The Gila (he-la) National Forest, located in western New Mexico, is
comprised of 3.3 million acres. There are 23 developed
campgrounds, of which 8 met the selection criteria.
The Gila National Forest offers a range of recreational opportunities and camping locations in magnificent mountain scenery. Here, where the Rocky Mountain range ends, the cool summer temperatures have long lured visitors to the Forest. Today, visitors come from all corners of the world and the United States to explore the Gila National Forest and enjoy such recreational activities as camping, hiking, fishing, photography and horseback riding.
At the heart of the Gila National Forest are two spectacular wildernesses: the Gila, containing 558,065 acres, and the Aldo Leopold, with 202,016 acres. The concept of preserving wilderness areas for future generations was initiated in the Gila National Reserve, as it was called at the turn of the century, by Aldo Leopold. The efforts of Leopold and other like minded individuals resulted in the establishment, on June 3, 1924, of Gila National Forest's two Wildernesses - the oldest in the United States. Within these Wildernesses are some of the most glorious pristine dispersed camping locations. Because dispersed camping is undeveloped it does not qualify to be included in this campground review. Contact Gila National Forest for dispersed camping rules and regulations.
The Gila National Forest contains some 1,510 miles of trails. More than seven-hundred miles of the most popular foot and horse trails are found in the Gila Wilderness between the Middle Fork of the Gila River and the southwestern rim of the Mogollon (Muggy-eh-on) Mountain Range. One reason for this area's popularity with hikers is the availability of reliable water. For those who are seeking more solitude and less traveled trails, the Leopold Wilderness area might be considered. But remember, water is not always abundant everywhere in the Gila National Forest, even after a very snowy winter. Check with the Ranger District Office about trail conditions and status before heading out and plan accordingly.
While trails through the wilderness offer a unique forest experience, there are several very interesting hikes within the remaining 800-miles of trails for Forest visitors to enjoy. One of the "must" trails is the Catwalk National Recreation Trail in Whitewater Canyon. A focal point in the area's mining boom, the Whitewater Canyon presented some special engineering problems for the late 19th century miners. One problem was a lack of reliable water at the Canyon's ore processing mill site. The solution was a 4-inch pipeline along the Canyon's west side carrying the water needed for the small town (population 200) and to generate electric power for the mill. This initial pipeline was constructed in 1893 and an additional 18-inch pipeline was added during 1897. The pipeline was closed in 1913 and fell into disrepair until the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was assigned the task of rebuilding it in 1935. The CCC-built Catwalk served the public until 1961. Major storms and floods had taken its total on the CCC-built Catwalk and, early in 1961, the Forest Service began reconstruction of this most unusual trail. During December 1978 the Catwalk was designated a National Recreation Trail and, since then, has provided Forest visitors a totally unique experience.
For visitors who prefer their trails securely attached to the ground and such luxuries as electric and water hook-ups for their recreational vehicles (RV) or motorhome, the Quemado Lake area is the place to visit. A ten-plus miles network of trails provides access to the lake's bank fishing, a couple of overlook areas, the El Caso Fire Tower Lookout and a wildlife viewing area loaded with elk, mule deer, raccoons, and a hundred species of birds, including vireo, heron, and osprey. While there are RV-friendly camping facilities at the Juniper campground, the two nearby campgrounds of Juniper campground, the two nearby campgrounds
of El Caso and Pinon offer excellent sites for RV dry camping and tent campers, alike.
Although mechanized travel is forbidden in designated wilderness areas, State Route 15 provides a travel corridor to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument - another "must" visit place. The Dwellings offer visitors a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people who established this community around 1270 AD. The cliff dwellers abandoned the site early in the 1300s for reasons still not understood. A maintained trail from the parking area to the cliffs provides visitors access to the Dwellings. Note: this trail might be a challenge for those with limited mobility or breathing problems. Good walking shoes and water are recommended.
A trail head to the center portion of the Gila Wilderness is adjacent to the Dwellings parking area. In addition, located nearby are car and tent-friendly camping at Scorpion campgrounds. Although these campgrounds might be considered primitive by some, each features good drinking water, flush toilets and abundant wildlife make each a delight after a couple days in back country exploration. A nearby Visitors Center, with knowledgeable hosts and several public horse corrals add to the features available in this area.
About 18-miles south of the Scorpion campgrounds, on State Route 35, are two campgrounds that are a bit more RV-friendly - Mesa
and Upper End. These campgrounds contain pleasant, sunny sites for RV, motorhome, car, and tent camping enthusiasts on or overlooking Lake Roberts. Stocked with rainbow trout, the lake also has Brown trout and catfish to challenge the fishing enthusiast.
One of the Gila National Forest's better kept developed campground secrets is Dipping Vat. Located on the northern edge of the Gila Wilderness, Dipping Vat overlooks the rainbow trout stocked Snow Lake. At the end of a 50-mile drive, half on gravel forest roadway (be sure you have a good spare tire), Dipping Vat is a campground for those who want a wilderness experience without the inconvenience of back country hiking.
The Gila National Forest is a place to enjoy the region's natural beauty and walk in the footsteps of prehistoric Indians, Apache, and early European settlers, miners, and explorers. It is a place for exploration, relaxation, and discovery to be visited time and time again.
3005 Camino del Bosque
Silver City, New Mexico 88061
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
1804 N. Date St.
T or C, New Mexico 87901
18 Ranger Station Dr.
Glenwood, New Mexico 88039
Quemado, New Mexico 87829
Reserve, New Mexico 87830
3005 E. Camino Del Bosque
Silver City, New Mexico 88061
HC68, Box 50
Mimbres, New Mexico 88049