Epic, rugged, and wild, the spirit of the West is at the heart of the American experience—and the national park is a uniquely American concept. Explore five national parks—Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon—as you traverse seven Western states, marveling at the natural and man-made marvels that abound and witnessing some of the most magnificent settings on Earth, from the rugged faces of Mount Rushmore to red desert rocks and lush green canyons.
2 nights from only $495
A treasure trove of fossil beds stretching back millions of years, the ever-changing landscape of Badlands National Park is one of nature’s most unusual vistas. With weather conditions constantly rearranging the topography, the badlands remain as mysterious as they are beautiful. Discover this fascinating region, while learning about the people who call the area home in visits to the famed Wall Drug and the Wild West town of Deadwood.View Extension Itinerary
Travel to Rapid City today, with your arrival time depending on your departure city. Transfer to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure.
After breakfast, attend an orientation briefing before setting off on a sightseeing tour of Rapid City, as you make your way to the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Now being constructed just 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the world's largest sculpture once completed. 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.
Then 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.
Enjoy an independent lunch and time to explore on your own here, and then head back into the Black Hills to spend the late afternoon at leisure. You may visit the Prairie's Edge in downtown Rapid City and admire its Native American arts and crafts.
This evening, share a Welcome Dinner at your hotel with your fellow travelers.
Travel through the South Dakota and Wyoming Black Hills today, stopping along the way for an included tour of Devil's Tower, the United States' first National Monument.
Established as a monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, 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.
Continue on to Sheridan, arriving in the late afternoon. This evening, enjoy an included dinner in a local restaurant.
Bask in the majestic scenery—ranging from high plains trails to badlands and canyons with magnificent gorges—as you travel through such romantic regions as the Bighorn Mountains and Shell Falls on your way to Cody today. Learn about local fossils, and marvel at cliffs of rock that loom 2,000 feet overhead this morning. Then stop for a moment of quiet reflection at the Little Bighorn Monument, memorializing the infamous battle between Custer's 7th Calvary and the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes.
Founded by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1896, Cody is home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West—which you'll visit upon your arrival in the early afternoon. 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 time 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.
Arrive at your hotel early this evening, and enjoy dinner on your own tonight.
Embark on your first of two included tours of Yellowstone National Park as you transfer to West Yellowstone, Montana today. Take in a few of the park's notable sights, including the Mud Volcano Area to see its impressive cluster of hot springs and mud pots, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone—a magnificent canyon carved out by the thundering falls of the great Yellowstone River. Revel in the spectacular scenery that abounds over lunch (or a picnic, if you wish) on your own in the park.
Arrive late this afternoon in West Yellowstone. This relaxed small town serves as a perfect gateway to Yellowstone National Park, and you'll have the evening to stroll the town and enjoy dinner on your own.
Spend the day in America's first national park, established to preserve its remarkable geothermal formations—there are more geysers and hot springs here than in the rest of the world combined. 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 explore the park, which remains 99% undeveloped—true wilderness.
You'll also stop at Mammoth Hot Springs, Fountain Paint Pot, and 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 receive its own moniker. Enjoy time to explore on your own here, and enjoy lunch and views of this natural wonder.
Spend your evening at leisure, with dinner on your own.
Depart for your tour of Grand Teton National Park after breakfast. The Teton Range Mountains are the youngest in the Rockies and arguably some of the most scenic—sure to offer ample awe-inspiring photographic opportunities.
Today you'll take in the scenery at such favorite spots as West Thumb, Jackson Lake, Mountainview, and Jenny Lake, and stop at Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum. Lunch is on your own during your time in the park. You'll also visit the Chapel of the Transfiguration, a small 1925 log cabin with a commanding view of the mountains—the petite interior invokes the grandeur of the landscape with a picture window behind the altar.
Continue on to Jackson Hole, arriving at your hotel early this evening. 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.
Tonight is at leisure, with dinner on your own. Your Program Director will be happy to offer restaurant suggestions.
Explore Jackson Hole at your own pace today.
One of North America's most splendid locations, the town of Jackson Hole offers eclectic shops, restaurants, and cafes, as well as more than 40 galleries and museums. Perhaps you'll visit the National Museum 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.
Depart for Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, after breakfast. Stop en route for lunch on your own, then continue on through open valleys and mountain passes on the way to Utah's state capital.
Arrive in Salt Lake City this afternoon, and set off for a walking tour of Temple Square, world headquarters of the Mormon Church. The massive temple, with its six spires, dominates the square, which also features 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. On your tour, marvel at the awesome Tabernacle, dedicated in 1893, and famous for its amazing acoustics and Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Travel to Bryce Canyon today, arriving in the early afternoon, with time to seek lunch on your own.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a collection of natural amphitheaters carved out of pink limestone and sandstone—the force of rivers, rain, frost, and erosion has sculpted myriad whimsical rock formations called hoodoos shaped in colorful spires, bridges, and arches that resemble a fairyland. Truly, it's a photographer's paradise. The national park also contains majestic ponderosa pines and deep evergreen forests, and 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 park's high elevation gives it some of the best air quality in the country.
Tonight, savor a taste of the West at Ebenezer's Barn, where you'll enjoy dinner and a cowboy show.
Spend the day exploring Zion National Park, which encompasses the crossroads of the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau, and Great Basin. See where red desert rocks mingle with crystal rivers, aspen forest, and lush green canyons at this truly unique intersection of life zones, and don't forget to keep an eye on the sky—Zion is home to golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and the rare endangered California condor.
Begin your discoveries with a short film at the Zion Visitor's Center before a panoramic tour of the park, stopping at the Court of the Patriarchs and Weeping Rock. 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. Stroll along Riverside Walk to where the canyon begins to narrow. Then enjoy lunch at Zion's lodge.
After lunch, head to the Emerald Pools, where you can set off on a short hike to the lower pools—or opt for a more adventurous route to the upper pools. Return to Bryce this evening, where you'll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
Marvel at the spectacular scenery as you travel to Arizona today—stopping en route for a photo opportunity at Red Canyon and a visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Head through the beautiful Kaibab Plateau and National Forest on your way to the North Rim, which is wilder and more pristine than the more commercialized South Rim. Arrive here for lunch in the Grand Canyon Lodge, where incredible views are showcased with its floor-to-ceiling windows.
After spending time at this most marvelous of our country's natural wonders, continue on to Page, Arizona and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. On the way, cross the Colorado River, take in panoramic views of the canyons, deserts, and spectacular cliffs that you pass in The Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the United States, and enjoy a brief stop at the Navajo Bridge.
Arrive in Page late this afternoon, with dinner on your own tonight.
Head to Lake Powell after breakfast for a boat tour of Antelope Canyon, cruising through the lovely scenery featuring dramatic rock formations soaring out of the water. 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.
Soak in the marina views over lunch at the Lake Powell Resort before returning to the hotel for an afternoon on your own. Or, join an afternoon optional tour to view Antelope Canyon from another stunning vantage point—on land, in a nimble vehicle. Ride into the canyon, where you'll set off on an easy walk to see its impressive natural sculptures of stone.
This evening, enjoy an insightful exclusive Discovery Series discussion led by a local member of the Navajo tribe over dinner at your hotel.
This morning, bid farewell to Page as you set off for Durango, Colorado. On the way, you’ll travel past the fantastical red sandstone formations and wide mesas of Monument Valley, stopping for an included lunch at scenic Goulding’s Lodge.
You’ll arrive at your hotel and enjoy a complimentary cocktail hour. Dinner tonight will be on your own; your Program Director can offer suggestions.
Explore Durango on your own today. Founded as a rail hub to service local mines and smelters, many of Duragno's original pioneer buildings are still in use, and you can visit the historic districts of Third or Main Avenue for insight into that period of American history. Durango was also the setting for the classic Western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Or you can join an optional excursion to 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, visit James Ranch, an organic family-run farm and ranch in beautiful Animas River Valley. Learn about the farm's history from one of its owners and have a chance to explore the grounds before enjoying a family-style dinner made from farm-fresh ingredients.
Enjoy a day of leisure in Durango today, or join our optional Historic Silverton Mining tour on a journey that will take you back in time. Travel to historic Silverton across the Million Dollar Highway—one of America’s most scenic stretches of road. After you arrive, enjoy a tour of Silverton’s famed Old Hundred Gold Mine.
The Old Hundred Gold Mine’s history dates back to the year 1872, when the Neigold family arrived from Germany to stake their claim, inspired by the American West’s Gold Rush. Reminders of this rich era of America’s history can still be found here, including the beautifully preserved 1904 Old Hundred Boarding House perched atop a cliff 2,000 feet above the tour site. During the tour, you’ll follow the vein of Galena Mountain and experience the underground world of gold mining. Savor an included lunch before boarding an old-fashioned steam train back to Durango via the official Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Dinner will be on your own tonight.
As you head to Albuquerque today, visit the Pueblo of Jemez for a unique opportunity to learn about the proud heritage and longstanding traditions of this tribe. One of the 19 remaining pueblos of New Mexico, Jemez is home to more than 3,400 tribal members, and during this exclusive Discovery Series visit, you'll learn about modern life here and savor some authentic native dishes for lunch.
Afterwards, enjoy a guided walk through the Pueblo of Jemez Museum, which will give you even more insight into the tradition and culture of the pueblo, including an art demonstration.
Set off on a quick vicinity walk of Albuquerque with your Program Director when you arrive this afternoon, then enjoy time to explore on your own. This evening, gather with your fellow travelers at a local restaurant for your Farewell Dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Departure times vary depending on your home city.
Or begin your post-trip to New Mexico: Albuquerque, Taos & Santa Fe.
4 nights from only $995
From the earthen villages of Native Americans to the plazas built by Spanish conquistadores, New Mexico’s dramatic history unfolds on this post-trip extension. Discover the most ancient traditions dating back millennia with a visit to a pueblo and the Indian Cultural Center. And compare the personalities of three modern cities: the laid-back pace of Taos ... the Spanish pueblo flavor of Sante Fe ... and the bustle of booming Albuquerque. With plunging gorges and red stone mesas as your backdrop, you’ll be swept away by the dramatic beauty of the rugged Southwest.View Extension Itinerary