'Elite Eight' of adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale

'Elite Eight' of adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • February 25, 2022

“I spent the day adventuring with Laurel. She is super fun, personable, engaging and a straight shooter. She is on the ball at tall times. We experienced things today one could never imagine. Excitement follows her. You will not regret hiring Wild Bunch for your adventures.” – Shawn, Othello, Wash., on TripAdvisor, June 2019

A married couple of hikers pause for a picture in front of a beautiful Sonoran Desert vista during one of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale. A married couple of hikers pause for a picture in front of a beautiful Sonoran Desert vista during one of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale. 
 
 
A “Frantic February” is bouncing quickly into “March Madness.”

Even with the Arizona Wildcats ranked second nationally, that means more than postseason basketball is dancing around in the “Valley of the Sun.”

Because of the endless sunshine and eternally warm climate, Arizona and especially the Phoenix metro area is annually among the most popular “Spring Break” destinations for both college students and families looking for a getaway.

And that is true even if there is no “Cactus League” baseball this March – with Major League Baseball’s lockout grinding into a fourth month to jeopardize more than Spring Training Games in Arizona.

The reason? There is so much to enjoy outside in the Sonoran Desert -- which is why I am in business with my Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a five-star rated provider of guided Phoenix hiking tours and guided Scottsdale mountain bike tours.

Regrettably, it seems “Punxsutawney Phil” was right.

This winter’s seemingly weekly blizzard is sweeping across the nation. Snow remains on the ground in much of the country – or will be there again soon.

If you are among the many seeking to escape a long, cold, hard winter – here are an “Elite Eight” of adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale to put on the to-do list during your visit to Phoenix.

I can personally recommend these Phoenix travel tour companies because I have done them myself and have a personal friendship with the owners. (Spoiler alert: I am especially close to the operator of my top two picks).

NOTE: I consider all of these tours to be national championship-caliber, but I rank them here in countdown order, eight to one.

The Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake, courtesy Detours American West.
The Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake, courtesy Detours American West.
 

No. 8: Detours American West Apache Trail
This is a great way to see some of the beauty of the Superstition Mountains while having a guide talk to you about the fascinating history.

You visit a small old-fashioned ghost town before traversing an old Native American trail to the Dolly Steamboat Cruise of Canyon Lake to see some pretty cool wildlife.

If you talk your guide into it, you also can get some famous prickly pear ice cream at the little ice cream shop there in Tortilla Flat -- an historic Western stop.

This is a must-do for a day trip.

Contact info: Detoursamericanwest.com or 480-663-9013.

Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (left) with trusted guides Ellen and Rebel during a mountain bike ride through the legendary Red Rocks of Sedona.

Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (left) with trusted guides Ellen (middle) and Rebel (right) during a mountain bike
ride through the legendary Red Rocks of Sedona.


 
No. 7: 360 Adventures
Full disclosure: I worked as a guide for Bruce years ago during the summer and it was AWESOME to snap the pictures of mountain bike riders who had never before seen Sedona.

This is the reason I am in business and why I love guided mountain bike tours so much.

I LOVED guiding visitors on rides of the legendary Red Rocks so much, that I jumped whenever given the chance.

The magnificent vistas are only part of the attraction. You can close your eyes and feel the vortex of energy.

That makes booking a Sedona mountain bike or hiking tour with 360 Adventures an absolute MUST DO when in Arizona.

Contact info: 360-adventures.com or 480-722-0360.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (smiling, center) is excited for lift-off at the start of her Hot Air Expeditions experience.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (smiling, center) is excited for lift-off with Hot Air Expeditions.
 

No. 6: Hot Air Expeditions
You can imagine the breathtaking beauty when the Wild Bunch are out on a guided Phoenix hiking tour or guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour and look up into the sky and see a ton of colorful hot air balloons drifting overhead.

Trust me, the view from above the desert floor is even better!

I admit I was a tiny bit scared of the landing before I did my first flight, but Hot Air Expeditions took fantastic care of me and allayed my fears.

I even had the privilege of seeing snowcapped mountains thanks to a storm the night before my journey.

Like the Wild Bunch, Hot Air Expeditions is one of our “girl powered” Phoenix adventure tours, with the fun provided by sister owners Amanda and Stephanie Long.

Consider booking one of their delightful early morning tours.

Contact info: hotairexpeditions.com or 480-502-6999.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (left) and boyfriend Brett (right) are riding high in the saddle during their Windwalker Expeditions experience.
Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (left) and boyfriend Brett (right) are riding high in the saddle during their Windwalker Expeditions experience.


No. 5: Windwalker Expeditions
Looking for an amazing experience with a guide boasting nearly 30 years in the business? Saddle up with Windwalker Expeditions for a guided horseback adventure.

Shelly and Joseph not only know the desert like the back of their hands, but they are also the nicest people in the Arizona adventure travel tour industry.

During my ride with Joseph, I saw five Gila Monsters and some of the most beautiful desert scenery I have ever experienced – and that is saying something considering I practically live in the Sonoran.

Like the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, Windwalker is a small, private boutique, so they offer a special, personalized touch with a truly fantastic experience.

Contact info: windwalkerexpeditions.com and 480-585-3382.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (center) enjoyed more than a few laughs with Captain Kirk (left) and Monica (right) during a Joy Rides AZ journey in Old Town Scottsdale.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (center) enjoyed more than a few laughs with Captain Kirk (left) and Monica (right) during
a Joy Rides AZ journey in Old Town Scottsdale.


 
No. 4: JoyridesAZ
Monica and Captain Kirk are just awesome people. They are professional goofballs who know how to make any golf-cart ride super fun.

This local small business is in Old Town Scottsdale, and they know EVERYTHING about the community, including all the cool places and super fun stuff.

JoyridesAZ can take you on an Instagram tour for pictures, a wine-tasting tour for connoisseurs, a historical tour for history buffs, a dive-bar tour for lounge lizards -- you name it, they can customize it.

They are the ONLY golf-cart outfit that is properly Insured and licensed, too.

I highly recommend jumping on a cart tour with them and experience Old Town Scottsdale their way.

Contact info: Joyridesaz.com or 480-657-7857.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (left) enjoys a UTV thrill ride at Stellar Adventures with her mom.
Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (left) enjoys a UTV thrill ride at Stellar Adventures with her mom.

 
No. 3: Stellar Adventures
Not to be biased but they have the best-looking, most awesome, fun, amazing, diesel mechanic that takes care of all their off-road vehicles.

My boyfriend Brett is not just in charge of the fleet, but also is a guide, so be sure to request him and tell him you read the recommendation in my Blog!

Stellar’s owner JJ also is my business mentor. He has helped the Wild Bunch with tons of connections and always has my back through rough moments in business.

For off-road joy-riding fun in the desert, Stellar Adventures offers H1 hummers, KM1009 Blazers, ATVS, UTVS.

My personal fav is the shooting experience with an NRA-certified safety instructor. Please know you are not shooting at Sonoran Desert flora or fauna. Instead, you are shooting at standing targets.

You can combine a shooting experience with an off-road vehicle experience and have major adrenaline going all day.

Contact info: stellaradventures.com or 602-402-0548.

A married couple are all smiles during one of the Scottsdale mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
A married couple are all smiles during one of the Scottsdale mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. 
 

No. 2: Wild Bunch mountain bike tours
OK. I am admittedly a teensy little biased!

But all of the Wild Bunch guides provide a tour that is incredibly safe, fantastically fun, and memorably unforgettable.

We can take anyone who can ride without training wheels on guided Scottsdale mountain bike tours.

The adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale range from 90 minutes to a 3–4-hour option -- with breaks for water, amazing pictures, and healthy snacks.

Each journey is completely private and limited to you and your travel party.

Each adventure also is tailored to your skill levels and what sort of a thrill-ride you seek.

We provide the guides, the bikes, and the bike helmets. You provide the shrieks and smiles.

Contact info: wildbunchdesertguides.com or 602-663-0842.
 
A family of five takes a break for a group picture with a breathtaking backdrop during one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
A family of five takes a break for a group picture with a breathtaking backdrop during one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.


No. 1: Wild Bunch hiking tours
OK. I am a lot of biased (ha).

But I am so proud that the Wild Bunch Desert Guides deliver guided Phoenix hiking tours that are fun, safe, and educational for the whole family!

There are 3-4 hour and 90-minute options with the adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale tailored to your wants, needs, desires and skill levels.

Need an ADA-friendly trail? We can do that.

Want a physical challenge? We can do that, too.

Best of all, every Wild Bunch hike in Phoenix is private – limited to only you and your travel party.

And as a small mom-and-pop shop, the Wild Bunch provides homespun hospitality not offered at the big box outfits.

Contact info: wildbunchdesertguides.com or 602-663-0842.

With a forest of cactus behind them, a father and son get their picture taken by their wife and mother during one of the Scottsdale mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
With a forest of cactus behind them, a father and son get their picture taken by their wife and mother during one of the Scottsdale mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
 

Final March Madness thoughts
For those unable to choose between No. 1 and No. 2 – and settle this bragging rights battle – Wild Bunch Desert Guides does offer a Hike and Bike Combo.

Get the benefits of both activities in one day with lunch included as a natural break between the Phoenix hiking and Scottsdale mountain biking adventures.

Note: You must be an endurance freak for this challenge. It is fun but can be extremely difficult – even when we make sure to fit the trails to any level of rider -- from beginner to advanced.

All these activities mentioned are highly recommended, and should be considered during a visit to the Valley of the Sun.”

A couple of others that would be in my Sweet 16 include Scottsdale Segway Tours and Arizona Kayaking, with info available by clicking on the adventure tour.


About the Author

Laurel Darren is the founding owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a 5-star rated adventure tour company that offers guided hiking tours and guided mountain biking tours in Arizona’s picturesque Sonoran Desert in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Arriving in the legendary “Valley of the Sun” in 2012 -- from the home of John Deere in the Quad Cities of Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois -- this corn-fed Midwest girl brought 30 years of athletic chops under her chaps. A 3-sport high school standout and former college softball player – who won her conference’s Athlete of the Year award as a prep senior – Darren has graduated to competing in many races as an adult, from road running and cycling, to cyclo-cross and Mountain Bikes, and even Duathlon and Triathlon “Ironman” competitions. Darren was a popular, top-rated senior mountain bike guide at Arizona’s Outback Adventures before branching out to start her own small adventure business in 2016. To book a guided mountain bike tour or guided hiking trip – or a combination of the two adventures – please visit the home page www.wildbunchdesertguides.com or call 602-663-0842.



 

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My husband and I traveled to the Phoenix area in late March to visit longtime friends. Although my husband and I really wanted a mountain bike experience, our friends were a bit reticent. So, we opted for a hike. I was familiar with Laurel's business from some Facebook posts I had seen--and she also happens to have been a student in my English class twenty-five years ago!! I reached out to WBDG and began planning our morning adventure. Laurel has always been athletic, so I was confident in her skills to guide our group. After talking with her, we decided on an "out and back" two and one-half hour hike up the 302 Freedom Trail in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Perfect for the four of us!! We did lots of catching-up across the 25 years since our last real conversation while also learning about the mountain terrain. Laurel was an excellent guide, pointing out various desert plants and flowers and giving us some easy survival tips...just in case (ha!ha!). We learned a couple mountain hiking rules--like...who has the right away on a narrow path. Laurel brought waters and backpacks for each of us and was carefully watching everyone's level of fatigue and drive to move forward. We will definitely tour with Laurel again...next time...on bikes!!

- Dea C.

My son and I wanted to do a bit of exploring around Scottsdale by mountain bike. Laurel helped us arrange a great ride at our convenience. She had awesome bikes which were perfectly sized, cold water bottles and backpacks, gloves, helmets, literally everything. We just showed up and rode. She catered to our experience level, took GREAT pictures of us, and truly couldn't have given us a better morning of exploring. I will absolutely schedule again with Wild Bunch Guides anytime I'm in Phoenix, and I'd recommend them to anyone who'd like an outdoor adventure. You'll get experienced, personable guides who will make you feel comfortable no matter what adventure you've chosen!

- Kristine M.

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