Our Programs

Cottonwood Gulch is not a standard outdoor education facility. Every trek is built on three pillars:

People, Places and Projects.


Intentionally Build a Meaningful Community: We make it known to staff that community building is an essential part of their jobs, and we give them tools to make that happen. We follow up with staff, coach, redirect where needed, and they deliver. As a consequence, nearly everyone on a trek strengthens relationships with their peers, setting the stage for lifelong friendships. Much of that is organic, but we make the soil richer through intentional, flexible, people-centered programming that builds social-emotional skills. And we serve really good food. 


Live Safely and Comfortably in the Outdoors: Our expeditions take place outdoors. That could look like a walk through a city park, or a multi-day backpacking trip. This outdoor living model allows us to focus on the essentials of a healthy life, not the superfluous. 


Trekker-led Deep Learning: A Gulch trek isn’t handed to you; you create it. Our instructors’ role is not to lecture or tell kids what to care about; our role is to ask challenging questions, provide sparks of curiosity, and then help trekkers kindle the ensuing fire to investigate a topic of shared interest and share what they learn with others. Our treks use a project-based learning model to provide a framework for learning, which involves negotiation, compromise, dissonance, challenge, and evolving perspectives. And whenever we ask “what are y’all doing on this trek?” eyes light up, and they can’t wait to tell us. 

At Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions, every step is a lesson, every challenge is an opportunity, and every adventure is a chance to grow. Join us on a journey that transcends boundaries, embraces diversity, and celebrates the beauty of the natural world.

Our Areas of Expertise

From that foundation, our staff provide in-depth exploration of outdoor places and engagement with local communities. Our instructors incorporate all three of the following elements, to different degrees on each trek: 

  • Environmental Stewardship: We inspire trekkers to be environmental stewards, to care deeply about the land by sparking curiosity, creating moments of wonder and awe, and giving them chances to do hands-on projects. We have an exceptional team of science educators who do ongoing research and restoration projects with kids, all aimed at inspiring stewardship of the natural world.
  • Building Bridges Between Cultures: Gulch Treks are rarely isolated wilderness expeditions. Instead, we engage with people who can provide professional knowledge and lived experiences that contribute to our understanding and respect for a place. In short: we bring different communities together, and help kids see the natural world differently. Trekkers create projects tying place and people together.
  • Personal Growth Through Outdoor Adventure: These treks are rites of passage. An opportunity to grow. For some kids, that means sleeping in a tent for the first time. For others, it means a week-long backpack or a 5-day mountain bike expedition. All built by an adventure team, and the program is top-notch.

Our Unique Outlook:

Spirit of Adventure

Our programs embrace serendipity and unexpected turns, creating life-altering experiences and enduring memories.

Honoring Native and Indigenous Communities:

We honor and learn from Native and Indigenous cultures, building authentic partnerships and acknowledging ancestral lands.

Immersive and Place-Based Learning

We value unplugging from digital distractions, immersing trekkers in extended experiences that focus on the unique history, ecology, culture, and art of the Southwest.


Collaborating with like-minded organizations and individuals, we strengthen programs and communities.

Personal Responsibility

Trekkers learn the value of work, responsibility, and teamwork, contributing to thriving groups and personal growth.