The Grand Western Tour is a pioneer in creating memorable summer adventures for high school students. We took our first busload of students from North Carolina to California in 1964 — and have been doing it ever since.
The story of the Grand Western Tour begins with Eleanor Sue Cox Shore, an alum of Salem College with a passion for travel. She founded the Western Tour in 1964 to provide young people with the same educational travel experiences she had enjoyed during such a pivotal time in her life.
Eleanor discovered a true gem in Ken Hayes, a beloved Winston-Salem teacher and coach who was hired to serve as the tour’s first director. Ken served as the director for a remarkable 33 consecutive years before purchasing the company in 1997. Over the years, Ken gained incredible insight and knowledge that enabled us to refine and enhance the Grand Western Tour experience.
Today, the Grand Western Tour is owned and operated by alum Mary Barnett Hale (’81) and her husband Scott. They look forward to carrying on the tradition that has played such an important role in Mary’s life.
When I reflect on my Western Tour experience nearly 40 years ago, I now realize what invaluable life skills I was developing. I formed a special bond with my fellow travelers that only those who have traveled the United States via bus can truly understand.
Our goal is to provide students with new friendships and an up-close and personal look at America on an epic adventure they’ll fondly remember for the rest of their lives. We travel to some of the nation’s most iconic cities and beautiful national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and visit some of our country's most notable landmarks, like the St. Louis Arch, the Space Needle in Seattle and Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Along the way, we introduce students to different cultures and communities, including a rustic ranch in Wyoming, primitive ruins in Colorado and the French Quarter in New Orleans, just to name a few.
The Grand Western Tour team is mindfully composed of carefully chosen professionals who have experience working with a diverse group of personalities and facilitating a fun experience for teens. The health and well-being of our students and staff and fostering a sense of community among the group are our priorities. We maintain a ratio of one staff member for every 13 students, which enables our team to provide personal attention and really get to know the students.
Mary is an alum of the Grand Western Tour who has always cherished her trip across the country in 1981. On that trip, Mary developed many lasting friendships that still remain intact to this day. After graduating from St. Mary’s College and UNC, she married and raised three children in Greensboro, NC. Her youngest daughter went on the tour in 2018, which reignited her passion for the Grand Western Tour. Mary and her husband Scott purchased the Grand Western Tour in 2019 and look forward to carrying on a tradition that played such an important role in Mary’s life.
The Grand Western Tour was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I built relationships that will last a lifetime — truly a life-changing experience that I’m so grateful to have.