California & the American Southwest Program Overview
Important Note: Due to current border closures between the US and Canada, this program is being replaced with an exciting new itinerary in California and the American Southwest! You can find this new itinerary here.
For middle school students currently in middle school looking for an exciting summer adventure, check out this trip of a lifetime combining two of our favorite destinations: Canada and California! These are ideal destinations for future travelers looking to explore America’s West Coast in a safe and fun environment.
First, we venture into Western Canada, a land like nowhere else in the world! Hike through lush forests, soak in hot springs, explore pristine alpine lakes, and trek across glaciers in the stunning Banff National Park. In beautiful British Columbia horseback ride through glacial carved valleys, mountain bike down the best trails in Canada at Whistler and zip-line through coastal mountain forests.
The adventure continues when we hit up the West Coast of the USA on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip exploring The Golden State! We’ll start in sunny SoCal, seeing San Diego’s most iconic sights. Give back to the community as you volunteer with the local Boys and Girls Clubs, then hang ten as you learn to surf at one of the city’s most famous beaches. Immerse yourself in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles as we show you the best spots of this bustling city. Witness incredible landscapes and vistas as you travel along Highway 1, taking in the beauty of the world-renowned Big Sur. Once in NorCal, check out Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. Embrace the city by the bay as you take in the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Muir Woods, and much more.
This exciting tour of Canada and the USA is perfectly designed for middle schoolers and will leave each participant with incredible memories!
During this program, you will…
- Hike around alpine lakes in Banff National Park
- Drive the Icefields Parkway; one of the most scenic drives in North America
- Whitewater raft the Kicking Horse River
- Visit a wolf sanctuary and learn about wolf conservation efforts
- Stay at a Canadian ranch and get a taste for western life
- Zip-line through coastal mountain forest
- Learn to surf in San Diego
- Get up close with the animals of the San Diego Zoo, one of the largest and most famous zoos in the world
- See the seals and sea lions of beautiful La Jolla
- Give back to the community by volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs
- Explore Hollywood and the Walk of Fame
- Wander through Venice Beach and along the Santa Monica Pier
- See LA lit up at night from the Griffith Observatory
- Take a road trip along Highway 1, experiencing the unique Big Sur
- Sink your toes into purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach
- Be amazed by the exhibits at Monterey Aquarium
- Cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge
- Enjoy a delicious chocolate sundae at Ghirardelli Square
- Tour Alcatraz and learn its fascinating history
- Hike through giant redwood trees at Muir Woods
- Spend a magical day at Disneyland*
*This is an optional excursion
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN CALGARY (YYC)
Land in Calgary, Alberta, home to the 1988 Winter Olympics! We’ll stay downtown and walk to a delicious dinner before having our first meeting in Prince’s Island Park next to the Bow River.
DAYS 2-4: BANFF
Home to two of Canada’s most popular National Parks, Alberta is the perfect place to kick off your Canadian adventure! Leave the bustling city of Calgary behind to spend the first full day in the charming town of Banff. Located within the boundaries of the National Park, this small township is surrounded by natural beauty. The peaks of the Canadian rockies frame the scene from all directions and wildlife such as moose can sometimes be seen walking down Main Street! Deep inside the park you’ll find the famous teal waters of Lake Louise and the quaint Lake Agnes Tea house just a short hike up the hillside. At Moraine Lake, Hike or choose to canoe around the lake in the incredible Valley of the Ten Peaks. As you head north out of Banff towards Jasper, you’ll ride along the magnificent Icefields Parkway, rated as one of the best drives in the world! Make a pit stop at the bluest lake in the Rockies, Peyto Lake, before arriving at Athabasca Glacier for an afternoon glacier walk.
DAYS 5-6: GOLDEN
From Jasper we’ll head into British Columbia to the adventure haven of Golden. The Kicking Horse River runs through town, making it the perfect place to stay for the ultimate whitewater rafting experience! Even without the rapids, the river itself is a spectacle worth seeing. Bright blue water rushes through sturdy green forests where bear and deer can be spotted on the shores! If by now you haven’t satisfied your desire to see wildlife, we’ll head to a wolf conservation center to learn about these majestic animals and see them in their natural environment.
DAYS 7-9: ASHCROFT
As we make our way across the province of British Columbia, there’s no better place to stop than at our handpicked horse ranch in Ashcroft! Break up the drive by spending two nights at this traditional Canadian ranch. Ride one of 100 horses on the property, enjoy amazing views, and savor delicious home-cooked meals.
New to riding or an experienced equestrian? All levels are welcome! If horses aren’t your thing, enjoy the heated pool, game room, or hiking trails around the undeniably beautiful property.
DAYS 9-10: WHISTLER
Upon arriving in Whistler you’ll dive right into the action. Take the gondola up the mountain to access some of the best downhill mountain biking trails in North America. You’ll get small group lessons from a trained professional catered to enhance pre-existing skills or start from scratch for beginners! Safety is a top priority and plenty of fun will be had on the back country trails! Biking is not mandatory and those who choose not to bike will have other hiking options instead.
While in Whistler we will also hike to Alexander Falls, zipline from peak to peak and even get the chance to ride the gondola on Blackcomb Glacier!
DAY 11: VANCOUVER >> SAN DIEGO
We will leave Canada and head to the United States to begin the California portion of this adventure!
DAYS 12-14: SAN DIEGO
Our adventure begins in sunny San Diego. We’ll get our first taste of the laid back Southern California lifestyle as we explore the neighborhoods and coastline that make this city so well known! Wander through Balboa Park, watch the seals of La Jolla, hang ten as you learn to surf in the Pacific, sea kayak with sea lions, and absorb the history of the charming gaslamp district. During your time here, you’ll give back to the community and have a chance to interact with the local children with the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Diego.
DAYS 15-17: LOS ANGELES
Tackle the second largest city in the US without feeling overwhelmed! Wander through “Tinseltown” to spot your favorite celebrity along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and check out the Chinese Theatre, explore vibrant Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier, window shop along Rodeo Drive, and hike through Runyon Canyon for incredible views from the Griffith Observatory. You will even have the chance to go on an optional day trip to one of America’s favorite theme parks: Disneyland!*
DAYS 18: HIGHWAY 1
Arguably the most beautiful coastal road in the world, we’ll spend a couple of days snaking our way up it, stopping at the postcard perfect beaches of Santa Barbara and Pismo, the stunning McWay Falls, funky Bixby Bridge, and the purple sand of Pfeiffer Beach. Explore the charming town of Monterey before strolling along quaint Capitola Beach and riding roller coasters on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
DAYS 19-20: SAN FRANCISCO
Experience all the best of the City by the Bay in the cultural epicentre of NorCal.. Ride the historical cable car and enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of famous Pier 39. Sample incredible seafood while watching the lazy sea lions bask along the pier before enjoying a delicious sundae at Ghirardelli Square. Explore San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods, including Haight Ashbury, SoMa, Embarcadero, and Chinatown, by foot and by bike.
Head North to Marin County, where you’ll cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and stroll through the quaint seaside town of Sausalito before hiking through the impressive redwoods of Muir Woods. Hop on a boat across the bay to tour the infamous prison, Alcatraz, also known as The Rock.
DAY 21: DEPART FROM SAN FRANCISCO (SFO)
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do.
Eat, stay, and travel like a local. Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we were awarded top youth travel organization in 2017.
"On my TFT trip, I had the most amazing time. Not only did I get to explore a few cool cities, but I was supported by the best staff. I instantly became extremely close friends with the other kids on TFT trip. Everyone who went was so nice, and within minutes after my arrival in San Diego, any nervous energy I felt had been let go. Over those two weeks, I learned how to be independent, and trust myself as well as how to rely on other kids my age. I loved swimming in the Pacific Ocean. I had so many favorite parts that I can't choose one. We stayed at this incredibly beautiful mountainside lodge in Lake Tahoe, it was so nice. The last night of my trip was really fun. All the kids stayed up together and talked about how much we would miss each other. Two years later, I hung out with a few of my friends from the trip a month ago. Go on a TFT trip, it's an adventure that you'd be crazy to miss. The connections you will make can last a lifetime."
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in 7th or 8th grade and approximately 12 to 14 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
All accommodations on this trip have been selected to ensure quality while still maintaining the character of the places we are visiting.
In Calgary, we’ll stay at a downtown location convenient to restaurants and the park. In Banff, we’ll stay close to downtown in a quaint lodge. In Golden, a unique hotel in historic downtown will be our home for two nights. Our accommodation in Ashcroft is the most unique of all. We’ll spend two nights in on a family-owned ranch in the middle of British Columbia. In Whistler, we’ll stay at a beautiful resort right off the mountain.
All hotels will be clean and safe with 24-hour security.
This program does not involve camping.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about this program?
Students love the diversity of exploring two incredible countries.
In Canada the teens appreciate exploring two of Canada’s greatest provinces. You see some of the most beautiful sights in Canada in only 11 days!
In California, teens love the insight they gain from experiencing the “real California” off the tourist track. Having the opportunity to learn more about the different cities and landscapes, as well as spend time with the local children, are just some of the highlights of this program.
What is unique about this program?
This program is designed for younger teens in mind. Intimate sized groups make this an incredible experience for everyone on board. You’ll see cities and spend time outdoors in some of the greatest places in Canada and California that will create lifelong memories.
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts and dinners.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; lunches; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 14 and 21 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
Families who sign up for more than one program will also receive a 15% discount on the lesser-priced program.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
In Canada you’ll of course try poutine, the famous fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds the country is known for! At the ranch, you’ll be fed family style high quality home cooked meals. As we move towards the coast, salmon and other seafood specialties will be offered in abundance!
While in California, we’ll have seafood and food influenced by the neighboring continent of Asia.
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
US citizens need a passport to visit Canada.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.