Welcome to Chicago, aka ‘The Windy City’, aka ‘Chi-Town’. It’s laidback, lakeside and has a famously friendly local vibe. You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until your welcome meeting at 6pm. Please ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details, food kitty and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. As there's no time spent in Chicago on this trip, we recommend you arrive a few days earlier to see the sights.
This is one of the country’s most walkable cities, and days can be spent wandering the lakefront paths, checking out the soaring buildings, dropping into the top-notch museums, or cruising down the river. In the evening after the welcome meeting, maybe head out with the group for a slice of the city's legendary deep-dish pizza and some blues music.
Leave the state of Illinois and head east into Michigan and Detroit (approximately 4.5 hours). The city is gritty and urban, but it also has an undeniable energy that its recent bankruptcy hasn't been able to dim. More recently, Detroit has been reinvented with young artists and entrepreneurs moving in, as well as the opening of quirky bars, urban farms, and street art installations like the Heidelberg Project. You could also pay a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a look at one of America's most significant art collections. Alternatively, head to the Motown Museum and Ford Museum for an insight into two of the city's famous exports. The balmy evenings in the city are also perfect for strolling riverside paths and sitting on brew pub decks.
Skirt the edge of Lake Erie and cross the Midwest into Ohio, with Sandusky as your destination (approximately two hours). Make your way to Cedar Point Amusement Park, the so-called ‘Roller Coaster Capital of the World’. Cedar Point also features the Millennium Force, which has been voted the greatest roller coaster in the world, making it the place to be if you love an adrenaline hit. If the thrill of the ride gets too much for you, head to the nearby beach and simply stretch out on the sandy shoreline. In the late afternoon, set up camp near Lake Erie and wander down to the lakeshore for a memorable sunset.
Visit one of the country's greatest natural attractions – Niagara Falls. Follow the edge of Lake Erie all the way up to this famous sight, which sits sandwiched between the borders of the United States and Canada (approximately 4.5 hours). There are numerous viewpoints from which you can appreciate the power of this amazing set of falls, but there's no better way than to approach them from the water. Don a blue poncho and experience the full force of the falls with an optional Maid of the Mist cruise. A word of warning though, prepare to get a little wet. For the ultimate show, head to the falls at night and see them lit up in all of their glory.
Cross into upstate New York and drive to the town of Seneca Falls on the Finger Lakes (approximately three hours). This area is named for its 11 finger-like lakes that stretch north to south between Lake Ontario and the state boarder. As New York’s largest wine producing region, the Finger Lakes region has over 100 wineries to discover (just don’t try and visit them all today!) Perhaps indulge in a wine tasting session or head out on a hike to a nearby waterfall. Taughannock Falls State Park is home to a 215-foot waterfall, 33 feet higher than Niagara Falls itself! The park's walks are dotted with little waterfalls along the way and the surroundings are just beautiful. Set up camp for the night in the state park.
Leave the natural setting of the Finger Lakes and head to the urban jungle of New York. This journey usually takes around five hours, but as the traffic can be really busy, please be prepared for delays. While in New York, we actually stay across the Hudson River in Newark, New Jersey. It is a short subway ride over to Manhattan for your evenings and free day, and your leader will assist you with directions for getting around.
New York (Newark)
This is a free day in New York. Take the subway over to Manhattan and spend the day exploring this bustling metropolis. Perhaps check out the view from the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, take a stroll around Central Park, or be moved by the World Trade Center museum and memorial. Tonight, why not see what's playing on Broadway or head to one of East Village's craft cocktail bars?
Today, drive south towards the nation's capital of Washington DC, stopping at Philadelphia on the way for a quick look at some of the highlights of the Old City, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the 'Rocky' steps. After touring around Philly, continue onto DC. The total driving time from New York to Washington DC will take about seven hours.
Today is a free to explore Washington DC, with the city being easily discovered on foot. To see as much as you can today, it may be an idea to get a map and make a plan. Choose from any of DC’s almost 100 world-class museums – the National Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Newseum are just a few. There are also many other small fascinating museums hidden around the city. The city is overflowing with iconic monuments and buildings, so don’t miss the White House, Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, MLK Monument, FDR and Jefferson Memorials. You’ll most likely do a lot of walking today, so maybe reward yourself with a relaxing evening.
Journey into the breathtaking scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains (500 km). Shenandoah National Park is one of the highest and most scenic portions of the Appalachian Mountains. Taking the Skyline Drive along the crest of the mountains, travel through deep woods and past spectacular vistas. Stop to stretch your legs under the impressive oak trees and admire the gorgeous views. Later in the afternoon, drive to your campsite for the night. Total driving today will take around eight hours including stops.
Drive for around six hours further south today to Nashville, Tennessee. Once settled into the campground perhaps visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, which contains the golden Cadillac that once belonged to Elvis. Another point of interest is Music Row, where more than 50 recording studios and approximately 200 music publishing houses are located. The Wildhorse Saloon is a great spot in the evening to experience authentic southern food and live music.
Head west this morning to Memphis, which should take around four hours. Just out of the city you can visit Graceland, Elvis Presley's former home and the site of his tomb. Here you can see the famous jungle room, as well as his cars, private planes and much more. In the evening, consider heading down to check out Beale Street's traditional blues clubs, made famous by legends such as W.C Handy, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. For those with an interest in history, there's the National Civil Rights Museum (at the former Lorraine Motel) where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
If you have time, a must-see in Memphis is Sun Studio - the 'Birthplace of Rock'. It boasts the first recordings of legendary performers like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Today make the long drive across the state of Mississippi to New Orleans (the 'Big Easy'), which usually takes around eight hours. After checking in to your hotel in the French Quarter, use your free time getting to know the ‘Big Easy’. An eclectic mix of European, Creole and Cajun culture manifests in the city's architecture, cuisine and music scene. Possibly take a walk down rowdy Bourbon Street or through the former plantation area of the Garden District. Perhaps join the rest of the group tonight for a typical Cajun-style dinner and toast to your adventure.
Today is free to fit in as much of New Orleans as you can. Founded by French traders in 1718, there are many layers of history in this city and its many attractions combine to make it one of the most visited cities in the USA – a trend that was only momentarily halted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tour the Honey Island Swamp (watch out for ‘gators), cruise the Mississippi on a riverboat or visit the fascinating little Voodoo Museum. In the evening, perhaps check out a jazz show and dance the night away in the bars along Frenchman Street.
It's quite a journey from Louisiana and into Texas (nearly 700 kilometres). You'll be on the road for around nine hours today, so sit back and enjoy the ride. There may be the chance to stop for a swamp tour along the way, and you'll get other chances to stop and stretch your legs as well.
Join the truckers along Highway 10 to San Antonio. Mexican-influenced San Antonio is the home of the Alamo, an original reconstructed Spanish-Mexican fort from the 18th century. On arrival, you can stroll along the famous River Walk or walk in the footsteps of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo. Total driving time today is around three to four hours.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
After traversing the state of Texas, enter the deserts of New Mexico on the way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. One of the largest caverns in the world, Carlsbad Cavern is still only partially explored. Hike deep into the 'Big Room' and beyond. In the evening, witness the overwhelming sight of a bat flight - thousands of bats swarming out of the caverns. As the bats migrate south in October for the winter, this is a seasonal sight and is best viewed in July and August. Total driving today is about nine hours.
Continue the journey north to Santa Fe today. The total drive should take around five hours. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US. You might like to check out the pueblo architecture surrounding the town plaza or see the San Miguel Mission, the USA's oldest church. If you're an art buff, then a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is a must.
Mesa Verde National Park
Continue on to Mesa Verde National Park, home to the largest and best-preserved cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians. The park protects over 4,000 known archaeological sites. Explore a cliff dwelling on a short walk, or (for a small fee) join a ranger-led walk to the harder-to-access sites. Total driving time today is approximately five hours.
After a drive through fascinating desert regions, reach Monument Valley. Monument Valley is so-named after the giant sandstone formations scattered across the desert. The backdrop for countless westerns, the valley is part of the biggest Indian reservation in the US and is home to more than 200,000 Navajo Indians. Perhaps see the sights from the back of a jeep with a Navajo guide. Visit areas only open to the Navajo, see traditional Navajo homes, hike up sand dunes and gaze at spectacular rock formations. Total driving time today is around three-and-a-half hours.
Today drive from Monument Valley to the Grand Canyon, stopping at a Native American trading post along the way. The total drive will take around four hours. Words don't do justice to the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. This stunning gorge is 1.5 kilometres deep, formed by over six million years of erosion from the Colorado River. You'll spend two nights here, in order to allow a full day of exploration tomorrow.
Today is a free day to explore the Grand Canyon. Stroll along the meandering South Rim Trail or hike your way along the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you might even opt for a scenic helicopter flight over the area (at your own expense). In the early evening, relax at the canyon's edge and enjoy a spectacular sunset.
Head out of the Grand Canyon and cross the western deserts of Arizona to Las Vegas. Along the way, you'll drive along a section of the famous Route 66, stopping in at the nostalgic township of Seligman. The total drive will take around five hours. Las Vegas may be the gambling capital of the world, but there's plenty to do if gambling isn't your thing. Hit the shops, feel your stomach drop on a rooftop roller coaster or simply stroll along the Strip, soaking up the glitz and gaudiness. In the evening, perhaps feast on an 'all you can eat' buffet, check out one of the many shows on offer or party the night away in a Vegas nightclub.
You'll have another day to further enjoy the delights of Las Vegas. Use the opportunity to find a swimming pool to relax by, have a crack at black jack, check out a show or just soak up the craziness that is Vegas. You may also choose to go on an optional adventure on the infamous Las Vegas Roller Coaster.
Today is a long day of driving (approximately six hours). You'll cover more than 550 kilometres through Death Valley and across the Eastern Sierra. Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet, with temperatures rising to 56°C in the summer. The park features huge sand dunes, sculpted rocks, isolated valleys and volcanic craters. The canyon and mountain walls change colour with the changing light. Elevations fluctuate from 85 metres below sea level near Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the United States) to 3,756 metres at Telescope Peak. Stop at the visitor centre and, if it's not too hot, take a walk on the stunning salt flats.
Yosemite National Park
Driving west, travel through the Tioga Pass (snow levels permitting) into the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Your destination is Yosemite National Park. One of the most famous parks in the USA, Yosemite's colossal granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls and redwood forests attract visitors from all over the world. You'll spend two nights in the park in order to have a full day of exploration tomorrow. The total driving time today is approximately five hours, or longer if the Tioga Pass is closed.
Yosemite National Park
Today is a free day to get out and discover the park. There are plenty of hikes available, each varying in steepness and difficulty. Hike under the cooling breezes of Nevada Falls (4-5 hours) or to the serene Mirror Lake (45 minutes). Keep an eye out for squirrels and perhaps even a bear along the way. You might prefer to hire a bike and explore Yosemite Valley. Visit the park's museum, photo gallery, shops and restaurants along the way. In the heat of summer, a relaxing float down the Merced River followed by a few drinks at the park's cafe is just the trick.
Leave Yosemite behind today and drive west for about four hours to San Francisco. The 'City by the Bay' has a beautiful setting and a vibrant, multicultural heart. You might like to check out the vintage stores along funky Haight Street, catch the tram down to the waterfront or take a cruise on the bay to see the impressive Golden Gate Bridge.
The trip finishes on arrival into San Francisco and no accommodation is provided tonight. The arrival time depends on each group, but if you decide to fly out on this day, please don't book a flight before 9pm. This will give you enough time to catch a shuttle from the hotel to the airport and be there two hours before departure. If you are staying in town for the evening, perhaps head out for some dumplings in Chinatown or pasta in North Beach. If you do wish to spend extra time in San Francisco we'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).