Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
Kayaking in the Gila Box National Conservation Area

The 23,000-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Areas is one of only two RNCA's in the United States. The Gila River flows through the Gila Box in the heart of the property but there are three other perennial streams (San Francisco River and Eagle and Bonita Creeks) that make up this oasis in the desert. The riparian zone is a mix of willows, woodlands, patchy mesquite, tall sycamores and mature cottonwoods that line the streams between the buff-colored cliffs and the sandy beaches. Most folks visit this area on a raft or by canoe or kayak. If you get out of the boat and hike around a bit, you're liable to come across prehistoric cliff dwellings and historic homesteads. There are more than 200 species of birds who enjoy this property, in addition to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat, coatimundi and the occasional beaver.

The Gila River itself is lined with cliffs of Gila Conglomerate up to 1,000' high. The other streams feed down through that conglomerate to the Gila. A network of primitive roads gives access to the uplands and a couple of Watchable Wildlife Areas. Up Bonita Creek you can drive to an area with several cliff dwellings and scattered samples of ancient rock art.

There are two developed campgrounds and both are wheelchair accessible. Stay limit in the developed campgrounds is five days.

Hikers in a slot canyon at Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

There are seven campsites with picnic tables, shade ramadas, cooking grills and restrooms at Owl Creek Campground, just up the hill from the Old Safford Bridge (where the Black Hills Backcountry Byway crosses the Gila River at the upstream end of the RNCA). The Riverview Campground has 13 campsites with picnic tables, cooking grills, shade ramadas, restrooms and drinking water. There is a group camping/picnicking area at Riverview, too.

River floaters pay a permit fee of $3 per person, per trip with a maximum trip length of five days. Primitive camping is free and is allowed along the Gila River and Bonita Creek and in the large expanses of public land beyond the boundaries of Gila Box RNCA. Camping is not allowed in the riparian areas or in the developed picnic areas.

Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is open year round but winters can be cold and summers are usually quite hot. The streams often run high during winter and summer rainy seasons and during spring runoff. Most main roads are accessible via 2WD but high clearance is not a bad idea. If the weather goes south or if you go off a main road, you'll wish you were in a suitable high-clearance 4WD vehicle.

Facilities - Amenities - Activities

Site Activities
Riverview Campground RestroomsPicnic tablesCooking grillsDrinking waterInformation kioskCampingTrash collectionWater sportsWildlife viewingFloating, raftingFishingHandicapped accessibleFees
Owl Creek Campground RestroomsPicnic tablesCooking grillsInformation kioskCampingTrash collectionWildlife viewingHandicapped accessibleFees
Flying W Group Day Use Area RestroomsPicnic tablesCooking grillsDrinking waterInformation kioskTrash collectionWater sportsFloating, raftingFishingHandicapped accessible
Old Safford Bridge Picnic Area Picnic tablesCooking grillsTrash collectionWater sportsWildlife viewingFishingHandicapped accessible
Serna Cabin Picnic Area RestroomsPicnic tablesCooking grillsTrash collectionWildlife viewingHandicapped accessible
Spring Canyon Picnic Area Picnic tablesCooking grillsTrash collectionWater sportsFishingHandicapped accessible
Old Safford Bridge Boat Put In Picnic tablesCooking grillsTrash collectionWater sportsWildlife viewingFloating, raftingFishing
Dry Canyon Boat Take Out RestroomsInformation kioskTrash collectionWater sportsWildlife viewingFloating, raftingFishing
Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Area Picnic tablesInformation kioskTrash collectionTrailheadWater sportsWildlife viewingHandicapped accessible
West Entrance Information Kiosk Picnic tablesInformation kioskTrash collectionHandicapped accessible
Lee Trail RestroomsPicnic tablesInformation kioskTrash collectionTrailheadWildlife viewingHandicapped accessible
View from an Ancestral Puebloan ruin
A view of the canyon from an Ancestral Puebloan ruin
Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area map
Photos and map are courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management