Great National Parks of the Western USA    *alt*

16 days, from £2839
Riviera Travel
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The magnificent Old West conjures up images of cowboys and Indians, lawmen and outlaws, as well as courageous frontiersmen, forging ever westward in search of freedom, independence and greener pastures. No other period has influenced American culture and defined its history as greatly as the Western frontier. Its legendary figures - Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock - are now commemorated in film and fiction. Areas of the West had already been populated since 11,000 BC with the arrival of the first Paleo-Indians. Long before Columbus, trade routes existed in places such as Yellowstone, a real highlight of our tour. The western territories saw rapid development in the 1840s with major settlements, largely due to the California Gold Rush and Oregon Trail. Beyond the myths and legends, the West is famed for its bountiful natural treasures. As the largest region covering more than half of the USA, it is also the most diverse, boasting an impressive range of spectacular landscapes, from some of the highest mountain peaks, to expanses of desert lands and rolling plains. Our exhilarating tour focuses on the Mountain States - Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado - and extends northeast to the Midwestern state of South Dakota. Our first stop is ruggedly striking Utah, featuring monumental red-rock mesas, vast canyons and arid deserts. The unique jaw-dropping natural sandstone structures of Arches National Park offer glimpses into the Earth's turbulent geological past dating back over 100 million years. Salt Lake City, the capital, still has a small-town feel, despite its university and downtown skyscrapers. We explore breath-taking Colorado, synonymous with outstanding vistas, mountain towns, and top-class ski resorts. We visit no less than three National Historic Landmarks, officially recognised by the US government for their significance - be swept away by the majesty of the Rockies, mirrored in the national park's many crystal-clear lakes; witness the extraordinary cliff dwellings built by ancient Native Americans in Mesa Verde National Park; and relive the sights and sounds of yesteryear on the Durango & Silverton Railroad in a vintage steam locomotive, passing through the unspoiled San Juan Mountains. Our tour takes us north into South Dakota with its gentle rolling prairies and four times as many cattle as people. As we pass through Custer State Park, try to spot its numerous inhabitants, from diminutive prairie dogs to slow-moving buffalo herds. Rising high over the treetops of the Black Hills is iconic Mount Rushmore and the faces of four great presidents, immortalised in the granite mountainside. We visit the historic gold rush town of Deadwood, first settled by miners and then all sorts of characters, both lawful and unsavoury, all seeking their fortune. Looming above the plains is Devils Tower, a flat-topped volcanic formation, a unique marvel of nature and the recipient of the first National Monument title. We cross over to Montana, the epitome of the independent American frontier spirit. The unmistakable scent of pine fills the crisp country air, as we forge ahead to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, the site of the epic clash between the 7th Cavalry and several Native American tribes. Heading south-west into Wyoming, the endless expanse of blue skies and rustling grasslands lets us know we've arrived in cowboy country, especially in the picturesque town of Cody, named after its founder, 'Buffalo Bill'. Surrounded by stunning mountains, this charming town wouldn't look out of place in an old Western. America's most sparsely populated state is home to several world-famous national parks. In Yellowstone, where every view is a picture-perfect moment, there's an absolutely astounding blend of natural beauty, rugged wilderness, plentiful wildlife, and the world's largest concentration of geysers. The neighbouring Grand Teton National Park is equally blessed with dramatic vistas of gorgeous landscapes dominated by snow-capped peaks and crystalline alpine lakes. When it comes to the cuisine of the West, you'll find it as varied as its scenery. Many areas are steeped in ranch culture and hunting traditions, so wild game and meat dishes, particularly beef, are common. Chuckwagons and BBQs, historically used for cooking out on the prairie, still feature in cooking events. Native American staples have also found their way into the American kitchen, such as corn, beans, and squash, referred to as the 'three sisters'. On this incredible journey, you'll experience the lands and legends of a bygone era, and discover why its indomitable spirit still thrives today.

A wonderful tour visiting no less than nine National Parks, Monuments and State Parks spread across Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, including two days in magnificent Yellowstone Return direct scheduled flights Stay in hand-picked three-star hotels, with eleven breakfasts included Experience the unique landscapes and geology of Yellowstone, the world's first National Park, with its geysers, hot springs, waterfalls and herds of bison, elk and grizzly bears Visit that iconic symbol of the USA - Mount Rushmore, with its colossal heads of four the USA's greatest Presidents set in the Black Hills of South Dakota Drive through classic cowboy country in Wyoming and learn about its famous historical figures such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill See the site of Custer's famous 'Last Stand' on the Little Bighorn battlefield Explore some of the remarkable, but lesser-known sights such as the Devil's Tower, Mesa Verde and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Gaze in awe at the incredible variety of sandstone arches, spires, balanced rocks and monoliths sculpted by nature in Arches National Park Travel on the historic Durango & Silverton steam railway amongst the spectacular scenery of the Colorado Rockies Escorted by our experienced tour manager Selected departures June to September 2018

What's Included:
The price of this holiday is per person based on two people sharing a twin room and includes: scheduled direct flights to Salt Lake City; all transfers; 14 nights accommodation in three-star hotels with 11 breakfasts (some continental); all tours as mentioned including visits to Arches, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, & Grand Teton National Parks, Mt Rushmore, Devils Tower, guided tour of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, city tour of Salt Lake City & Denver, Durango & Silverton railway; porterage of one item of luggage per person; the services of a Riviera tour manager. Please note: adverse weather conditions may result in some road closures in Yellowstone in early or late season.


 DAY 1

Direct flight to Salt Lake City, arriving later the same day. We stay at the three-star Red Lion Hotel.

 DAY 2

A walking tour of Salt Lake City will give you a fascinating insight into its unique history and culture. It dates back to 1847 with the arrival of the Church of the Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the first settlers in the valley, who travelled far in their search for an isolated area where they could practise their religion. Our visit includes the splendid Temple Square, forty years in its construction and the Beehive House, one of the two official residences of the first Church leader, Brigham Young. Later today, a long but fascinating drive takes us south-east, travelling over the Wasatch Plateau into the remote Price and Green River basins. We stay for two nights at the three-star Super 8 Hotel in Moab (2017 departures) or the Moab Valley Inn (2018 departures), with continental breakfast.

 DAY 3

This morning, when the light is at its best, we'll visit one of our tour's highlights, Arches National Park. Boasting the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches within a relatively small area, there are around two thousand colossal sandstone arches, soaring spires, monoliths and balanced rock formations, making the landscape utterly unique and a photographer's paradise. This Mars-like topography, with its changing colours of oranges and deep reds, is sure to leave an indelible mark on the memory. Spend the afternoon at leisure ' your options include a boat trip on the Colorado River or a 4x4 off-road tour.

 DAY 4

Leaving Moab, we soon cross into Colorado and arrive at Mesa Verde National Park, the only one exclusively devoted to Native American archaeological remains. Marvel at the past dwellings of the Anasazi, an Ancestral Puebloan people who inhabited the area between AD 600 to AD 1300. Their intriguing mud-brick buildings are some of the best preserved in the country, thanks to the dry desert climate and the stunning cliffside location under massive folds of rock ' a truly extraordinary sight. Tonight we stay at the three-star Durango Downtown Inn.

 DAY 5

We enjoy a real highlight this morning, as we take a ride on the Durango & Silverton Railroad, one of the USA's best-loved heritage railways. Running on narrow-gauge tracks originally laid in the 1880s, the locomotives used today date from the 1920s and are completely coal-fired and steam-driven. As the railway slowly gains height, the scenery becomes ever more rugged, with the muted greys and pinks of the jagged peaks contrasting beautifully with the dense forests in the deep valleys below. Our wonderful vintage train follows the Animas River Valley through the San Juan National Forest, until it reaches the charming ex-mining community of Silverton. We re-board our coach headed for the small town of Montrose, where we stay at the three-star Holiday Inn Express, with breakfast.

 DAY 6

This morning we visit one of the most spectacular canyons in the US, the Black Canyon, where its dark walls plunge more than 820 metres to the Gunnison River gorge below. Although others may be larger or wider, the Black Canyon is so narrow and deep that its floor only receives 33 minutes of sunlight a day. Continuing east through the magnificent Colorado Rockies, we finally arrive in Denver, the 'Mile High City', Colorado's cosmopolitan capital. Our hotel for the night is the four-star Holiday Inn Denver Cherry Creek.

 DAY 7

Today we head into the spectacular vastness of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. Whereas much of the European alpine areas are managed in some way, the Rockies, being so vast, have remained as wilderness, so the scenery is just as beautifully pristine as it has always been. We continue to Wyoming's capital, Cheyenne, for our stay at the three-star Microtel Suites by Wyndham, with breakfast.

 DAY 8

After breakfast we leave Cheyenne and head north to South Dakota, where we will visit Mount Rushmore. The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln look down over the Black Hills from stony heights to inspire and remind us that even the impossible is possible. You'll be fascinated by the story of the one man who designed and sculpted this incredible monument and the ingenious techniques used in its construction, all set in the glorious natural beauty of mountains, forests and emerald meadows. We arrive at Rapid City, capital of South Dakota, where we stay for two nights at the three-star Howard Johnson Hotel with breakfast. The hotel is located within walking distance to the downtown area, which is easy to explore on foot.

 DAY 9

Today we drive through scenic Custer State Park, home to abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep, antelope, elk, coyote, prairie dogs, and 'begging burros', wild donkeys with a reputation for approaching passing vehicles to 'ask' for food. We'll also visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, still in the process of being sculpted from the mountain cliffs ' on a truly vast scale, it will be 172 metres high and 195 metres long when completed.

 DAY 10

Heading east, we pass through legendary Deadwood, the historic gold rush town and a National Historic Landmark, with its wonderfully restored Main Street. Settled by illegal gold rushers in the 1870s, it attracted gunslingers, gamblers and outlaws, including Wild Bill Hickok, who was gunned down here during a poker game. One of the town's most famous citizens, Calamity Jane, was immortalised in the film of the same name by Doris Day in the song, Deadwood Stage. Crossing back into the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, we'll visit the remarkable Devils Tower National Monument. The remains of an ancient volcano rising mystically above the surrounding area, it has been a spiritual icon for many of the Plains tribes and is also instantly recognisable as the aliens' landing ground in Steven Spielberg's film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We stay the night in Sheridan at the three-star Best Western Sheridan Centre with breakfast.

 DAY 11

Today we cross into the vast grassy hills of Montana, site of the US Cavalry's greatest defeat at the hands of Native American tribes. Commanded by the flamboyant Lt Col Custer, the famed US 7th Cavalry suffered huge losses against the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, led by several major war leaders including Crazy Horse. Our local guide will take us through the dramatic events that led up to Custer's Last Stand. We stay the night in Cody at the three-star Comfort Inn Cody with continental breakfast. In the evening, you may wish to experience the Cody Nite Rodeo, which runs on a nightly basis from June to August.

 DAY 12

The town of Cody is named after 'Buffalo Bill' Cody, US soldier, bison hunter, showman and one of the most colourful figures of the Old West. His career began at age 11 when he worked on the wagon trains, then at 15 he was the youngest rider on the Pony Express. He was also a Union soldier in the Civil War, a famed fighter against the Indians and most notably, the founder of the Wild West Show that ran for 30 years. He was probably the world's first international showman, dining with heads of state, including Queen Victoria. We then cross into Yellowstone National Park over the 2,590-metre-high Sylvan Pass. We stay for one night in West Yellowstone at the three-star Three Bear Lodge, with breakfast.

 DAY 13

Wilderness is the theme of the day as we head into the park, the USA's first and finest nature reserve. The breathtaking scenery is incredibly special ' see the stunning Lower Falls, twice the height of Niagara; the awe-inspiring Yellowstone Grand Canyon; wonderful bubbling mud pools, steaming rivers and hot springs, including the most famous geyser of all, Old Faithful. There are opportunities to catch sight of the park's strikingly diverse wildlife, such as herds of bison and elk, or if you're lucky, grizzly bears. We continue our drive south into the spectacularly scenic Grand Teton National Park, Its mountainsides are carpeted with forests, whilst crystal-clear streams cascade down canyons into large, pristine lakes, in which the jagged peaks are magnificently mirrored on calm days. In summer, the area becomes a canvas of vibrant-coloured wildflowers. We stay in the famous resort of Jackson for 2 nights at the three-star 49er Inn & Suites, wiwth continental breakfast

 DAY 14

Today we have the entire day to enjoy the wonderful town of Jackson. Perhaps try out a 'float trip' on the nearby Snake River.

 DAY 15

We drive to Salt Lake City airport for our overnight flight home.

 DAY 16

We arrive home full of memories of a unique tour.