A backpacker on a loop of the West and Middle Forks of the Gila River

Experiencing the Gila Wilderness 

The Gila is not only the nation’s first designated wilderness, it is also New Mexico’s largest wilderness area and offers exceptional opportunities for fishing, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and camping. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails with accessible trailheads, the area is a hiker and backpacker’s dream — but please note, bicycles are not permitted in Wilderness areas. Hunting and fishing are also allowed with proper permits.  

The most common way to access the Gila Wilderness is on NM-15 N/Pinos Altos Road going toward the Gila Visitor Center. From there, a vast trail system provides access to the wilderness. If you choose to venture here, please be respectful when you visit, and observe the Leave No Trace principles.  

Gila Camping

Gila National Forest vs Gila National Wilderness 

The Gila National Forest is 3.3 million acres of beautiful landscapes and is best known for its wilderness areas, including the Gila Wilderness. Like its wilderness areas, the Gila National Forest has a wide range of recreational opportunities year-round. But if you’re wondering what the difference is between a National Forest and a Wilderness Area, you’re not alone! While National Forests use minimal regulation to keep the environment in the best condition as possible, Wilderness Areas require landscapes remain completely untouched.  

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Surrounded by the Gila National Forest, in the heart of the Gila Wilderness, lies the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This incredible site is the only one in the National Park System that shares and preserves the dwellings, culture, and lifestyle of the Mogollon people — the early inhabitants of the Gila landscape. Built by the early Mogollon people primarily in the 1280’s, the Gila Cliff Dwellings offer a glimpse into the homes and lives of the Mogollon culture from the 1280’s through the early 1300’s.

You can explore the dwellings on your own or join park staff for a guided discovery tour through the site. Please be respectful during your visit — not only are these dwellings archeological treasures, but Native communities maintain strong historical and cultural ties to these dwellings and the Gila landscape.

Gila National Forest

America’s First Designated Wilderness

On June 3, 1924, the Gila became the nation’s first designated wilderness area — predating the Wilderness Act by four decades. 2024 marks the 100th year of the first Wilderness in the Nation. The Gila’s wilderness designation came as a result of the influence and insistence of Aldo Leopold, a former Forest Service ranger and supervisor, who became captivated by the Gila and wrote a wilderness proposal to his superiors in Washington, D.C. The Forest Service accepted Leopold’s proposal and set aside more than 500,000 acres of the Gila National Forest as wilderness.

Other Things to do in the Area

The Catwalk Recreation Area in Gila National Forest

Catwalk Recreation Area

The Catwalk Recreation Area, whose name refers to the original plank-board walkway placed atop the steel pipe that used to bring water to the ore processing plant, offers a fascinating glimpse into the geologic and historic foundations of southwest New Mexico. The plank-boarded trail winds through the center of the creek canyon, offering incredible views as you make your way through hidden pools and splashing waterfalls within the high desert landscape.

Gila Hot Springs

Hot Springs in the Gila

Geothermal activity in the Gila landscape has resulted in several natural hot springs in the area – some are even hiking distance from the Gila Visitor Center. If you’re planning an adventure in the Gila, don’t forget your bathing suit and make some time to soak in one of the area’s popular natural hot springs.


Mogollon Ghost Town

This popular ghost town is located about 75 miles northwest of Silver City. In its heyday, Mogollon had a population of 3,000 to 6,000 and was truly one of the wildest mining towns in the West. Today, this interesting, scenic ghost town is comprised of old wooden and adobe buildings with just a handful of year-round residents. Fridays – Sunday between May and Octobers, visitors to Mogollon will find an art gallery, mining museum, an antique store, and small café open for business.

City of Rocks

City of Rocks State Park

City of Rocks gets its name from the incredible volcanic formations found here. Located about halfway between Silver City and Deming, these incredible formations are a must-see if you’re in the area! Enjoy camping, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, stargazing, and more.

The Silver City Museum

Silver City

This mining town turned arts community is the perfect gateway city to the Gila! Silver City is a gem — known for its vibrant historic downtown, art community, great festivals, and easy access to outdoor recreation.