We head east into the high desert terrain of Utah where our destination is revealed: Zion National Park. Zion Canyon was named by the early Mormon settlers of Utah, who thought of the fertile valley as their 'promised land'. Some of the best hiking in the Desert Southwest can be found in and around the swift-moving Virgin River as it meanders below massive, cathedral like sandstone walls. With two nights here we will have plenty of time to explore. Possible hiking options:
Easy: Emerald Pools 1.9-6.7km/1-4hrs elevation 21-68m
Moderate: The Narrows Variable up and back trail elevation 213m
Strenuous: Angel's Landing 8.7km/3-4hrs elevation 453m
There are numerous hikes of varying intensity to choose from. We'll warm up our legs by taking some of the short hikes from the valley floor to view the Lower Emerald pool and then continue on to the sparkling Upper Emerald pools, passing a waterfall along the way to discover Zion's 'beach'. We can also cool off from the summer sun by exploring the Riverside Walk section of the Virgin River. If you are feeling ambitious, enjoy the park's more challenging option and ascend 760 metres (2500 feet) to experience unbeatable panoramic views from the top of Angels Landing. After a beautiful but strenuous hike along the knife-edge ridgeline you will be rewarded with one of the most breathtaking and powerful panoramas you will ever experience. If weather conditions permit, you may choose to hike deep into the Zion Narrows. Of course, horse riding is available if you'd prefer a seat with a view!
Options: Various hikes from easy to strenuous, horseback riding and mountain biking
We climb to an elevation of almost 8000 feet and traverse a high plateau to Bryce Canyon National Park. 'Mysterious', 'breathtaking' and 'out of this world', are only a few of the descriptions offered by past visitors to describe this fascinating natural amphitheatre of pink, orange and white sandstone spires, known locally as 'hoodoos'.
There are a variety of scenic overlooks and trails that range from easy to moderate in difficulty. The Navajo or Peek-a-Boo Loop trails will enable us to hike right in amongst these unique rock formations. Some of us may prefer to remain on the rim and photograph the ever-changing shadows and hues as the sun makes its way across the wide-open sky. Wherever you walk, you will encounter a kaleidoscope of colours and a fantasy land of rock spires that will leave you searching for your own way to describe this 'indescribable' place.
Possible hiking options:
Easy: Rim Trail 1.5-3km/0.5-1.5hrs elevation 10m
Moderate: Navajo Loop and Queens Garden 2.4km/1.5-2hrs elevation 167m
Strenuous: Peekaboo Loop 8.5km/3-4hrs elevation 473m
Next up is more spectacular scenery amid the magnificent splendour of Arches National Park, located just a few miles outside Moab, our base for the next few days. These stunning red sandstone arches are created by millions of years of freezing and thawing water slowly eroding the Entrada sandstone. We'll have the opportunity to hike to many of these incredible arches, including Landscape Arch, Double-O Arch and the famous Delicate Arch. While in Moab, why not tackle the rugged terrain on a guided off-road extreme hummer tour or take a float trip down the Colorado River? Possible hiking options:
Easy: The Windows 1.6km/0.5-1hr elevation 45m
Moderate: Delicate Arch 4.8km/2.5-3hrs elevation 146m
Strenuous: Devil's Garden Primitive Loop 11.5km/2-3hrs elevation 104m
Other options: Mountain biking, Extreme hummer tour and float trip on the Colorado River
Another day to spend exploring the National Park.
There is a little known place in eastern Utah where the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers meet - these are the Canyonlands. This amazing landscape is a Mecca for mountain bikers and whitewater rafters. Be sure to explore its many outdoor options, from natural bridges and arches to towering cliffs and bottomless canyons. Take in the panoramic views of this rugged red rock landscape at our favourite lookout: Dead Horse Point.
Possible hiking options:
Easy: Slickrock Trail 3.8km/1-2hrs elevation 24m
Moderate-Strenuous: Chesler Park Loop/Joint Trail 18km/6hrs elevation 152m
Other options: Mountain biking and whitewater rafting (in season)
We'll travel south to the spiritual heart of the Navajo Nation Monument Valley. A sacred land to those who call it home, this Navajo Tribal park's sandstone monoliths and iconic desert vistas have been the backdrop to countless 'westerns' featuring cowboys riding off into the sunset. Met by a Navajo guide, we will be taken on an included backroads tour of the Monument Valley Tribal Lands. Learn about the history and culture of the Navajo people. Hear how Native Americans have embraced this harsh environment, and how their relationship to the world around them constantly changes and evolves. Such a day could only be topped by a spectacular desert sunset before we return to camp.
Options: Hikes will be chosen by our local Navajo guide
Leaving Monument Valley we travel south through the Navajo Reservation to the Cameron Trading Post to browse and shop for local jewellery, crafts and cultural souvenirs. Carrying on, we traverse the eastern entrance of Grand Canyon National Park and catch our first glimpse of the canyon at Desert View. This incredible spectacle is difficult to comprehend, whether standing at the rim or hiking down into the canyon. Carved over several millennia, this massive wonder of nature is 445 kilometres (277 miles) long, up to 29 kilometres (18 miles) wide and over 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) deep. Snaking through the canyon floor is the mighty Colorado River, which runs 2330 kilometres (1450 miles) through seven American and two Mexican states.
Once again, you have the opportunity to explore the park at your own pace. In your free time, we highly recommend a scenic helicopter flight over the canyon, which offers a unique perspective unavailable on foot. Venture down the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point, or just stroll along the more leisurely West Rim Trail and catch the shuttle bus to Hermit's Rest. Finish off the day by opting for the amazing IMAX film, 'The Grand Canyon Experience' or enjoy a spectacular sunset over one of the world's natural wonders.
NOTE: Grand Canyon National Park regulations limit group size and do not allow guided hikes. Our tour leaders will provide briefings, directions, and maps, but are not permitted by the National Park Service to walk with you on the trails.
Possible hiking options:
Easy: Rim Trail Various Level
Moderate: South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge 4.8km/2-4hrs elevation 347m
Strenuous: Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point 19.6km/6-10hrs elevation 975m
Other options: Scenic Grand Canyon helicopter flight and IMAX theater
We leave nature behind and head into Las Vegas for all of its neon splendour. Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in United States and the entertainment capital of North America - home to pirates and pyramids, weddings and waterfalls. If it is gambling you want, you have come to the right place! Nowhere else in the world will you find as many casinos, clubs and all-you-can-eat buffets. Why not hit the strip tonight for an end-of-tour celebration? The tour ends at our gateway hotel at approximately 17:00 hrs. We can book your post-tour accommodation at our gateway hotel if required. If you are planning to fly tonight, please do not book a flight that departs before 21:00 hrs.