During this national park tour, you'll discover the spirit of the West—epic, wild, and rugged, which is at the heart of the American experience. And the national park is a uniquely American concept—begun with Yellowstone, the model for the protection of our national heritage. Discover five national parks—Yellowstone, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Grand Teton, the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park—as you traverse six Western states. Explore the natural and man-made marvels of the American West, from the rugged faces on Mount Rushmore to red desert rocks and lush green canyons. Join us on this National Parks tour and witness some of the most magnificent, majestic settings on Earth—and enjoy the exceptional value Grand Circle offers.
Your arrival time in Rapid City will depend on your departure city. When you arrive, you can settle into your hotel and spend the rest of the day at your leisure. Or begin your stay earlier with our optional pre-trip extension in the Dakota Badlands.
This morning, enjoy breakfast at your hotel, followed by an orientation briefing about your tour. After breakfast, visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, the world's largest sculpture, now being constructed just 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore. Begun in 1948 by noted sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski at the request of Native Americans, the Memorial includes the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Cultural Center, the sculptor's studio, and a 40,000-square-foot Orientation Center. The dramatic sculpture of the legendary chief astride his horse fulfills the wish of Lakota Chief Standing Bear spoken at the dedication of the statue in 1948: "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too." Here, you'll have an opportunity to marvel at the massive statue, and also visit the studio where Ziolkowski worked without pay until his death in 1982.
Following lunch on your own at the Crazy Horse Memorial, you'll continue on to Mount Rushmore. Certainly you've seen photographs and films (remember Hitchcock's North by Northwest?) of this famous monument—with the heads of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt—sculpted out of the solid granite mountain face to commemorate 150 years of American history. But nothing can compare with viewing it firsthand.
Then, head back into the Black Hills. You'll spend the late afternoon at leisure in downtown Rapid City. You may visit the Prairie's Edge and admire its Native American arts and crafts.
This evening, share a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers at your hotel.
After breakfast, you'll depart Rapid City and travel through the South Dakota and Wyoming Black Hills.
Continue on to an included tour at Devil’s Tower. Established in 1906, this is our nation’s first National Monument. The tower stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River—an almost vertical natural monolith; it’s the remnant of an ancient volcano. Known by some northern plains tribes as Mato Tipi (Bear’s Lodge), it is still a sacred site of worship for many Native Americans. You’ll recognize the massive rock as the landing site of the alien spacecraft in the popular film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From there, continue to Sheridan, where dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, you travel to Cody. Along the way, majestic scenery—ranging from high plains trails to badlands and canyons with magnificent gorges—greets you.
Cody was founded by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1896, and is home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Widely regarded as one of America's finest Western museums, the center advances knowledge about the American West through acquiring, exhibiting, and interpreting collections of artifacts and preserving their physical and contextual integrity. It features five internationally acclaimed museums under one roof—the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Museum of Natural History. Your visit here is an excellent opportunity to acclimate yourself to the history and culture of the lands you'll be visiting over the next few days.
Dinner is included tonight, and the rest of your evening is at leisure.
Today after breakfast, depart Cody for a scenic drive to West Yellowstone, Montana. This relaxed small town serves as a perfect gateway to Yellowstone National Park. During this all-day transfer, you’ll stop en route at Mammoth Hot Springs to enjoy a picnic lunch on your own.
Early this evening, stroll the town of West Yellowstone and enjoy dinner on your own in a local restaurant
Spend the day in the first of America’s national parks, set aside originally to preserve its remarkable geothermal formations—there are more geysers and hot springs here than in the rest of the world combined. The thundering falls of the great Yellowstone River have carved out a magnificent canyon.
Take in the natural phenomena of shooting geysers, and keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep, elk, coyote, grizzly, black bear, and other wildlife, as you spend your day in this park that remains 99% undeveloped—a true wilderness. You also stop at Firehole Falls, Midway Geyser Basin, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. You'll also visit Old Faithful, the famed geyser that has been spouting an average of once every hour for 100 years. During the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870, this famous geyser was officially given its name—the first in the park to don its own name. You'll rest here with time to explore on your own, and to enjoy lunch and views of this natural wonder.
Spend your evening relaxing at your hotel. Dinner is on your own.
This morning, depart for your tour of Grand Teton National Park. Lunch is on your own before you begin your exploration of the park.
Long before the pioneers came west, the rock formations of the Grand Tetons presided over a traditional summer home for the Native Americans. When the early “mountain men” ventured out this way, the area became a destination for hunters and fur-trappers. The first permanent settlers arrived in 1881, establishing Jackson Hole as a cattle-ranching center.
The skiing industry took off here in the 1930s and Jackson Hole remains a winter sports mecca to this day. In the summer, this year-round resort offers hiking, river rafting, camping, and other outdoor activities. After touring the Tetons, you’ll have a chance to walk about the Jackson Town Square.
Tonight is at leisure and dinner is on your own. Your Program Director can offer restaurant suggestions.
Explore Jackson Hole at your own pace today. One of the world’s most splendid locations, the town of Jackson in Jackson Hole offers eclectic shops, restaurants, and cafes, as well as more than 40 galleries and museums.
Perhaps you'll visit the National Musueum of Wildlife Art, with a permanent collection featuring paintings and sculptures by more than 100 artists, ranging from early American tribes through modern-day artists.
After breakfast, begin your transfer from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. En route, you'll stop for lunch on your own. Then, you’ll continue on through open valleys and mountain passes on your way to Utah’s state capital.
This afternoon, arrive in Salt Lake City and embark on a walking tour of Temple Square. Temple Square contains a monument to Brigham Young and the “Three Witnesses Monument,” honoring the three men who testified that an angel showed them the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. You’ll marvel at the awesome Tabernacle, dedicated in 1893, and famous for its amazing acoustics and Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The massive Temple with its six spires dominates the square.
Tonight, enjoy an included dinner at a local restaurant.
You'll depart Salt Lake City this morning. Enjoy lunch on your own during a stop en route to the park. Bryce Canyon National Park is a collection of natural amphitheaters carved out of pink limestone and sandstone. Here, the force of rivers, rain, frost, and erosion has sculpted a myriad of whimsical rock formations called hoodoos. They are shaped in colorful spires, bridges, and arches that resemble a fairyland. Truly, it’s a photographer’s paradise.
The Park itself contains majestic ponderosa pines and deep evergreen forests. It is named for a Mormon farmer, Ebenezer Bryce, who was one of the first settlers in the area. You will find it a spectacular place, and the high elevation of the Park gives it some of the best air quality in the country.
Tonight, you'll join your group for an included dinner at Ebenezer’s Barn, along with a cowboy show.
After breakfast, depart for Zion National Park. This park encompasses the crossroads of the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau, and Great Basin. You'll see where red desert rocks mingle with crystal rivers, aspen forest, and lush green canyons at this truly unique intersection of life zones. You'll want to pay close attention not just to the landscape, but also the sky—Zion is home to golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and the rare endangered California condor.
Natural hanging gardens and scenic views of Zion’s most prominent mountain, the Great White Throne, line the path to Weeping Rock, where water seeps down from the cliff and forms a veil of "tears" spanning the rock alcove. Weeping Rock is the most popular of Zion's 14 trails, but the park is a destination for adventure seekers who come to rock-climb and hike The Narrows, an intense river trail that zigzags through glistening canyon walls.
You'll dine with your group back at the hotel in the evening.
Get ready for a spectacular ride along the Kaibab Plateau and National Forest to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Less commercialized than the South Rim, the North Rim is wilder and more pristine.
Upon arrival, you'll sit down to an included lunch in the Grand Canyon Lodge dining room—where incredible views from its floor-to-ceiling windows are always on the menu.
After lunch, you’ll explore the North Rim. After spending time at this most marvelous of our country’s natural wonders, ride to Page, Arizona and the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, crossing the Colorado River en route. The canyons, deserts, and spectacular cliffs that you pass on the huge Navajo Reservation are sure to be another highlight of your trip.
This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.
This morning, travel to Lake Powell for an Antelope Canyon boat cruise. Formed in 1963 with the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell is 187 miles long, with almost 100 major side canyons, and a shoreline of more than 1,900 miles. Your boat cruise takes you through lovely scenery featuring dramatic rock formations soaring out of the water.
You will have time for lunch at the Lake Powell Resort and a walk around the area. Then enjoy time to relax at the hotel.
Or, view Antelope Canyon from another stunning vantage point—on land, in a nimble yet safe and comfortable vehicle. Ride to the canyon, where you will enjoy an easy walk through the canyon to see its awesome, natural sculptures of stone.
This evening, enjoy an included dinner and insightful exclusive Discovery Series discussion led by a local expert on the region's Navajo culture.
Please note: The Antelope Slot Canyon Experience optional tour is not available on Sundays.
After breakfast, you’ll venture deep into Navajo country to the grandeur of Monument Valley. This rugged terrain may remind you of classic Western films. John Ford first used Monument Valley in his 1938 film Stagecoach starring John Wayne, and it appeared in several of his subsequent films. The stunning weathered sandstone buttes and windswept towers co-starred with “the Duke” again in Ford’s 1956 film, The Searchers. Experiencing it firsthand will give you a humbling picture of how vast and timeless this beautiful area is.
After an included lunch in Monument Valley, travel on to Durango, Colorado.
Tonight, you can ask your Program Director for restaurant suggestions in town.
Today, you’re free to do as you please. Durango was founded as a rail hub to service local mines and smelters. Many of the original pioneer buildings are still in use, and today you might visit the historic districts of Third or Main Avenue for insight into that period of American history. Durango was featured in the classic Western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Or, join an optional excursion to explore the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, the first archaeological park established in our National Parks System and designated a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978. Mesa Verde, Spanish for “Green Table,” offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and experience a unique cultural landscape through the best-preserved archaeological site in the United States. More than 1,000 years ago, these cliffs were occupied by a group of people who built complex stone villages sheltered in recesses and alcoves high along the sheer cliff walls. The area remained occupied for about 700 years. Native tribes have long known of this site—as many as 24 Native American tribes can trace their ancestry to the cliff-dwellers—but the area was brought to worldwide attention when Europeans first beheld them in the 1800s.
This evening, enjoy a trip to James Ranch, an organic family-run farm and ranch in beautiful Animas River Valley. One of the owners will teach about the farm's history, and you will have the chance to explore the grounds before enjoying a family-style dinner made with ingredients from the farm.
Today, you travel through some of Colorado’s untouched terrain aboard the coal-fired Narrow-Gauge Railroad, which connects the two Victorian towns of Durango and Silverton. Rolling on the rails through 45 miles of beautiful landscape in turn-of-the-century passenger cars, you’ll get a real feel for travel as it was in the 19th century. Arrive in Silverton late morning.
Continue your journey to Grand Junction after an included lunch in Silverton.
Enjoy a dinner on your own tonight.
After breakfast, depart on your northward journey to the Denver metropolitan area, traveling through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery of the Rockies. Stop in the international resort town of Vail for lunch on your own, and arrive at your hotel in the afternoon.
This evening, revisit the highlights of your trip over a Farewell Dinner with your fellow travelers.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home.