Special Places

The Gila National Forest offers many natural attractions to the visitor. Each provides a unique experience. These range from accessible trails at the Catwalk, historical insights at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, or the serenity of hiking in the wilderness.

Wilderness Areas

Horseback riders cross a meadow on the Gila Wilderness

Wilderness holds a special place on the Gila National Forest, as it was here that the first Wilderness was proclaimed on June 3, 1924 at the urging of the great conservation... full article

Highlighted Areas

Catwalk Recreation Area

The Catwalk's history began with the discovery of gold and silver in the rugged Mogollon Mountains above Whitewater Canyon. In 1893, the small town of Graham (also known as Whitewater) grew around a mill, located on the west hillside near the present day location of the parking area. The mill only lasted about 10 years. In the mid-1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the Catwalk. The Catwalk bridge system washed away during a huge flooding event after the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy Fire. The bridge system was rebuilt and is now open for approximately .5 miles from the parking lot. This is a very accessible area and easily hiked by all ages. After the bridge system, the trail system has been cleared for another .5 - .75 miles. It goes across a low-water crossing, across the fiberglass bridge and through the arch. Once you go up the stairs to a small viewing area the trail can become steep. Past the "swimming hole" the trail becomes unnavigable. A series of trail reconstruction projects are scheduled to occur in summer and fall 2023 to restore trail access toward Hummingbird Saddle.

View Catwalk Recreation Area photos on Flickr


Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is a National Park Service managed area that is surrounded by the Gila National Forest. The surrounding area includes a number of campsites, an interpretive trail and an educational/visitors center. Please visit their website for information regarding the Cliff Dwellings, possible closures, and other area information.

Gila Wilderness

***Attention Gila River Rafters - please see the latest Gila River trip report from Gila National Forest  from April 6 - 9, 2023***

The 558,065-acre Gila Wilderness, created in June 1924 at the urging of the great conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold, was the world's first designated wilderness and also New Mexico's largest wilderness.

“The richest values of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone, nor even in the present, but rather in the future.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary

Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary (CCIDSS) is the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary located on National Forest System lands and also in North America. It is also one of only 14 certified IDA Sanctuaries in the world. International Dark Sky Sanctuaries are lands possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights. For more information on dark skies, light pollution, or the International Dark Sky Association.

The CCIDSS offers a 360-degree, unobstructed view of the night sky for exceptional stargazing opportunities, and often hosts “star parties” in cooperation with the partner group “Friends of the Cosmic Campground.” This site is situated where there nearest significant source of artificial light is more than 40 miles away, and across the state line in Arizona.

Night vision is necessary to enjoy the night sky. If you look at white light from either your flashlight or your cell phone you will not be able to enjoy the wonders of the natural night sky for 20-30 minutes. In order to respect your fellow star gazers the Forest Service recommends:

  • No parking on the observation/telescope pads
  • No camp fires on observation pads
  • Use a red filter over your flashlight lens
  • Try to arrive before dark so that your headlights won’t distort your night vision
  • Quiet times (no generator use) between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

CCIDSS is a primitive campground with minimal site amenities including an information kiosk, a pit toilet, and four concrete telescope/observation pads. Currently, there is very minimal shade available however, future planning developments intend to erect a shade pavilion as well as improve individual campsite amenities as funding comes available.

Recreation Areas