Exploring Gila National Forest and Gila Hot Springs in New Mexico

Did you know that in New Mexico there’s the first wilderness designated by congress? It’s called Gila National Forest. This National Forest is about 3.3 million acres and it is mind-blowingly huge, making it the largest wilderness in New Mexico!! Located in southwest New Mexico, this landscape by the desert is also mixed with greenery especially during the summer and it is unspoiled remote beauty. My family and I went here during fall time and it’s still lovely and a place to escape to the forest and mountains that are elevated from 4,200 to 10,900 feet, according to Nationalforests.org.

In this National Forest was actually where the Apache warrior Geronimo was born, right on the Gila River. Native Americans resided here and called this home, including the Mongollons, where their cliff dwellings can be explored within the forest. Now, it’s an area designated for hiking, camping, and to find hot springs, which is abundant in New Mexico.

Driving here 

Driving through scenic Gila National Forest will show you forests amassed with Ponderosa pine trees. There are many high cool mountains to see between these pine trees and open views from the road that also featured canyons. There are viewpoints to pull up to stop by for perfect picture opportunities.  However, it does get pretty steep driving here and there are no lines marked on the road to direct you what lane you’d have to stay on so stay cautious with this.

Driving here at night is truly scary. We had to experience that after our day spent in Gila National Forest. Like I mentioned, there are no lines that divide the lanes and then there are hardly any reflectors. There are some signs that will warn when there are winding curves ahead. Driving through a mountain where you don’t see where the edges end exactly is challenging, but I suggest that staying by the side where the hills are mounted could help you avoid drops and take your time driving here. Also, make sure to make room for other drivers who are trying to cut through and are fast.

Unique places to explore in the national forest

  • Catwalk Recreation Area – This 1.1 trail features a boardwalk-like path with steel pipes along volcanic walls. The trail used to be a path that follows a pipeline, where workers would come by to work on the electricity and carry water during the 1890s.
  • Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument – This national monument consists of the home of Mongollons in the cliffs from 1275 to the early 14th century, leaving ruins that are explorable for anyone. You can read my guide to this here.
  • Find several hiking trails here on AllTrails.

Going to Gila Hot Springs

Gila National Forest contains a lot of hot springs and it’s one of the highlights when visiting this national forest. Working out on a hike through the forest can lead to the perfect opportunity to stop by and soak in a hot spring. About 4 miles away from Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, you will probably see the Gila Hot Springs Campground. This area is accessible by car and not a hike, like others, which made it perfect for my parents that do not hike but want to experience hot springs. There are also camping available there!

There are about 3 hot springs to soak in. They’re usually full of people at certain times, so it’s best to make it early if you can. From the hot springs, you will be surrounded by forests and you can also see a view of the Gila River. It’s a gorgeous spot with such pristine warm natural springs. This area is a private business owned by a married couple and they’re very accommodating, checking on the temperatures of the hot springs every now and then.

Be sure to have a bathing suit on as I do not think they allow nudity there, as I know some hot springs can be like that. You also cannot bring food or drinks or alcohol at the site and pets are allowed as long as they are quiet. The admission to soak in their hot springs is only $5 per person/per night if you plan to not camp there. If you do want to camp there, using the hot springs is free of admission but it’s $8 per person/per night to camp overnight and it’s encouraged to make reservations for camping.

Why try a hot spring?

Hot springs are usually rare to come by and hidden sometimes. I know a lot of them are not geotagged, and for good reasons. Going to Gila Hot Springs was my first experience for a hot spring and it was a lovely time. Hot springs are rainwater or groundwater that are heated by the Earth’s surface (from the magma).

There’s a lot of benefits to trying a hot spring and from my one visit alone, sitting in one for a few hours, I actually saw a difference. They can boost blood circulation, relieve pain and aches, promote sleep, heal skin problems, and reduce stress.

From what I experienced, I had been having sleeping problems for days prior to the visit and that night I was able to go into a deep sleep and feel tired at a good time. My skin also felt pretty exfoliated and softer… so needed! I also seemed more peaceful than usual. Magical, ain’t it?

You won’t regret your visit to Gila National Forest and witnessing a part of history for public lands. You can spend a good few days or make a day trip here and feel the escape to nature in many ways. We came from Arizona, which is about 6 hours to drive there, but I still think it was worth it for a lengthy road trip.

Find a place to stay nearby

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