Cottonwood Gulch | Southwest Outdoor Education

As our line of two vans and a commissary truck pulled over the last hill toward the Gila National Forest, the sun cast an incredible glow on the forest of piñon and ponderosa below us—This is what makes Cottonwood Gulch such a special place. 

Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions is more than just a summer camp. It’s an opportunity to dive deep into the wilderness, art, culture, and nature of the Southwest. Choosing Cottonwood Gulch for your child or teen means that you are encouraging them to find themselves, ready with skills needed in today’s changing world.

It means that they’ll have a chance to unplug from screens and connect with peers, mentors, nature, and themselves among the beautiful backdrop of Southwest landscapes. They’ll have the chance to find their strength in the wilderness, develop projects at our basecamp in areas of their interest with knowledgeable staff, and immerse themselves in some of the Southwest’s most iconic sites.

The memories and skills will last long after their time with Cottonwood Gulch

Our unique expeditions are rooted in the culture and landscape of the American Southwest. At the Gulch, we inspire participants with all of the places we explore. We go on word-class backpacking and hiking trips into pristine wilderness areas.

We connect with hands-on science and nature. We engage in the art and culture that is the backdrop of The Southwest. Unlike many outdoor education programs, our approach is balanced between science, nature, and adventure; we believe that each offers a unique and important area of growth; since we’ve worked in the Southwest since 1926, we have connections across the landscape with local communities. 

Treks with the Gulch are an opportunity to be immersed in this majestic land and rich cultural heritage.

A major difference between Cottonwood Gulch and other programs is our flexible itinerary model based on two parts careful preparation and one part opportunistic learning.

Each year we outline the trek plans and then allow our knowledgeable and trained staff to make decisions and embrace unique opportunities that couldn’t otherwise be planned. We often adjust our itineraries for amazing opportunities if, for example, we are invited to a ceremonial feast or an art installation.

The nature of being in the outdoors means that we may also adjust our itineraries for reasons such as road closures, fire, or flash flood risk. This is all part of what distinguishes a Cottonwood Gulch adventure.

In order to manage shifting itineraries, our staff is well trained in the management of potential risks.

All staff participates in a three week long staff training during which we cover a wide range of relevant topics in both hard skills like navigation as well as soft skills like facilitating conflict resolution. Additionally, all staff is certified in a minimum of Wilderness First Aid (a 16-hour course) with at least one member of each staff team carrying a higher level of medical training (at least an 80-hour course). 

Because of our unique approach, we find that our staff takes more ownership of an experience than in many other programs; ultimately, this results in a richer and deeper program for youth that joins us.

Our summer treks are for youth ages 10-18 and last from 1 to 6 weeks. All of our treks spend time at our 540-acre nature preserve basecamp as well as time “on the road” exploring the Southwest’s most wild, rugged, and fascinating places.

While at basecamp, our trekkers can take advantage of our knowledgeable specialists in areas like mountain biking, rock climbing, music, art, ecology, and archeology to develop a new interest or follow an existing passion. This time is similar to what many summer “camps” offer for kids—a chance to dive deeper into a new interest or to find a new passion. 

At the Gulch, however, our trekkers are able to connect the unique activities that are offered to the incredible landscapes and places of the Southwest.

Whether on the road or at basecamp, you can expect incredible meals. No matter the food allergy, our passionate cooks can accommodate with delicious food and a dessert nearly every night.

Meals are not only a time for nourishment with local food whenever possible, but also a time for community building. Often trekkers are involved in the preparation and planning of the meals, sometimes even from the harvest of vegetables grown at basecamp.

Some meals are filled with raucous laughter while others naturally find their way to more introspective conversations, but no matter the topics that come up, trekkers and staff leave meals feeling more connected as a community.

Sign your child up for an unforgettable summer adventure today!

Contact: Cottonwood Gulch

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