Seldom Seen Floats: Upper Gila River Wilderness Run, New Mexico

Winds through absolutely gorgeous wilds that few have seen

About 45 miles north of Silver City, N.M., lies the Upper Gila River “Wilderness Run,” so-called because most of this splendid stretch lies within the half-million-acre Gila Wilderness Area. A friend and I snagged this trip in March a few years back, when we found the tight, twisty stream to be delightfully boat-able after a brief period of snowmelt in the four mountain ranges around it. Starting near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor’s center, the river winds through absolutely gorgeous wilds that few have seen, an area rich in forested canyons, natural springs, boulder garden rapids, and an abundance of birds and wildlife. But not people. If you’re looking for solitude, this is definitely the place to go.

BEST WINDOW: mid-March through late April or May.

MINIMUM FLOW: 200 cfs; optimum: 500-1,000 cfs.

LENGTH: 40 miles.

DIFFICULTY: Class II-III, strong wilderness boating skills required.

FLOAT TIME: 3-5 days.

TIP: Being at higher elevation (4,640-5,525 feet), snowfall is possible until late March or early April, and nighttime temperatures in the lower 30s are common, so be prepared.

CONTACT: Gila National Forest (575-539-2481).

BACKUP: West Texas. It’s a bit of a haul, but in early spring two possible Plan B’s are the Lower Pecos River and the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park.

— LR

Dirty Devil River, Utah   Escalante River, Utah

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  • Linda Ferrara

    Great information about the Gila. There are many hiking opportunities too. If you want to read a good book about a boat trip down the Gila, try\ “Gila Descending” by Dutch Salmon.

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