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San Fran to LA: Ultimate National Parks

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San Fran to LA: Ultimate National Parks

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Description

Fall in love with the rugged and diverse American West on this 18-day adventure, from the granite peaks and pine forests of Yosemite National Park, the crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe, the sun-baked dunes and canyons of Death Valley, glitzy Las Vegas and peaceful Zion. Walk amid the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, gaze in awe at the Grand Canyon, sit by a Navajo campfire in Monument Valley and see the unique vegetation of Joshua Tree National Park, all on the ultimate National Parks adventure.

Trip Name
San Fran to LA: Ultimate National Parks
Last Updated
2022-05-24
Days
18
Highlights
  • Beginning in the eccentric city of San Francisco, explore the sights of the bay on a sunset catamaran cruise, sailing around the infamous Alcatraz Island and beneath the legendary Golden Gate Bridge.
  • From shimmering blue waters in summer to snow-dusted pine forest in winter – enjoy a full day of optional activities to suit every adventurer, in every season, during your 2-night stay in Lake Tahoe.
  • Featuring sequoia forests, granite cliff faces and cascading waterfalls – get the most out of your Yosemite experience by spending three nights in the park, meaning two full days of exploration.
  • With undulating sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, extinct volcanic craters and fields of wildflowers that blossom in the spring: Death Valley is a geological paradise.
  • From flashy Las Vegas continue to the red rocks of Zion National Park and the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.
  • Admire the oasis of Emerald Pools during a hike past waterfalls and lush vegetation in Utah’s Zion National Park.
  • Ride a jeep through Utah's iconic Monument Valley, and then share stories and a meal by the campfire with members of Navajo Nation.
  • Be amazed by the size and beauty of the Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend, then travel to the Grand Canyon where you’ll be left gobsmacked by its steep red-rock escarpments and gorges.
  • Explore a city that’s home to dreamers, fortune seekers, and celebrities in the City of Angels: Los Angeles.

Itinerary

ITINERARY CHANGES Our itineraries are updated regularly throughout the year based on customer feedback and to reflect the current situation in each destination. The information included in this Essential Trip Information may therefore differ from when you first booked your trip. It is important that you review this information prior to travel so that you have the latest updates. Due to weather, local conditions, transport schedules, public holidays, or other factors, further changes may be necessary to your itinerary once in-country. The order and timing of included activities in each location may also vary seasonally to ensure our travellers have the best experience. Your tour leader will keep you up to date with any such changes once on tour. OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES A selection of optional activities that have been popular with past travellers are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only for some of what might be available. Prices are approximate, are for entrance only, and don’t include transport to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. All activities are subject to availability, and maybe on a join-in basis. It may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination, so some pre-planning for what you are most interested in is advised. When it's recommended that travellers pre-book these activities, look for a note in the Special Information section of the day-to-day itinerary. For most, they can either be organised independently on the day, or let your leader know you are interested in the Group Meeting and they can assist. Where activities are considered medium or high risk, we work with operators whose safety and credentials we have sighted and assessed. Although it is possible that you may find the same activity cheaper with another operator on the ground, we cannot vouch for the safety or quality of that operator. Medium and high-risk activities not listed above have not been assessed by us and as such our staff and leaders are unable to assist you with organising these activities. Activities that contravene our Responsible Travel policies are also not listed. Please remember that the decision to partake in any activity not listed is at your own discretion and risk.

Day 1 - San Francisco
Welcome to San Francisco, a city with a storied history and plenty of eccentric characters. Your adventure begins at 3pm with an important welcome meeting at your accommodation, where you’ll meet your local leader and fellow travellers. After your meeting, get to know San Francisco Bay on a sunset catamaran cruise. Sail around the infamous Alcatraz Island and beneath the emblematic Golden Gate Bridge while keeping an eye out for the dolphins, pelicans, sea lions and occasional whale that can be found in these waters. Take in incredible views of the city’s skyline as you make your return – you’ll definitely be leaving your heart in San Francisco! The evening is free for your own discoveries – perhaps head to Chinatown and get your hands on some dim sum!
Day 2 - Lake Tahoe
This morning, take in some of San Fran’s most famous sights during a scenic driving tour. Pass by the painted ladies, a row of grandiose Victorian houses, and get your camera ready as you gaze upon the Golden Gate Bridge from the best viewpoint in the city. In the afternoon, make the drive to Lake Tahoe, the USA’s second-deepest lake and home to 116 km (72 miles) of scenic shoreline. This evening, take in views of Lake Tahoe from an unbeatable vantage point as you ride a gondola up Heavenly Mountain, which absolutely lives up to its name.
Day 3 - Lake Tahoe
Enjoy a day of leisure in Lake Tahoe, this natural adventure park has plenty going on all year-round which means there’ll be plenty of activities for you to choose from depending on the season. In summer, you can paddle on the clear, blue waters of the lake in a kayak or take a refreshing dip, and for the hiking enthusiasts – the surrounding hillside is perfect for scenic walks during the warmer months. During winter the area becomes a snow-covered playground where you can choose to take a sleigh ride or try your hand at ice skating.
Day 4 - Yosemite National Park
This morning, head south to the world-famous Yosemite National Park. Featuring colossal granite cliff faces, cascading waterfalls (depending on the season) and redwood forests, the scenery in Yosemite attracts travellers from all over the globe. On arrival, wander through the jaw-dropping Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, home to two-dozen of the largest known trees on earth. These colossal, ancient wonders are adapted for survival. They’re resistant to disease, thanks to a large content of tannin (a type of natural chemical) in the wood – and their thick asbestos-like bark means that they can withstand the hottest of forest-fires, making them almost indestructible. The resilient beauty of these redwood beasts makes them a phenomenal must-see on any Yosemite itinerary.
Day 5 - Yosemite National Park
Enjoy a guided walk around the spectacular scenery of Yosemite National Park followed by a free day to explore. The breathtaking landscapes have made Yosemite a favourite among hikers for generations, and there are plenty of trekking routes on offer with varying degrees of difficulty. If you feel like breaking a sweat, the 5-hour hike to the top of Nevada Falls features plenty of switchbacks, and depending on the season, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the cascading waterfall beneath the giant Half Dome. Feel like taking it easy? No problem, there are plenty of gentle trails on offer. Keep an eye out for squirrels (and watch for bears!) along the way. If you’d prefer, you can hire a bike and cycle around Yosemite Valley, stopping by the park's museum, photo gallery, shops and restaurants on the way. In the heat of summer, a nice option is a float down the Merced River on a raft followed by a few drinks at the local cafe. This evening, if the weather is right, join the group for an included pizza picnic in the park! Alternatively, warm up with a local meal in the cosy indoors.
Day 6 - Yosemite National Park
Today there’s a chance to explore a different side of the park as you join your leader on a guided hike through the awe-inspiring Yosemite Valley. Strewn with dramatic waterfalls, gigantic granite outcrops and lush meadows, this is one of the most spectacular spots in the country. Learn about the ecologically diverse landscape as you explore with your leader, who will recommend independent walks in the area you can take on this afternoon.
Day 7 - Eastern Sierra/Lone Pine
This morning, stop and admire the glistening waters of Tenaya and Mono Lakes on the drive south to Death Valley (approximately 6 hours). On the way to Lone Pine, perhaps stop at Manzanar National Historic Site, a former military-style camp where more than 110,000 Japanese-American men, women and children were detained during WWII. Continue to Alabama Hills – where colourful undulating peaks roll in the foreground of the contrasting jagged, snowy Sierras – this beautiful landscape is just a stone’s throw away from where you’ll be spending the night in Lone Pine – not far from the entrance to Death Valley. On arrival, there's the option to visit the Museum of Western Film History, which celebrates the many movies that have been filmed in the area, such as Iron Man, Django Unchained, How the West Was Won, and True Grit.
Day 8 - Death Valley / Las Vegas
This morning you'll explore the geologically rich Death Valley National Park. Don't let the name fool you, this park features huge sand dunes, canyons, sculpted rocks, valleys and volcanic craters. Death Valley is extremely hot and dry (the highest recorded temperature in the world was measured in local Furnace Creek at 56.6˚C in 1913) so remember to pack plenty of water and don't overexert yourself. Stop along the way at Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin and the Mesquite Dunes, where you’ll have the chance to stretch your legs with some short walks. Arrive to the glitzy desert city of Las Vegas – it may be a gamblers paradise, but if the tables aren't your thing there's still plenty to discover! Maybe wander along the Strip past impersonators, billboards and hotels to the choreographed Bellagio Fountain show, or perhaps head to a rooftop amusement park, hit the chain stores or lose all sense of time exploring the gaudy interiors of hotels like The Venetian, Caesars Palace and New York-New York. In the evening, why not join your travel buddies for an optional dinner!
Day 9 - Las Vegas
Welcome to Las Vegas, Nevada. From a western outpost in the desert, Las Vegas is now a gambling and entertainment metropolis. It’s a city of larger-than-life characters, but beyond the glitz, Vegas is home to diverse urban neighbourhoods and a thriving arts scene. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting in the hotel lobby at 6 pm. As there's a great deal to do in Las Vegas, we recommend you arrive a day or two early to make the most of this city. Try your luck on the casino floors, hit up Fremont Street, soak up the gaudiness of the strip or catch one of the many shows on offer.
Day 10 - Zion National Park
Today, leave behind the neon and nightclubs behind, and travel to Zion National Park (approximately 3 hours). Warm up with a leader-led orientation or the park, and gentle walk to the lower end of the Emerald Pools, passing the sparkling waterfalls and streams along the way. Continue on a more difficult trail to the upper section, checking out another waterfall on the way to Zion's 'beach'. After a picnic lunch, enjoy some free time this afternoon to explore more of the park's hiking trails. If you're feeling ambitious, perhaps enjoy the strenuous hike to Scout Lookout.
Day 11 - Zion National Park
Enjoy some free time in Zion National Park. This is a great opportunity to tackle any trails you may not have yesterday. The Narrows is a good choice, as it is probably the most popular hike in the park, and one of the best slot canyon hikes on Earth. Trek through a gorge surrounded by cliff faces 300 metres high, and after a while, cool off in a river along the way. The Narrows hike can be tailored to suit various levels of skill and experience, so there’s a trek for everyone!
Day 12 - Bryce Canyon
In the morning, drive to Bryce Canyon. Millions of years of wind and water erosion have formed the park's distinctive hoodoos – uniquely shaped rock spires rising out of the desert. You will have heaps of time to explore the park's selection of hikes, from the easy Rim Trail, to the moderate Queen's Garden Trail or the strenuous Peek-a-boo Loop. Wherever you walk, you'll encounter the canyon’s colourful landscapes. The group leader will join you on a hike and for lunch in the Canyon. The accommodation tonight is not too far away, so you’ll be able to enjoy scenic views over the canyon into the night.
Day 13 - Monument Valley / Page
Today you’ll make the 6-hour drive to the spectacular Monument Valley, passing through the little city of Page, set on the shores of Lake Powell. If you’ve never been to Monument Valley before, you’ll surely still recognise it. The iconic landscape of red-toned spires, buttes and mesas has been the set of countless, films, TV shows and photographs – and the real deal is even more impressive than what’s seen on screen. Once you’ve arrived to Monument Valley, you’ll have the chance to explore the giant sandstone formations scattered across the desert as far as the eye can see. In the evening, travel by jeep through the valley with a Navajo guide. Join the locals for an authentic Navajo dinner around a campfire and settle in for an evening of traditional songs and stories.
Day 14 - Grand Canyon National Park
In the morning, pay a visit to Horseshoe Bend, named for its loop of water surrounding an enormous sandstone escarpment. After some time to admire this famous sight, make the 3.5-hour drive to the Grand Canyon, one of the largest canyon systems in the world. Photos really don't do this massive network of gorges, rivers and cliffs justice. This a real highlight of the trip, and you'll be spending two nights here in order to take it all in. After a picnic lunch, you may like to take a stroll along the South Rim Trail, offering up epic views over the park. Ask the group leader for advice on which trails are right for you and your fitness level.
Day 15 - Grand Canyon National Park
Today is as clear as an Arizona sky in summer. Explore at your own pace, but remember to always have a supply of water and high-energy snacks handy. Touch base with the group leader about optional activities available today – recommended is a helicopter flight over the gorges, providing a chance to see the entire park. If you'd rather get the bird’s eye view without leaving the ground, you can choose to watch a documentary on the canyon at the local IMAX theatre. Of course, there are myriad trails and treks to keep the active occupied. Bright Angel has wonderful views all along the trail and Ooh-Aah Point is a favourite shorter hike on the South Kaibab Trail, offering another viewpoint to the park. In the evening, sit back and enjoy the sunset behind the red peaks.
Day 16 - Joshua Tree National Park
In the morning, take the drive to Joshua Tree National Park (approximately 7 hours). You’ll spend some time driving the famous Route 66 and have a quick stop by the eccentric community of Seligman. Sitting between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, Joshua Tree is home to striking rock formations, many species of cacti and varied desert wildlife such as coyotes, lizards and bighorn sheep. Joshua Tree provides a considerable contrast to the wildlife and natural scenery you have seen recently.
Day 17 - Los Angeles
There may be time to squeeze in a sunrise hike at Joshua Tree before making the approximately 3-hour journey to Los Angeles. Spend an afternoon at Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach for a bit of people watching and the chance to pick up some lunch. Then you’re free to discover LA at your own pace. Stroll Rodeo Drive, amp up the culture with a trip to the Getty Centre or take a tour around the Beverly Hills mansions. You will have no problem finding a spot for dinner this evening – the cultural mishmash of LA provides excellent food wherever you are.
Day 18 - Los Angeles
There are no more activities planned today.  If you're planning to stay in LA for a little while longer, we'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).

Trip Dates

StartEndPrice FromRoom Type
11-09-202228-09-2022AUD $ 11,329-
02-10-202219-10-2022AUD $ 11,925-
07-05-202324-05-2023AUD $ 12,760-
11-06-202328-06-2023AUD $ 12,760-
09-07-202326-07-2023AUD $ 12,760-
06-08-202323-08-2023AUD $ 12,760-
10-09-202327-09-2023AUD $ 12,760-
24-09-202311-10-2023AUD $ 12,760-
05-11-202322-11-2023AUD $ 12,760-

Accommodation

Hotel (17 nights)

Transport

Private vehicle

Map