You’ll find nearly 1,000 miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as plenty of options for fishing, paddling, and ATVing in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. The Gila Wilderness is the first designated wilderness area in the U.S. and New Mexico’s largest at 558,000 acres.
Here’s where to visit these locations, along with Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, and where to camp nearby.
For thousands of years, humans lived in the mountains now protected by the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (managed by the National Park Service and surrounded by the national forest). Ranger-led programs are weather-dependent; visitors can tour the dwellings on their own. If hiking wore you out, refresh your aching muscles in the Jordan (7-mile hike) or Light Feather (0.75-mile hike) hot springs in the national monument.
To see more reminders of the past, the easy 3.6-mile Dragonfly Loop Trail #720 in the national forest takes visitors past a series of petroglyphs, including a drawing of—you guessed it—a dragonfly. (Be sure to keep an eye out for the signage, as they are easy to miss.) The multi-use trail is also open to mountain bikers and equestrians.
For a bit more of a challenge, the 4-mile Signal Peak Trail takes you up to the top of the 9,000-foot mountain in Gila National Forest. It can get a bit steep at times but should be manageable for most hikers; the views get better the higher up you go.
How to Get There by RV
Campervans can take New Mexico State Road 15, a gorgeous but narrow road that winds its way upward through tight mountain passes. If you’re in anything larger than a Class B, or if you’re hauling a trailer, stick to the wider State Road 35.
Where to Camp
About an hour south of the national monument, City of Rocks State Park is a great family camping option. Camping among the rock formations, kids can climb and explore to their hearts’ delight. Some sites have hookups and are reservable online; others are first-come, first-served.
Nestled up high in a ponderosa-pine forest, the Upper End Campground is within walking distance of trails and a lake. Sites are on the smaller side, but there are a few that can accommodate a larger rig.