Trekking across America with TrekAmerica
As small group adventure travelling goes, TrekAmerica are by no means rookies in the field, established in 1972, they have been organising treks across the Americas for over 40 years.
They have a wide and varied catalogue of trips that span from one week down the east coast of America, to an 80 day trip around the whole of the country.
The tours are aimed mainly at young international travellers like me who are keen to explore the states.
Don’t worry if you’re travelling alone, over 70% of travellers with TrekAmerica are solo travellers and you'll be surrounded with like-minded people of a similar age who will quickly become your new best mates.
My trip ‘The Southerner” was one of the most popular tours. It consisted of a 21 day, 12 person minivan tour starting in New Jersey and ending in Los Angeles, via numerous places of interest, including Nashville, New Orleans, Big Bend National Park, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
With an extremely competent tour leader at the helm we prepared ourselves for a journey that would see us at the top of Mt. Emory, hiking into the Grand Canyon, singing karaoke in New Orleans and taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
As you can imagine the list of cities, national parks and monuments visited along the way, that are deemed as ‘places to go’ in the states, is impressive. The bucket list of any traveller looking to have the United States under their belt is well and truly shorter for the well thought out route that TrekAmerica have perfected over the years.
I arrived in New York from London really excited about the trip ahead.
If you have never been to New York before I would highly recommend you arrive a few days early and spend some time in the city. New York a great city with lots going on and it would be a pity not to spend at least a couple of days exploring it.
Day 1-2: New York Area, Philadelphia & Washington DC
After I met up with the group of people I would be travelling with, our tour guide Ritchie briefed us on health and safety and ‘TrekAmerica rules’. We then got on a mini bus with ample space and we left New Jersey.
The first stop was Philadelphia or ‘Philly’ as the locals call it. We saw the Liberty Bell, ate a delicious local cheese steak, and climbed the steps from the movie 'Rocky'! We then headed down to Reading Terminal Market and filled our noses with local mouth-watering aromas and local flavours.
The next place to visit was the gloriously well thought out Washington DC, the nation's capital. As evening approached, we hit the city for an evening illuminated view of such famous icons as the White House, Jefferson Monument and Capitol Hill. When it came to DC's museums ‘Land of the Free’ was spot on:
A good idea is to rise early and visit the Lincoln Memorial before the crowds arrive or rent a bike and hit the main sites.
Next up was the Holocaust museum.
Not for the faint hearted. Emotional is an understatement. Heart breaking, heart-warming, mind blowing and unfathomable. I’m not new to the holocaust of course; just some things need hitting home again and remembering.
Day 3: Appalachian Mountains
What a contrast to the previous few days - We arrived in the beauty of the 1500 mile Appalachian Mountain chain where the awesome scenery is home to American black bears and is the former haunt of the Cherokee Indians. The stunning natural backdrop filled the group with energy and I made new friends whilst hiking along the cascades of Crabtree falls. It was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air and a perfect way to spend our day before we changed pace again and hit ‘the music city’. We were only on day 3 but one of the things that everyone loved about the trip already was how many different experiences we were having and we were already looking to the next one with great anticipation…
Day 4: Nashville
We ventured to the centre of American country music in Nashville, Tennessee, also known as “Music City", and home to many country music institutions.
Nashville is one of the most fun cities I have ever been in.....
Every bar had a live country band, playing all the best known country tracks, of which I knew only a handful. The best in my opinion was “the world famous” (Americans have a thing about saying they’re the best in the world, just because they say so) “TOOTSIES”…yeah I’d never heard of it either…however it was fantastic!
Dinner at the Wild Horse Saloon to hear some live music and a quick line dancing lesson saw me into the evening.
Day 5: Memphis
In Memphis it rained. We paid our respects to The King. Elvis's Graceland estate was crammed with gold discs and sequined jumpsuits. We also saw his final resting place.
Beale Street was cool. We could see the influence that blues and jazz music has had on America. Memphis was another great place to hear live music and kick our heels up in the evening.
Day 6-7: New Orleans
Next stop was New Orleans. We stayed just above the French Quarter in the heart of the city, and a short walk away from Bourbon Street. This proved extremely useful when stumbling around after a great night out.
Home to jazz, there was a lot of culture there. The architecture, which was incredible, had maintained the French vibe from past times. Live music, lots of tourists and lots of drinking made it a great vacation choice.
Day 8: Lafayette
Lafayette, Louisiana was a mix of modern urban life, and the unmistakable influence of the region's venerable Cajun and Creole cultures. It has more restaurants per capita than any other American city, and many of them specialise in the distinctive seafood-laden regional cuisine. Numerous music clubs also feature home-grown talent, including both traditional and contemporary Cajun and Zydeco performers.
We learned about the area's roots by touring the Acadian Cultural Centre.
We then headed out to sample Julian's Famous Cajun Style cuisine followed by a night at the Blue Moon Saloon, America’s premier venue for roots music...... Great place.
Day 9: San Antonio
We headed west to the historic city of San Antonio and home of the Alamo, a symbol of Texan pride. I was surprised by the diversity in the city with many Spanish speaking people. San Antonio has a rich and colourful past with strong cultural links to its neighbours to the south. The world famous Riverwalk is a subterranean complex of boutique shops, bars and restaurants that meanders for 2.5 miles through the wooded downtown area, and is a fantastic place to while away the afternoon.
Day 10-11: Big Bend National Park
We left the cities behind for five days of desert wonderland. We headed first to Big Bend National Park, named for the Rio Grande's sharp twist, and a great place to strap on those hiking boots. After being warned of manic pigs, bears and mountain lions we set up camp in the very dry, very hot Texan sun.
For my morning stroll I had decided to casually climb Mt. Emory. 7,800 ft. above sea level, 2,300 ft. from the start of the trail over 4.5 miles.
A cautionary round trip of 7 hours was advised to us. Just less than four hours would turn out to be our time. When the top was reached, a 20ft rock climb awaited, but it’s a pretty cajj climb, and believe me when I tell you that extra 20ft makes all the difference. The views were breath taking.
Day 12: White Sands National Monument
We made our way to White Sands National Monument where rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. With over 275 square miles of desert, this is one of the world's largest gypsum dune fields. White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this unique dune field, along with the plants and animals that live here. We rented sand boards at the gift shop to experience these dunes the high-adrenaline way. Great fun.
Day 15: Monument Valley
You all know what Monument Valley looks like as it has appeared in a number of Hollywood films, including Vertical Limit, The Lone Ranger (an obvious story of Johnny Depp falling off his horse was told to us with that one) and Back to the Future (INDIANS!), and the new Transformers also using the vast rocks and landscape to pit giant robots against each other.
The scenery was incredible, with the large rock formations being given names of objects that they resembled; elephant, camel, three sisters, sleeping dragon, the thumb, and even Snoopy. However it was a place very much worth visiting not only for the post card views but to learn about the Navajo.
Our tour guide Ritchie told us of Navajo traditions, played us music and had us shown a demonstration of Navajo female ‘Long Shawl Dancing’, all very interesting. It wasn’t until we ventured into the history of the tribe that real understanding started to be obtained.
Day 16-17: Grand Canyon National Park
Just when the scenery seemed unbeatable, we made the journey to the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. We had two days there which was more than enough time to walk the rim trails for views across the canyon and at sunset watch the rocks change colour under the burning sun.
One of the unmissable excursions was to opt for a helicopter flight over the Canyon for a very different bird's eye view. Brilliant experience.
Day 18-19: Las Vegas
Arriving via the famous Route 66 we were led by neon lights to the city that never sleeps. Yes this is a city famous for gambling and shopping on the famous strip but there is so much more to it than that. Vegas is like an adult theme park, from canon shooting fountains and a “live” volcano to gondola rides in a mall and giant outdoor pirate battle you can watch from the sidewalk - there is just nowhere else like it. On the trip there is the chance to experience the city by helicopter to get a bird’s eye view of the action. My advice would be do it if you can. Vegas is bold and brash and proudly outrageous, it was the perfect place to hum a little Elvis and celebrate nearing the end of our epic tour.
Day 20: Death Valley National Park
From bright lights to baking heat. Death Valley has its name for a reason and in the summer months the temperatures can reach an unbelievable 57 degrees. Fortunately travelling in March allowed for us to experience all the scenery of Death Valley National Park, but in a more bearable heat. We hiked the rocky trails and sand dunes and enjoyed the sights of Dante’s View and Artist Palette, taking a final few pictures as we went, before retreating back to the van for our final night as a group.
Day 21: Los Angeles
We arrived in LA, the trip over and many friendships made. Breath-taking sights and tremendous amounts of fun for those with an open, outgoing mind created a life affirming adventure filled with memories that would undoubtedly stay for a life time.
This was an exciting trip but you feel safe in the knowledge that everything is laid out for you with a brilliant guide to make sure you always get the best experiences .
After the initial price of the trip (21 days coast to coast: £1699, see website for full price list) you have to account for flights, food, drink, tipping money and all of the “optional” activities.
For more information and bookings visit www.trekamerica.co.uk