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.
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.
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 6 - 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.
If you would like to, you can now fly straight back to San Francisco. We use an airline that does not charge a checked luggage fee. Please order that option when you check out. Note that it is not available on Saturday nights. In addition, if you leave it too late to book, the cost of the flight will be higher. If you do decide to fly back tonight, the tour will end at the San Francisco airport. Please let us know if we can book a shuttle for you, to your hotel.
Thanks for joining us. We hope to see you again some time in the future!
We regret that no cancellations or changes will be accepted, and no refunds will be given.
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: Half of the total will be charged any time from when you make the booking. The other half 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.
Five nights' lodging are included: One night in the small town of Bishop at a minimum three star hotel; one night 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); one night at the Quality Inn or similar at Page/Lake Powell; one night in Moab at the Sleep Inn or similar; one night at the Howard Johnson or similar outside Capitol Reef. 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, triple and quad rates are also available, and can be seen on checkout. There is no tax.
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 drops off on the Strip.
The off road tours at Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon are included.
Vehicles are mini buses or executive vans, which are vans with individual, high back, reclining seats, with the possible exception of the route between San Francisco and Yosemite where a large 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.
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.
Three continental breakfasts are the only meals included.
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.