Phoenix adventure tours ‘Elite Eight’

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • March 12, 2023

"Laurel set up a first-class mountain biking experience for us. We told her we wanted technical terrain with some tough climbs and The Wild Bunch delivered! Dan was an amazing guide and a really strong rider. I would highly recommend Laurel and her team if you want a top notch, customized experience that will leave you with a giant smile on your face and wanting to plan your next trip to Phoenix to do it again!" -- Keith T on Tripadvisor, Feb. 6, 2023

During a Phoenix mountain bike tour, a Wild Bunch guest descends a rocky down hill.During a Phoenix mountain bike tour, a Wild Bunch guest descends a rocky down hill.


“Selection Sunday” is the annual Christmas Day of major college hoops.

Today is the day when men’s and women’s basketball teams from around the nation discover their fate for the NCAA Division I national tournaments.

Are they in the “Big Dance?” Or are they headed to a lesser consolation tourney? Or worse yet, is the season over? And if they are “dancing,” who do they play? When? Where?

Whether you are a college basketball fan, it is hard not to get swept up in the excitement – or at least get pulled into an office pool picking out the tournament’s bracket winners.

That amounts to a lot of guesswork – something I hope to help eliminate for potential visitors to the Valley of the Sun when the question turns to “what else can I do around the games?”

Ditto for fans of the national pastime coming to Arizona for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training.

And same for the Spring Breakers invading during Arizona’s own special version of “March Madness” to blow off steam from a long school year and reunite with the sun after a rough winter.

The following list of “Elite Eight” Phoenix adventure tours is for any guests looking to pick a winner.

As the founding owner & operator of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides – a small mom-and-pop specialty shop offering Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours -- I can personally recommend any of these Phoenix adventure travel companies.

As a transplanted Midwesterner, I also have done them all myself as a visitor to the area – and I have developed a personal friendship with the owners of these businesses. (Spoiler alert: I am especially close to the operator of my top two picks).

NOTE: All these tours I would consider to be national championship-caliber, but for the purposes of this Blog, I will rank them in countdown order, eight to one.



No. 8: 360 Adventures
Full disclosure: I worked as a guide for the owner 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 special energy radiate from the place. 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.



No. 7: 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.



No. 6: Hot Air Expeditions
You can imagine the breathtaking beauty when my Wild Bunch Desert Guides 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, which have been profiled on NBC’s Today Show. Contact info: hotairexpeditions.com or 480-502-6999.


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.



No. 4 Mad Desert Trekking
My longtime loyal guide and fellow transplanted Midwesterner Matt Kalina offers a hiking service we refer to guests who have their hearts set on summiting the iconic Phoenix landmark, Camelback Mountain. Wild Bunch no longer offers Camelback Mountain hiking tours, but if you are dead set on taking up that challenge, my advice is to hire a guide to get you to the top – and Matt is the best in that business! Contact info: maddesert.com or 480-818-6821.



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 my recommendation! 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.



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



No. 1: Wild Bunch mountain bike tours
OK. I am a lot of biased (ha). 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 Phoenix 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 pair of cyclists on a Phoenix mountain bike tour peer back at the camera during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure.
A pair of cyclists on a Phoenix mountain bike tour peer back at the camera during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure. 


Phoenix adventure tours: Final Four 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 & Bike Combo.

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

Note: You must be kind of an endurance freak for this adventure. It is fun but can be kind of difficult. We can design the trails to fit 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 others that would be in my “Sweet 16” of Phoenix adventure tours contending for your attention include:

-- Phoenix Segway Tours: There are several services available for your sight-seeing pleasure. Two of the best and most highly rated are easy to confuse. Segway of Scottsdale Tours offers two-hour visits at four different sites, as well as small group sizes and premium equipment. Contact info: segwayofscottsdale.com or 480-306-4801. Offering an even greater variety of options is the similarly named Scottsdale Segway Tours. Group sizes, tour lengths and sites all vary. Contact info: scottsdalesegwaytours.com or 855-734-8687.

-- Peoria Kayak Rental: For those unaware, there is water in the desert! Six scenic lakes with multiple launch points are available within a short drive in the Phoenix metropolitan area. This is arguably the best rental company in the area offering kayaks, paddle boards, peddle boats and Jon boats. These are unguided outings, though, and you must have the proper vehicles to transport the rentals. However, nobody is more affordable or easier to deal with – and there are a wide variety of rental times available. Contact info: raftarizona.com or 602-777-0381.

-- 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 in the historic Western stop of Tortilla Flat. This is a must-do for a day trip. Contact info: Detoursamericanwest.com or 480-663-9013.
 
Whatever you choose to do? Here is what this Phoenix adventure tours owner advises all visitors:
  1. Book your adventures as early as possible. After nailing down your flights and hotel/motel/resort accommodations – and any tickets for events bringing you to Arizona – reserve time on the Phoenix adventure tours of choice. Waiting to arrive might prove too late to book a spot, much less get your desired day or time.
  2. Book Phoenix adventure tours in the morning. The early bird gets the best (and most) fun in the sun. Morning adventures free up time for evening activities.
  3. Avoid booking an adventure for the same day you arrive. You are better off not trying to cram in a Phoenix adventure tour right away. If you are flying in at night? Resist the urge of racing right out the next morning. If you are arriving in the morning? Avoid booking an afternoon activity for the same day. Instead, get climatized and settled – and rest and relax after travelling because busier days are directly ahead. Plus, too many things can go wrong travel-wise these days, and all Phoenix adventure tour companies have cancellation policies like hotels/motels/resorts.
  4. Avoid partying the night before a ‘human-powered’ adventure. Drinking alcohol dehydrates you -- and in the Sonoran Desert heat, that is no joke. Heat illness is a serious issue in Arizona, especially when combined with outdoor activities that require physical effort. So, while we know you are going to party – and we certainly encourage you to enjoy the nightlife in Old Town Scottsdale and other places with your friends and family when you are on vacation – make sure to have that margarita waiting for you to celebrate after your Phoenix adventure tour rather than the night before.
  5. Dress appropriately for your adventure. Use common sense. A pair of running shoes is perfect for most adventures. Wear a hat or head covering and sunglasses to protect you from the sun. Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing to effectively battle the heat. Wear something warm you can take off and put in a backpack if beginning temperatures are chilly for you.
  6. Adventure companies are not a toy. Whatever the activity, remember these are all small businesses. Same as a hotel, a credit card is required to reserve your booking, and there are 48-hour cancellation policies. Every company has a tight schedule to keep, so it is not possible to make up lost minutes if you are not on time. Phoenix adventure tour guides are not just sitting around the TV waiting for visitors to call, either – they are real people with real lives, and they are working around other jobs to make a once-in-a-lifetime experience happen for you and your family or friends. Appreciate their time and expertise. Tips are absolutely welcome and much appreciated. Guides are just like a waiter or waitress in the service industry. If you appreciate the service, a 20-percent gratuity is a good guideline.
  7. Please have the time of your life! This is your hard-earned vacation and even harder-earned dollars, so make sure to let us know if there is any way we can help make this a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, we are all in the business of providing fun to our guests!

 

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.



 

Recent Blog Posts

Hunt for ‘Easter Eggs’ on Phoenix hiking tours

Easter is the final Sunday in March this year. But it hardly needs to be the holiday for Wild Bunch Desert Guides guests to go on an “Easter Egg Hunt” with guided Phoenix hiking tours. From colorful plant life, exotic animals and a rich tapestry cascading across the sky during sunrise or sunset, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert boasts all sorts of once-in-a-lifetime sights waiting to be discovered.

Winning selection: ‘Elite Eight’ of Phoenix adventure tours

“Selection Sunday” is March 17. Three weekends after that, “March Madness” for college men’s basketball concludes with the “Final Four” in Phoenix. If making a fastbreak to the Valley of the Sun for “The Big Dance” – or even visiting for spring training baseball or Spring Break from school -- here is an “Elite Eight” list of must-do Phoenix adventure tours.

Phoenix hiking tours: Lights! Camera! Action!

I have heard comparisons before to Drew Barrymore, with everyone from friends to guests noting I have a similar “crazy chick vibe” to the iconic actress and current talk show host. But recently, I got to step into Drew’s shoes for a glimpse into her world under the lights, with a camera crew turning the desert trails for guided Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours into a sort of movie set with me starring in a production all about my life.