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We believe that time spent in a car on a road trip is a means to an end. What you really should be doing, is getting out there and experiencing the landscape and breathing in the fresh air. Most National Parks have a road infrastructure that means that you can drive to the view points and tick them off, without getting a sense of the place. So we say, ditch the car and go exploring. Where you rest your weary head at the end of the day is just as important, so we have paired each of our favourite adventures with some of our favourite places to stay, where you can sit back and relax together after a fun-filled day out. The options are endless, but here are some of our favourites:
One of the best ways to experience the mountains has to be riding single track. The Sierra Nevada mountains at Lake Tahoe are one of the best places to do this, with awesome views, exhilarating downhills and tracks for all levels of availability. You can choose to ride from ½ day to a full on 3 day tour. If you are travelling with a non-rider, then there is plenty for them to do in the area, from stand up paddle boarding to relaxing on the beach, or a beginners trip can be arranged. In the evening, we suggest you stay at the independent Basecamp Hotel, a hub for adventure travellers, where you can sit in the roof top hot tub and rest your tired limbs whilst watching the stars coming out, or sit in the cosy communal lounge and share tales of your day with like-minded travellers.
Nothing quits beats the thrill of rafting down a river swimming and playing one minute and then, with a quickening heart, approaching some mighty rapids and riding them, paddling as if your life depended on it. The best rafting that we have done is in Utah, based from the independent town of Moab. You can choose between anything from a 1 day rafting trip to 5 days on the river, camping on the sandy banks each night. With the multi-day trip, you get further away from other people and also have a chance to do some walking and nothing quite beats sitting by the river, toasting marshmallows on a campfire, watching the stars coming out overhead. After roughing it on the river, we suggest a splurge by spending a couple of nights at the exclusive Sorrel River Ranch. Here, you can visit the spa, releax around the pool, or watch the river running past you from the comfort of your swing bench. If some members of your party don’t fancy the rafting, this makes a perfect base for them while you hit the water.
Utah is famous for its slot canyons, formed by powerful flash flooding and stretching for miles. The only way to experience them is to rappel, squeeze and shuffle through. Because of the ever-changing weather and desolation of the desert, we recommend you only explore the canyons with a guide. Exploring these deep red rocks is not for the faint hearted, however, there are exhilarating 50 foot plus rappels and tight spaces to squeeze through. You are rewarded at the end of the day, however, with a huge sense of achievement and the pleasure of spending a day without seeing any other humans. Escalante, where there are some excellent examples of slot canyons, is a small town with not much in the way of inspiring accommodation options. After a day canyoning, we strongly advise that you stay at the nearby Boulder Mountain Lodge to be rewarded with lovely views, a welcoming hot tub and delicious steak. If some members of your party don’t fancy a day out in the canyons, there is plenty to keep them occupied at the lodge.
The Ansel Adams wilderness area in the Sierra Nevada adjacent to Yosemite National Park has some of the most out-standing views in the USA and the best part is that you are sharing them with no one. If you like the idea of going off the grid and enjoy hiking and camping, then we recommend spending 4 days walking, wild swimming and breathing in the fresh mountain air. You can keep the price down and carry your own gear, or you can have it transported by mules. Hiking up to the remote mountain lakes, you will be roughing it, camping with no facilities, no bathrooms in sight. After a few days out on the wilds, we recommend you spoil yourself with some creature comforts, staying in a boutique hotel with all of the bells and whistles which you can use as a base for visiting the more popular of Yosemite’s attractions, or you can simply lie back and relax around the pool.
Vast Pacific rollers, sun-kissed sandy beaches and the Beach Boys, nothing speaks surfing more than California. You don’t need to be a professional to have a go; it’s just you and the waves. The best way to approach surfing is time; one day doesn’t cut it, especially if you’re a beginner. You need a good teacher, good equipment and lots of patience. For newbies, nothing beats the feeling of managing to stand up for the first time, whilst experienced surfers will just love the chance to be in surfing’s spiritual home. It is an exhausting sport, however, so you will need somewhere comfortable to rest afterwards. If you are travelling with a non-surfer, then we suggest the Dream Inn at Santa Cruz. While you are out surfing, your other half can watch from the balcony, or catch some rays and relax at the hotel swimming pool which over-looks the beach.
Travelling together as a family can be an immensely bonding experience, full of quality time and a chance to reconnect as a unit. Where you sleep at night and relax after a day out exploring can have a major impact on the enjoyment of your holiday. The majority of hotel accommodation in the USA is in large hotels, which tick all of the boxes for facilities, but can leave you feeling less than inspired about sleeping arrangements - you either all have to cram in one room together sharing beds, or you have to split across rooms. We have chosen our five favourite hotels that offer something a little different for families; giving everyone a little more space to spread out and giving parents some privacy.
Located on the banks of the Colorado River, this lodge has some fantastic 2 bedroom cabins with river frontage. The cabin accommodation is self contained, there are two bedrooms a kitchen / lounge area with sofa bed and then also a private outside deck which gives adults somewhere nice to sit and relax once the children are in bed. The property also has a pool and tennis court and there are horses on site, so riders can head off and explore for a few hours.
Las Vegas doesn't stand out as a family friendly destination, but this non-gaming hotel makes a fantastic base for families visiting the city. This is an all suite hotel, meaning that every room has a kitchenette, large bathroom, bedroom and lounge area with a sofa bed. Families can spread out here and parents can have their own room. There is a good sized pool on the property, which is surrounded with sun loungers, so parents can lie back and sun bathe while the children swim.
We love the family suites at the Beach Street Inn. Located in the heart of Santa Cruz just across the road from the beach, this is not the most expensive option in town, but it is a friendly motel with beach chic decor. The family suites have one or two bedrooms with a large kitchen / lounge with two sofa beds, so there is ample room for families to spread out. Outside the room, there is a verandah with seating area, so there is somewhere for parents to sit outside while the children are in bed. The beaches in the town are ideal for beginner surfers / body boarders and you can rent gear on the beach.
This is a high end option, for families wanting more of a resort style stay. Located in the north of Lake Tahoe in the Squaw Valley which was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, the resort has mountain views and is the perfect base for mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, or simply just relaxing. Family suites in the hotel offer a bedroom for parents and then a kitchen / lounge area with sofa bed. The resort has four hot tubs (which are especially magnificent under the stars at night) and three swimming pools, one of which has a water slide, which will keep children entertained for hours. Some of our guests have enjoyed a lovely stay here with one parent heading off to go mountain biking whilst the rest of the family relaxes around the pool.
It is unlikely that anyone visiting Los Angeles with their family is going to avoid a visit to the theme parks. There are Disney resort hotels, but we love the Hyatt Grand in Anaheim, 10 minutes down the road from Disneyland. The family suites are not only exceptionally good value, but they are cleverly designed with a family friendly lay out. Children sleep at one end of the room in bunk beds and then there is room divider giving parents that extra space and privacy for the evenings. The hotel has two pools, a basket ball court and giant board games outside. This is a very family friendly hotel, so you can lie back on the sun lounger not worrying if your child is splashing around too much in the water.
I woke in the early hours, accustomed now to the baboons, the new acoustic was more impressive and significantly closer to home. The distinctive laugh of the hyena shot through the night and it was very close. Thankful for the thin canvas walls, I slowly drifted off back to sleep glad I had taken it easy on the beer at sunset and I wouldn’t need to brave a visit to the loo.
I’ve always been attracted to wild spaces and heading out on foot into the bush has been high on my bucket list for some time. I like luxury as much as the next person, but more than luxury, I crave wild places. On a safari, in a way, the wilderness and lack of other tourists is the one true luxury above all others. To walk the land, camp in wild places and share the bush only with the wildlife is a visceral experience, completely without pretension, that puts you at the very heart of the experience, rather than merely an observer.
A walking safari requires patience, but when you do finally spot wildlife, it is infinitely more rewarding than on a game drive. In a honeypot such as Ngorongoro Crater or the Masai Mara, your driver need only lend his ear to his 2 way radio, and he’ll whizz you to the latest big cat sighting, jostling you for position with the other drivers beckoned by the call of the radio. Here things happen much slower, but when they do, wow. You’ll cautiously track, carefully staying downwind, analysing spoor – and then finally, peaceful watchful observation, just you and your vastly experienced Samburu guide whispering in your ear, no one else around for miles. You are very much in their environment and the wildlife are very much in yours.
Before we go too Ray Mears, I need to admit that this is an undertaking not without its comforts. Mattresses, bucket showers, superb bush meals in artfully chosen lookout spots, cold beer sundowners and even private toilet tents are the order of the day. This isn’t exactly camping light, but still, this is as close as you need or probably want to get. With 8 year old in tow we weren’t keen on mega miles and the route was in keeping with that. 4-5 hours gentle walking through the bush, stopping frequently to inspect spore and pull out the binoculars to identify mostly fairly skittish wildlife. We were experts by the end of the 4 days, and could easily identify zebra poo from giraffe poo, hell we would even pick out a Grevy’s zebras’ footprint from your more common Plains zebra. Camels are on hand for the children to ride should they tire and they don’t half provide a good vantage point high up there. The 8 year old though was keen to prove her mettle and make it all the way on foot.
After breakfast we’d set out through the bush, taking time to detour whenever we saw anything of interest. We saw giraffe and zebra, a tortoise crossed our path, but for the most part the wildlife is very shy of humans on foot. We followed the tracks of hyena which had passed through only moments before and eventually we saw them dart off through the bushes. We stumbled upon wild hunting dog – a real treat in this part of Kenya, the adults were out hunting, leaving behind the young with a ‘babysitter’ who understandably was very wary of our presence, we swiftly backed away so as not to disturb. Finally we passed downwind of a small herd of elephant, being careful to stay well clear.
After the walk we passed a slow relaxing afternoon at our next camp, before heading out for a sundowner. They say the beer tastes better the better the view and the harder to reach, and I’d find it hard to disagree with them.
We partner with Karisia Walking Safaris, who operate on the Laikipia Plateau in Northern Kenya. Run by experienced explorers Kerry & James, this is the ultimate safari adventure, with exceptionally experienced walking guides. Treks are tailored, with easier or more challenging routes depending on whether it is an adult or family group. Karisia’s Samburu guides are exceptional, some of the best we have experienced in Kenya. An advantage of walking safaris over game drives is in the quality of the guides. To confidently take guests out into the bush with all the dangers that represents, you need a guide who has not only studied the wildlife, but who knows how to read the bush.
Tourdust Recommends: Combine with some pool time and a game drive at El Karama. If budget allows, combine with the Mara and Coast (Kenya or Zanzibar)
Need to know: Walking safaris operate year round, although expect there to be some rain during the long rains in April / May and short rains in November.
For Families: Families in particular are well looked after. Kerry & Glen the owners live themselves under canvas out in the bush with their own children and tweak the walking safaris to suit families. Having the camels to ride is a major advantage for children who don’t always have the same enthusiasm for covering miles underfoot and the guides are well used to dealing with children. For a family of four the rate works out roughly equivalent to that at a good mid-range safari camp and is surprisingly affordable (as far as safaris go). This is arguably the ultimate family adventure, guaranteeing bragging rights for your kids, an experience that will undoubtedly have all members of the families away from their devices. Because the experience is so tailored and always private there are few restrictions on ages. The minimum age for children is 4 years old, but this is something we would usually recommend for families with slightly children older than 7 and is ideal for families with teenagers.
Safety: Karissia don’t operate in an area heaving with predators, so walking here is much safer than in a densely populated wildlife area such as the Masai Mara. You are in the hands of exceptionally experienced guides.
With vast horizons, quiet roads which stretch on forever and a plethora of National Parks and Monuments, the USA is a road tripper's dream. The Western states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada & California have more than their fair share of the iconic drives stakes. Here are some of the routes which absolutely must not be missed on a USA road trip.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful drives of all time, this road snakes away from Bryce Canyon up through mountains to Capitol Reef National Park. Covering a distance of 124 miles, the road takes you through forests, vast canyons and barren desert land, through an environment that was once inhabited by dinosaurs. The 360 degree views give you a sense of the real scale of the country and fills you with enormous respect for the pioneers who first settled there. Once you reach Capitol Reef National Park, there is some fantastic hiking as well as some excellent examples of Native American petrolglyphs (cave paintings.) This route features in our Best of the South West Road Trip.
Surely one of the most iconic drives out there, the Pacific Coast Highway runs for almost the entire length of California. However, the section between San Francisco and Los Angeles, passing through Big Sur, is probably the most famous. The two Californian cities are highlights in their own rights, but it is the wind swept beaches, sheer cliffs, giant surf and marine life which attracts tourists in their droves each year. This route features in our Pacific Coast Highway & Highlights of California Road Trips.
This beautiful section of Yosemite is only accessible during the summer months - it is closed during the winter due to the snow. This, as well as the fact that the majority of visiotrs concentrate their efforts on the valley area, mean that the number of cars on the road is relatively low even in the summer. Reaching up to an elevation of over 3,000m, the views from the road are absolutely stunning. The road passes the lush Tuolumne Meadows and then rewards visitors with outstanding views of the Half Dome. There are several lakes along the way where you can go wild swimming. Once you have left the park, there is a steep descent down to Mono Lake. The Tioga Pass features in the Highlights of California and the Las Vegas & California Road Trips.
One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon it quite rightly up there on most people's bucket list. Most people enter from the South entrance, but the East entrance is best if you're approaching from Monument Valley and offers a stunning drive. The distance itself is not that great, but there are so many viewpoints, each offering a slightly different angle of the Grand Canyon, so you could quite easily spend all day on the road. The Desert View Drive features in the Best of the South West Road Trip.
You might think we're mad including a city drive amongst the National Parks & scenic byways, but driving down the Las Vegas strip ticks all of the iconic drive boxes, especially if you do it at night. The scenery is a complete assalut on the senses, with bright pink flamingoes, pirate ships, the Eiffel Tower and Camelot castle just some of the sights that you will see. Very few people choose to walk in Las Vegas, so get in the car, turn the air con up and enjoy the show! The Strip features in the Best of the South West and Las Vegas & California Road Trips.
You can't have an article about iconic road trips without mentioning Route 66, the Daddy of all road trips. The total route in ite entirerty stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica and whilst some people like to travel the full route, going through 8 states, other people like to sample a strecth of it. The section from Flagstaff through to Seligman in Arizona passes through desert and it is possible to visit ghost towns along the way, abandoned in the last century. Route 66 features in the Best of the South West Road Trip.
We have developed our USA collection to get the optimum balance between independent and guided activities. There are some places where you don’t need a guide and you will have more fun exploring independently. However, there are also activities and places where having a guide will deeply enhance your experience. We strike a careful balance between these two and, having tried and tested the trips ourselves, believe we have developed itineraries that are unique and exciting.
In a nutshell: Handpicked activities and accommodation and a balance of independent vs guided
You can get direct flights from the UK to the USA. Some of the most competitive fares are from London to Las Vegas, but you can also fly to Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles direct. Flight times are approximately 10 ½ hours. For this reason, coupled with the time difference, we strongly suggest you try to get direct flights as having to go via another gateway airport adds time and pain to the journey, especially on your outbound flights. Experience shows that it pays to book ahead with trans-Atlantic flights, as prices are prone to increase closer to the departure date.
We are ATOL bonded and can happily help with your flight booking.
British passport holders are eligible to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme. You need to provide your flight information and passport details and pay an administrative fee. Applying is pretty straight forward and can be done via this official website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Once you arrive in the US, you will need to queue for immigration. You will need to do this even if you are in transit. You will need to provide finger prints and eye scans.
Our USA Road Trip holidays start from £923 per person, based on two adults travelling together. This price covers a hire car, all accommodation and activities as per the itineraries. On top of that, you will need to budget for flights, which can be from £670 in the low season to £1,100 in the peak of the summer. Once there, you will need to budget for tips, entrance fees, petrol and food - expect to spend from $150 per day, although this price will depend wildly on where you eat and visit.
To a certain extent, the answer to that question is how long is a piece of string? It really depends on how long you have and your budget. The costs of flying out to the USA are not insignificant, so we suggest that you plan your time carefully.
Most people need at least a couple of days to adjust to the time difference, so you will need to allow yourselves a couple of rest days at the beginning of your holiday. This time, more than any, you will appreciate splashing out on some nice accommodation with a pool, especially if you are arriving in the middle of the summer.
We have 10 day – 2 week itineraries for you to choose from. If you have three weeks, then you can go at a slightly gentler pace and see most of the highlights of the area.
The South Western States enjoy a four season climate, although experience more extremes than in the UK. Winters can be cold with plenty of snow. Summer temperatures can be high (reaching the high 30’s in places) and the humidity means that there can be thunderstorms, especially in July & August. Coastal California enjoys a more temperate climate, with milder winters and warm summers. Northern Californian coastal areas including San Francisco can become shrouded with fog during the mornings and evenings.
Spring and autumn have milder temperatures, making it an ideal time for keen hikers to visit. We suggest that if you want to spend any time hiking in the Grand Canyon, then you are better saving your visit for these seasons.
The National Parks tend to be busier around the public holidays and school holidays (June / July)