
All Las Vegas Strip hotels charge what they call a resort fee. This is basically a way of ripping off guests. Unfortunately there is nothing that anyone can do about it, and you will need to pay the resort fee on check in.
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.
Day 3 - Grand Canyon helicopter tour - About half an hour
A tiny town called Tusayan borders the Grand Canyon, and the small local airport is just to the south of Tusayan. We will stop there to allow those of you who want to take an optional helicopter tour to do so.
Although expensive, a helicopter is a great way to see as much of the Grand Canyon as possible, in a short period of time. You fly over the deepest and widest parts of the Grand Canyon, through the Dragon Corridor, and on to the North Rim, where you can view the geological differences between the two rims. On the way back to the South Rim you will take in breathtaking views of temples, shrines and other rock formations. The tour must be ordered ahead of time, preferably when you order the main tour itself.
There are times when adverse weather conditions prevent the tour from taking place. Should this happen, you will get a full refund. If you choose not to do the helicopter tour, you will have the opportunity to explore Tusayan, and do some more shopping or eating.
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.
There are some great viewpoints here, but the main area of interest is to be found down an easy stroll, to an overlook of some ancient cliff dwellings. Note that the trail slopes slightly downhill getting there, and is a little uphill on the way back. The total distance is about one mile (1.6 km) round trip. If you choose not to go, you can explore the interesting Visitor Centre and souvenir area.
At the end of the trail you will be able to gaze across the canyon to the Betatakin cliff dwellings, which were built in the middle of the 13th century. The alcove in which these were built is one of the biggest to be found anywhere. These dwellings were at one time home to the Ancestral Puebloan People, predecessors of today's Native Americans.
We will now travel along a dirt road to the Shonto Trading Post. Shonto is only visited during the summer months, and also only when the dirt road is in good condition, with no prospect of rain or flooding. When we do not stop at Shonto, we will go straight from Navajo National Monument to Page.
This is an authentic, Navajo owned trading post, unlike the large commercial ones you will find around the southwest. You will meet and talk to Navajo people at the trading post, and also be able to look at and buy handcraft that is made by people living on the Reservation. The rugs are particularly attractive, and are a traditional Navajo item.
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 5 - 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.
Day 5 - Flight from Vegas to Salt Lake City - About 1 hours, 5 minutes
If you did not travel directly from Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake earlier today, you will now be dropped off at the Las Vegas airport for the short flight to Salt Lake. After you land, a shuttle will take you to the downtown Crystal Inn, which is our preferred property. They have a good free, hot breakfast buffet tomorrow morning.
We will tell you your exact schedule beforehand. Please note that if you book this tour within three weeks of the tour departure date, the price of this flight may increase. If it does, there may be a surcharge which we will let you know about beforehand.
You will take a shuttle through northern Utah, into Idaho, and eventually Montana, before arriving in West Yellowstone. There are stops at several towns along the way. The vehicle is generally a mini bus.
Please note that today is an unescorted part of the tour. What this means is that although you obviously have a bus driver with you at all times, there is no tour guide providing a running commentary the way there is when you are in Yellowstone.
When you reach West Yellowstone, you will be taken to Yellowstone Motel, where you will be staying. 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.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is normally visited on our Lower Yellowstone Loop tour, and not this tour. Depending on the number of people on this tour who have not seen it, and how late it is, we may take the opportunity of checking out the area. The Yellowstone River has carved an impressive canyon through the rocks, over which two falls drop. The Lower Falls is over twice the size of Niagara Falls! 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'll check out the canyon and falls from a number of different locations. You get so close to the Upper Falls that you almost feel like you can reach out and touch the thundering water. Don't!
If there is time, other areas along the route that we may visit include Obsidian Cliff, Virginia Cascade and Undine Falls.
After a long, 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.
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. At Madison Junction we will turn right, or south, and travel along the Firehole River which runs through Yellowstone's thermal areas. The Firehole is famous amongst anglers for its pristine beauty and selection of brown, brook and rainbow trout. 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.
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.
Yellowstone Lake is off to the east as we make the trip up to Fishing Bridge. From there we head through the Hayden Valley, following the Yellowstone River, up to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. On the way we will pass Mud Volcano.
The Hayden Valley is known for its wildlife, particularly large herds of bison at certain times of the year. It is also an excellent location to look for grizzly bears, especially in the spring and early summer when they may be preying on newborn bison and elk cubs.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an unexpected treat amongst the thermal wonders. The Yellowstone River has carved an impressive canyon through the rocks, over which two falls drop. The Lower Falls is over twice the size of Niagara Falls! 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'll check out the canyon and falls from a number of different locations. You get so close to the Upper Falls that you almost feel like you can reach out and touch the thundering water. Don't!
You can now extend your stay in West Yellowstone. Instead of returning to Salt Lake City, you can stay as many extra nights in the Yellowstone area as you choose. Simply order that option on check out. After spending extra time in West Yellowstone, you will then travel back to Salt Lake.
If you don't stay longer in Yellowstone, you will continue with the regular tour.
This tour is subject to a 3.00% per person fuel surcharge.
Payment And Cancellation Details: CANCELLATIONS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED FOR THIS TOUR. Changes will also not be accepted, and refunds will not be given. Please consider purchasing trip insurance as our cancellation policy is strictly enforced. The payment schedule is as follows: This tour has at least one air leg. The cost of the flights, plus half of the remaining balance will be charged any time from when you make the booking. The final balance will be charged 30 or fewer days from the tour date, at our discretion.
The credit/debit card used must be in your name and must be present, so we can take an imprint. Please contact us if this is not possible. Please ensure you have the card you used with you. If the card is not in your name please let us know ahead of time, as our credit card authorization process will need to be completed.
A purported or attempted cancellation will result in the entire amount being due, and being charged to your card immediately.
The name on your credit card statement will be USA Park Tours.
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.
Seven nights' lodging are included: One night in the small town of Bishop at a two star hotel; one night in in Vegas at a minimum three star hotel on the famous Strip. Please let us know if there is not at least one person 21 or older in each room as most Vegas hotels require this. Two nights at the Quality Inn or similar, in Page. 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 Al's Westward Ho Motel or similar in West Yellowstone. If the night in Vegas falls over a weekend, convention or holiday period, a higher price may apply.
The vehicle used is either a small mini bus, or an executive van, which is a van with individual, high back, reclining seats, with the exception of the routes between San Francisco and Yosemite, and Salt Lake and West Yellowstone, where a coach may be used.
If you extend your tour by staying a night at the Grand Canyon, there are times when you will be taken out to the Grand Canyon in a large coach. The next day you will continue the tour in a small group vehicle. If you are taken out to the Canyon in a coach, and you are staying at Yavapai Lodge or Maswik Lodge, you will need to take the free shuttle from the drop off location at Bright Angel to the hotel. The shuttles run approximately every 15 minutes. You will be picked up from your hotel the next day.
Two sack lunches and two continental breakfasts are the only meals included.
This itinerary may change without notice.
Prices are based on double occupancy. Single, triple and quad 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 price includes the services of a guide/driver and transportation.
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 ends at the Salt Lake airport. Please let us know if we can find you a hotel, at your expense.
The off road tours at Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon are included.
Three breakfasts are included, as are two sack lunches.
Portions of this tour may be subcontracted to other reputable vendors.
All times are approximate, and we are not responsible for the consequences of any delays.
Please be aware that some airlines charge a per bag fee for checked luggage. This varies from airline to airline and is not included in the tour price. It will need to be paid directly to the airline.
The price quoted assumes you book at least thee weeks from the tour date. The air portion of this tour may cost more if you book less than three weeks from the tour date.