Jessica Richley mixes a tour of California's stunning landscapes with a taste of San Francisco
I have mixed feelings about being at one with nature. I like the countryside as much as the next girl, especially if it involves a gentle walk followed by a pub lunch. But hiking up steep canyons in Yosemite National Park with bears and chipmunks as my companions is quite another thing. So I walk through the arrivals hall of San Francisco airport looking out for the Great American Adventures sign with a degree of trepidation, before I’m warmly greeted by Becky, our tour guide.
The next day starts with an indulgent breakfast at Dottie’s True Blue Café (522 Jones Street), and then it’s time to get the adventure truly under way. It’s a four-hour drive to our first stop, kayaking at Lake Tahoe, but luckily the time goes quickly as we wind our way through sweet old American towns dating back to the Gold Rush. Once at Lake Tahoe, we have a quick lesson before leaping into action. I’m in the front which means I’m doing the motoring, while my kayak mate behind does the steering. My arms feel strained within a few minutes, but I’m hoping it will be a bit like running, where the first ten minutes are the most painful and then it gets easier! We follow our guide across the lake, stopping now and again to take in views of the stunning mountains which are popular ski slopes in winter. As the sun sets, we’re in the middle of the lake for a breathtaking view.
Strengthen your core with canoeing: what makes an Olympic kayak/canoe competitior?After a night’s sleep at the casino hotel Montbleu (montbleuresort.com) – think 1980s Dynasty bling with in-room Jacuzzis – we’re back in the minibus for the five-hour drive to Yosemite National Park. We’re staying at the Wawona Hotel, a traditional Victorian-style lodge house. The rooms are fairly basic but they suit the setting perfectly. It seems strangely quiet without a TV in the room, but it’s a joy to sit in the rocking chair on the porch in front of my room reading a book. It’s an early start for our day’s hiking so we avoid the strong midday sun. As we begin our trek up the granite cliffs, carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, we’re stunned by beautiful waterfalls and incredible rock formations, including the remarkable Half Dome. The hiking is quite tough going as the temperature rises, but it’s worth it when we arrive at Nevada Fall to see a rainbow arc-ing over the crashing waters. The steep descent tests my knees to the max and I’m relieved to be wearing good hiking boots. No wonder I sleep so well in the minibus heading back to San Francisco.Back in the city, there’s an evening cruise around the Bay with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I decide to stay an extra night so I can hit the shops of Union Square the next day. Shopping is exercise, after all!
Grand American Adventures run similar tours throughout America. For information: grandamericanadventures.com 0844 576 1406)
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