Sonoran Desert Hiking, Mountain Biking & Camping | Under 35

Trip Length 4 Days
Group Size 4-16
Activity level
Starting from
$1,499 for REI Members
$1,649 for non-members
Departures Jan 2023-Dec 2023

Ditch the winter blahs and explore the Sonoran Desert on this energizing 4-day escape of mountains, trails and sunshine.

Welcome to the land of wild mustangs and wide-open horizons. Where your boss can’t find you and your morning wakeup alarm is fresh-brewed; French press coffee. Sounds amazing, right? Join us for a beautifully refreshing Arizona adventure. Designed for travelers aged 18–35, but open to anyone over 18 who's drawn to this travel style. Think: adventure, flavor, flex time, repeat, all while immersed in the sunny, spectacular landscapes of the Sonoran Desert. You’ll do most things together, but you’ll have free time and lots of choices along the way too. Hammock-fest or nice long hike? Kayak or stand-up paddleboard? Your call, your vacay.

Every day, our expert guides reveal something new. Hike amongst strange, towering saguaro. Ride part of the Pemberton Loop Trail, surrounded by distant desert mountain ranges. Scope out the local brewery scene in Old Town Scottsdale. Try kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on Saguaro Lake, basking in cool waters and watching for neat critters. Drift off each night in our private desert camp under a jaw-droppingly starry sky. Yes please.

Back at camp each night, we enjoy the company of newfound friends before tucking into our comfy, oversized REI Kingdom 4 tents.

Trip Highlights

  • Hike, mountain bike and follow your bliss in the beautiful Sonoran Desert
  • Stay in a private desert camp, have adventures led by friendly pro guides
  • Visit a local brewery and sample their folklore-inspired flights
  • Try Dutch oven cooking with a hands-on backcountry cooking class
  • Kayak, SUP, or just splash and swim in Saguaro Lake and look for wildlife
  • Meet new friends and explore the American Southwest for four sunny, happy days

Activities

This trip is rated Moderate [3]. Trip members should be comfortable hiking up to 8 miles and riding a mountain bike for up to 25 miles (3-5 hours). A primary activity will be scheduled for each day with some days offering a choice of multiple activities as described in the itinerary. We ride on purpose-built and natural singletrack bike trails that can be very narrow at times. The trails contain golf ball to bowling ball-sized rocks as well as roots and sandy sections. The trail surface may be dry and sandy or muddy, depending on weather conditions, and we may encounter some water crossings.

The kayak/ stand-up paddle boarding portion of this adventure is suitable for beginners although it is recommended that you know how to swim and are comfortable in the water

  • Hiking
  • Mountain Biking
  • Kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding

What's Included

Professional guide leadership; all meals as noted in the daily itinerary; transfers as noted on the daily itinerary; standard hardtail mountain bikes for entirety of trip; bike helmets; kayak, stand-up paddleboard and all associated gear; tent; sleeping pad; group cooking and camping gear; all park fees and permits; group first-aid kit; snacks, water, soft drinks.

Accommodations

Camping, 3 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Sonoran Desert Hiking, Mountain Biking & Camping | Under 35
Day 1

Al Fresco Dinner & Sunset Hike in a Sonoran Sanctuary

Our trip begins in Scottsdale, Arizona. We meet our adventure companions at our host hotel in Old Town Scottsdale in the afternoon, and after a quick welcome briefing we head to a favorite local brewery for a flight and a tour paired with local folklore. Next we transfer by private van to 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: 4-5 miles, elevation gain/loss: 230'; Transfer: 1 hour.

Day 2

Singletrack and S’mores

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. Our guides will help us master these flowing fun trails, kicking up dust and getting our hearts pumping. 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, learn about the special Dutch oven dinner our guides are creating, and listen for coyotes announcing the sunset. After seeing who can build the best s’mores, we kick back under the starry Sonoran Desert sky in our tranquil camp. All meals included.

Mountain Biking: Up to 14-19 miles, elevation gain/loss: 1000’.

Day 3

Kayak or SUP on Saguaro Lake

Slip out of your sleeping bag, shake off last night’s indulgences, and get ready for another action-packed day. After breakfast, choose an independent morning hike among the saguaro or hit the trails again for an amazing mountain bike skill-building session on the one-way, purpose-built competition loops McDowell Mountain Regional Park is famous for. From beginner to advanced, and including a fun pump track, this area of the park is not to be missed. We’ll return to camp for a picnic lunch and a wardrobe change before heading out to explore Saguaro Lake. We choose our own adventure and pick either inflatable kayak or stand-up paddleboard, then tool around in a peaceful cove surrounded by sunny shores. Experienced guides accompany us and help spot bald eagles, great blue heron, beaver, and even herds of wild mustangs! To celebrate our time together and savor this piece of paradise a bit longer, we’ll enjoy a special lakeside picnic dinner served by our guides under the colorful Arizona sky. In the distance, as the desert nightlife begins to stir, we may hear the song of the coyote, a permanent resident of this beautiful area. All meals included.

Activity options: Mountain Biking: 3-14 miles, elevation gain/loss: 975’; Hiking: Go as far as you'd like!; Half-day kayak or stand-up paddleboard session on Saguaro Lake.

Day 4

Summit Picnic, Valley View Hiking & Farewell to the Desert

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 out host hotel in the late afternoon, we say farewell to our guides and newfound friends. Drop off service to follow for those departing Phoenix this evening. Breakfast and lunch included.

Hiking: 4 miles, elevation gain/loss: 1,250’; Transfer: 1 hour.

Itinerary map for Sonoran Desert Hiking, Mountain Biking & Camping | Under 35

Gear List

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.