Since 1997, Arizona Outback Adventures has been the Southwest’s premier adventure company, offering guided outdoor trips across the American West from road cycling and mountain biking to hiking and backpacking trips, and bike rentals in the Phoenix metro area. AOA’s staff and guides cheekily live by the motto, “Of all the paths you choose in life, make sure some of them are dirt.” AOA’s goal with every tour and bike rental is to provide the pinnacle of adventure experiences through excellent customer service, safety, and authentic interactions with the natural world.
The AOA story began when Seth Heald graduated ASU with a biology degree and an outdoor adventure business plan in mind, but no interest in sitting full-time at a desk for his career. Heald had experience guiding rafting tours on the Lower Salt River with Desert Voyagers, Cimarron River Company and Southwest Adventures, and in 1997, less than a year from graduating, he decided to put his business plan to use and formed Arizona Outback Adventures. The company started out with operating single-day corporate group hikes, followed by single-day mountain bike tours. Seth teamed up with Ed and Sue Ford, who brought business acumen and experience to the equation, and the company began to flourish. In 1999, AOA began running multi-day trips to Havasupai. Increased media coverage on AOA’s guided trips to Havasupai spiked a growth in employees and new partnerships with outfitters who needed AOA’s expertise on the ground.
From 2003 to 2007, AOA expanded operations to Whistler, BC, to rent bikes and guide tours during the summers. Sky Camp Eco Lodge was built on Crystal Lake, only accessed by floatplane. This sister company was sold to its first intern, and now lives on as Arbutus Routes while Sky Camp was sold to longtime partner Tyax Adventures.
Through the 2000s, AOA formed a great relationship with the Havasupai Tribe, and they allowed AOA to have a private/semi-permanent basecamp in the canyon. AOA operated 99% of all guided trips in Havasupai, and it wasn’t uncommon for a guide to spend more than 135 days each year below the rim. In 2008, a massive flood took place in Havasupai, drastically changing the canyon. AOA rallied volunteers to help with the clean up, but also took a great loss as operating trips was no longer possible for the second half of the year. This allowed AOA to reevaluate its tour offerings, expand operations into Utah, and also focus heavily on corporate tours and team building events.
In 2010, AOA’s Grand Canyon Rim to Rim trip was featured in National Geographic’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime.” This itinerary continues to sell out every year, nearly a year in advance. In 2011, Cimarron River Company joined forces with AOA to become the only outfitter permitted to run rafting, kayaking, and SUP tours on the Lower Salt River. Starting in 2013, AOA expanded multi-day operations to Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks, and the following year, AOA was featured in Outside Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” issue. AOA has grown significantly over the last few years.
Arizona Outback Adventures was founded on a dream of a young college graduate to share the desert west with travelers from around the world. A lot can change in 20 years, like expanding operations into 8 states, but some things forever stay the same. Most important among them is that Arizona is home. The Sonoran Desert is our backyard and the Grand Canyon is the grandest of outdoor playgrounds. Commemorating two decades of exploration and adventure, in 2018 AOA constructed a new, purpose-built company headquarters right at the foot of Scottsdale’s 34,000 acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Seth, Ed, Sue, and many of the original staff continue to lead the business in operating the world’s best guided adventures at home in Arizona and across the American West.