Park Stop #2 - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument - Silver City, NM
Tucked into the Gila National Forest, surrounded by rocks and dating back to 1300 AD and the time of the Mogollon peoples – is the Gila Dwellings National Monument, the nation’s first designated wilderness area that was created to protect the Mogollon cliff dwellings on the headwaters of the Gila River in southwest New Mexico.
Although its official establishment was made in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this historical monument spreads across 533 acres and is located at a height that varies from around 5,700 to 7,300 feet above sea level. Despite the rugged and steep terrain, the Gila Dwellings National Monument can be easily accessed. The plethora of trees including the ponderosa pine, the Gambel’s oak, Douglas fir, New Mexico juniper, pinon pine and alligator juniper best answer the question why this place was a focal point in the times of the Mogollon People.
To date, archaeologists consider the Gila Dwellings National Monument as a true sphere of influence and a home to two prominent ruins sites, as well as a location of smaller sites within the Gila Wilderness and the Gila National Forest. It was exacty the Mogollon People who inhabited this region first in the early 14th century during the Pueblo II Era – populating it with more than 46 rooms in five caves on the Cliff Dweller Canyon that comfortably fitted 10 to 15 families at that time. Although it was later abandoned, the Gila Dwellings National Monument is still considered a major historic site and a famous tourist attraction in the Southwest.
The nearby area has plenty of other features of interest for tourists as well – including more ancient sites, hot springs, fishing places and national forest trails, as well as sport-related activities.
Operating Hours - General Info
Gila Cliff Dwellings is open from 9 am to 4 pm while the last visitors for the day must be off the trail by 5 pm. The visitor center is a short drive from the trail and is open from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.
The highway approaching the monument has steep sections of 10-12% grade for several miles. Use lower gears when driving these sections of road to avoid overheating brakes. Make sure you fill up with gas in Silver City; there is a one pump station just outside the monument but there are no others along the way.
RVs – large vehicles over 20 feet must take Highway 35. To access Highway 35: turn North onto Highway 152 from Highway 180 at Santa Clara, NM. Follow 152 to the junction with 35 and follow 35 to the junction 15.
There is a fee of $10.00 per family – per day. A family is defined as one immediate family unit of parents and children. There is a $5.00 per adult individual fee (16 years and older) – per day free entrance for children 15 years and younger. If you plan to visit many parks with a year the America the Beautiful pass will provide a great return on the investment.
Pets are allowed in the park but not on the Monument trail at the Cliff Dwellings.
Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center:
Children ages 7 to 12 can become a Junior Ranger at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument by completing at least four specific activities while visiting the park in our Junior Ranger Program Booklet – “Welcome To Our Home in the Gila” (PDF 5.26 MB). The Senior Ranger Program Booklet – “Discover Cliff Dweller Canyon” (PDF 9.66 MB) is available for those over 12 yrs of age.
Location coordinates 33.227222°N 108.27222°W
Map credit – NPS
Things To Do
Hiking, birdwatching, wildlife and plant viewing, picnicking and geologic sightseeing.
The extreme range in elevation in the Gila National Forest and a wide range of vegetation provides for a diverse fauna which includes 30 species of fish, 11 species of amphibians, 44 species of reptiles, and 84 species of mammals.
You may see mule deer and elk. Black bear and mountain lion are rarely seen. Coyotes can sometimes be heard at night. Because the Gila National Forest plays a role in the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf they may be in the area, but encountering them would also be rare. The birds you may see are vultures, ravens, crows, hawks, hummingbirds, and various songbirds.
Trail to the Cliff Dwellings – The one-mile loop trail to and through the cliff dwellings climbs 180 feet above the canyon floor to an elevation close to 6000 feet. Allow a minimum of one hour for the round-trip hike. The trail is not wheelchair accessible. Views of the some of the cliff dwellings are possible after a 1/4-mile in on the hike from the canyon bottom.
Note – there are no trash facilities so plan to recycle and pack out.
Camping & Lodging
Forks Campground – Open All Year
The Forks Campground provides primitive camping opportunities along the West Fork of the Gila River. The Forks Campground is a U.S. Forest Service campground located approximately five miles south of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument just off NM State Highway 15 and just north of the Gila River Bridge. The only water available at the campground is from the river and must be either filtered, boiled, or chemically treated. No tables or grills provided. Vault toilets are available on site. Camping is free of charge and first-come, first served.
Grapevine Campground – Open All Year
The Grapevine Campground provides primitive camping opportunities along the East Fork of the Gila River. The Grapevine Campground is a U.S. Forest Service campground located approximately five miles south of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument just off NM State Highway 15 and just south of the Gila River Bridge. The only water available at the campground is from the river and must be either filtered, boiled, or chemically treated. No tables or grills provided. Vault toilets are available on site. Camping is free of charge and first-come, first served.
Upper and Lower Scorpion Campgrounds – Open All Year
Scorpion Campgrounds provide primitive camping opportunities along the West Fork of the Gila River. The Scorpion Campgrounds are U.S. Forest Service campgrounds located approximately one-half mile south of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument just off NM State Highway 15. Drinking water is available at the RV station located at the parking area for the Gila Visitor Center (approximately 1 1/2 miles away). Tables and grills are provided. Vault toilets are available on site. Camping is free of charge and first-come, first served.
Lake Roberts Campgrounds – Mesa Is Open All Year
The District offers several campgrounds on the Lake Roberts that are equipped with restrooms, drinking water, tables, and campfire grills for a nominal fee of $7 on a first come, first serve basis. The Upper-End campground has 12 units and is open year-round. The Mesa campground has 24 units, 12 have water & electrical hookups, the remaining are dry-camping units.
Food & Gas
The best bet is to bring food and snacks with you. There may be limited options at Doc Campbell’s Post located 3 miles from the Gila Visitor Center. The closest restaurant is at the intersection of NM 15 and NM 35, about 1/2-hour away. Another restaurant is along NM 35 in Mimbres, about 1 hour away. The largest city is about 1 1/2-hours away, Silver City, there are several restaurants they may be seasonally operated, so call ahead to confirm availability.
Best Time To Visit
Spring and Fall.
The climate is usually dry with July and August as the rainy months with a possibility of short but intense rain each day.
During the summer daytime highs average in the 90s (F) while nighttime lows can reach into the 50s (F). During the winter daytime highs can be in the 50s (F), while nighttime lows can reach into the teens.
Roads are not plowed for snow on weekends or at night; call ahead for winter road conditions 505-536-9461
Drives & Scenic Overlooks
There is a short drive through the monument with two scenic overlooks. The Veteran’s Memorial overlook is about 9 miles on a gravel road with views of the Jemez mountains and Dome Wilderness and vistas of Camada and Peralta canyons.
The main photo ops are of the Dwellings themselves. Additionally, Gila National Forest and Lake Roberts had some nice compositions. Be sure to take advantage of the pullouts along the drive from Silver City .
My Trip Report
This was a really nice short hike; I enjoyed seeing the dwellings and camping in the park. I would like to explore the surrounding Gila National Forest area more and stay in some of those campgrounds. The Lake Roberts area was really beautiful!
Have you been to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument? Did I leave any must-dos or must-see sights off the list? Let me know in the comments below.
By The Numbers
Not on the trail to the Cliff Dwellings
We Are The Parks - Get Involved!
We all have the responsibility to help protect and preserve this important legacy. Here are five things you can do to minimize your impact and help protect the parks for future generations:
- Follow the Rules. A new story about bad behavior in our national parks comes out almost every day. With people regularly doing things like walking on geothermal features, getting far too close to wildlife, illegally using drones, and vandalizing priceless natural and cultural treasures, NPS resources are stretched. We can all help the NPS and protect valuable natural resources by following established rules.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles. With visitation to NPS sites at an all-time high, it is even more important for all of us to be good stewards of the places we visit. An easy way to reduce your personal impact in learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles.
- Petition & Vote. In addition to supporting petitions and sending letters to your congresspeople. Consider the preservation, protection, and adequate funding of public lands when voting for local, state and federal officials consider. If these things are a priority for you as well, check in with your local and national conservation organizations to see how politicians in your community view the protection of public lands before you cast your votes.
- Get Involved. There are many ways to volunteer including artists-in-residence and citizen science programs.
- Support. Consider making a donation to the National Park Foundation. The NPF is the official charitable partner to the National Park System.