Gila Wilderness in mid/late May for 3-4 days backpacking – trail recs?
Apr 21, 2021 at 12:41 pm #3709787Benjamin NBPL Member
I’m looking to do a backpacking trip in New Mexico in mid/late May (currently looking at the week of May 17th) and am looking for recommendations of a good backpacking loop (we only have one car, so a loop is pretty much necessary unless there’s a shuttle) for 3-4 days / 2-3 nights. Looking for more of the mountainous rather than flat desert backpacking of New Mexico, especially if it involves summit views and/or mountain lakes.
Currently considering the Gila Wilderness. I was originally considering the Pecos Wilderness because I’m also visiting family in Santa Fe, but it looks like it’s too early in the year for that as I’d probably hit significant snowpack still. It looks like Gila is warmer and less likely to have issues with snowpack.
I’m a pretty experienced backpacker and am bringing my partner who has a few shorter trips under her belt, but is still very fit. Another user posted a 5-day trip (https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/5-days-in-the-gila-new-mexico/) of an estimated 60 miles, which seems like more than we could bite off in 4 days. We could do 15 miles per day if we needed to, but would prefer not to force it, if possible. Looks like we’ll have 14+ hours of daylight that time of year.
Also, I’m not married to the idea of the Gila Wilderness if there are some other areas that I should check out.
Hopefully that’s not too vague, but if anyone has any questions or recs, they’d be greatly appreciated.Apr 21, 2021 at 3:05 pm #3709830Luke SchmidtBPL Member
Parts of the Pecos might work in May but you can’t count on it.
I hiked in the Gila a long time ago. I know there have been fires since then.Apr 21, 2021 at 4:19 pm #3709848
That was my trip report. The further away you get from the Clift Dwellings the less maintained the trails are. It’s not really a big issue as far as navigation is concerned because you just follow the river. But it does mean that you will probably do many 100 yard stretches of walking the river bed trying to find the trail. It also keeps a lot of people away and the solitude factor is really high.
It is a gorgeous hike.
Here is the map.: https://caltopo.com/m/1ARC Look at it and you will see how easily you could chop significant miles off the west end and easily do it in 4. (do yourself in my favor and do not cut out the section marked “don’t miss this section”)Apr 21, 2021 at 7:28 pm #3709885J-LBPL Member
@jaymenna78734: definitely agree with your “don’t miss this section”! I spent a week last year going up the West Fork, across Clayton Mesa, and down the Middle Fork and that was one of my favorite sections. I went in October and plan on re-doing the trip in May some year (to get warmer temps) with a slightly modified route. October had me waking up to frozen shoes a couple times.
For the OP, much of the higher mountainous portions of the Gila have burned. The river canyons are great though. I have thought of summiting Whitewater Baldy from White Creek (along the West Fork) as a day hike but haven’t done so. Here is a trail map put out by Gila National Forest that could help you plan your trip. If the map shows a trail hasn’t been maintained recently, it may or may not still exist and I would consider the route as semi off-trail.Apr 22, 2021 at 8:19 am #3709990Benjamin NBPL Member
@jaymenna78734, what is so special about the “don’t miss” section and what part of your video is this covered in? The trail map suggests this is one of the maintained trails, so does this mean it’s pretty obviously marked with cairns, a visible path, or something similar?
It looks like one could take the Middle Fork all the way through the “don’t miss” section for as long as one is comfortable and then turn back and take Little Bear back to take a slightly different path. Looks like 18 miles each way, so probably 3 days/2 nights or maybe 2 long days / 1 night?
Also, any idea how hard it might be to navigate Big Bear between the Middle Fork and Lilley Park so that it’d be more of a loop?Apr 22, 2021 at 5:37 pm #3710070Joe GBPL Member
Last August, I went with a small group to the Gila. We started at the parking lot where West Fork Trail 151 begins, went out Little Bear to the Middle Fork River, followed it up to just shy of the Meadows Trail, then followed the river back out to the Visitor Center. Oddly enough, when Scouts have to do a 30 mile backpack, a lot of them want to do 30 and no more. Anyways, I definitely recommend any route that includes all or part of the Middle Fork. Beautiful scenery but expect wet feet.Apr 26, 2021 at 1:30 pm #3710434
The “don’t miss this section” was simply the most beautiful part of an ohter wise beautiful route.. The video of that section stras started here: https://youtu.be/3J8glVnZ5ok?t=1268
I can tell you the the portion of the Middle fork East of the hot springs is a bit of a circus, especially on weekends. Lots of people and parties. I’m an old curmudgeon and I hate noise, trash and late night parties on trail.
You could very easily hike up the middle fork and turn back toward little bear. Any of the trail up on the top (south of the middle fork –Prior Creek of example would probably be fine — Note I have not hiked that part on over 30 years)
I hope I did not mislead when I said the trial was hard to follow. It is pretty hard to follow in the canyon. But up on the top section that we did it was a really simple.Mar 30, 2023 at 9:55 am #3777613Sandy HiltonBPL Member
Reviving this thread – I am considering a week long hike first week of May this year (2023). Anyone known the current and likely conditions on the Grand Enchantment Trail? In particular, I’m wondering about snow levels on the west end of the GET in the Gila Wilderness – Grouse Peak, Indian Peak, Center Baldy etc. That’s all at ~10,000′. I’m not interested in carrying snowshoes or postholing for long stretches.
Any advice on possible 150 mile routes is greatly accepted! @john menna, I’ve got your 60 mile Caltopo loop in mind already. Wondering what extensions people would recommend for early May this year.
Thanks!Mar 30, 2023 at 1:50 pm #3777631HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: The West is (still) the Best
Anyone known the current and likely conditions on the Grand Enchantment Trail? In particular, I’m wondering about snow levels on the west end of the GET in the Gila Wilderness – Grouse Peak, Indian Peak, Center Baldy etc. That’s all at ~10,000′.
Just to preface, New Mexico has only got the remnants from the California storms after Arizona gets its share (been in Albuquerque for months .. so I know).
That general area of the Gila, to the east of Glenwood, is the only place showing 20-40 inches, except for the drainages which all look clear. The sun is already getting a bit hot to the north so imagine you’ll see some melt action in southern NM. New Mexico’s weather has been called schizophrenic though. Call the rangers of course, but worse case you go up the main tributary of Whitewater Ck (paralleling NM 159 for quite some time). Used to be a decent BBQ and bar in Glenwood NM, but not sure if the natural disasters have wiped it out. There’s beer and pizza it seems for a stop. The “Catwalk” is a major tourist “day-hike” destination so there’s probably still some convenience stores.
The area was hit bad with fire almost 10 years ago, but should be on the path to recovery. As snow melts there may be some cats-claw, though the USFS was clearing major trails a year or 2 after said fires. Cats-claw will grow in clear areas but as the trees (lots of pines in the Gila) regrow the shadows will start killing them off.
The other snow is over on the Black Range (Aldo Leopold .. Emery Pass), but think the GET cuts north before that. A lot of CDT hikers now take the Gila detour and go by the visitor center/hitchhike to Doc Campbell’s general store if wanting a diversion. Various hot springs including commercial, pay to camp next to the hot springs or find some abundant public land.Mar 30, 2023 at 6:04 pm #3777650
FWIW i find these guys usually have current info on conditions on the ground: https://www.gilatrailsinfo.org/current-infoMay 9, 2023 at 5:37 pm #3780753Lennox NBPL Member
Call the Gila Wilderness Ranger Station. Some of the most helpful rangers I have spoken with are in the Gila Wilderness. They can give you information on snow levels, water availability, recent fire activity, etc. I stayed away from several trails I wanted to do last year due to fires over the last few years. Oh and yes, the section of Middle Fork Trail between Jordan Hot Springs and the Gila Visitor Center is possibly the most used trail in the wilderness. In 2021 it was very crowded and there were many toilet paper “flowers” in and along the trail.
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