Located near Gila National Forest, Gila Wilderness, and the Fort Bayard Trail System, opportunities for outdoor adventure abound in Southwest New Mexico. Whether you pitch a tent, park an RV, or spend the night at a charming bed and breakfast, there’s something for every style. From easy walks with your multi-generational family to a week-long backpacking trip with your best friends, the Silver City area has the paths you’ll want to follow.
1. Catwalk National Recreation Trail
Distance: Approx. 1 mile round trip
Take a walk high above Whitewater Canyon on the short Catwalk National Recreation Trail. As you enter the canyon, look for the ruins of the original Whitewater Mill and follow in the footsteps of the workers who built a water pipeline to provide water to the mill in 1893. Workers were constantly having to walk along the pipeline to conduct repairs and address maintenance issues, and dubbed the pipeline the Catwalk. The mill only lasted for 10 years, but in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a walkway along the path of the pipeline. It’s been maintained throughout the years and was ultimately designated a National Recreation Trail.
Because of its short distance, this is a great walk for families with young children, and with the addition of a paved loop, it’s also accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. Expect great views, a rock amphitheater, and easy access to the picnic area. Located in the Gila National Forest, it’s also a fantastic gateway trail to a number of other adventures.
2. Black Range Crest Trail #79
Distance: 8.3-27.7 miles one-way
This trail is located in the Gila National Forest and traverses deep canyons and dense forests that range from ponderosa pine to aspen to mixed coniferous trees. It passes through the highest peaks in the range and is only passable by foot or horseback as the area is thick with vegetation despite regular maintenance. The terrain can be intense and looks downright impenetrable at times.
The Black Range has even been known as the Sierra Diablo, or "Devil Trail." The Range itself is about 70 miles long, but Black Range Crest Trail #79 runs for 27.7 miles north from the Emory Pass trailhead before meeting up with Continental Divide Trail #74 at Reeds Peak.
For a shorter hike, take the trail south through 8.3 miles of dense forest before ending at Forest Road 886.
3. Gila River Trail #724
Distance: More than 30 miles one-way
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
This trail is always a moderate challenge, but can be dangerous depending on the time of year and how much it’s been raining, so plan your trip carefully for this one. It follows the Gila River and crosses it dozens upon dozens of times, sometimes with waist-high waters depending on the spot and precipitation. The vegetation and fauna of this region can be breathtaking, sharing fresh air with cougars, bears, pronghorn, spotted owls, and other animals. The path is not always obvious, but it changes between sand and forest, meadow, and cobblestone. The total distance is more than 30 miles one-way—and many hike this as a multi-day backpacking trip—but it’s a worthwhile out-and-back day trip as well.
4. Lightfeather and Jordan Hot Springs
Distance: 6-8 miles one-way
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Two of the most popular hot springs in the Gila National Forest are Lightfeather and Jordan Hot Springs, both accessible from the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center. Lightfeather is very hot, with geothermal water of 130 degrees Fahrenheit pumping into the pool, and sometimes even the rocks surrounding the pool can become hot to touch. It’s only a 20-minute walk from the Visitor Center along Trail #157 and includes a couple river crossings. The spring is located in a steep canyon and has a very peaceful setting.
Jordan Hot Springs is a more challenging hike but the water is much milder for soaking tired muscles and wary bones. At 94 degrees, it’s more of a warm spring. It’s either an 8-mile hike from the Visitor Center via Middle Fork, or six miles via Little Bear Canyon. Keep in mind that while this pool is 20 feet in diameter, its mild temperature makes it a popular destination among day hikers, so it will not feel as remote as other springs.
5. Dragonfly Loop Trail #720
Distance: 3.6 miles one-way
On the Dragonfly Loop Trail #720, you will come across some spectacular petroglyphs of humans, animals, and even, yes, a dragonfly. The trailhead is located only three miles east of Silver City in the Fort Bayard Trail System. At a manageable 3.6 miles long, with relatively accessible terrain (there are no challenging climbs or descents), it’s a lovely hike for families, beginners, or people looking for something mild to get their blood flowing while enjoying some of Grant County’s natural beauty.
This is also a multi-use trail, so keep an eye out for horses or mountain bikers.
6. Continental Divide Trail
While the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is a 3,100-mile National Scenic Trail running from Mexico to Canada, short day hikes are a great way to get a taste for the terrain and let your imagination run wild with what it might be like to spend four months "off the grid." Silver City has a great section for overnight backpackers and day-hikers, starting at the Burro Peak Trailhead. You’ll have spectacular views of the Chihuahuan Desert and Big Hatchet Mountains, and there’s even a waterfall at Whitetail Canyon if the season is right and there has been enough rain.
The drive to the trailhead requires an off-road vehicle and is 25 miles from Silver City. The trail section is eight miles one-way and is a good hike for overnight backpackers, though you could possibly consider this for a very strenuous day hike. This section is great in the fall or spring, because in the summer the sun will be strong and water is in exceptionally short supply.
Not only are Silver City and Southwest New Mexico a great place to soak in some sun, they are also the perfect setting for soaking in some knowledge along the trail. With so much history and legend padded into these well-worn paths, even the off-grid trekker is likely to come across a petroglyph or historical marker acknowledging an explorer of yesterday.
Written by Carolyne Whelan for RootsRated in partnership with New Mexico.