Those on group flights will arrive in San Francisco in the evening. Land Only clients should make their way to the start hotel today.
The group will meet at 7:30am in the lobby to start the trip. Please eat breakfast and check out by this time. Please also have your passport and insurance information available for some last minute pre departure paperwork. One of the most popular cities in the world, San Francisco spreads over steep hills on a narrow peninsula. Impressive bridges connect the different parts of the city, the most famous being the Golden Gate Bridge. Our hotel is about one mile from Union Square and Chinatown. An early start is recommended so that we can take a short driving tour and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. We only intend to spend a morning in San Francisco, so if you want to spend more time here (and there is lots to do!) we suggest you fly a day earlier than the group. In the afternoon we move on towards Yosemite N.P. (300 km - approximately 4 hours). Straddling the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, the park consists of the most unusual formations. Being of volcanic origin, the Sierra's geology consists almost entirely of granite. The last ice age's massive glaciers sawed some of the huge granite domes in half, cutting deep valleys. We will stay overnight at a hotel located outside of the park.
We have another early start this morning as we head into the beauty of Yosemite National Park. Shuttle buses provide convenient transportation within the park, giving us the flexibility to make arrangements for various hikes. The leader will spend the day hiking and exploring 'The Valley' with the group. Along the 'John Muir Trail' we can climb up to the massive waterfalls of Vernal and Nevada and have a chance to take a refreshing dip in their waters.
Leaving the valley we soon arrive at the higher reaches of Yosemite N.P where the scenery changes from manzanita and ponderosa pine covered hillsides to alpine meadows studded with granite domes. We enjoy the fantastic Olmsted Point and then pass by the amazing turquoise waters of Tenaya Lake. At 2,700m we reach Tuolumne Meadows and then hike to the top of Lembert Dome where we are rewarded with incredible views. In the afternoon we drive over the Sierra's Crest at 3,031m and descend into the high desert of the Owen's Valley. Time permitting we stop to marvel at ancient Mono Lake and its salty waters. We spend the night at a cosy hotel in the scenic ski town of Mammoth. Please note that the Tioga Pass used today can sometimes be closed if there has been heavy snowfall. In the event of this happening today's itinerary will be diverted.
This is a full day of driving (9 hours) to reach Zion National Park. Zion exceeds all descriptions: the Virgin River has carved a dark red sandstone canyon so deep and impressive that it has to be seen to be believed. Famous for its soaring towers and massive monoliths, the first glimpses of Zion can be seen from pretty town of Springdale which it backs onto.
A highlight for many will be a trek to the top of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. A steep ascent of 450m will reward you with breathtaking views of the valley below. The trail itself is around 8km with an exposed section at the top (those not wanting to hike the exposed portion can continue along the trail to alternative viewpoints). Depending on weather conditions, we may also be able to wade in the Narrows, a deep chasm cut into the red rocks.
Bryce Canyon is our next highlight and we aim to arrive in the afternoon as the soft light bathes the rock formations below. At sunset the delicate stone towers shimmer in hues of red and orange - an incredible sight. We take an invigorating hike along the rim before returning to our hotel near the entrance of the park, our home for the next two nights.
We have all day to explore the wonderland of rocks on hidden trails that wind through the stone towers at Bryce. The colour contrast of the red, orange and yellow rock towers with the deep blue skies is unreal. Gnarled conifers grow between the rocks, adding to the contrasting colours. Hiking trails may include Navajo and Peek a boo Loop or even Fairyland Loop Trail. Look out for E.T. amongst the hoodoos! Those who are interested have the option to take a horse ride through the stone tower formations. In the afternoon we enjoy far reaching views of the desert below as we drive to and hike at bristlecone pine-covered Rainbow Point.
We leave Bryce's Plateau and begin descending into the red desert. Weather permitting, we take a desert track through tortured landscapes of monoclines and uplifts. In only a few hours we reach the man-made Lake Powell (approx. 2-3 hrs.) Lake Powell was created by damming the mighty Colorado River just above the Grand Canyon. Its shoreline extends over 3,000km (due to its twisty flooded canyons) and offers some of the most stunning scenery of the West: sheer cliffs of red sandstone rise straight out of blue-green waters. In the afternoon, we can either relax at the lake or choose to explore Antelope Canyon. Antelope may be the world's most famous slot canyon, sinuously carved with flowing walls of red sandstone polished by flash floods. You can choose to hike the lower canyon, a more adventurous slot, or take your camera to photograph the famous slot as the light falls in from the top (entrance fee charged by Navajo families, circa US$30).
In the morning we drive for three hours to Monument Valley in time for an afternoon sunset jeep tour (optional), when light strikes the stone monoliths in dazzling colours. This is Indian country: the local Indians, the Navajos, still reside and farm in this valley. The highly recommended jeep tour goes through the valley to marvel at the huge stone stumps, mesas, arches and sand dunes that lie hidden in this beautiful valley. We can also visit some exquisite rock art panels of the Anasazis, as well as smaller ruins tucked into alcoves in Monument Valley, great for those with an interest in pre-Columbian art and archaeology.
A drive through the Painted Desert takes us to our last highlight of the journey - the Grand Canyon (around. 250 km - approximately 4 hours). Neither words nor pictures can describe the Grand Canyon. Though far from being the world's deepest, it is certainly the grandest of all canyons and its size is incomprehensible to those peering into the gorge from the top; 16km wide and over 1,500 metres deep! Some of the rock layers exposed are over 1.7 billion years old and light plays with forms and colours as the sun moves across the sky, offering an ever-changing panorama. In the afternoon we should have time to walk along the West Rim Trail. As we head out we soon leave the crowds behind and enjoy the views and solitude for the next two nights.
Today you have a chance to opt for a more challenging hike into the depths of the canyon along the Bright Angel or Kaibab Trail, or board a plane or helicopter for an unforgettable flight across the canyon (extra charge).
We say goodbye to one of the world's greatest sights and head back west towards Las Vegas (approx. 6 hours). There might be some time for last minute shopping once we arrive in Las Vegas. In any case, you have all night to enjoy the craziest city in the world!
Those on group flights depart today, Land Only clients are free to leave at any time after breakfast. Our hotel in Las Vegas provides a courtesy airport shuttle.