Wilderness Immersion

Every Trek at Cottonwood Gulch will immerse you in the wilderness, the science, and the culture of the Southwest. Cottonwood Gulch is a place where adventure – backpacking, rock climbing, spelunking, exploring ghost towns – is the foundation for learning.


Backpacking and Hiking

In order to understand the Southwest you can’t just read a textbook about mountains. You have to climb those mountains yourself.

The experience will challenge you physically. Hiking into remote wilderness through winding canyons or over mountain passes is only the beginning. Once there you will take time to cook your own dinner and then investigate the local wildlife: spectacular wildflowers, barking marmots, and distant bighorn sheep.

Living every day in this wilderness is a thrilling challenge, and one that builds immense self knowledge and team dynamics. Anyone of average physical health can do these expeditions, it just takes some will and some grit.

How much hiking does each trek involve?:

Rock Climbing, Tree Climbing, and Rappelling

Climbing a canyon face is far more difficult than a climbing wall in the gym. The Southwest can be as demanding as it is enchanting. The wind is strong, the sun is hot, and the rain is cold. But the feeling of exhilaration when you reach the top of a climb is hard to match anywhere else. Every year we hire an adventure specialist who works with each group to teach them all about rock climbing—knots, equipment, climbing technique, and safety.

When done properly (and we always do it properly), rock climbing is a very safe sport. We never force you to climb, but we have found that it is a great way to push your limits and leave you more confident in yourself when the day is done.

Self Discovery

“I want to wander through the wilderness, along the back roads, and down trails the rest of my life.
This place has taught me that.”
Emma, Mountain Desert Trek


The Gulch is a far-reaching, holistic program, and this model fosters discovery. The changes in trekkers are profound, they return home more confident, energetic, and capable of changing the world around them for the better.

Discovery takes many forms, of course, but it always involves a change in how we see the world.
Take a few examples from trekkers, in their own words.

“I learned that creativity is not something to fear, but rather something to embrace and unleash.”

Art and Music Trek 2013

“All I know is I’ve changed as a person because I feel different (in a good way)”

Outfit Expedition 2013

“I learned to never give up, thinking about my future and health, I realized I want to do so much more with my life and The Gulch made me look at the world differently.”

— Art and Music Trek 2013

“I’m taking home with me a sense of independence, ruggedness, and tolerance for dirt. I’m leaving behind any inhibitions I felt before coming here.”

Mountain Desert Trek 2012

Team Building

Our treks form incredibly strong team dynamics. Whether it’s a six-week road loop or a three-day school trip, the challenge of hiking, climbing, and wilderness exploration build deep trust and teamwork among every member. Our treks are designed to incorporate group games, ropes courses, and rock climbing to facilitate teamwork, while the physical challenges of summiting a mountain at sunrise or shimmying through a slot canyon build connection and shared experience.