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About the Wilderness Area

Gila How to Get There

Located in the southwest corner of New Mexico, the Gila National Forest covers 3.3 million acres of tree-covered mountains: the Mogollons, Tularosas, Diablos and the Black Range. From a base elevation of 4,500 feet in the high desert, the peaks rise to almost 11,000 feet, covering biotic zones from desert to alpine. The Continental Divide snakes across the national forest for 170 miles. Located within the larger national forest are three major protected areas. In addition to the Gila Wilderness, the forest encircles the Aldo Leopold Wilderness (202,016 acres), and the Blue Range Wilderness, which crosses the mountains into Arizona.

Much of the national forest is designed for multiple use, including logging, mining and other human endeavors. The Gila Wilderness comprises over half a million acres covering more than 1,000 square miles. It is located north of the New Mexico towns of Deming and Lordsburg, both on Interstate 10, and even closer to Silver City which is 44 miles northeast of Lordsburg via State Route 90. It's another 42 miles to the visitor center and the Gila Cliff Dwellings via State Route 15.

There is an alternate 88-mile scenic route to the wilderness, by leaving Interstate 10 at Deming, to the east of Lordsburg, driving northwest for 23 miles on U.S. Highway 180, and then heading northeast on State Route 61, through the Mimbres River Valley. This route will lead you to the Lake Roberts Recreation Area before meeting Highway 15 for the final 19 miles to the Gila Wilderness parking lots, visitor center, and campground. Combining the two routes as a loop trip makes for a fine in-and-out drive.

National Forest Facilities

The visitor center for the Gila Wilderness and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is located at the end of State Route 15, beside the confluence of the East and West Forks of the Gila River. It is open year-round, except for December 25 and January 1. The visitor station is staffed by rangers who are knowledgeable about wilderness trails and the cliff dwellings. A selection of books on the natural history of the area is available. The cliff dwellings are located one mile beyond the visitor center. Two adjacent park campgrounds are accessed by the same road. These are the only developed campgrounds in the Monument, equipped with picnic tables, a water supply and toilets.


There are two campgrounds in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, providing a little more in services than the basic forest recreation campsites. The side-by-side campgrounds (Scorpion 1 & 2) are located on the road that leads to the cliff dwellings trail.

A private campground with RV spaces is found in the nearby village of Gila Hot Springs. Additional Forest Service campgrounds are located outside the wilderness boundary, on State Route 15 (Forks and Grapevine), and farther from the monument on State Route 35. These campsites are in the Lake Roberts Recreation Area (fifteen minutes' drive from the intersection of Route 35 and State Route 15).

Backcountry Advisory & Maps

Backpacking permits and the filing of trip itineraries are not required in the Gila Wilderness. Topographical maps and other information are available at the visitor information center in the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. For advance information and ordering of maps by phone, call the office in Silver City at 575-388-8201 or click on the link - below..

One map that provides an excellent overview of the wilderness is the "Gila Wilderness Map." This is not the usual colored forest map but is a special, plastic coasted semi-waterproof map, three feet square (200 feet contour), selling for $10.00. It has all the maintained trails marked with numbers and also has prominent topographical features including mountain peaks, springs, rivers, creeks and perimeter roads for trail Go Here for the PDF form.

Rivers must be crossed on the major trails which lead along the Gila River and its forks. There is not a single foot bridge on the trail system (after all, this is wilderness). The four riverside trails require several crossings per mile. Crossings are often hazardous during the mid-March through late April period. There are places along the East Fork which are privately- owned, and hikers must receive written permission to cross these properties, all shown on the wilderness map.


Campers should put their tents on high ground, above the forks or river. Water sources are generally reliable, including the three forks and the river. There are springs with potable water along several of the most popular trails. Check with the rangers before you set out to confirm water sources on your route. It is advisable not to immerse your head in hot spring water, or splash water on your head or chest. There is a tiny organism in some of the spring pools which, when inhaled through the nose, may cause serious medical problems.

Finding a camping spot is easy, as camping is permitted anywhere in the backcountry wilderness, except within 300 feet of a spring, 100 feet of a stream, or within 300 yards of a tank or other man-made water supply. Firewood may be gathered for camp fires, but only that wood which is both dead and down. Do not remove dead branches from living trees. Fire rings are not permitted within the wilderness and campers are asked to scatter any rings they might find. Pets are allowed, although not particularly welcomed because of the presence of wildlife.

Fraser Bridges


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