Our trip begins in Scottsdale, Arizona. We meet our adventure companions at our host hotel in Old Town Scottsdale at 1pm, and after a quick welcome briefing we set out by private van for our campsite nestled in gorgeous McDowell Mountain Regional Park. As we leave the city behind, towering saguaro cactus begin to dot the landscape and the beauty of the Sonoran Desert fills our view. Our guide, not just an excellent host and backcountry chef, but also a skilled hiking and mountain biking guide, is waiting to greet us. Surrounded by colorful desert flora, we set up camp and pitch our tents before enjoying al fresco appetizers and a delicious dinner. We have time in the early evening to play around on our mountain bikes before beginning our first hike, the setting sun adding a palette of radiant colors to the desert landscape. Back at camp tonight, we enjoy each other?s company and bask in the glow of a flickering campfire beneath a canopy of brilliant stars. Dinner included.
Hiking: 7 miles, elevation gain/loss: 473'; Transfer: 1 hour
Pinch-me moment: Taking in the desert wilderness scenery, especially just before sunset. You?ll see why photographers call it "the golden hour."
At sunrise, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee fills the air, followed by a hearty breakfast. After fueling up, we make our first tracks in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Our morning mountain bike ride (directly from camp) encompasses a portion of the fantastic Pemberton Loop Trail. Bordered by Tonto National Forest to the east and the McDowell Mountains to the west, the park allows for unobstructed views into several nearby mountain ranges. After a picnic lunch at a scenic trail-stop, we head back out to cover the remainder of the loop and possibly some spur trails before rolling over some super smooth, compacted downhill to finish off the day. Back at camp we can take refreshing showers before jumping in our van and heading into iconic Old Town Scottsdale for a fun night out. Check out some of the lively local pubs or have dinner in one of Scottsdale?s many excellent restaurants before jumping on our shuttle and returning to our tranquil camp for a good night?s sleep in our comfy, oversized tents. Breakfast and lunch included.
Mountain Biking: Up to 25 miles, elevation gain/loss: 830?
Pinch-me moment: The picnic. Warm sun, full tummy, mountain scenery, zero stress.
Slip out of your sleeping bag, shake off last night?s celebrations, and get ready for another action-packed day. After breakfast, we each decide how we want to spend our morning. Those wanting to explore the Lower Salt River have the option (for an additional cost) to depart for a scenic float trip on this Class I river known for its lush riparian scenery and wildlife. Experienced guides steer our inflatable rafts downstream searching for bald eagles, great blue heron, beaver, and even herds of wild mustangs! A trip down the river also provides opportunities for swimming, a cooling treat in the midst of our desert escapade. Those who prefer to stay back at camp can enjoy an independent morning hike among the saguaro, follow our guide on another epic mountain bike ride, or just relax in a hammock and relish the Arizona sunshine. In mid-afternoon, we rendezvous back at camp and gather as a group for a Dutch oven cooking class, followed by a celebratory dinner and campfire. In the distance, as the desert nightlife begins to stir, we may hear the song of the coyote, a permanent resident of this beautiful park. All meals included.
Activity options: Mountain Biking: Up to 21 miles, elevation gain: 975?; Hiking: Go as far as you'd like!; Salt River scenic float (additional cost): Half-day
Pinch-me moment: Maybe your chosen adventure. Or maybe, simply, the magic of the desert night. Crickets, campfire, coyotes laughing in a distant valley, and more stars than you can count.
Our last morning starts early so we can make the most of our time in the desert. Breakfast, showers, pack up camp. Then we set out on Tom?s Thumb Trail, one of the best hikes in the preserve. The climb to the peak requires a sustained ascent up numerous switchbacks, with sweeping views of the Phoenix valley at the top. Laughter and lunch at the summit, then a leisurely descent and drive back to Scottsdale. Arriving at our hotel by 3:30pm, we say farewell to our guides and newfound friends. If departing Phoenix this evening, please do not schedule a flight before 6pm. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 4 miles, elevation gain/loss: 1,250?; Transfer: 1 hour
Pinch-me moment: Reaching the summit of Tom?s Thumb Trail and its strange namesake formation? then snapping a selfie or three in front of it because Instagram. (No judgment! We?re all for inspiring people to get outside.)