August 19, 2017

5 Fantastic Summer Escapes

A handful of brand-new escorted tours highlight American treasures

By Rebecca Matheson Ortiz

Vacations Magazine: 5 Fantastic Summer Escapes
Shani Miller-iStock/Trafalgar
Opt for stress-free vacation planning this summer and leave the work to the professionals. Escorted tour companies take care of nearly every aspect of your trip, from booking the accommodations and providing transportation between destinations to crafting an itinerary with the perfect mix of top sights, local favorites and little-known gems. All you have to do is pick your trip. Expert guides will be with you to make sure you're in the know and at ease along the journey so that you can put away your to-do list and get out the camera instead.

For example: If you want to see natural wonders in the Golden State this summer, consider "California's Great National Parks" an eight-day trip with Trafalgar that kicks off in Los Angeles and finishes in Las Vegas. It's bookended by two extremes: the lush vegetation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the hot, dry landscape of Death Valley National Park.

From L.A., you'll head north through the San Joaquin Valley and into the Sierra Nevada to reach the Land of Giants -- sequoias, that is. Stand in awe at the foot of the General Sherman Tree. This hulking timber is estimated to be more than 2,000 years old and is considered the world's largest living tree, measuring more than 100 feet around at its base and 275 feet tall.

A night spent in Yosemite National Park gives guests time to view highlights like Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall, while a park ranger-led excursion adds insight about the indigenous peoples, settlers, flora and fauna of the area.

After spending time at Mammoth Lakes and Devils Postpile National Monument, you finally make it to Death Valley -- the hottest, driest, lowest park in the system. At 292 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin has a boardwalk that reaches out over a portion of the nearly 200 square miles of salt-dusted terrain.

A single departure is available this August with prices starting at $2,525.

Below are four more suggestions for a summer getaway. Contact the Vacations To Go tour specialists to book your trip.

Northwest sights and sips
Pair the Beaver State's crashing Pacific waves and tumbling waterfalls with the hoppy flow of a locally crafted brew on Globus' 10-day " Oregon's Coast, Cascades & Craft Beers." The trip starts in Seattle before dipping into Oregon, where it makes a big U from Astoria down the shore, through forestland and back up to Portland.

One of the highlights is Crater Lake National Park, home to America's deepest lake. Rainwater and melted glacier runoff fill the volcano's caldera, and the 1.1-mile Cleetwood Cove Trail takes you to the edge of the loch, where a rich turquoise color is a testament to its purity and 1,943-foot depth.

Other significant sights for tour guests include panoramic ocean views from the 1890s lighthouse at Cape Meares State Park, 40 miles worth of sand dunes in Florence that you can zip over in a dune buggy and Multnomah Falls, said to have been created by the gods in honor of a princess who sacrificed her life to save her tribe, according to Native American lore.

Along the way, sample cheeses in Tillamook and enjoy sips at Rogue Ales in Newport. Rogue makes locally and sustainably sourced spirits and suds by farming its own hops, barley, rye and more. In Portland you can try homemade chocolates and small-batch coffees and indulge at a four-course farewell dinner and beer pairing; it's hosted by Widmer Brothers Brewing, the creators of the first American-style hefeweizen (an unfiltered wheat beer distinguished by its cloudy appearance).

Two departures are available in August and September with prices starting
at $3,159.

Stars and striations
Get swept up in the sandstone pinks, rusts and creams of the Colorado Plateau on "Safari America: Under the Desert Sky" an eight-day escorted tour with Natural Habitat Adventures.

Guests spend the night in an African safari-inspired mobile camp, escaping the light pollution of nearby cities and the crowds of tourists that often clog Grand Canyon National Park's edges. Tents are rolled out on protected land near the less-visited, more than 8,000-foot-high North Rim of the gorge and feature beds and private toilets, so that even out in the elements you have the comforts of home. Sip fine wine as you watch the sun sink behind the canyon's ledge or gaze through a high-powered telescope to spot constellations in the brilliant Milky Way galaxy.

The rest of the journey unfolds in Utah's Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, with overnights in Old West-style accommodations like Zion Mountain Ranch, which offers individual cabins, and the 1920s Bryce Canyon Lodge, a National Historic Landmark. Hikes with two naturalists ensure you won't miss out on the hoodoos (fingerlike spires), arches, amphitheaters and bridges that natural forces carved from the rock.

One departure is available in June and two are set for August, with prices starting at $4,495.

Storied stays
Escorted tour provider Collette chooses standout accommodations for its 10-day "America's Historic Hotels" sojourn in the East. These splendid inns offer more than just a place to lay your head -- they are charming havens that boast excellent food, engaging activities and top-notch service.

Starting off in Washington, DC, you'll spend the night at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Opened in 1930, this lodging hosted Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural ball, setting a tradition for the next 70 years. Judy Garland and Aretha Franklin performed here, and you can see a set list by The Beatles from their first trip to the U.S.

After a tour of the monuments and memorials along the National Mall, set out for Hot Springs, VA, and the 251-year-old Omni Homestead Resort. During Thomas Jefferson's 1818 stay, he bathed in the hot springs that still beckon visitors today. More adventurous guests can enjoy the 2-acre water park with its slides and lazy river. An on-site theater plays nightly movies, and golfers can hit the green on the two nationally ranked 18-hole courses.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort in southern Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley is expansive, with 2,200 acres, eight springs whose healing waters are incorporated into the hotel spa's treatments and a quaint tavern housed in an early 1800s structure. Thirteen U.S. presidents have been patrons of the resort, including James Buchanan, who considered it his summer White House while he was in office.

The tour also stops at Fallingwater, a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s over a waterfall in Mill Run, PA, and passes through postcard-perfect towns like Woodstock, VT, before concluding in Boston. In the Massachusetts capital, guests can browse the food vendors and shops of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the location of George Washington's toast to the country on its first birthday.

A single departure is available in September with prices starting at $3,899.

Wonders out West
Bison and bighorn sheep roam freely in the national parks of the American West. You can walk the untamed landscapes, drift down the Snake River and view feats of nature on "Geysers to Glaciers" with Cosmos.

The 11-day escorted tour begins in Salt Lake City and makes forays into Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and the National Bison Range before settling in Seattle.

The 310,000-acre Grand Teton preserve, established in 1929 in northwestern Wyoming, is home to grizzly bears and more than 300 species of birds. Visitors can hike, kayak or fish at glacier-fed Jenny Lake, bicycle along a multiuse path or go horseback riding.

In Yellowstone to the north, take a gander at the park's most famous feature, Old Faithful, the geyser that shoots 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of steaming water up to 184 feet in the air multiple times each day. Also keep an eye out for the wide rack of an elk or the paw prints of a fox. In northwest Montana, you can cross the continental divide in Glacier National Park. A fleet of red, 1930s-era vehicles with roll-back tops -- called jammer buses -- wind past cedar forests and waterfalls along the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road.

About 100 miles south of Bozeman, MT, the skeletal remains of trees and cabins peek up from the depths of Earthquake Lake -- the result of a 7.5-magnitude quake that shook the area in August 1959. The eerie sight speaks to the sheer force of nature that caused a massive landslide, which dammed the Madison River and formed the lake. You'll also venture to the National Bison Range near Missoula, MT, for sightings of some of its 325 to 350 buffalo, a species that was nearly snuffed out in the 1800s.

The trip comes to a halt in Seattle with a sightseeing excursion that shows off the Space Needle and takes you through Pike Place Market, the Emerald City's 1907 farmers market known for art displays, gourmet snacks and fresh produce.

Departures are available through September with prices starting at $2,049.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Summer 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.


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