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16 Best Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking Locations

Last updated on May 9th, 2022 at 07:17 am

Gila Cliff Dwellings Monument

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is an awesome place to visit, with so many activities and trails to hike there is something for everyone from kids, to adults. Why even your pet will enjoy the free kennel in a shaded area while you are exploring the Gila Cliff Dwellings, since domestic animals are not allowed in the dwellings or the trail to them.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is located on Hwy 15 about 43 miles from Silver City, New Mexico. This is a very beautiful drive and is paved, but be aware that the drive to The Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument is also a steep narrow road that has no center divide. Once you arrive at The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument you will find many activities, along with a visitor center, a museum and a store.

Remember that the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument area and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Forest are a pack it in pack it out recreational area. You are responsible for taking your trash with you when you leave as there are no garbage cans. Also there is no food or flavored beverages allowed on the trails or in the cliff dwellings themselves, only water is allowed.

There are picnic tables to eat at located at the visitor center and behind the Trailhead Museum. If you didn’t bring food there is some packaged food available at the store.

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History of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is in the heart of the Gila Wilderness. It’s about 560,000 acres of wilderness and was the first federally designated wilderness area in the world. It predates the Wilderness Act by over 4 decades. The Gila Wilderness contains features you won’t find in other wilderness areas, such as parts of old wagon/ jeep trails and cabins left from the 19th century settlements, ranches and mining activities. The wilderness boasts of dramatic scenery with mountains, mesas, rivers and canyons.

The Gila National Forest meets stretches of desert, grasslands and rocky cliffs for an amazing experience. The Gila National Forest has tons of things to do besides the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument like hiking and fishing at Lake Roberts, or stop and eat your lunch, if you packed one, at the Ruins Vista Picnic Area and since you’re there you should really walk the short trail that leads to an ancient village that predates the Cliff Dwellings. Also while at The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument you can explore the Heart Bar Wildlife Management: Area, which is just down the road from the monument.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was home for the Mogollon Culture people for about 20 years in the late 1200’s. They thought that the Gila Cliff Dwelling Caves was a great area to make their homes and built rooms in the cave dwellings in which they lived in and upon leaving the area the Mogollon Culture people left the walls they built for future generations to see how it was to live back then. The name for the people of this culture, Mogollon, came from the near by Mogollon Mountains.

These mountains were named after a Spanish governor in the 1700’s. Also the people of this culture are ancestors of the Puebloan people. People associated with this culture include those living in, what is now known as New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico. Long after the cliff dwellings were abandoned, Apaches came to the head waters of the Gila River keeping the area remote.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was established in 1907 to preserve the prehistoric dwellings, known at the time as the Gila Hot Springs Cliff- Houses. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument preserves sites that are nearly unique in Southwestern New Mexico for their almost undisturbed nature. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument preserves an archeological resource that’s rapidly vanishing elsewhere.

1. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking – Cosmic Campground – International Dark Sky Sanctuary

Address
Alma, New Mexico
GPS: 33.479599, -108.922676
Elevation: 5351′

Management: Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Gravel and .7 miles from a paved road. Cosmic Campground – International Dark Sky Sanctuary is open Year round. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. You may stay 14 days at Cosmic Campground – International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Submitted by tilly. New USFS site – vault toilets, 5-6 RV sites, some scattered tent sites

2. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking Locations – Mogollon Road Boondocking

Address
Mogollon, New Mexico
GPS: 33.36478, -108.88752
Elevation: 5138′

Management: Public (Unofficial)

Informal disbursed camping among scattered junipers just off Hwy 159 on the SE side just .5 and .7 miles off Hwy 180. Very clean and quiet with beautiful views. Please keep this site clean!

3. Gila Cliff Free Dwellings National Monument – Bighorn

Address
Glenwood, New Mexico
GPS: 33.323135, -108.882637
Elevation: 4779′

Management: Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Official)

The road in is Paved. Bighorn is open Year-round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 Nights at Bighorn. The Bighorn Campground is a convenient campground just one-tenth of a mile northwest of the town of Glenwood. It is a campground that is typically used more for short-term stays (1 or 2 days) than long-term camping (14 days).

4. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Camping Spots – Bursum

Address
Bursum Road
New Mexico
GPS: 33.369704, -108.676183
Elevation: 9259′

Management: Public – Forest Service

Free Dispersed camping in the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger District. This campsite does not use a reservation system. First come, first served. This is a high elevation location.

5. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument RV Parking – Ben Lilly Campground

Address
Snow Lake, New Mexico
GPS: 33.397289, -108.592842
Elevation: 8017′

Management: Forest Service

The road in is Gravel. Ben Lilly Campground is open May-Nov. There are 6-15 campsites at this location. You may stay 15 days at Ben Lilly Campground. Named after the famous hunter, Ben Lilly is located on FR 159. The campground is an ideal area to escape the summer heat. There are wonderful birding and wildlife watching opportunities in this area.

6. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking – Scorpion Campground – Lower

Address
Highway 15
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico
GPS: 33.23018, -108.25759
Elevation: 5683′

Management: Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Paved. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 35 feet. Located between the Gila Visitors Center and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This easily accessible campground, is just off the Hwy 15. There are 7 developed sites each with picnic tables and fire rings/bbq grills. Camping gear must be carried from vehicle to campsite.

7. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking Locations – Grapevine Campground

Address
The campground is located 40 miles north of Silver City on NM Hwy 15.
Gila Hot Springs, New Mexico
GPS: 33.178993, -108.204735
Elevation: 5578′

Management: Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Official)

The road in is Gravel and 0.1 miles from a paved road. Grapevine Campground is open Year round. There are 16-29 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is none. You may stay 15 days at Grapevine Campground.

8. Gila Cliff Free Dwellings National Monument – Black Canyon – Lower

Address
Mimbres, New Mexico
GPS: 33.182571, -108.034767
Elevation: 6810′

Management: Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Official)

The road in is Dirt. Black Canyon – Lower is open Year-round. There are 30 or more campsites at this location. Beautiful remote camping. Trail# 94 starts at end of campground.

9. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Camping Spots – FSR 150

Address
North Star Road
Silver City, New Mexico
GPS: 33.073843, -108.00899
Elevation: 7569′

Management: Public – Forest Service

Free Dispersed camping in the Gila National Forest’s Wilderness Ranger District. No reservations. First come, first served. This is a high elevation location.

10. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument RV Parking – Kingston Campground

Address
Hillsboro, New Mexico
GPS: 32.918485, -107.70117
Elevation: 6173′

Management: Public – USDA Forest Service

Small campground located along the north side of New Mexico Highway 152, near mile marker 40, near Middle Percha Creek, on the eastern edge of the small town of Kingston, NM.

11. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking – Georgetown Rd

Address
Georgetown Road
GPS: 32.83684, -108.0169

Management: Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Gravel. Georgetown Rd is open year round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 25 feet. You may stay 14 days at Georgetown Rd. Nice little graveled pulloff along Georgetown Rd in the mountains west of Mimbres, NM, in Gila NF. Georgetown road is a well-maintained and graveled forest service road.

12. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking Locations – Pine Flats Campground

Address
Silver City, New Mexico
GPS: 32.97285, -108.21483
Elevation: 7182′

Management: Public (Official)

There are a few spots in this area to camp along the road, with T-Mobile LTE. The views and amazing.

13. Gila Cliff Free Dwellings National Monument – Meadow Creek Rd

Address
Silver City, New Mexico
GPS: 32.94659, -108.19692
Elevation: 7474′

Management: Public

This is a great spot with at least a few areas to camp. It has cell service and is fairly pretty in the woods.

14. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Camping Spots – Cherry Creek Campground

Address
Highway 15
Gila, New Mexico
GPS: 32.91425, -108.22527
Elevation: 6801′

Management: Public – Forest Service

Cherry Creek Campground is open April 1 – October 31. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 15 feet. You may stay 15 days at Cherry Creek Campground. This is a great place for a picnic or overnight camping. Cherry Creek is located along one of the most scenic parts of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic By-Way.

15. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument RV Parking – Bill Evans Lake

Address
Silver City, New Mexico
GPS: 32.86661, -108.57804
Elevation: 4708′

Management: Public – Fish and Wildlife Service (Unofficial)

What a beautiful lake! It’s a busy place on the weekend. Yes it’s a bit loud sometimes. Well worth it stayed over a week. Great fishing bass blue hill and catfish to name a few. I will be back the sunrise here is amazing. Conservation officer was pleasant. There is a 4.00 +1.00 charge you can get on line. It’s good for a year. Great swimming!!! I would definitely recommend this stop.

16. Free Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Boondocking – Bear Mountain Road

 

Address
Silver City, New Mexico
GPS: 32.828444, -108.358611
Elevation: 7116′

Management: Public – Forest Service (Official)

The road in is Gravel. Bear Mountain Road is open all year. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 25 feet. Dispersed camping all along Bear Mountain Rd, but this little ridge gets you back off the road and in privacy. More traffic than you’d think on Bear Mountain, a dirt forest road! Verizon receptions good.

Hiking At the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #1 – Gila Cliff Dwelling Trail

1. Gila Cliff Dwelling Trail

There are 2 great trails to check out at The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, with the first being the Gila Cliff Dwelling Trail. This trail is a 1.1 mile loop that offers a river and is suitable for all skill levels to hike it. This trail leads to the cliff dwellings and is a pretty easy hike with so much beautiful scenery. It does get a little steep towards the dwellings, so you may want to take a few breathers as the elevation is a bit high. Domesticated animals are not allowed on this trail, but there is a free shaded kennel you can take advantage of while you go see the dwellings.

Length: 1.1 mi
Elevation gain: 285 ft
Route type: Loop

Kid friendly, Hiking, Nature trips, Walking, Bird watching, River, Views, Wildlife, Historic site

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #2 – Grudging Grave

2. Grudging Grave

The second trail at The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is, Grudging Grave. This is a very pretty walk and dogs are permitted on this trail. There are 3 river crossings you must do at the West Fork of the Gila River, so expect some wet feet. The headstone can be seen after the 3rd crossing looking south. Two rocks are stacked and the grave is about 70 yards to the left of them. This trail is mostly flat and there are many beautiful wild flowers along the trail. This tail is good for all skill levels and offers a number of activities like hiking, nature trips, and bird watching. This trail is best used from April until September. The elevation gain is around 101 feet.

Length: 2.0 mi
Elevation gain: 101 ft
Route type: Out & back

Kid friendly, Hiking, Nature trips, Walking, Bird watching, Running, Dog friendly, Views, Wildflowers

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #3 – Little Bear Canyon Trail

3. Little Bear Canyon Trail Gila Cliff Free Dwellings National Monument Hiking

Other nearby trails to explore are found in the Gila Wilderness. There is Little Bear Canyon Trail which is located near Pinos Altos, new Mexico. It is an 8 mile trail and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, nature trips and bird watching. The best time to use this trail is from March until October. Be sure to bring plenty of water for this trail hike though. It’s also dog friendly, if they can handle the heat.

Length: 8.0 mi
Elevation gain: 1,243 ft
Route type: Out & back

Hiking, Nature trips, Bird watching, Running, Dog friendly, Views, Wildflowers

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #4 – Gila Loop Trail

4. Gila Loop Trail Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument Hiking

Gila Loop Trail is also near Pinos Altos, New Mexico and is a 22.5 mile loop trail that’s moderately trafficked. There is a river about 9 miles in and is rated as difficult. This trail is used for hiking, nature trips, camping, backpacking and horses. The best time to go is from March until October and is a dog and horse friendly trail. This trail offers great scenery and some wildlife such as bear, rattlesnakes and lots of insects so be prepared. It is also dry until you get to the river, which is the front half of the trail, so bring lots of water. The back half of this trail is overgrown with lots of river crossings, wear waterproof shoes, and isn’t marked well. The views and the scenery when you get to the canyon are absolutely breathtaking.

Length: 22.5 mi
Elevation gain: 2,729 ft
Route type: Loop

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Horseback riding, Running, Dog friendly, River, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #5 – Jordan Hot Springs Via Little Bear Canyon Trail

5. Jordan Hot Springs Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument Hiking

Beautiful cascading spring with crystal clear water and fallen leaves floating around in it, it was a pretty special place. The springs are the perfect temperature also, not too hot but warm enough for a dip to be extremely pleasant after the cold river crossings.

And the canyon was very nice too, excellent hike, one of my favorites. Though I ruined it a bit by returning via middle fork which wasn’t as scenic and then having to walk up the road. I’d just go back the same way via little bear next time.

Length: 15.2 mi
Elevation gain: 1,561 ft
Route type: Out & back

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Nature trips, Dog friendly, Forest, Hot springs, River, Views, Wildlife

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #6 – Little Bear Canyon Trail

6. Little Bear Canyon Trail Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument Hiking

Super hot, bring plenty of water if you will be hiking during the heat of the day (May 2021). Also, would advise to leave your pet behind if they don’t manage heat well. Had to carry our dog cause she refused to walk any further at one point. The stream by Middle Fork was beautiful and I hear the rest of the hike to Jordan Hot Springs is worth it. I would advise making it a multiple day trip if going during the summer.

Length: 8.0 mi
Elevation gain: 1,243 ft
Route type: Out & back

Hiking, Nature trips, Bird watching, Running, Dog friendly, Views, Wildflowers

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #7 – Meadows Hells Hole

7. Meadows Hells Hole Gila Cliff Free Dwellings National Monument Hiking

The trail is beautiful, be aware that there are well over 100 water crossings on the west fork alone. Be prepared with shoes that can handle it. The beginning of trail can be a bit hard to stay on so keep a close eye on your location. I do not recommend planning to use the reservoir on top of the plateau for drinking, the water is stagnant and tastes pretty terrible, I filtered it through a Sawyer and was fine but not my favorite.

Length: 24.1 mi
Elevation gain: 2,565 ft
Route type: Loop

Hiking, Nature trips, Bird watching, Dog friendly, Views, Wildflowers

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #8 – Middle Fork Gila River

8. Middle Fork Gila River

Hiked 3.75 miles up river from TH near visitor center then turned around for a 7.5 mile hike. This resulted in 12 river crossings each way for a total of 24. Started at 830am on an early November day with temp at 35F. The sun in the southern sky lit up the canyon and warmed it up quickly. Beautiful fall colors, peaceful, hot springs near TH 0.5 miles in.

Length: 11.1 mi
Elevation gain: 620 ft
Route type: Out & back

Backpacking, Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Horseback riding, Nature trips, Bird watching, Forest springs, River, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Over grown, Washed out, Off trail

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #9 – The Catwalk South Fork Trail

9. The Catwalk Gila Cliff Free Dwellings National Monument Hiking

What an incredible adventure! My pup and I had a blast! There are quite a few water crossings, so be sure to bring the right type of shoes! I’m 5’7” and the water crossing depth was anywhere from shin to knee deep, and there is a good strong current. The water is cold, but so refreshing!

Length: 2.1 mi
Elevation gain: 403 ft
Route type: Out & back

Hiking, Nature trips, Walking, Bird watching, Dog friendly, Views, Wildflowers

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Hiking #10 – Snow Lake

10. Snow Lake

We started at snow lake and hiked a few miles in and then back out before heading home. Such a beautiful hike and we plan on coming back and finishing it. Definitely bring extra shoes for after the hike as there are several water crossings. Also the drive to get there you get to drive through a really cool old town it looks like they are restoring or something.

Length: 11.7 mi
Elevation gain: 1,040 ft
Route type: Point to point

Hiking, Nature trips, Bird watching, Dog friendly, Lake, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife

Location of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is divided into two units that are located in Catron County, the largest but least populated county in New Mexico. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument lies at 6,000 feet in a valley that’s approximately a half mile across at it’s broadest reach. The western unit occupies most of Cliff Dweller Canyon, it opens onto the West Fork of the Gila River. Going through the valley the river flows over gravel bottoms. Since 1924 the monument has been surrounded by the Gila Wilderness. The monument has no campgrounds, although nearby there are some managed by the Forest Service and a privately owned one.

This to Do and See At the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

There are many things to see and do at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, such as wildlife viewing, beautiful trails for hiking, bird watching nature walks, take Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument photos, just to name a few. There are even guided tours, the tours take approximately 2 hours, or you can explore on your own, but be sure to stay on the trail and don’t touch or lean on the dwelling structures. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument even has field trips for schools.

The field trips give the students first handed explorations of it’s resources. It also gives the students the opportunity to form an intellectual and emotional connection to the shared cultural heritage. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument also has wilderness activities as well, like camping, fishing, wildlife viewing and even horseback riding. Along with all that The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument even has hot springs, such as Wilderness Hot Springs ( this is the closest).

Light feather Hot Springs is only a 20 minute walk on the river from the Gila Visitor Center. The most popular is Jordan Hot Springs and is a 6-8 mile hike from the visitor center. There are private hot springs in Gila Hot Springs, a community that’s about a 4 mile drive from The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Be aware though that hot springs may contain an amoeba that can cause a fatal form of meningitis. So be careful as to not get any of the water up your nose.


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