By Jason Frye
Few places take hold of our imaginations like the American West. You can discover it for yourself when you join Trafalgar on a journey that crosses deserts, visits ancient homelands, calls on celebrated national parks and spends time in some of the most storied cities in America.
It seems like the wide open spaces of the West were made for adventure, and after a year of exploring your own backyard, a trip through America’s backyard will feel less like a getaway and more like an escape. Immerse yourself in unfamiliar landscapes, like the slot canyons near Moab and the alien world of Death Valley National Park. Embark on new experiences, like a float trip down the Snake River or a Native American feast in the Black Hills. Savor the flavors of the West — wine in Central Coast California, a cup of coffee at the original Starbuck’s in Seattle and Portland’s legendary craft beer scene. The array of Trafalgar’s tours lets you sample the best of the West or take a deep dive into a state or region, gives you the time to make the most of those bucket-list national parks and even build your own grand tour by putting together a two-, three-, four-week (or even longer) trip of a lifetime.
National Parks Fix
You can’t visit the West without visiting at least one national park — maybe two, or three, or more (it’s your trip, go wild), and the national parks of the West are legendary. Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Death Valley, Canyonlands, Zion — these are a few of the parks you can visit while you’re touring out beyond the Rockies, and there are a lot of ways to do it.
The 15-day “Scenic Parks Explorer” is a Las Vegas-to-Las Vegas loop that takes you through eight states as you visit more than a half-dozen national parks along with national monuments and memorials like Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial and iconic sights like the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley.
“America’s Great Desert National Parks” keeps the focus on southern Arizona, Nevada and California as you visit Saguaro National Park and the Sonoran Desert National Monument, as well as Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks, and visit the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas in a 10-day sweep through rugged and beautiful landscapes.
Not all national parks tours are so sweeping. In fact, some, like “California’s Great National Parks” (visiting Death Valley, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks) and “Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks” (visiting Canyonlands and Zion national parks among others, as well as some spectacular state parks) keep it focused on a single state.
Some of us prefer a sweeping tour of the West (in which case the 14-day “Western Discoverer” that takes you through California, Arizona and Nevada, is for you). But for those of us who want a deep dive into one state, or a focused look on a region, there are tours galore. “Welcome to Colorado” delivers the best of the Centennial State from the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum to charming towns like Aspen and Durango. “Coastal California and Big Sur” takes you from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a tour of the Golden State, including the Golden Gate Bridge (which you can walk across), Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, the picturesque 17-mile Drive, Hearst Castle and some great Central Coast wine before you end in LA. Likewise, “Northern California” offers an eight-day look at San Francisco, Napa Valley wine country, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite and the rugged Monterey and quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea. In Monterey, you’ll visit John Steinbeck’s famed Cannery Row, and if you’re in Carmel on the right day, make sure to check out their farmers market.
Further up the Pacific Coast, Trafalgar’s “Scenic Seattle, Portland and Oregon Coast” takes you into the Pacific Northwest, where you’ll find rainforests, waterfalls, a stunning coastline unlike anything in the East and two cities you’ll fall in love with. In Seattle, start your day with a trip to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and to Pike’s Place market. Visit either the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit to see some of the most amazing blown glass in the world or the Space Needle. Then make your way to Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rain Forest. You’ll visit Astoria, Oregon, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, and start the journey toward Oregon’s wine-growing region, the Willamette Valley, before ending your trip in Portland, where the craft beer scene is rivaled only by the food and the stunning Columbia River Gorge.
No discussion of the American West is complete without Alaska, and Trafalgar shows off our northernmost state with “Majestic Alaska,” a 10-day tour that reveals snowcapped peaks of Denali National Park, has you panning for gold in a hat-tip to Alaska’s history, seeing glaciers and wildlife in Prince William Sound and hopping on a cruise to Vancouver for a view of the rugged coast. “Majestic Alaska” is part of their “Near Not Far Limited Series” tours focused on creating lasting, meaningful memories and connections with iconic American destinations.
Trafalgar has always worked to keep their guests safe and healthy, and traveling with them now is no exception. Through a collaboration with the World Tourism & Travel Council, they helped create protocols and procedures to keep health risks at a minimum. When you pair these standards with those from the World Health Organization and from national and regional authorities, you have a reliable system to ensure everyone can enjoy the trip. To minimize risk, trips operate with a number of empty seats to allow for extra physical distancing. Also, team members and guests will complete a personal travel declaration before joining their trip and all high-touch surfaces (including luggage handles) are frequently sanitized. Additionally, each trip with more than 20 people includes a dedicated wellbeing director on board to help everyone stick to the protocols and get the most out of their getaway.
The Grand Tour
If you find that one tour doesn’t satisfy your thirst for travel, consider chaining two or three (or more) tours together to build your own grand tour of the West. Since tours start and end in cities across the West, it’s easy to do. Ask about booking “Pioneer Adventures of the Old West,” “Western Frontiers” and “Best of the Canyonlands” for an epic 25-day tour. Your expert AAA Travel Agent can help with logistics.
Explore America’s backyard with Trafalgar. Call 800-750-5386 or visit AAA.com/Travel to book your adventure.
(Traveler Spring 2021)