Getting to know the Gila

The view over Quemado Lake in the Gila National Forest. Thomas Hill/The New Mexican

Getting to know the Gila

Located in the southwest portion of New Mexico, approximately four hours from Santa Fe, the Gila is 3.3 million acres of densely forested area filled with scenic vistas, open meadows, lakes, streams and bountiful wildlife. Fall is a great time to experience the area due to low tourist traffic. Temperatures can dip below freezing at night and get near 80 degrees at midday, making it a prime location for hiking, camping, boating, hunting and fishing. Elevation ranges from 5,000 to 10,895 feet.


The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, about 44 minutes from Silver City, offers a look at how Native inhabitants of the region built 40 rooms inside six caves in the 13th century.

Hiking Trails

West Fork Trail No. 151: Runs for 13 miles along the west fork of the Gila River to near its source.

Flying V Trail No. 706: Runs from Forest Road 142 down to the Middle Fork River.

Little Creek Trail No. 161: An easy meadow hike that leads to more remote areas of the wilderness.

Sheep Corral Trail No. 231: A steep hike that’s a popular route to access the Gila River.


There are excellent opportunities to camp at National Forest-sponsored tent and RV camping areas. Also available are dispersed/backcountry camping. Camping fees range from free to about $10 per night. For fishing opportunities, Juniper Campground offers access to Quemado Lake Recreation Area, while the Upper End and Mesa campgrounds provide access to Lake Roberts.

Mountain biking

Numerous rocky and pine forest-lined trails await eager mountain bikers in the Gila. The Little Walnut-Gomez Peak Day Use Area near Silver City and Fort Bayard Big Tree Trail near Santa Clara are two popular areas.


Plumes of volcanic rock populate the Gila, making it a prime location for rockhounding geodes, agates, hematite and quartz. The best spots are in the Pueblo Creek canyon along the WS Mountain Trail.

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