California and American Southwest National Parks Trip Overview
Discover some of the most beautiful states in the country! Utah, Arizona, and California are home to stunning landscapes, amazing natural wonders, and exciting cities.
Explore several National parks including the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon and discover the stunning red rocks, hoodoos, vistas, and arches unique to this area of the world. Catch some of the most breathtaking sunsets and sunrises in the world from picture-perfect viewpoints and admire some of the darkest skies in the country for some of the most incredible stargazing. Swim, Hike, Zipline, and much more! Plenty of adventures are waiting for you!
Top of your adventure in the sunny state of California. Learn to surf in San Diego, walk in the footsteps of the stars in Hollywood, and make friends with lazy sea lions in San Francisco.
This is the perfect trip for travelers looking to explore a combination of cities and the great outdoors with a small group of like-minded peers.
This program limits exposure to outside groups and the majority of our time will be spent outdoors where we can easily social distance and ensure the health and safety of our participants.
During this program, you will…
- Catch a breathtaking sunrise from Isle of the Sky in Canyonlands National Park
- Take a road trip along Highway 1, experiencing the unique Big Sur
- Explore the densest concentration of natural arches in the world at Arches National Park
- Spend a magical day at Disneyland*
- Hike one of the famous trails in Zion National Park
- Zipline above sandstone cliffs
- Try out one of the most popular sports in Utah and go rock climbing*
- Explore Hollywood and the Walk of Fame
- Cool off in a hidden local swimming spot underneath a waterfall
- Cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge
- Learn to surf in San Diego and see the seals and sea lions of beautiful La Jolla
- Discover the massive hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and wander through one of the park’s narrow trails
- Check out the natural beauty of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
- Get up close with the animals of the San Diego Zoo, one of the largest and most famous zoos in the world
- Take in the wonder of the mighty Grand Canyon
*This is an optional excursion
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Say hello to your new friends for the next week! Our travelers are curious individuals excited to volunteer with the local community and explore one of the most beautiful states in the country. Your staff will facilitate plenty of group bonding activities and ice breakers so everyone can get to know each other on the first day! You will be amazed at how fast your fellow travel companions become lifelong friends.
Explore the surrounding landscapes in Salt Lake City and picnic at the expansive lake that gave this city its name.
DAYS 2-4: MOAB > ARCHES & CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARKS
Our first stop is Moab, one of the area’s most loved adventure playgrounds. Experience adrenaline-pumping activities like rock climbing, a sunset hike to the famous Delicate Arch, and escape the desert heat and go for a swim in a local watering hole.
Moab is the perfect location between Arches and Canyonlands, which offers every desert adventure you can dream of. Make the red rocks here your playground and go on a rock climbing adventure. Escape the desert heat and go for a swim in a local watering hole that is a hidden gem.
Soar high above the canyons on a ziplining adventure. Cross a hanging suspension bridge before flying over the unique sandstone cliffs below you!
In Arches National Park there are a plethora of hikes to choose from that will allow you to discover exactly why this park got its name! No trip to Arches would be complete without a sunset hike to Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the park!
Catch sunrise in Canyonlands National Park and watch as the sun slowly lights up the canyon with soft pink and orange hues, unveiling the incredible landscape before you. After sunrise, enjoy one of the park’s many hikes and be amazed by the stunning vistas and panoramic views.
From the awe-inspiring red rock formations of Arches to the sprawling views of Canyonlands, you are sure to fall for this lovely part of Utah.
DAY 5: BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
We will depart Salt Late City in the morning and just a short drive away is Bryce Canyon National Park! Bryce Canyon is famous for its thousands of red-orange hoodoos that make up its iconic landscape. The panoramic views of this park are mind-boggling. Spires and sweeping sandstone rock give way to winding trails begging to be explored. Hike through one of the park’s many trails and experience being surrounded by these unique formations as they tower over you.
After enjoying Bryce Canyon, we’re off to our next national park: Zion!
DAY 6: ZION NATIONAL PARK
Then we’re off, bright and early to head to Zion National Park. Spend your afternoon hiking one of the park’s iconic hiking trails and admire the sweeping views. As the sun goes down watch as the cliffs start to glow a bright orange before a starry night sky starts to take over. This area is home to some of the best stargazing in the country!
DAY 7-8: PAGE
Then we’re onto our next state to explore: Arizona! Page is home to both Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. If you love traveling to natural wonders off the beaten path, this stop is sure to satisfy your spirit. A short walk takes you to the overlook of Horseshoe Bend where the Colorado River wraps around the canyon below in a literal horseshoe shape! Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon secretly tucked below the ground. You’ll wander through the canyon, gazing up at the bright orange walls that make you feel like you’re on another planet. If you’re feeling up for a swim, stop by the beautiful Lone Rock Beach on the shores of Lake Powell.
DAY 9: GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
You can’t visit Arizona without visiting the Grand Canyon National Park but we’ll take it one step further and visit some of the best-hidden gems of the Southwest. Discover one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon, and see for yourself what makes it one of the most incredible sights in the entire country!
DAY 10: SEDONA > PHOENIX
On our way to Phoenix, we’ll stop in Sedona to see one of Arizona’s most beautiful areas.
DAY 11: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK > PALM SPRINGS
Then we’re off to California – next stop, Joshua Tree National Park! Can you believe this national park is larger than Rhode Island?
Two distinct worlds in one, Joshua Tree is home to both the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. While we go from the higher elevations to lower, we’ll pass through forests of giant yuccas, aka Joshua trees, see massive rock formations, and fan palm oases!
We’ll spend the night in Palm Springs and see what this laid-back, Hollywood desert oasis is all about.
DAYS 12-15: 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, 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 16-18: 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!*
DAY 19: 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 20-21: 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.
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 22: RETURN HOME
The memories and friendships we made during this program will last forever!
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 specifically chosen to be in safe areas and well-suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. This means 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 character of the places we are visiting.
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 a trip.
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 is included?
Ground transportation, accommodations, all breakfasts and dinners, chaperones and guides, program related activities, program related activity admissions, taxes and tips.
Not included in cost (this not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; visas and visa application fees; lunches; 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.
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 is an integral aspect of the travel experience, and we make an effort to eat at authentic establishments whenever possible. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in the culture of a place than through sampling the local delicacies. We stray away from westernized restaurants and chains that cater to tourists, because every true traveler knows the best food is found where the locals are eating!
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
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.
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.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.