America's Best-Kept Secrets: Gila Wilderness, NM

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In Easy access to water in a wilderness with more hoodoos than hikers

Out The train of dayhikers in bone-dry Bryce Canyon National Park Wander river bottoms choked with aspen, oak, and sycamore, visit a 700-year-old cliff dwelling, and relax in a hot spring on this 35-mile loop. From the TJ Corral trailhead, climb Little Bear Canyon, then drop into the Middle Fork Gila River Canyon. Turn left and walk upstream, frequently fording the usually shallow river. Camp at mile six. In the evening, after dayhikers have retreated, backtrack .3 mile to a hot spring. Over the next two days, continue up the Middle Fork to camp at The Meadows, a grassy area with water (pack bug dope). Continue on the Prior Creek and Lilley Park Trails, crossing plateau grasslands to the rim of Hells Hole Canyon. Descend Hells Hole Trail 268 to West Fork Trail 151, following it 12 miles to trip’s end. Stormy start? Avoid narrow Little Bear Canyon and start instead at the Middle Fork trailhead. Local knowledge Campsites are plentiful in the Middle Fork, but not in the West Fork. Find a great one under a rocky alcove near the Hells Hole Trail junction.

Do it
From Silver City, go 42 miles north on NM 15 and turn left toward Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Continue one mile to the West Fork trailhead. Walk a half mile back to the TJ Corral trailhead.

Map USFS Visitors Travel Guide and Map of the Gila Wilderness ($10, 575-536-2250)

Guidebook Hiking New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, by Bill Cunningham ($17,

Contact (575) 536-9461;