New heights for Phoenix hiking tours

New heights for Phoenix hiking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • June 17, 2022

“The hubs and I took off for a day of ‘first time’ hiking not knowing what to expect. We met Laurel as our guide for the day and she welcomed us with the biggest smile ever. Listen, she treated our concerns/fears as if they were her own and she went out of her way to make us feel secure and safe. … We had a blast! She even took us on an impromptu walking excursion at the end of the hike. Because of Laurel, the owner of the company, hiking is something we look forward to doing again. Sidenote: She has a beautiful and thoughtful way of exchanging authentic communication while climbing that makes you forget you're on a mountain. She's a rockstar! If you've never hiked before or if you're a seasoned hiker that needs a guide, do yourself a favor and book with The Wild Bunch!” – M.J., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Yelp, Jan. 14, 2018


Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren shows off her new business license from Lake City, Colorado. Wild Bunch is expanding from its Phoenix adventure tours roots to offering Colorado hiking tours this summer in the remote tourist destination of the Lake City region in the San Juan Mountains.. (TOP) Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren shows off her new business license from Lake City, Colorado. Wild Bunch is expanding from its Phoenix adventure tours roots to offering Colorado hiking tours this summer in the remote tourist destination of the Lake City region in the San Juan Mountains. (COVER/LEAD IN) Laurel poses with Handies Peak behind her. Handies is one of five adventure trails offered this summer during the Wild Bunch expansion into Colorado hiking tours.
 
 

Like any proud mama, I am blown away by the growth of my “baby.”

The last six years have seen my little mom-and-pop specialty shop crawling at first like any newborn – before some especially unsure steps during COVID and the early shutdowns associated with the pandemic – to now running full speed ahead with a certain confidence and conviction.

The Wild Bunch Desert Guides just finished off our best and busiest season yet in May – and so far, the summer “offseason” in Arizona has been equally hot in literal and figurative terms.

Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours are only offered at two early morning times between June 1 and Oct. 1.

But those 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. starts for Phoenix adventure tours remain a hot ticket despite the triple digit heat in the other-worldly beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

Visitors to The Valley of the Sun can easily book with us online at our website.

However, this summer, the Wild Bunch is stretching out like any youngster in marvelous ways.

In our latest growth spurt, we officially started offering Colorado hiking tours this week during my usual working vacation in Lake City.

Laurel Darren, founding owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles standing next to the sign for Cataract Gulch, one of the five new exciting trails offered in the Colorado hiking tours expansion of her small, private, boutique business.

Laurel pauses to enjoy one of the many waterfalls found on the Cataract Gulch trail.

(TOP) Laurel Darren, founding owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles standing next to the sign for Cataract Gulch, one of the five new exciting trails offered in the Colorado hiking tours expansion of her small, private, boutique business. (BOTTOM) Laurel pauses to enjoy one of the many waterfalls found on the Cataract Gulch trail.
 

Growth of hiking tours Phoenix
For previous guests of our Phoenix hiking tours, the Wild Bunch is offering the same great experience on our Colorado hiking tours -- only in the laidback and luscious surroundings of Lake City.

The remote tourist destination of around 400 people promises a “Peak Experience” to visitors via Social Media – and the Wild Bunch Desert Guides aims to help live up to those lofty goals.

My little hideaway in the former mining country of the San Juan Mountains delivers both a cool climate and even cooler people and surroundings.

Included among the beautiful sights to see are snow-capped peaks, majestic mountains, vast valleys, thick forests, glacier-gouged lakes, rushing mountain streams and cascading waterfalls.

You also get treated to extended glimpses of wildlife in this wilderness wonderland.

So, the decision to add Colorado hiking tours this summer was not difficult for me because I love to share the best-kept secrets.

To say I am extremely excited is an understatement.

Just like our Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours, guests can expect the same first-class customer service and homespun hospitality.

The Wild Bunch provides water, snacks, and other items necessary for a successful adventure including backpacks for guests to borrow and carry any additional items they would like to bring – especially cameras or cellphones to capture the unforgettable scenery.

Same as Phoenix adventure tours from the Wild Bunch, the Colorado hiking tours are completely private – limited to only you and your family or travel party.

And the Wild Bunch offers medically trained and certified guides to put you on the path to a safe, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

These Colorado hiking tours do not come from some fly-by-night, "cowboy" outfit that will disappear without a trace after the weekend, either.

Wild Bunch Desert Guides, LLC has met all requirements to operate commercially in Colorado under permit number CO1600322008 -- and in accordance with the Operating Plan on file at the Gunnison Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management.

So, rest easy -- Wild Bunch is federally authorized, state approved and properly insured to conduct guided hikes on BLM property.


Unlike our menu of options back home in Arizona, though, the Colorado hiking tours are only available this summer by contacting me personally at 309-230-2484 or by email through our website’s contact form.

There are no online bookings available for the Lake City adventures.

Currently, there also is only one starting time at 7 a.m.

And the days of the Colorado hiking tours are Tuesday through Friday – although if you desire a different day to better fit your visit to the Lake City region, please let us discuss an alternative!

Additionally, I have an important recommendation for all guests looking to hike with us in the Lake City region -- unless you are an experienced and well-traveled hiker, you will want to choose our ONE HOUR OUT, ONE HOUR BACK option on the trail for these Colorado hiking tours.

After doing some "recon" work in May -- and hiking all of these trails with Lake City-based friends to mark the "must see" highlights for visitors -- we all agreed two hours on trail was more than enough time for most "Average Joes" visiting an elevation change.

Figure in an hour roundtrip of travel to and from Lake City to each adventure -- and you will want to schedule a nap afterwards with these trails truly offering an ass-kicking physical challenge!


Justin Hill, the owner of Lake City Brewing Company, laughs it up with dog Jackson during a Justin Hill, the owner of Lake City Brewing Company, laughs it up with dog Jackson during a "recon" scouting mission to Cataract Gulch with Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren.



Phoenix hiking tours: Next step
One other similarity to our bread-and-butter guided Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours?

This summer’s Colorado hiking tours are a real treat for the eyes. The adventures include:

 
  • HANDIES PEAK: This is what is referred to by Colorado hikers as a “14er.”
Colorado is home to 58 mountain peaks of at least 14,000 feet in elevation and this is among the grandest of those so-called “14ers” because of the stunning panoramic views in the American Basin – the most scenic of valleys in the San Juan Mountains.

With the basin located above timberline, the hike to the 14,048-foot summit is full of visual treasures including wildflower-speckled meadows, the sparkling Alpine surprise of Sloan Lake, and a large assortment of craggy peaks, rock glaciers and other formations that are sometimes snowcapped.

Handies is considered one of the easiest 14ers to climb despite gaining almost 2,500 feet in the 2.7 miles from the trailhead to the peak. Although the difficulty is listed as strenuous, a reasonably healthy hiker should have no problems reaching the top.

PLEASE NOTE: 48 hours advance notice is necessary to enjoy this hike, which is specially priced because of the difference in length and challenge from the other offerings. ALSO: There is no discount for children, and the recommended minimum age is 8 years old.

There is a plethora of pictures and reviews on the internet, including this information link about Handies.


Laurel Darren on the trail to Handies Peak.
Laurel Darren on the trail to Handies Peak.

 
  • WATERDOG LAKES TRAIL: You do not need to have your loyal dog at your side to enjoy this popular route.
Sitting high above the east side of Lake City, Waterdog features a steep initial climb among a mix of rocks and forest.

The trail, which includes 2,400 feet of elevation gain, eventually leads to gorgeous meadows marked by Aspen Groves and the highlight of the trip -- the picturesque lake itself.

Although I am a dog lover – and a proud mama to my Plot Hound Waylon, who often hikes with me -- my recommendation is to leave your dogs at home for these Wild Bunch hikes.

The reason? Most dogs and their owners are not prepared for the additional challenges of these mountainous hikes in unfamiliar territory. 

However, that is not a blanket statement, so we can discuss this detail.

NOTE: Dogs are welcome on this trail, but they must be leashed at all times for safety reasons.

You can read up on this perfect two-hour, 3.2-mile out-and-back roundtrip.


Some of the glorious sights along Waterdog Lakes Trail.
A sampling of the glorious sights along Waterdog Lakes Trail. 

 
  • DEVILS CREEK TO DEVILS LAKE: You will have a devil of a good time on this trail, which offers heavenly sights to behold.
This incredibly scenic route follows to where the creek feeds into the glacier-carved lake, which is nestled beautifully between the volcanic deposits of the Calf Creek and Cannibal Plateaus.

The trail offers several gorgeous views of Lake Fork Valley and Uncompahgre Peak plus nearly 3,600 feet of elevation gain.

Wild Bunch does not offer the full 6-hour hiking experience to Devils Lake, but this website offers a glimpse of the treasurers you can uncover.


Laurel Darren flashes a devilish smile along the Devils Creek trail.
Laurel Darren flashes a devilish smile along the Devils Creek trail.

 
  • CATARACT GULCH: Be prepared to wipe your eyes a couple of times and question what you see.
No, you are not seeing things. The beauty before your eyes is as real as the challenge.

This steep ascension climbs to a beautiful lake basin before continuing upwards to the Continental Divide Trail.

The hike wanders through dense woods and lovely Alpine meadows and passes numerous waterfalls cascading along Cataract Creek. Tip-to-tip, the elevation gain is nearly 2,600 feet.

The whole 4.5-mile challenge averages about three hours – but we can shorten the out-and-back on this trail.

NOTE: This is the best trail for kids -- and it is my favorite next to Alpine Gulch!


Justin Hill, owner of Lake City Brewing Company, is thumbs up with the waterfall-filled route on the Cataract Gulch trail.
Justin Hill, owner of Lake City Brewing Company, is thumbs up with the waterfall-filled route on the Cataract Gulch trail.

 
  • ALPINE GULCH: This might be my personal favorite.
A challenging route is worth the extra work because of several scenic views, including a number of waterfalls.

Herds of elk and deer are often spotted along with several old log cabins dotting a trail that includes beautiful meadows and steep cliffs.

The descent to Henson Creek also includes a bridge over the gulch.

There also are several creek crossings, which are my favorites because that is not something we get to do on Phoenix hiking tours!

However, water levels on those creek crossings can prevent us from offering this hike. So, similar to Handies Peak, please allow for 48-hour advance notice to find out if this adventure is even available for the desired date.

All the other hikes can be selected on the morning you meet your guide!

Fully explored, Alpine Gulch can keep you busy for a full day – but we cut that time down by hitting the highlights detailed here.

Lydia McNeese, adventuring buddy of Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren, navigates over a mountain creek with the help of a log crossing on the Alpine Gulch trail. 

Lydia McNeese, adventuring buddy of Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren, navigates over a mountain creek with the help of a log crossing on the
Alpine Gulch trail.



Bottom line? Whatever you choose, prepare to see some amazing beauty and enjoy an incredible experience.

Please join us this summer for Colorado hiking tours in the Lake City area.

Otherwise, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides hope to see you soon for one of our five-star reviewed Phoenix hiking tours or Phoenix mountain bike tours.

Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, poses with the sign for Alpine Gulch -- one of the trails offered in the new Colorado hiking tours offered in the expanded services this summer from the Arizona-based Phoenix adventure tours company.
Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, poses with the sign for Alpine Gulch -- one of the trails offered in the new Colorado hiking tours offered in the expanded services this summer from the Arizona-based Phoenix adventure tours company.
 

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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Featured Reviews

Matt was our guide. He did an excellent job of judging our fitness and our level of interest in information about the area. He was very willing to answer questions. Best of all he gave us a great hike that we could not have done or fully appreciated on our own. The pace was not too slow or too fast and was a little bit challenging all the way. He was well prepared and brought all the supplies we needed. I showed up with only good sneakers and a hat. Someone let on that it was my birthday and when we got to the summit, he even had a birthday snack for me. I like doing tours while traveling and this was a good one. Well worth it as a private for two people. I would do another one of their tours or a second route on this same Sonora Desert hike through Squaw Peak.

- Ben A.

On a recent trip to Phoenix, my wife, daughter and I signed up for a desert walking tour experience with Wild Bunch. We weren't sure what to expect, but the Tripadvisor reports were excellent and the person I spoke with, Laurel Darren, is the owner and clearly loves what she does. We are not outdoor adventure-type people, but this experience was well beyond our expectations. First is her emphasis on safety and health concerns and what to do in case of the unexpected. Second, she has an uncanny ability to move at a pace that meets the capabilities and comfort levels of the client. Third, her knowledge of the terrain and the area is extensive! Moreover, she is a delightful person with some terrific stories and makes the experience very enjoyable. The day we went, oddly as it may seem, was cool (60s), but normally plan to go early. This is a small independent operation, so you don't get a corporate feel when going out (like a cookie-cutter experience). It is specifically tailored to you and your interests. We cannot recommend Wild Bunch strongly enough. Whether you are only an ‘occasional morning stroller’ or experienced climber, the Wild Bunch team will ensure your experience is memorable.

- Dan M.

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