'The kids are all right' on hiking & biking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • April 11, 2021

Our family of four (with boys ages 12 and 9) had a terrific experience. Laurel was great in setting everything up, and (our guide) couldn't have been better. He brought the bikes, got us all set up, and led at a great pace for our family. He also took the time to help each of our kids with technique (and brought GREAT treats for the kids). We couldn't have had anyone better for a fun family mountain bike experience in the desert.” – Mark, Pleasanton, Calif., on Yelp, April 6, 2017

Wild Bunch guide Don straddles the mountain bike to give a young first-time rider a lesson.

I am elated whenever I get this question and frankly wish I received it even more frequently as the owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Can we add our kids to our guided Phoenix mountain biking tour?” a guest will ask during the booking process.

Or, a caller will wonder, “Are the kids allowed to join the husband and me on our guided Scottsdale hiking trip?

The good news to either callers or emailers: ABSOLUTELY!

Nothing against the Kid’s Club at your Arizona resort, but nothing sucks worse on a family vacation than when you have to leave the children behind.

Your kids should be part of your unbelievably beautiful and unforgettably memorable experiences in the Valley of the Sun.

So, with the Wild Bunch, the kids are all right with us!

Check out the five-star reviews of my highly rated Scottsdale adventure tour company, and you quickly see family outings are our specialty.

We love taking kids and their parents on adventure tours in Phoenix.

A young mountain bike rider successfully navigates a rough and thrilling patch of desert trail.  

‘Kid’s Day’ love of biking

I love to take kids out on a guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour because I have no children of my own.

So, I am the typical crazy aunt. I know I can give every ounce of energy I have to the kids – and with the permission of their moms and dads, I love to spoil them with decadently sweet treats – knowing full well at the end of the tour, after getting them good and sugared up and bouncing off the walls with excitement, I get to hand them right back to their parents (ha).

At Wild Bunch Desert Guides, we also seriously embrace the awesome responsibility that in all likelihood we are the first-ever experience on a mountain bike for most kids.

So, the pressure is on the Wild Bunch to make sure we do everything we can to help kids love to ride a mountain bike, because we can make or break that experience for the rest of their lives.

Think about it: You can ride a bike at age 5, 12, 24, 36, and 63. It can be a healthy, life-long activity. So, all of our guides know they could be the person in that formidable moment to really spark an interest.

Throughout my time as a guide, even prior to owning the Wild Bunch, we have had 11-year-old first-timers go out with us who have morphed into state mountain biking champions through their high school NICA programs.

The parents of those kids still send me photos of their children standing on place-winning race podiums because myself or my staff played a part in their incredible journey.

So, a Phoenix guided mountain bike trip is much more than another adventure to us, especially when kids are involved.

Wild Bunch takes pride in being able to teach good riding habits right off the bat, offer a little coaching, help the kids over their natural fears and send them home with some new-found skills.

When parents call about biking with us, chances are the kids have ridden bikes before, so we are already in a conversation about ages, sizes, and skill levels so we can match their kids with the correct equipment and perfect adventure.

But riding bikes on the desert floor is a lot different than your sidewalk, neighborhood street or local bike path. There is a lot of uneven terrain, rocky scenery, and unfamiliar surroundings.

So, the first thing I talk to parents about is what to expect. ‘

For starters, there is cactus on the trails, and there are wild animals that live in the desert.

So, the kids need to know to follow the guide and be focused. There is no room to get crazy and go off trail, because that is when bad things can happen and that is what the Wild Bunch is trying to prevent.

Another thing we are known for and really good at is handling a minor crash if one should happen.

Wild Bunch gets the kids back up on the bike to finish the adventure.

Of course, we dust them off, check them out medically, and allow their parents to step in to help dry tears and offer encouragement.

However, after any accident, Wild Bunch also makes a point to take the bike back to that rough spot and have the kids ride over that challenging area again to diminish any mental trauma and let them conquer their fear. We let them feel brave and become the hero of their experience.

Wild Bunch works hard to ensure kids have an awesome time on a mountain bike, and if you read the bios of our guides, you will see we boast some of the most-experienced teachers and best-trained safety experts in the guiding business.

All of our guides are not only medically trained to handle any emergency, but they also have great skill in working with kids.

For instance, Jay has a bike-coaching resume longer than some people have been alive. Don has kids and grandkids that he has taught over the years to bike in the desert. Ellen has grown children in the same boat.

And West Virginia transplant Rebel? There are few like her on the planet. She is just so genuine. Like me and another guide Matt, Rebel does not have children of her own, but we genuinely value our time working with the next generation and “being a kid again” ourselves.

Rebel also is a military kid, so her big thing is showing and teaching respect on the trails.

One way the Wild Bunch always does that is by asking the parent’s permission on the trail if it is OK to hand out a snack to their kids. Wild Bunch will also ask permission before taking photos of their children to post to website, Facebook or Instagram accounts.

The kids do not have to know this ground already has been covered with a legal photo waiver built into the booking agreement. Wild Bunch also is sure to check during the booking process if we can bring the double caramel coated Froot Loop Candy Apple for an 8:30 a.m. treat on the trail. Or is a Giant Cupcake or Chocolate Chip Cookie more to the liking of your kids?

Some parents are certainly OK with it because they are on vacation, but some parents are like, “We prefer our kids eat a healthier snack.” And then we make sure that happens!

We have also had some kids with severe peanut allergies. One time we had a kid who could not have food coloring. There are all kinds of food allergies you would never know about without asking.

So, we always check first before those celebratory Twizzlers or Lifesaver Gummies come out of the guide’s backpack.

An extended family poses during a memorable Sonoran Desert hike with the Wild Bunch.

‘Kid’s Day’ love of hiking

For families, guided Phoenix mountain biking trips are actually preferable to a guided Scottsdale hike. Here is why:

The bike rides are very active and about learning skills the kids can carry forward. The hikes are more educational about the flora, the fauna, and the survival skills of the desert.

So, during a bike ride, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides naturally have an easier time keeping shorter attention spans – because everybody is moving -- and so parents actually have an exponentially easier job supervising their children.

With kids on a hike, the most difficult job is making sure the children understand the biggest rule of any Phoenix guided adventure tourSTAY ON THE TRAIL.

Children are naturally curious but straying off trail and exploring away from a tight-knit group can be a dangerous prospect in the Sonoran Desert.

Kids also seemingly want to touch everything you tell them not to touch.

So, Wild Bunch really must lay down the law about the cactus, for instance, and continually pound into the heads of children that if they get mixed up with a cactus and those needles, it is not a good day.

So, we really rely on parents to be especially mindful of their children on a Phoenix guided hiking tour.

If the Wild Bunch comes across an edible cactus -- like a Strawberry Pincushion or Teddy-Bear Cholla or Prickly Pear -- our expert guides have no problem making it safe for the kids to try the cactus.

Wild Bunch also knows of many cactus that are showing their age and have lost their needles at the bottom, so our expert guides are able to allow children to hug a cactus, and that makes for great and memorable hiking and mountain biking photos in Phoenix.

If the kids have ever watched the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon, they already know the basic landscape.

So, the Wild Bunch asks every kid on a Scottsdale guided hiking tour: “What do you know about the desert?”

Most kids correctly answer the desert is hot, and there are scorpions, snakes, and coyotes. Those are the three most-popular items of desert fauna all kids want to see.

And when our expert guides tell kids it is safe, all children love to hug everybody’s favorite desert flora -- one of our iconic Saguaro Cactus. The Jolly Green Giants of the Sonoran are the symbol of the old Southwest, and they grow huge, live to be centuries old, and have arms sticking out in every direction.

Not many zoos can match the natural splendor found minutes from your hotel or resort in the Phoenix and Scottsdale area.

The Wild Bunch does our best to educate, but again, holding the short attention span of children is tough.

So, something I do when guiding a group with kids is I make sure to ask them a lot of questions and engage them in a funny conversation on their level.

“Let’s just say you and your brother were in the middle of the Sonoran Desert,” I will wonder. “Give me five things a helicopter could drop down for you to survive for three nights.”

Or I will offer, “Let’s say there’s a Saguaro Cactus and a Coyote in the middle of the desert with you. Who do you want to be friends with?”

So, the Wild Bunch just tries to keep their mind going and keep them interested.

All the guests are important, but when you have kids in the group, you are more engaging to them versus mom and dad. The kids are the focus out there, especially on a guided Phoenix hike.

And just like on a Phoenix guided mountain biking tour, the Wild Bunch is ultimately prepared if a medical situation happens.

Just the other day, a little 6-year-old boy tripped and fell on the trail while hiking, He scraped his elbow, and it was bleeding pretty badly.

Rebel was on the scene, though, and in her past, she was an Emergency Medical Technician and Search-and-Rescue hero, so she is very calming and knows exactly what to do.

She assessed the injury, took care of the medical treatment, and got the little boy back up on his feet with a bandage and back hiking before you could say in Rebel’s West Virginian drawl “Saguaro Cactus.”

The little guy was somewhat smiling, somewhat crying, but when an accident happens on the trails, it is critical if it is an easy fix like first aid that we make that child feel brave so they can continue on and will not be scared of hiking or biking.

That to me is the biggest challenge facing the Wild Bunch when children are on Scottsdale adventure tours. We want every kid to go home to talk about their experience. We always want them to say, “Oh my gosh! This mountain biking was so cool.” Or “We had so much fun hiking!”

Wild Bunch Desert Guides wants kids to love the outdoors as much as we do. Wild Bunch does not want a simple trip or fall to be the main memory or ruin the experience. So, we are attentive, preventive, and professional in our approach.

(Top) A family and (Bottom) a couple of child guests all get a laugh out of the giant
stuffed toy snake their Wild Bunch guide surprised them with during a guided hike.
Sissy, the toy's name, comes out when the real snakes stay hidden so Wild Bunch
guests can say they saw an Arizona snake and are not sissies.

‘Kid’s Day’ requirements

Many parents fail to realize until after their Arizona adventure tour that not only would their children love the experience, but they can easily participate in a journey with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Here is what is necessary to include your children in an incredibly memorable adventure:
  1. For Scottsdale guided mountain biking tours, your child has to be able to ride a bike intermittently for over an hour without training wheels. There is no age minimum; and neither kids nor adults need to have any mountain biking experience. Instead, simple bike-riding ability is the biggest requirement and greatest obstacle families have for enjoying Phoenix guided mountain bike trips with the Wild Bunch.
  2. There is no age minimum for Phoenix hiking tours in the Sonoran Desert, either. Wild Bunch has taken kids as young as 2 years old on Scottsdale guided hikes. If the younger children want to walk a little and then be carried by a parent, that is up to the parents what they and their children can handle, and we talk at length about that during the booking process.
  3. The age minimum for guided Camelback Mountain hiking tours is 10 years old, but please know the challenge is very difficult regardless of age. Generally, Wild Bunch tries to avoid taking kids on the iconic Phoenix landmark. The funny thing is usually the kids signed up to do Camelback can handle the challenge, but quite often their parents are unable to reach the summit, and then that becomes a sticky issue on the mountain. Wild Bunch cannot allow a guide and a minor child to finish while the parent waits behind. We cannot leave anybody on the mountain trail. We all go up and all come back down together for safety reasons.
  4. The price for any Wild Bunch guided hike is the same for all ages. However, for Scottsdale guided mountain biking trips, special discounted kid’s rates are offered. Wild Bunch has special kids-sized gloves, helmets, backpacks, and bikes, too. So, children are outfitted exactly the same as adults. Tip: If you have kids under 10, the best guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour is going to be the hour-and-a-half version, but there are exceptions to that rule because we have kids coming in all the time from places such as Colorado, for instance, who can rip for three hours. So, just keep the skills and abilities of your kids in mind when booking.
  5. And that brings up a final point: During questions in the booking process, be totally honest and completely forthcoming. Feel free of the need to impress or embellish so Wild Bunch can be assured of matching your family with the best experience for everybody in your travel party. Keep in mind it always being better to be humble and under promise rather than hyped and over promise. Wild Bunch wants all guests to have a safe and successful adventure tour so they can enjoy themselves as a family and not find ourselves in the alternative where it is a chore for our guests.
  6. The kids must have a parent with them to enjoy any Wild Bunch guided adventure. Because of legal liability issues, we are not able to take children younger than 16 alone on an adventure tour. If the kid is 16 or over, we will allow them to go with a guide of the same gender, but you start throwing in 16-year-olds with younger siblings, you change the dynamic. So, we would not allow a 16- and 12-year-old to go alone with a guide. Or with three 16-year-olds together in a group, Wild Bunch would need a parent the entire time at the trailhead. Here is why we need a parent out there – the Wild Bunch guides are medically trained, but if for some reason somebody has to make a major call on a medical emergency, a parent needs to be the person doing that. It is a legal liability issue otherwise.

A couple of child guests receive some mountain biking tips from their Wild Bunch guide Rebel.

‘Kid’s Day’ call nobody wants

While questions about family outings are welcome treats, there is one kid-related query dreaded by every Phoenix adventure tour company.

During my second year in business, I will never forget the call I got from a woman who was at a resort close to Camelback Mountain.

She had her 10-year-old son accompanying her on the trip.

She wanted to have a private spa day and was looking for something fun for her son to do, and he wanted anything more exciting than the resort’s kids’ club.

So, she called and asked if Wild Bunch Desert Guides could take her son on a guided Camelback Mountain hike.

I told her unfortunately we cannot do that, explaining the common sense “no minors alone” policy every Arizona adventure travel tour company follows in the Valley of the Sun.

She offered to pay whatever it would take but I told her this was a non-negotiable request.

She became agitated and upset. She could not understand why none of the Phoenix adventure tours would take her son out alone, and I felt like I was only operator being direct with her.

So, she finally asked out of desperation: “Will you just come pick him up and take him somewhere for a hike?”

I do not have kids of my own, but I was like, “WTF? Hey stranger! Here is my son! Come take him God-Knows-Where to do God-Knows-What and bring him back when you are done.”

Rinse, lather, repeat. Round and round we went with her not understanding the legal limitations.

After several minutes and out of frustration, I finally just said, “Ma’am, we are not a babysitting service.”

And she shot back, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I explained I was not trying to be rude or insulting, but rather completely honest with her.

What she was asking the Wild Bunch to do was akin to calling up Disneyland or Disney World to pickup and drop off the kids and asking Mickey Mouse to supervise, making sure to keep them safe and show them a good time while the parents go do something else.

And the biggest part of the issue for Wild Bunch? A Camelback Mountain guided hiking tour is naturally more dangerous because of the terrain than Space Mountain or The Dumbo Ride.

The legal liability issues would make my lawyer’s head spin.

I also had a gentleman call recently looking to get around the “no minors alone” policy despite hearing multiple times from a resort concierge she was sure Wild Bunch could not take his 10- and 12-year-old on a Phoenix guided mountain bike tour without their parents.

But he still called and told me five different ways his children had been out with adventure tour companies in other states.

I asked, “Can you give me the names of these companies so I can find out how they did that? Because I think that is cool, and I would like to offer kids-only trips, too.”

Of course, he refused to cough up the names, but persisted about me taking his kids out on tour. He even confirmed other Scottsdale adventure tour companies also had turned him down.

I explained several times, that this is a liability issue, but he never seemed to understand that while we love to take out kids for an adventure – we simply are unable to take them alone because that is just TOO RISKY!

A father and son share an unforgettable moment while trailing behind their Wild Bunch guide.

‘Kid’s Day’ checklist

Here is a list of things families can do to be sure to have a great time on their Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure tour:
  1. I know on vacation the tendency is to jam in as much as you can. However, parents should give fun a full day to develop if your travel schedule allows it. What I mean is, let us say you land at night and get to your resort at 10 p.m. -- DO NOT book an activity for 8 a.m. the next day. Or if you land in the morning with your kids, DO NOT try and rush right out and get an activity in that afternoon. Instead, give yourself some time to:
               A) settle in at your hotel or resort,
               B) adjust to both the elevation change and warm, dry climate,
               C) make sure to eat and drink and get hydrated and,
               D) enjoy the time to unwind from your travel. It is OK to just go for a swim! Then jump into your loaded activities schedule the next day. Flying in and booking a Scottsdale guided adventure tour the same day with kids is hard on the children (and adults) and not a good idea. The Wild Bunch has seen that burnout before -- especially in April, May, and June, when we are getting into hotter temperatures here in the Valley of the Sun.
  1. Another piece of travel advice I share is book the “human-powered activities” at the front of the vacation. What I mean by that is outdoor activities such as hiking and biking in the Sonoran Desert are physically demanding for kids and adults alike. However, less taxing on the body, for instance, is off-roading in the desert in an all-terrain vehicle with Stellar Adventures, or a balloon ride above the desert with Hot Air Expeditions. Kids (and adults) are understandably a little more tired and worn out at the backend of a vacation, so just keep in mind the order of your activities.
  2. Plans change and last-minute bookings happen all the time. However, if you have not booked weeks or days in advance, please call to consult with Wild Bunch as soon as you can. For a guided Scottsdale mountain bike trip, it is especially important for us to have the correct details about your children so we can make sure to have the correct-sized bikes. Their age, height and weight have to be exact so we can every detail absolutely right for your adventure tour in Scottsdale.
  3. Before your adventure tour, make sure the kids (and adults) are lathered up in sunblock. Wild Bunch also provides sunscreen before and during every journey just in case. We do not want anyone to ruin their vacation and get sunburned during a Scottsdale guided mountain bike trip or Phoenix guided hiking tour into the sunny Sonoran Desert.
  4. Also make sure the kids (and adults) are properly hydrated for a Wild Bunch adventure. I know kids are sometimes not fond of water, so that is a challenge to get them to drink enough, but in Arizona’s dry heat, hydrating before an outdoor activity is a safety essential. Wild Bunch also brings plenty of water and we ask if we can also bring Gatorade or Powerade or some other fun hydration such as that out on trail. We absolutely do not want anyone getting dehydrated during a Wild Bunch adventure tour.

A family enjoys a Wild Bunch guided hike together. However, the experience is not for everyone. 

‘Kid’s Day’ for you?

First and foremost, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides are there to show everybody the way to a good time by ensuring the safety of the adventure tour.

So, for instance, we make sure the bike size is correct, shoelaces are tied and tucked in, backpack straps and bike helmets are buckled correctly, and mountain bike gloves are being worn. That all gives the parents a safer feeling, but the adults in a family cannot be lulled to sleep.

The parents still have to be parents when their children join them for a Scottsdale hiking tour or guided Phoenix mountain bike tour. That means supervising your children and stepping in to take control of your kids when needed.

So, when the guides ask the children to do something, we expect the parents to have our backs, as we will have their backs when they say no or direct the child to do something. As the commercial says: It works for all of us, the United Way.

There have been times when kids have had crying meltdowns, or they are tired, or they have been on the run all day and they are hangry. The Wild Bunch understands. That happens.

It also is not fun, but that is when the Wild Bunch steps back and looks to the parents to step in and take over.

The biggest nightmare occurred only once when the kids from a family completely disobeyed the guides, disregarded any rules, and disrespected everything around them.

The parents had hiked with Wild Bunch the previous year and had decided to expose their kids to an amazing adventure on a repeat visit.

Problem was the kids just ran amok and unfortunately the parents could not control them that day.

One of the kids even jumped off a rock and off the trail -- which is a big no-no for a lot of reasons – and while the child was unhurt, the relationship between the Wild Bunch and the guests was permanently injured for several reasons, including insurance liability and city ordinance issues.

Wild Bunch is granted permits each year from the City of Scottsdale to offer adventure tours because we do not have incidents on trail.

But if a city steward were on site that day and saw kids running off trail on a tour, that could compromise the permits.

The Wild Bunch are stewards, too, and there are rules we have signed up for and agreed to follow like all the other Phoenix adventure tour companies. So, we could not stand for that trip’s anarchy.

We actually had to have our lawyer write these guests to formally “fire” them. Unfortunately, they are no longer allowed to book with Wild Bunch.


(TOP) A set of sisters enjoy the beautifully sweeping Sonoran Desert landscape while (BOTTOM) a pair
of senior classmates on Spring Break enjoy the sweet treats their Wild Bunch guide packed for them. 

‘Kid’s Day’ unforgettable

But those bad experiences are thankfully few and far between and are far outweighed by the many awesome memories the Wild Bunch Desert Guides has with kids.

One time, our expert bike guide Jay quickly cut down a bike seat on site for a 5-year-old because the seat was a little too high. So, Jay was able to make that kid’s entire day.

There are the hundreds of kids who were so excited about seeing a Saguaro Cactus or Rattlesnake you would swear it was Christmas morning.

There have been countless kids, too, who have used their excitement to ride a mountain bike in the desert to conquer their fear or a difficult part of the trail. Their beaming faces are burned into my heart and instantly bring a smile to my face.

I also cannot tell you the number of times parents have called me back to say how amazing our guides are with kids.

These are the many reasons I personally would rather see a family together for an adventure tour instead of mom and dad leaving their children back at their resort’s kid’s club.

But I also get it: There are special occasions, such as wedding anniversaries, or parents needing some much-needed couples time alone.

The experience is not for every family, either. One size does not fit all.

However, for many families, these are the many reasons why a Wild Bunch adventure tour is better and more memorable than another amusement park vacation:
  1. We are completely 100-percent authentic. Wild Bunch brings genuine fun to the table in a real-life setting. A guided Phoenix mountain bike trip or guided Scottsdale hiking trip is human-powered by people who genuinely love the Sonoran Desert and have years of guiding experience and truly enjoy helping people experience something special.
  2. Things change every day in the desert – the scenery is never the same. You never know when you will see a win-the-lottery Gila Monster or a Rattlesnake. There are native Arizonans who have never seen either.
  3. There is no “Fast Pass” needed to get to the front of the line at this “amusement park.” There also is no Cotton Candy or Monster Soda available for purchase.
  4. It is a completely different “ride” than say the Hulk Rollercoaster. A Phoenix guided hike or Scottsdale guided mountain bike tour or Camelback Mountain guided hike are all authentic Southwest experiences.
  5. A Wild Bunch guided adventure tour is better because it is more memorable than just another day at another amusement park. This is a real-life thrill ride in far-from-typical surroundings in a unique part of the country. Where else are you going to see Cactus, for instance? These are the kinds of adventures you remember for a lifetime.

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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