Yosemite, Death Valley and the Great Parks of CaliforniaItinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Las Vegas, NV / Death Valley National Park, CA
Upon arriving in Las Vegas, meet with your fellow travel companions and Orbridge Expedition Leader before setting out for Death Valley National Park.
En route, enjoy a stop at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Named for an abundance of ash trees that provide welcome shade for creatures such as big horn sheep, this is the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert—where nearly 11,000 gallons of water emerge from its springs. Learn of the efforts to protect and restore the ecosystem that supports 16 different botanical habitats. Walk scenic boardwalks leading to sparkling springs full of fascinating pupfish, and learn about the nearly 30 endemic species here found nowhere else on the planet. Ash Meadows has been declared a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty providing a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
Continue on to Death Valley National Park, arriving at the hotel to settle in and enjoy dinner with the group.
Overnight: The Inn at Death Valley (L,D)
Day 2: Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is famous for being the hottest, driest, and lowest national park—and many visitors expect to encounter a completely arid, shadeless expanse devoid of life. But this park of more than three million acres is a realm of surprise and contrast. During a full day of sightseeing, discover sculptural canyons, mountain-sized sand dunes, and abundant wildlife. From the snow that frosts the park's towering peaks to its lush wildflower meadows, there is much to see and explore in this beautiful, but challenging, landscape.
Head 282 feet below sea level to the surreal terrain of Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America. Rain and minerals dissolved from rocks drain to this lower elevation, and as the water evaporates, minerals concentrate until only the salts remain. A short boardwalk leads you out to the salt flats and to Badwater Pool, a small body of water fed by a spring with aquatic insects and the bad water snail.
Refresh with lunch at a local restaurant followed by leisure time on your own prior to joining the evening stargazing program. Death Valley National Park is the world’s largest International Dark Sky Park. With these dark skies, gaze in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way, see details of the moon, and simply reflect on your place in the universe.
Overnight: The Inn at Death Valley (B,L)
Day 3: Death Valley National Park / Mammoth Lakes
Depart Death Valley for a scenic drive to Mammoth Lakes, a charming town in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. It's a gateway to some of the most majestic landforms, including the stately basalt pillars of the Devils Postpile National Monument—a natural structure featuring thousands of hexagonal columns formed around 100,000 years ago when lava flow slowed, cooled, and cracked. The Devils Postpile National Monument also includes Rainbow Falls, a 101-foot waterfall known for the colorful rainbow its mist creates.
Take in the spectacular views from the Panorama Gondola as you ride up, up, up to the top of Mammoth Mountain at 11,053 feet. At the summit, visit the interactive displays of the Eleven53 Interpretive Center, with information on the area's geologic, hydrologic, and volcanic history.
Overnight: Mammoth Mountain Inn (B,L)
Day 4: Mammoth Lakes / Yosemite National Park
Today, depart Mammoth Lakes for the waterfalls, granite monoliths, and ancient sequoias of Yosemite National Park. Along the way, drive over the spectacular Tioga Pass (weather conditions permitting). This eastern access to Yosemite provides photo opportunities around nearly every curve of the road as the park's dramatic domes and drop-offs are highlighted.
After lunch, spend the remainder of the day in Yosemite. Within its nearly 1,200 square miles are wild meadows, rivers, lakes, and some of the world's most renowned rock formations. Did you know this diverse landscape supports more than 400 species of wildlife? Look around, and you'll likely spy one of the park's many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. A true treat would be to spot the rare Sierra Nevada red fox, seen for the first time in nearly a century on a wildlife cam in 2014.
Overnight: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (B)
Day 5: Yosemite National Park
Relish an entire day in Yosemite to soak in more of the park's natural beauty. Start with an open-air tram tour of the valley floor. Led by park rangers and Yosemite hospitality naturalists, you'll learn about the history, flora, and fauna throughout the park.
Dine with Mother Nature at a picnic lunch, and choose an activity for the open afternoon. Work off the meal with a local hike, or take it easy with a complimentary program offered by the National Park Service.
Tonight return to the hotel to relax and revisit your memories of the day.
Overnight: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (B,L)
Day 6: Yosemite National Park / Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Depart Yosemite National Park for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These parks, which lie side by side, further testify to nature's size, beauty, and diversity. The parks' long list of superlatives includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, and the Kings River Canyon, one of the deepest in North America.
Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 to protect the General Grant Grove of giant sequoias. Kings Canyon National Park, established in 1940, is a wide glacial valley with green meadows, waterfalls, tall cliffs, and meandering rivers set against the high peaks of the Sierra Crest in the distance.
Linger in these outstanding natural preserves and explore their amazing features. The two parks protect numerous karst streams and some of the best alpine karst topography in the United States. The lower elevations are home to a variety of wildlife including bobcats, foxes, ground squirrels, mule deer, rattlesnakes, and reclusive mountain lions. This California Foothills ecosystem is the only one protected by the National Park Service.
This evening, clear skies permitting, you may elect to stargaze on your own, observing the waning light beneath the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains.
Overnight: Wuksachi Lodge (B,D)
Day 7: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Explore the trails, scenery, and Visitor's Center to take in more of the wonder of these magnificent parks. In Sequoia National Park, the Giant Forest harbors the world's largest collection of sequoia trees. The biggest of them all is the General Sherman Tree, which measures over 100 feet around the base of its massive trunk. Other trees are taller or wider, but none has the combined weight and width of this glorious one. How big is big? Consider this: Every year it adds enough wood to make another 60-foot tree. Scientists have speculated that it may be over 2,000 years old. This evening is at your leisure.
Tonight, join with fellow travel companions for a special farewell reception.
Overnight: Wuksachi Lodge (B,R)
Day 8: Sequoia National Park / Fresno / Depart Fresno
After breakfast, guests departing during the suggested times take a complimentary transfer to Fresno Yosemite International Airport for flights home. (B)
B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, R = Reception
The majority of the program’s activities will take place outdoors and a fair amount of walking on varying terrain is to be expected. Many of the parks have dirt trails, but they are usually fairly smooth for walking. Some have paved pathways or boardwalks. It is our expectation that guests on this program are able to walk a mile at a moderate pace, get in and out of a motor coach, and walk up a flight of stairs without assistance. Also keep in mind that you will experience varying altitudes, rising up to 11,000 feet, to which you may not be accustomed.