Western USA National Parks Explorer with Moab & Mesa Verde

17 Day Small Group Adventure from San Francisco to Las Vegas with Explore

Book online and enjoy exclusive savings on Explore's 17 Day Western USA National Parks Explorer with Moab & Mesa Verde. The American dream comes alive in this southwest corner of the USA, as epic landscapes follow one after the other. From staring down into the depths of the Grand Canyon to being on top of the world looking...read more

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$ 6,643
Per Person ($AU)
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$ 282
Per Person ($AU)
Small Group Adventure Starts In
Starts In
San Francisco
Small Group Adventure Ends In
Ends In
Las Vegas
Max Group Size
Full On
Trip Pace
Full On
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Trip Operated By:
140 Reviews
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1 Join tour in San Francisco

Arrive in San Francisco. Hugging the shores of San Francisco Bay, the city has a fascinating mix of culture, commerce and character that cannot fail to charm.

Due to the number of evening flights into San Francisco, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is a 30 minute drive from the hotel. This transfer will be done by shuttle bus, and you will receive a voucher containing instructions on how to take the transfer prior to departure.

If your flight arrives earlier in the day, our centrally-located hotel is near the city's famous cable car stops which can take us to the palm-lined Union Square, or to Fisherman's Wharf with its views over Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Stay: Hotel Whitcomb (Comfortable)

2 Sightseeing tour including the Golden Gate Bridge, free afternoon

Today is spent exploring some of the city's highlights as we wander its famous streets, taking in the delightful Victorian architecture of Alamo Square and the colourful eccentricity of Haight Ashbury, San Francisco's once thriving 'hippie district' of the 1960s. We'll also drive up into the elegant Twin Peaks district of the city to enjoy some of the stunning views across the city and the bay (weather dependant), before moving on to the Golden Gate Bridge and finally the eclectic bustle and resident sea lions of Fisherman's Wharf.

The afternoon has then been left free to continue exploring at your own leisure, perhaps paying a visit to Lombard Street and Coit Tower, before returning by the city's famous cable cars back to Union Square and Market Street. This evening there is the option to walk to Chinatown, discovering the labyrinthine chaos of the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Stay: Hotel Whitcomb (Comfortable)

3 Transfer to Yosemite National Park, walks in the park

This morning we leave San Francisco behind and drive east, heading through the fertile landscapes of Stanislaus County towards Yosemite National Park, passing the highly productive agricultural region of the Central Valley, where numerous orchards and vineyards line the roads. As we climb into the Sierra Nevada, we begin to witness the fabulous natural beauty of Yosemite National Park, a region which in 1864 became the first protected land in the world, a landscape which caused one of the first white men to see it to gasp in admiration.

As we arrive in the valley, the towering presence of the two most demanding peaks of the park will be visible - Half Dome (the sheerest cliff in North America) and the vast granite bulk of El Capitan (twice the size of the Rock of Gibraltar) - both of which attract serious rock climbers from all over the world. The central valley is a mere 20km long by 5km wide but is hemmed in on either side by dramatic 2km-high sheer cliffs, its cascading waterfalls and skyline of jagged pinnacles and smooth domed granite presenting an awe-inspiring backdrop. We spend some time visiting various viewpoints in the valley this afternoon, depending on the seasonality and which roads are open. We may take a walk to the bases of Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, before continuing to follow the course of the Merced river to our final destination in Mariposa, just outside the park boundaries. Stay: Mariposa Lodge (Comfortable)

4 Explore Yosemite National Park on foot

More than 90% of Yosemite is designated wilderness area and today we will take the opportunity to explore it in a little more depth. Away from the main tourist areas of the Yosemite Valley the park is filled with a myriad of options to make the most of its spectacular natural charms. One possibility is a drive up to Glacier Point then hike along the Panorama and Mist Trail back down into the valley (a challenging walk of some 4-6 hours). The hike takes in an ever-changing tableau that includes the impressive cascades of Nevada and Vernal Falls, as well as some breathtaking views of Half Dome and the High Sierras.

There are a number of other possibilities available, some scenic cycling options or a relaxing day along the riverbanks. As well as some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes on earth, the park is filled with a variety of wildlife too, including hummingbirds, deer and of course the ever present black bears, ensuring you a captivating encounter whatever you choose to do. It is not possible to do all the options, so your Tour Leader will explain the possibilities and you can choose the ones that interest you most. Options may also be affected by the weather. Stay: Mariposa Lodge (Comfortable)

5 Travel to Bishop via Tenaya and Mono Lakes

Leaving the park this morning we plan to drive across the scenic Tioga Pass (3032m), taking in the sub-alpine meadows of the Toulumne Meadows, an area that has been christened America's very own Switzerland. We continue through the dramatic mountain vistas down towards the alkaline waters and surreal volcanic 'tufa' rock formations of Mono Lake at the base of the High Sierras. This incredible body of water is two and a half times as salty and eighty times as alkaline as seawater and whilst its waters can sustain no fish life it does abound in brine shrimp and flies, which provide food for millions of migratory birds and waterfowl. At the height of summer the shrimp population alone is believed to number some 4 trillion!

Continuing south from here our journey lies in the shadow of a range of towering peaks that rise to over 4200m as we make our way towards our overnight stop in the small settlement of Bishop. On early season departures, if the passes over the Sierra Nevada are closed we may have to amend our itinerary and re-route the tour. Stay: Travelodge By Wyndham Bishop (Comfortable)

6 Journey through Death Valley to Las Vegas

Starting early to avoid the heat, we descend into Death Valley today, one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. We then journey into the heart of one of the most remarkable settings on earth, where the marbled rocks, salt pans and black mountains provide us with an incredible backdrop. In marked contrast we end our day in Las Vegas, America's extraordinary desert playground, where exploding volcanoes share centre stage with Venetian canals and ancient pyramids. This evening we have some free time to explore this unique city. Stay: La Quinta Inn - Las Vegas (Comfortable)

7 Head to Zion National Park, afternoon to explore

This morning we will head to Zion National Park to get there just after lunch. Zion itself was established as a national park in 1919 and can boast an impressive array of natural credentials, encompassing some 8 geological formations, 4 major vegetation zones and a landscape that has been carved and honed by the Virgin River over a million years. This afternoon we will perhaps take a walk along the Watchman's Trail or one of the park's other trails. The position of the park, at the meeting of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mohave Desert means the region is rich in a vast diversity of flora and fauna that range from desert bush to Ponderosa Pine, cottonwood to red birch. Wildlife includes elk and mule deer, coyotes and black bear and turkey vultures and majestic golden eagles. We will be staying overnight in nearby Springdale. Stay: La Quinta Inn - Springdale (Comfortable)

8 Walk on the trails of Zion National Park

This morning we will continue to explore this magnificent creation, first paying a visit to the impressive visitor centre before taking the park's shuttle bus to the start of the walks. There are so many possibilities to explore here that it is not possible to do them all - your Tour Leader will outline the options to you taking into account the conditions on the day. Walks range from approximately 5-13km in length, and some are predominantly flat while others have elevation gains of up to 600m. You may wish to walk up to Angel's Landing, to take the meandering hike up to one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Zion, a challenging journey of some four hours that affords us some quite breath-taking views down across the valley.

Alternatively those looking for more arduous treks might like to try the hike up to Observation Point (approximately 5hrs return). There are also plenty of easier options for people to enjoy. Later, we drive to Bryce Canyon, travelling via Buffalo and Mt Carmel Junction. Stay: Bryce View Lodge (Comfortable)

9 Early morning at Sunrise Point, Bryce Canyon, time to discover this natural wonder

Bryce is without doubt one of the natural highlights of the journey, as we enter a world of surreal formations of multi-coloured sandstone that are steeped in the legend of the Paiute. Indian legend has it that the sandstone 'hoodoo's' of Bryce are in fact the petrified followers of the Coyote God, turned to stone as they stood listening to his angry tirade. The reality is somewhat less dramatic, with water playing the main part in the creation of these remarkable landscapes; the constant freezing and thawing and the violent summer storms causing the soft rocks to erode and split into the towering pillars that litter the floor of its great amphitheatre. This morning we see Bryce at its most radiant, in the golden hues of sunrise as we drive up to Sunrise Point to watch the dawn break across the landscape.

This afternoon we will explore something of the myriad colours and shapes of this fairytale realm, hiking along the Navajo Loop, or taking in the grandeur of the Queen's Garden. Bryce was created as a national park in 1928 and is actually a part of the Grand Staircase that follows the rim along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. As you look out across the pink, orange and red spires it is easy to sympathise with Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon farmer who is best remembered for the profound words. 'Well it's a hell of a place to lose a cow!' Stay: Bryce View Lodge (Comfortable)

10 Transfer to Capitol Reef National Park and Moab

Today we drive to Capitol Reef National Park, where we can stop and take a short hike. Capitol Reef encompasses a landscape of coloured sandstone cliffs, twisting canyons, monoliths and spires. From here we then drive to Moab, the largest town in south-eastern Utah, where the rest of the evening is free to relax and enjoy at our own pace. Time permitting we may visit Dead Horse point. Stay: Moab Rustic Inn (Comfortable)

11 Hikes in Arches National Park

Located a short distance from Moab is Arches National Park, home to the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. With over 2000 arches, giant sandstone fins, balancing rocks and towering spires, the park provides a unique setting for today's hike. We take in the Devil's Garden, a four-hour hike that takes us through a landscape littered with arches. We also enjoy a more gentle walk around The Windows Loop (approximately 1.5 hours), before returning to Moab for a free afternoon. We then head back to Arches to walk to Delicate Arch for sunset (2 hours). Probably one of the most photographed arches in the American southwest, Delicate Arch, with its backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of La Sal, provides the perfect setting for our late afternoon hike. After our walk we then head back to Moab for the evening. Stay: Moab Rustic Inn (Comfortable)

12 Drive to Mesa Verde National Park

After breakfast, and a quick visit to the News Paper Rock, we continue on to Mesa Verde National Park this morning. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde is home to some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world. After viewing the Native American exhibits at the Visitors Centre, we then take a guided tour of the site and pay a visit to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. After our visit we continue to the city of Cortez. Stay: Baymont Inn and Suites (Comfortable)

13 Travel to Monument Valley

Today we drive to the town of Page, via the Navajo Reservation, the biggest in the country, founded in 1888 to provide a protected region for the Navajo people. The Navajo Nation constitutes the largest tribe left in the United States, the last survivors of a people who were decimated by the arrival of the white man and his rapacious quest for land and gold. Monument Valley, our highlight destination today, lies within the heart of this vast tribal area and in spite of its familiarity through the exposure by Hollywood, nothing can truly prepare you for the sheer grandeur and spectacle of this incredible setting. Isolated monoliths, sandstone pinnacles and towering spires rocket skywards, as much as 1000m above the desert floor.

As the only way to experience Monument Valley's dramatic backcountry, we offer you the chance to take an optional guided jeep tour of the valley with a Navajo guide, affording a closer exploration of this compelling land before we head on to our night stop in Page. As we continue through Native lands towards Page, the warm embrace of the late afternoon colours alters the landscape's appearance as the sun dips towards the horizon. Stay: Motel 6 (Comfortable)

14 Optional visit to Antelope Canyon, drive to the Grand Canyon

This morning we have the option to visit the famous Antelope Canyon, a beautiful peach-gold coloured canyon formed by the force of flash floods coming from the plains above, or otherwise spend time at the enormous Lake Powell, with its scenic azure waters. Later on we take a short walk to Horseshoe Bend, with its lookout point over the eponymous river bend, before continuing our journey towards the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, arriving this afternoon. Once described by Theodore Roosevelt as 'the one great sight every American should see', the canyon extends some 277 miles from east to west, from the western edge of the Navajo Reservation, to the Nevada border around Lake Mead. Reaching a depth of 1600m the canyon's floor is littered with some of the oldest rocks on the planet and as we take in the views from Yavapai Point, we gaze out across a land that has taken over 2 billion years to create. Stay: Red Feather Lodge (Comfortable)

15 Walks at the Grand Canyon

Today has been left free to make the most of this natural wonder at your own pace. You may want to follow the path down from the South Rim into the canyon itself, walking down to Indian Gardens and maybe even heading out to Plateau Point for some incredible views down onto the Colorado River below. Those not wishing to undertake the walk in and out of the canyon might prefer to take a helicopter flight over the canyon, or make use of the park's shuttle service to explore something of the rim, enjoying the vast panoramas from the crest of this remarkable setting. Sunsets at the Grand Canyon present an altogether unforgettable experience, with the possibility of condors circling on the thermals above to add to the majesty of the moment. Stay: Red Feather Lodge (Comfortable)

16 Return to Las Vegas via Route 66

This morning we drive along one of the most historic highways in America, the famous Route 66. A shadow of its former self, the road is nonetheless still rich in the Americana of its glory days, when it used to be known as the 'Main Street' of America. Our drive back to Las Vegas takes us through the towns of Kingman and Seligman, home to the wonderfully eccentric 'Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-in'. On arrival in Vegas we then have a final free evening to make the most of one of America's most notorious cities. Stay: La Quinta Inn - Las Vegas (Comfortable)

17 Tour ends Las Vegas

The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Las Vegas.

There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Las Vegas at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Las Vegas International Airport (LAS), which is a 15 minute drive away.

Explore! Inclusions

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Journey Highlights
  • National Parks - Hike in Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon; explore the unique landscapes of Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Arches national parks
  • San Francisco - Explore the city highlights including the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Yosemite National Park - Fabulous scenery of the world's first protected area
  • Route 66 - Drive along one of the most historic highways in America
  • Monument Valley - Incredible landscapes and Navajo culture
  • Mesa Verde National Park - Visit the UNESCO ruins of the Anasazi
  • Las Vegas - America's surreal and extravagant playground
Trip Pace: Full On
  • Full on paced trips are for travellers who like their holidays packed with activities and experiences, moving on quickly from place to place with lots of early starts and long, busy days. Some may find them tiring, but others get a buzz from packing their precious holiday-time as chock-a - block full of new experiences as possible.
Read Trip Notes
  • Trip Notes outline what's included, visa information, important notes, how to get to your accommodation, packing checklist, optional activities, travel insurance requirements - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more. Please take time to have a read through, and contact us if you have any questions. View Trip Notes
About Explore!
About Explore!
Launching in 1981, Explore offer trips from over 130 countries - from classic small group tours. Read more
Explore Leaders
Explore Leaders
Explore's leaders are more than just your typical guide. They're your local expert are are passionate about sharing their expertise with you. Read more
Where do we Stay?
Where do we Stay?
The places Explore stay are every bit as important as the sights they visit and the things you do. Read more

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Sunday 08 Aug 2021 Tuesday 24 Aug 2021 277per person 6,643per person Not Avail
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Sunday 22 May 2022 Tuesday 07 Jun 2022 282per person 6,758per person Enquire
Sunday 07 Aug 2022 Tuesday 23 Aug 2022 282per person 6,758per person Enquire
Sunday 04 Sep 2022 Tuesday 20 Sep 2022 282per person 6,758per person Enquire
Sunday 08 Aug 2021 Tuesday 24 Aug 2021 374solo traveller 8,986solo traveller Not Avail
Sunday 05 Sep 2021 Tuesday 21 Sep 2021 374solo traveller 8,986solo traveller Enquire
Sunday 22 May 2022 Tuesday 07 Jun 2022 381solo traveller 9,149solo traveller Enquire
Sunday 07 Aug 2022 Tuesday 23 Aug 2022 381solo traveller 9,149solo traveller Enquire
Sunday 04 Sep 2022 Tuesday 20 Sep 2022 381solo traveller 9,149solo traveller Enquire
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Trip Notes
Trip prices are per person, and reflect applicable discounts. Discounts are subject to availability, exclusive to Global Journeys and may be withdrawn at any time without notice. Trip prices are correct at the time of the products going live, however are subject to confirmation at the time of booking. All trip information is correct at time of trips going live, however are subject to change by Explore. Full terms & conditions are available here.