Gila National Forest


Typical view in the northwestern part of Gila National Forest
Gila National Forest map showing the layout of the various Rander Districts

Gila National Forest is 1.5 million acres of some of the most beautiful countryside on Earth. Located in southern New Mexico, Gila National Forest is home to the Gila Wilderness, the first designated Wilderness Area on Earth. The Gila is also home to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, prehistoric stone dwellings left behind by the Mogollon people several hundred years ago. More recently this has been the homeland of Mangas Coloradas, Victorio and Geronimo.

The countryside within the Forest is a mix deep canyons between rugged mountains, heavy conifer and aspen forest with big meadows, hot springs, whitewater rivers, and semi-arid desert. Elevations range from a low of about 4,200' to a high of about 10,900'. 4 of the 6 major life zones are represented here. Wildlife in the woods includes black bear, mountain lion, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, wild turkey, peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, and bald eagle. The Forest is relatively dry but the man-made lakes and many miles of rivers and streams allow for some good fishing: Brown and Rainbow trout, Channel and Flathead Catfish, and Large and Small Mouth Bass. One fish to leave alone though, is the endangered Gila trout. There are recovery efforts underway that aim to restore populations of the Gila trout to their former glory.

Looking uphill over the tree cover to a high rock buttress
Looking out over a barren area in the northwestern part of the forest

There are several good hot springs on the Forest, however, there is an amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) that lives in the hot water that might get into your nasal passages and head straight for your brain. It causes a form of meningitis that is nearly always fatal. So keep your nose high and dry and don't dunk your head under the water. Another thing to be careful of is that some of this water comes out of the ground at more than 130°F, and needs to be allowed to cool before you get in it.

There are a couple of good whitewater rafting streams on the Gila National Forest but the window for rafting them is very narrow and depends mostly on snowfall from the previous winter. The San Francisco River is one continuous float from near Glenwood, NM, to Clifton, AZ. The Gila River is broken into the Upper, Middle and Lower float sections. The Upper Gila is a very fast run through a canyon filled with cottonwoods and sycamores. The Middle Gila can take several days, especially if you get out and hike around a bit. The Lower Gila is a slow, peaceful run but it's seldom floated because of barbed wire problems and irrigation diversions.

 

There are 2 designated Scenic Byways: the Geronimo Trail and the Trail of the Mountain Spirits. The Geronimo Trail starts at San Lorenzo in the Mimbres Valley. It winds its way through the Black Range and then down into the lowlands through Kingston and Hillsboro to the Rio Grande Valley. The Trail of the Mountain Spirits is a loop anchored in Silver City that takes you through Mimbres and Lake Roberts before crossing the Continental Divide and dropping down to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Then it returns to Silver City via Pinos Altos.

One of many areas of the forest treed with large stands of Ponderosa pine
 
Photos courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License
Map of Gila National Forest courtesy of the US Forest Service
 

Gila National Forest Recreation Areas

Campground Name Ranger District Elevation Open Amenities
Aeroplane Mesa Reserve 8,000' May - November CampfiresGroup tent campingHorse corralPicnic tablesToiletsWilderness access
Armijo Springs Quemado 7,850' Year-round CampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingPicnic tablesToilets
Ben Lilly Reserve 8,000' May - November Handicapped AccessibleCampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToiletsWilderness access
Bighorn Glenwood 4,800' Year-round AccessibleTent campingPicnic tablesToilets
Black Canyon - Lower Mimbres 6,500' Year-round, depending weather & road Handicapped AccessiblePicnic tablesToiletsWilderness access
Black Canyon - Upper Mimbres 6,700' Year-round Handicapped AccessiblePicnic tablesToiletsWilderness access
Cherry Creek Silver City 6,800' Year-round CampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToilets
Cove Quemado 7,650' Year-round AccessibleTent campingTrailer and RV campingToiletsDrinking water
Dipping Vat Reserve 7,350' April - November Handicapped AccessibleBoat rampCampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingFeesPicnic tablesToiletsDrinking waterWilderness access
El Caso I-III Quemado 7,680' Year-round CampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingPicnic tablesToilets
El Caso Throwdown Quemado 7,800' Year-round CampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingPicnic tablesToilets
Gallinas - Lower Mimbres 6,600' Year-round CampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToilets
Gallinas - Upper Mimbres 6,900' Year-round  Handicapped AccessibleCampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToiletsWilderness access
Grapevine Mimbres, Silver City 5,600' Year round Handicapped AccessibleToiletsWilderness access
Head of the Ditch Luna 7,180' Year-round CampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingPicnic tablesToilets
Iron Creek Mimbres 7,200' Year-round Handicapped AccessibleCampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToilets
Juniper Quemado 7,720' May 1 - September 30 Handicapped AccessibleBoat rampCampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingFeesPicnic tablesToiletsDrinking water
McMillan Silver City 6,800' Year-round CampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToilets
Mesa Mimbres 6,000' Year-round Handicapped AccessibleCampfiresTent campingFeesPicnic tablesToiletsDrinking waterWilderness access
Piñon Quemado 7,820' May 1 - September 30 Handicapped AccessibleBoat rampCampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingFeesPicnic tablesToiletsRV dump stationDrinking water
Railroad Canyon Mimbres 7,000' Year-round CampfiresTent campingPicnic tablesToiletsWilderness access
Rocky Canyon Mimbres 6,000' Year round, depending on weather and road Handicapped AccessibleWilderness access
Sapillo Group Area Mimbres 6,000' Year round Handicapped AccessibleTent campingWilderness access
Scorpion - Lower Mimbres, Silver City 5,700' Year round Handicapped AccessibleTent campingPicnic tablesToiletsRV dump stationDrinking waterWilderness access
Scorpion - Upper Mimbres, Silver City 5,700' Year round Handicapped AccessiblePicnic tablesToiletsDrinking waterWilderness access
The Forks Mimbres, Silver City 5,600' Year round Handicapped AccessibleToiletsWilderness access
Upper End Mimbres 6,050' Year-round Handicapped accessibleBoat rampTent campingFishingFeesPicnic tablesToiletsDrinking waterWilderness access
Valle Tio Vinces Aragon 8,240' Year-round CampfiresTent campingTrailer and RV campingPicnic tablesToilets
Wright's Cabin Kingston 7,600' Year-round CampfiresTent camping
 

Trails


Trail name No. Difficulty Length in Miles Season Uses
Aeroplane Mesa 705 Easy 4 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Black Canyon 72 Moderate 13.6 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Black Range Crest 79 Moderate 36 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trailMountain bike trail
Crest Trail 182 Moderate 12 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Deloche and Winn Canyon 179 Difficult 8 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Flying V 706 Moderate 4 Summer Hiking trail
Fort Bayard Big Juniper Tree 103 Moderate 5 Year round Hiking trailHorse trailMountain bike trail
Frisco Box 762 Difficult 5.3 Summer, Fall Hiking trail
Gallinas Canyon 129 Moderate 5.75 Year round Hiking trailHorse trail
Granny Mountain 160 Difficult 23 Year round Hiking trailHorse trail
Holden Prong 114 Moderate 11 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Ladrone Gulch 127 Difficult 3 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trail
Largo 14 Moderate 3 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trail
Little Creek 161 Easy 10.5 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Mail 125 Moderate 1.0 Summer Hiking trailHorse trail
Quemado Lake Overlook 0 Moderate 1.5 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trail
Quemado Lakeshore 144 Moderate 1.5 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trail
Railroad Canyon 128 Moderate 4.8 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Sawmill Canyon 13 Moderate 3 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trail
Sawmill Wagon Road 243 Moderate 10 Year round Hiking trailHorse trailMountain bike trail
Sheep Corral 231 Difficult 6 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Signal Peak 742 Difficult 2.5 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Spring Canyon 247 Moderate 6.5 Year round Hiking trailHorse trail
Tadpole Ridge 232 Difficult 8.5 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Turkey Creek 155 Difficult 28 Year round Hiking trailHorse trail
Vista 1 Moderate 1 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trail
West Fork Trail 151 Moderate 33 Spring, Summer, Fall Hiking trailHorse trail
Wood Haul Wagon Ruts 55 Moderate 6 Year round Hiking trailHorse trailMountain bike trail