Phoenix hiking tours: Colorado here we come!

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • April 26, 2023

“Laurel was great about making sure we had everything we needed before the trip and all the arrangements were set -- and Dennis was a fantastic guide, super patient, knowledgeable, and flexible with our group.” – Laura T, Jan. 2023 on TripAdvisor

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren and Lake City gal pal Lydia McNeese celebrate another glorious adventure together last summer in Colorado. 
(ABOVE) Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (right) and Lake City gal pal Lydia McNeese (left) celebrate another glorious adventure together last summer
in Colorado. (COVER) Laurel and Lake City friends Justin Hill (left) and Michael Underwood (right) soak up the sights on a Colorado summer hiking adventure.

I am SOOOOOOO looking forward to summer vacation.

Part of that is because 2023 has seemed to be such a challenging chore for me and my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Nothing has seemed to come easy so far this year for my little mom-and-pop specialty shop, which I will discuss at length to help vent my frustrations in an upcoming Blog.

However, the biggest and best half of that summer vacation equation is the destination.

My annual extended summer retreats to the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado are truly a delightful Godsend.

My longtime boyfriend Brett and I have become fixtures now as “sunbirds” in the breathtakingly beautiful remote wilderness paradise of Lake City and the Hinsdale County mining country.

If you are casting about for a great escape off the beaten path this year? Definitely consider enjoying “A Peak Experience,” as the Lake City tourism board markets the region.

Among the many amazing attractions? My special “satellite office” is doing more than coordinating Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours from Lake City.

For the second straight summer, the Wild Bunch is offering Colorado summer hiking tours to show off to guests the many great adventures that made me fall in love with the place, as well as the wonderful people who inhabit the area and revealed the splendor to me.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren takes in a craggy landscape during a Colorado summer hiking tour in 2022.
Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren takes in a craggy landscape during a Colorado summer hiking tour in 2022.

Lessons learned by Colorado summer hiking tours
I have always said my best education comes when I am trying something and tinkering with it.

And so, last summer’s maiden voyage of Colorado summer hikes was full of trial and error.

Among the lessons learned last year by the Wild Bunch?
  • Stick to certain trails on certain days. The “daily special” on the menu is just as amazing as the next.
  • Also, by offering only one eye-catching adventure on a certain day, this helps the Wild Bunch avoid stretching too thin our limited resources. We have a number of fantastic guides who call Lake City home – but we do not have an unlimited number of guides.
  • With a finite number of guides and adventures limited to a particular day, Wild Bunch also relaxed the privacy we practice on our five-star rated Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours. The Colorado summer hiking adventures are no longer automatically restricted to only you and your family. You can request a private adventure for an extra $100 if you wish.
  • The guide-to-guest ratio is a maximum of seven hikers for one guide. For groups of eight or more, please allow 48 hours advance notice so we have time to arrange for more guides and manage the logistics.
  • Keep the Colorado summer hiking tours to around two hours in length. Longer than 2-2½ hours became too challenging physically for the large majority of guests last summer.
  • For more advanced hikers seeking “A Peak Experience,” the Wild Bunch is insured and permitted to take you on an incredible journey to Handies Peak. This challenge is not for everyone. Colorado is home to 58 mountain peaks of at least 14,000 feet in elevation and Handies is among the grandest of those so-called 14ers because of the stunning panoramic views. Unlike the other Colorado summer hikes, plan for an all-day adventure and please allow 48 hours advance notice for us (and the weather) to help make your requested day happen.
  • Avoid solo adventures. These Colorado summer hiking adventures are a lot more fun in a group! So, instead of showing off stunning vacation photos and telling family and friends about your adventure later at dinner – make sure to bring them along for an unforgettable experience.
  • Children are discounted to $75 per child (plus tax) on every hike except Handies Peak, where there is no discount for kids and the minimum age is suggested as 8 years old.
  • For children and guests who are beginners – and may want an easier challenge on their 2-hour hike – Wild Bunch offers Lake-to-Lake hikes with a gentle elevation change and beautiful views. Please ask about them if interested!
  • All of the Colorado summer adventure tours are insured and permitted through the Bureau of Land Management. However, please understand the Wild Bunch is not approved to offer hikes on two of the most rigorous and visually stunning landmarks in the region – the Matterhorn or Wetterhorn Peaks. This might have been our most frequently asked question last summer, but sorry to say, both 14ers are simply too dangerous.
Because of the super-popular Alpine Loop, Lake City is best known as a haven for OHV activities (Operated off of Highway Vehicles). So, there are a lot of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, four wheelers, three wheelers, jeeps, motorcycles, trail bikes and snowmobiles joy riding in the area.

Bringing a guided hiking outfit to town was my way to offer new and different experiences for out-of-town visitors looking to explore the region’s incredible natural beauty.

The range of visually stunning sights include snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, cascading waterfalls, crystal clear Alpine lakes and colorful, wildflower-filled meadows as far as the eyes can see.

The motivation for these Colorado summer hikes is the same I had long ago – and still have – to show visitors the many wonders of the Valley of the Sun through Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours.
One of the many beautiful scenes to be found during Colorado summer hiking tours with the Wild Bunch.

One of the many beautiful scenes to be found during Colorado summer hiking tours with the Wild Bunch.?

Colorado summer hiking tours ‘A Peak Experience’
Included in the delicious Colorado summer adventures served up by the Wild Bunch Desert Guides:
  • Tuesdays: Cataract Gulch to the waterfall. This steep ascension climbs to a beautiful lake basin. The hike wanders through dense woods and lovely Alpine meadows and passes numerous waterfalls cascading along Cataract Creek. The elevation gain is nearly 2,600 feet.
  • Wednesdays: Devils Creek to Devils Lake. This scenic trail 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.
  • Fridays: Waterdog Lakes Trail. This popular route sits high above the east side of Lake City and 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.
  • Sundays: Alpine Gulch. This challenging route is worth the 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 and there are several creek crossings. NOTE: Water levels for the creek crossings can prevent this adventure because of safety precautions, so 48 hours advance notice is necessary to find out if this hike is even available on the desired date.
  • Daily special request: Handies Peak. The most scenic of valleys in the San Juan Mountains is off of the American Basin, which is 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 Colorado 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 fit hiker should have no problems reaching the top. This adventure requires 48 hours advance notice and is specially priced because of the difference in both challenge and length from the other offerings (plan for an all-day experience, which can include between 4-6 hours of hiking).
Except for Handies, the guide fee for all of the Colorado summer hikes is $100 plus tax per person for two or more hikers (children 10-and-under are $75 plus tax per child).

For the Handies Peak 14er, the guide fee is $250 plus tax per person for two or more hikers (and there is no children’s discount).

Also, in the adventure tours guiding business, a 20-percent gratuity is suggested as a starting point for good service -- same as an excellent waitperson at a restaurant.

All of the Colorado summer hiking tours are available from Thursday, June 1 to Thursday, Sept. 28.

June and September are the prime months to see wildflowers blooming on these hikes, especially at Handies. Aspen trees also change color to a rich gold in September, and the sight is specifically wonderful along the Waterdog trail.

Except for Handies – which has a 4 a.m. meeting time -- each hike begins with guides meeting guests at 7 a.m. in front of Lake City’s iconic Cabin Fever Mercantile.

Owned by Wild Bunch gal pal Tracy Lanktree, the five-star rated store is a destination for both tourists and hikers visiting the region so they can “shop the mountain life,” as Cabin Fever Mercantile likes to say. The specialty shop offers all sorts of hiking gear, as well as Lake City apparel, souvenirs, and homemade gifts native to the mountains.

Cabin Fever Mercantile is not a contact for the Wild Bunch hikes; the store simply offers a centralized meeting point to meet your guide before following in a separate vehicle to the desired trailhead. The Wild Bunch guides do not provide transportation.

All guides are first aid trained and CPR certified. All guides carry spot trackers and other assorted safety equipment on each adventure.

The Wild Bunch provides water, snacks, and other items necessary for a successful adventure including backpacks for guests to borrow to carry any additional items they would like to bring.

To book any of the Colorado summer hiking tours, please call or text 309-230-2484 -- or email us through our contact form. Online booking is not available. Cash, Credit Card or Venmo are all accepted and required to reserve a date.

The Colorado summer hikes DO NOT affect the usual Wild Bunch offerings in Arizona. Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours still operate under early morning summertime hours to avoid the worst of the desert’s extreme summer heat.

Online booking remains open during the summer for the Phoenix adventure tours – and as a bonus, you are still in contact with me from my remote setting to ensure your experience is tailored to your needs.

Whether visiting us in the Arizona heat or the chill surroundings in Colorado, I sincerely hope you are looking forward to your summer vacation as much as I am. The Wild Bunch is always ready to show you a wild time!

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 or call 602-663-0842.


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