Though fire and flood ravaged parts of the Willow Creek area in 2006, this moderate 18.3-mile loop remains, thankfully, accessible—which means you’ll still be able to explore the volcanic rock layers and grassy riverside fields of the Gila’s upper elevations. The trickiest part is finding the damaged trailhead: Pack your GPS and start where Turkey Creek enters the Willow Creek Valley (N33.39721 W108.58311). Climb 350 feet up on the McKenna Trail (#151) to reach Iron Creek Lake, then turn east to join the Iron Creek Mesa Trail (#171). Hike through groves of ponderosa pines, then drop into a meadow along the Middle Fork of the Gila River at mile 7.4, your home for night one. Head south on the Middle Fork Trail (#157), then turn right for a thigh-busting climb up to Clayton Mesa on Trail #175. At 10.7 miles the trail ascends to meet the McKenna Trail; turn right and go on to Turkeyfeather Pass. Camp near Iron Creek before hiking back to Iron Creek Lake and closing the loop.
Info: (505) 536-2250; www2.srs.fs.fed.us/r3/gila
Hike provided by Charlie Williams (ouchitamaps.com), BACKPACKER correspondent.
Location: 33.3972549438477, -108.583106994629