This enormous and notable National Forest, one of the country’s largest, is located in southwestern New Mexico. The varied terrain here includes rugged high mountains, steep canyons, flat mesas, rock formations, and outcroppings. Elevations range from 4,500 feet to 11,000 feet. About 170 miles of the Continental Divide fall within the forest boundaries.

There are also some major rivers and many mountain streams. Vegetation includes high conifer forests, alpine meadows, grasslands, and desert flora. Among the wildlife are antelope, elk, mule deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, and mountain lion.

This National Forest has three designated wilderness areas: the 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness, the 202,000-acre Aldo Leopold Wilderness, and the 29,300-acre Blue Range Wilderness, which extends into Arizona.

Activities: Backpacking and hiking are available on almost 1,500 miles of trails, including the 33-mile West Fork Trail and the 32-mile Gila River Trail. Difficulty ranges from easy to strenuous. A section of the Continental Divide Trail, still yet to be fully established in New Mexico, will pass through.

Horseback riding is allowed on many of the trails, as is mountain biking. Designated wilderness areas are open to foot travel and horses only. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are possible here at higher elevations in the winter.

Canoeing, kayaking, and rafting are available on a couple of rivers, but water levels are usually adequate only in springtime. Fishing is another option. Hunting is permitted in season.

Camping Regulations: Camping is allowed freely throughout most of the National Forest, as are campfires, except near public use areas or where otherwise prohibited. No permits are required. A stove is recommended for cooking.

For Further Information: Gila National Forest, 2610 North Silver Street, Silver City, NM 88061; (505)388-8201.

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