Frequently Asked Questions

Experiences You Will Remember for a Lifetime

Elite Custom Adventures recognizes that COVID is causing high levels of uncertainty: with jobs, with school, and least of all parks and vacations. To better serve our customers, ECA is implementing the following:

Once a deposit is placed, rescheduling your adventures will be free of charge for available dates.

Best practices based on the CDC and US Parks’ guidelines will be implemented throughout travel.

At Elite Custom Adventures, our goal is to create experiences that our clients will cherish for the rest of their lives. To that end, we believe it is better to make sure clients and our service are a match on the front end. The following Frequently Asked Questions should answer the majority of your questions and please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

Services Detail

ECA Services Detail

Pre-Trip

Custom Trip Planning: Typically, the person who contacts ECA, or their designee, ends up being the “Lead Guest”. The Lead Guest coordinates with ECA to choose the base trip that best fits the group’s interests and develop the trip-specific itinerary. Trip options will be broken into 1-2 day Las Vegas Day Trips, and National Park Experiences: The Weekend Adventurer (4 days, 1-3 parks), Chasing the Sun (9 days, 3-6 parks), and Summit Fever (14 days, 7-10 parks) packages, and then further customized based on the group’s priorities and expectations on a day-by-day basis.

Group Preparation: Guests do not need to be bushcrafters or marathon runners to enjoy themselves in nature, but people will absolutely not enjoy themselves if they’re sore, chaffed, blistered, sunburnt, and cold/hot because they came into the trip completely unprepared. The idea of “the effort you put in beforehand will have a direct impact on what you’re able to get out of the trip” will be a key topic as groups meet with ECA for 4, 1.5-hour preparation sessions. Preparation will focus on physical/mental training, group/guide expectations, and outdoor basics based on Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills. Las Vegas Day Trips will participate in an abbreviated 1.5-hour session.

In-Trip

Transportation: The first major benefit of traveling with ECA the transportation element. We partner with Cruise America and will meet guests at the airport with the RV ready to go. On the high end, 14-day trips typically cover 2200-3000 miles or 34-36 hours of drive time. Normally this set up would result in one parent or group member being stuck behind the wheel, not interacting with their friends and family, and exhausted by the time they reach the destination. Not the case with ECA, as our guide will do the driving and our guests can be refreshed when we reach out next destination. Las Vegas Day Trips will be transported in a vehicle rented to fit the party size, typically an SUV.

Guide/Safety Services: Our outdoor leadership skills allow ECA to safely introduce our guests to a deeper experience in the outdoors than they ever thought possible. Guests do not need to be expert hikers or have previous experience in our National Parks. All trips will be customized to the group’s skill levels, and guides will be able to provide ongoing advice/updates to the itinerary as the group becomes more or less confident. All guides will be certified in Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training, traditional first responder training modified to fit a wilderness environment, and will give honest, ongoing assessments of hydration needs, hiking skills, and risks involved with all activities. Additionally, guides will carry a Personal Location Beacon (PLB) on all hikes, a device linked to a satellite network that informs rescuers of your GPS coordinates should a serious situation arise.

Professional Photo/videography: In an increasingly visual world, posting vacation pictures and videos has become standard fare. However, while cell phones continue to improve quality, the difference between cell phones and mirrorless/DSLR cameras is indisputable. We use Sony’s 61mp a7rIV camera paired with their highest-level G Master lenses. Lens focal lengths range from 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 200-600mm, with a 2x extender allowing up to 1200mm.
All guides will be professional level photographers, able to execute and explain ISO/Shutter Speed/Aperture tradeoffs, astrophotography/light trails, focus stacking, rich bokeh, macro, and numerous other techniques. Guides will also be versed in iPhone/Android picture systems to take quick/as-we-go shots for immediate posting. ECA feels that this process will allow groups to move significantly more quickly, have all members in the shots, produce higher quality results, and allow guests to better stay in the moment.

Post-Trip

Media Editing and Delivery: Post processing will be performed in Lightroom and delivered within 30 days of the trip completion. Similar trips representing the high end of duration (14 days) have resulted in approximately 10,000 photos, and we expect to narrow those down to 2,000 photos for actual editing. Of the 2,000 edited photos, each is ranked and typically results in approximately 200 ultra-high quality, 5-star photos, which will be placed into a custom slideshow for clients. Clients will also receive a Google drive link all 3-5 star photos (approximately 1,000-2,000), optimized in JPEG format for immediate social media posting. All files available in RAW format upon request. ECA will provide individual shots and GIF videos ear each guest, and a full music video from the video footage captured throughout the entire adventure. Las Vegas Day Trips will provide a minimum of 10 group shots, 3-5 individuals shots (each guest), and 5-10 landscape shots. All unique and all shot at professional quality.

Printing and Framing (as requested): ECA offers custom in-house printing and/or framing of clients’ favorite photos. Options can include Christmas Cards, Post Cards, Posters, Standard and Large Framed Prints. ECA has invested in the highest quality professional fine art printer, the Canon ProGraf-1000, allowing control over the paper type and printing. Additionally, the  ProGraf-1000 uses pigment inks that produce not only richer colors and darker blacks, but is designed to not fade for decades, making these the perfect pictures to frame. While more expensive, the improvement in print quality and fade resistance is undeniable.

Unlockable Benefits: ECA seeks to continue to build on the relationships and trust established with our guests during their first ECA experience. After that first adventure, select guests can look forward to top booking priority, special offers, and unlockable experiences. Unlockable experiences include adventures such as climbing Mt. Rainier, swimming with sharks, and international experiences such as Patagonia/Torres del Paine or the Karakoram Highway. These take adventure to the next level, and require a level of trust between ECA and its guests that can only be established by previous experience.

Ideal Guests

Who is this trip for/not for?

First and foremost, we welcome people of all ages, nationalities, orientations, genders, and so on. We also encourage those for whom English is not a first language to contact ECA to discuss options. 

Outside of that, we have always believed there are two types of vacations: those where you turn your brain off and relax (think beach or spa), and those where you explore new places, partake in new experiences, and push your boundaries. There is nothing wrong with either of these vacations, but a 100% relax person isn’t going to enjoy themselves on an ECA adventure.

That’s just it: This is an vacation that we want to turn into an experience. From groups of friends, young families, corporate clients, active retirees, and generally driven people, we serve anyone who is willing to put in the effort to be prepared physically and mentally for the trip. Most days will involve 6-10 miles of hiking some of the most stunning areas in North America, plenty of elevation gains, meals from the camper as we drive hundreds of miles, slipping in a couple of sleep, then doing it again. As long as this sounds appealing to you in theory, we can do pre-work to ensure you’re physically and mentally prepared.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you’re a serious backpacker, thru-hiker, rock climber, etc., this trip may not be as in-depth at each location as you’d normally experience.

We would like to point out that ECA welcomes international guests and corporate clients, and encourages you to reach out with any questions.

Trip Priorities

What are ECA’s priorities on trips? In order:

1) The safety of our group and others

2) The safety of the animals

3) The application of “Leave No Trace” principles

4) Our enjoyment

5) Photo opportunities

This is to say: If any action is deemed too dangerous to ourselves, others, or animals, or violates “Leave No Trace” principles, we simply will not do it.

Example: Hanging on a tree branch over a chasm for a picture. Not happening.

Regarding “Our Enjoyment”, you may be asking yourself: Do we travel with other groups/families? Absolutely not. Customization does not stop when we plan the initial itinerary. ECA will continue to revise the trip “on the go” based on the group’s desires. Ready to move on quickly? Not a problem. Tired and want to spend an extra day in the park? Done. Your locations, activities, pace, and every nuance of the trip will be determined by your group and ECA, and no one else.

 

Pricing
What is the cost and how does it vary?

ECA has designed pricing that 1) is comparable to other high end guide services, allowing for our photo/videography to be a true value-add and 2) is based on a cascading Per Person Per Day (PPPD) formula, ranging from one person for one day ($2000 PPPD, $2000 total) to 8 people for 14 days ($550 PPPD, $61,600 total). As the duration and number of people increase the total trip cost, PPPD costs decrease. Generalized examples are as follows:

Las Vegas Experiences – 1-2 days, 1-8 guests, 2-3 parks, $750-$2000pppd

Weekend Adventurer – 4 days, 2-8 guests, 2-3 parks, $700-$1300pppd

Chasing the Sun – 9 days, 2-8 guests, 5-7 parks, $650-$1200pppd 

Summit Fever – 14 days, 2-8 guests, 7-10 parks, $550-$1000pppd 

Pricing may vary based on particularly high cost areas (Southern California, Northeast US/Canada), seasonal demand (summer in Canadian Rockies, winter in Florida Keys, spring break), and unique guest customization requests.

Elite Custom Adventures recognizes that COVID is causing high levels of uncertainty: with jobs, with school, and least of all parks and vacations. To better serve our customers, ECA is implementing the following:

Once a 25% deposit is placed, rescheduling your adventures will be free of charge for open dates.

Best practices based on the CDC and US Parks’ guidelines will be implemented throughout travel.

Safety Precautions

What safety precautions are taken?

First and foremost, the group’s safety is ECA’s top priority. Through education, preparation, and guidance, we intend to preemptively eliminate the vast majority of situations that could lead to danger. However, nature can be unpredictable and ECA has implemented numerous layers of safety to reduce risk:

-All guides are Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certified, an advanced certification covering first responder topics modified for wilderness scenarios.

-Regardless of distance, groups will bring a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) on all hikes. PLBs are GPS enabled and registered with emergency management agencies worldwide through a network of search and rescue satellites. We would never want to be in a situation where we’d need to use PLB, but if we have to activate it, there will be an emergency response in any corner of the world.

-Continually check notices from each park Visitor Center and/or park website.

-Review Safety Checklist Before All Hikes: Water, First Aid Kit, Appropriate Footwear, Weather Check, PLB, Topographic Map, etc.

-In regions with grizzly bears (PNW, Plains and Rockies, Canadian Rockies), the guide will lead (as opposed to trail/sweep) hikes, carry bear spray, and be trained in its proper use.

-In regions with any bears, guides will check tents/campsites each night to ensure foods, drinks, lotions, sunscreen, etc. have been securely stored. ECA provides both bear canisters and carbon fiber bear backs as needed for backcountry backpacking as necessary.

 

Group Size
How many people are able to go on a trip at one time?

National Park Experiences are ideally designed to be comfortable for 6 guests and a guide, for a total of 7 people. Cruise America RVs have 9 seatbelts, technically allowing for up to 8 guests. We believe that 6 people is ideal, 6 adults + 2 kids is tight but reasonable, and 8 adults is boarding on uncomfortable. Please still reach out if your party is larger than 6, as we can be flexible depending on vehicle type or using multiple vehicles. 

Additionally, we are happy to provide services for parties smaller than 6. Las Vegas Daytrips were designed for smaller groups and shorter excursions to the parks within driving distance from Las Vegas. Similarly, we are very flexible to be able to customize smaller or larger party sizes, including international and corporate guests.

Pre Trip Prep
What do I need to do before the trip?

Mental Preparation: If you’re reading this and thinking about which trip would be best, I’d encourage you to think about what you want to get out of the trip. A family bonding experience? A backcountry backpacking trip? Strengthening business relationships? Know that as well as we plan the trip, variables ranging from closed roads to bad weather will inevitably cause us to change plans on the fly. Are you ok with a flexible schedule?

Physical Preparation: There’s no “high end” to the level of fitness you can be, but there’s definitely a “low end”. A commonly cited statistic (though likely not too scientific) is that 95% of National Park visitors do not go more than 100 yards from their car… that will not be us.

The National Park system really does a tremendous job of making the majority of the highlights accessible, but many of them still involved a 1-2 mile roundtrip hike. Moving at a fast pace, we may end up doing 4-6 of these in a day, for anywhere between 4-12 miles.

This isn’t about speed: most hiking is at 1-2 mph. I recommend a minimum being able to spend at least 30 minutes on a Stairmaster at a reasonable pace, and preferably be able to expand on that as we approach the trip.

Outdoor Preparation: Your guide will be present to direct and advise on any and all outdoor activities. However, preparation and practice beforehand can make the trip a more enjoyable experience. Each group will receive a copy of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, a tremendous overview of everything from tying your shoes to self-rescues from ice crevasses. We will cover initial chapters focusing on topics such as “the rest step”, “types of terrain”, “setting up camp”, and “foot care”. Along those lines, the time you spend finding the right clothes/boots/backpack etc. and ensuring they don’t cause chaffing/blisters through dry runs will make life much easier later on. ECA will provide a list of recommended/necessary clothing for each trip’s unique environments.

 

In-Trip Activities

On the trip, what will we do/not do?

We will do what the group wants to do, within the bounds of safety and Leave No Trace. The initial trip will be customized to the group’s priorities, and continually evaluated/updated as the trip unfolds.

Primarily, we will focus on visiting a high volume of parks in a short time. The parks are generally well laid out and we recommend following a “tight and to the right” pattern as we move out way through the parks’ highlights. 1 large + 2 smaller hikes are usually scheduled throughout the day, selected based on difficulty and group preference (waterfalls, lakes, summits, etc.).

Unless specified (such as the Banff Skylift), ancillary activities can be added but are not included in standard trip costs. For example, if the group wants to rent a boat in Biscayne or a helicopter ride in the Rockies, ECA will absolutely arrange for and execute that service, then bill at the post-trip reconciliation.

 

Guide Role
On the trip, what will our guide do/not do?

Guides WILL serve a number of roles on this trip:

-Primary Transportation

-Time Management/Continual Itinerary Update

-Safety Management and First Responder

-Professional Photographer

-Take pictures on guests’ personal phones

-Teach guests principles of photography, as desired

-Leave No Trace Ambassador

-Final Decision Maker Regarding Outdoor Safety

This is a very different service than other guides. Please review this list and understand this is what the guide WILL NOT do:

-Preparing Meals for Group

-Cleaning Up After Group

-Set Up/Take Down Group Camping

-Know Everything About Every Site (Park Signage and Google)

-Babysitting Kids (parents go hike, guide watches kids)

-Babysitting Adults (generally poor behavior, alcohol)

Reservation Timing

How early can I book?

ECA takes reservations 18-months in advance, on an on-going basis. We ask that reservations be made at a minimum of one month prior to departure, to ensure there is time to work through the preparation activities (see above).

For example, as of June 2020 we are taking reservations for July 2020 through December 2021.

 

Leave No Trace

What was that about Leave No Trace principles?

Leave No Trace is a general set of principles agreed upon and promoted by the majority of outdoor conservation groups. The idea is that whatever you do in nature, no one should be able to tell that you were there after you’ve left. In 2019, US National Parks had over 300 million visitors, logging almost 1.5 billion recreational hours. If each person made an impact, these parks would very quickly become unrecognizable.

Leave No Trace is something we will cover in much more detail in the pre-work. In general, of course you don’t litter, pick flowers, take rocks, etc. But we will really try to honor this to our core: not stepping on moss, selecting clear sites for tents, pooping in a cat-hole (or portable bag in alpine) if standard facilities are not available, and much more minutiae that will be covered later.

 

Dogs (and Drones)
What about dogs (and drones)?

First and foremost, ECA is full of dog people. ECAs founder takes both of his dogs camping, and has a Weimaraner that joins on any hike she’s allowed. If you REALLY want to bring a dog, we recognize they are part of the family and are not going to stop you. However, you must understand that our National Parks are not particularly pet friendly, and it will significantly limit how much of the park that you can access/hike. We do recommend leaving your furry friend at home.

If bringing a dog, one option is to modify trips to have more time in National Forests, which tend to be more dog friendly and less populated than National Parks. The other option is to simply stick to the paved portions of the parks we visit. Is it still an amazing experience to walk to paved paths through Yosemite Valley? Yes. Is it the same as climbing a 3000-foot waterfall to a perch overlooking the entire valley? No.

One thing that is not an option, regardless of temperature or dog’s disposition, is leaving the dog in the camper while we go hiking. If there is a dog and the group is intent on doing a trail hike, one member must remain with the dog.

Very similarly, ECA has and enjoys using drones for photography. However, almost every single National Park, Monument, Forest, etc. specifically prohibits the usage of drones, and using the drone itself is a very time consuming process. Much like a dog, we will absolutely do drone photography upon request in permitted areas, but these areas are generally few and far between and we would otherwise recommend focusing on traditional photography.

Drugs and Alcohol
What are ECA’s policies on alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs?

As we offer trips in numerous states and two different countries, we strive to offer consistency to our guests regarding our stance:

–Alcohol is allowed everywhere we’re going; however heavy drinking is the number one source of conflict at campgrounds and within groups. Also, it is never fun to wake up with a hangover and a long hike to complete. We ask that you limit alcohol consumption to a few beers or wine at the campsite.

–Marijuana is a mixed bag. At ECA, we personally have no problem if you want to buy, bring, and smoke marijuana (or edibles).

However, it is not legal in the majority of states in the “South”, “Midwest”, and “Southwest” trips and will not be allowed on these trips.

Other states have legalized recreational use, and Parks Canada has even released standards allowing smoking at park campsites.

However, US National Parks are still federal and it’s technically still illegal at the federal level. Respect and discretion are key.

Guests who wish to bring marijuana on eligible trips are welcome to, but the Lead Guest must sign a release that takes responsibility for ownership should an issue arise.

– “Other drugs”, most often referring to mushrooms, ecstasy, and acid, but including all other drugs for which guests do not have a valid prescription, are not legal anywhere and simply not allowed.

Expectations
Will everything be perfect/go smoothly?

Heck no. And frankly, the trip wouldn’t be as memorable if it did. We’re going to have a plan and we’re going to work to execute that plan, but I don’t think there’s ever been a trip where things like weather, unexpected closures, foot blisters and chafing, animal traffic jams, car stuck in sand, etc. haven’t made us adjust the “plan” on the fly. But similarly, these are the things that make the trip unique. I promise you won’t forget a bison walking 12 inches from your car window, and that you’ll be just as (or more) impressed with many locations in less than perfect weather. The sunlight and clouds always make for unique photos, and you get a different view than the other million people who were at the same location.

Ultimately, while we work very hard through education and preparation to preemptively reduce the likelihood of danger, there could always be something like a car accident, a serious hiking injury, a family emergency, etc. that could fundamentally alter our trip. We will work with each group on a case by case basis should these situations arise. Additionally, just from a mental perspective, we have all been disappointed by unforeseen closures, weather, etc. that didn’t allow us to do certain things on trips, but those things were often what drove us to go back and explore many of those places more in depth in the future.

Trip Reflection
What can I expect after the trip wraps up?

Here’s where the magic happens. It usually takes about 3 days to get used to van life and get your “hiking legs” under you. From day 3-12, most people are ready to rock and roll: 10 miles of hiking, 5 hours of driving, little bit of sleep, quick snack, and do it again. By day 13/14, this “lifestyle” usually starts to wear people down a little, you may even find yourself a little cranky, achy, and tired. This is expected: you’ve been working hard and this is why two weeks makes a nice top end window before guests transition back to reality.

First, we always recommend having at least one “relax at home” day before getting back to life. Flying in on Sunday and going back to work on Monday is not fun, trust us. Similarly, schedule a massage and/or chiropractor appointment when you return. You’ll have been working hard and you deserved it.

Over the coming weeks, the scrapes and blisters will heal, the chafing will go away, the lower back will stop aching, but all of the good times will only come more clearly into focus. During the trip, you will be hitting as many as three major locations in a day. It’s hard to reflect/compare/contrast when you went to the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon yesterday, and today you did Zion and Bryce. In the weeks following your return, your family will be able to have the “Do you remember…”, “My favorite part was…”, and “Can you believe we did…” conversations that we were moving too quickly to have during the trip.

Throughout this time, ECA will be working to professionally process your photos using Adobe Lightroom. This is a tedious process and frankly, a significant portion of the trip cost. Over the previous two weeks, your guide will have taken close to 10,000 photos of you, your friends/family, and the natural landscapes. We will narrow the 10,000 to approximately the best 1-2,000 and individually edit each photo. You will receive the full 1-2,000 photos, but we will then “rank” each photo from 1-5 stars. This process will result in approximately 200 “Best of the Best” shots, which we turn into a slideshow.

Within a month your family will receive a link to all photos, the slideshow, and “outtakes” from those candid moments when no one thought we were paying attention. Each guest will receive individual shots and video GIFs, while the entire experience will be summarized in a custom music video from the footage recorded during the experience. All photos will be optimized as JPEGs to be posted on social media, and all clients are welcome to original RAW files as requested. Going back through the photos and slideshow will allow the group to relive the experience anywhere from one month to many decades later.

Ready to make your dream adventure a reality? Let's talk! Visit our contact page or fill out this form to reach out.