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The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is one of the most unique national parks you will ever experience in the United States. A short hike takes you through a canyon and to some caves up in the cliff walls to see where the ancient Mogollon people lived over 700 years ago. These cliff dwellings will connect you to the past in a way like none other. Here are some tips for visiting Gila Cliff Dwellings to make your trip smooth and easy.
Tip #1: Establish Your Home Base in Silver City
The closest town of any size to the Gila Cliff Dwellings is Silver City, New Mexico. Silver City is about 44 miles from the national monument, but it will take you approximately an hour and a half to reach it by car. This is due to the twists and turns of the mountain road. Top speed rarely reaches 40 mph. Most of the time, you will find yourself driving between 20-35 mph. The drive itself is full of natural beauty though.
While there are a few campgrounds located closer to the cliff dwellings, I recommend making Silver City your home base. You can visit the cliffs as a day trip and then spend the rest of your trip visiting other local attractions. Silver City offers several decent hotels and many fantastic restaurants to enjoy on your vacation. For more on Silver City, see our posts on where to eat and what to do there.
Tip #2: Pack Food and Water
There aren’t many stores or restaurants between Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings. And the few stores that you will find do not have much of a selection. So, you should pack your own food and water before leaving Silver City. In addition to being more convenient, this will also be beneficial in the unlikely event that you have trouble along the way.
There is one little store just outside of the cliff dwellings called Doc Campbell’s Trading Post, It has a gas pump, sandwiches, and some other things. It’s not really a good place to stop for lunch, but it is sufficient for cold drinks, a small snack, or to pick up some basic provisions if you are camping nearby.
Tip #3: Fill Up With Gas Before Heading Out
Just as you should pack food and water for your trip to Gila Cliff Dwellings, you should also make sure that you have plenty of gas before leaving Silver City. There are even fewer gas stations between the two points than there are stores. I would recommend making sure you have enough gas before you leave Silver City to make the round trip.
Tip #4: Be Mindful of the Weather
One of the most important tips for visiting Gila Cliff Dwellings is to be mindful of the weather. As mentioned above, the road to the cliff dwellings is small and mountainous with lots of twists and turns. Even in the best weather, you will have to drive slow on this road. If the weather is bad, this road will be extremely treacherous. There are also a few places along this road that are prone to flooding in heavy rains. So, you should be aware of the weather before heading out into the Gila National Forest.
Tip #5: Don’t Rely on Cell Service
Another tidbit you should know before beginning your journey to the cliff dwellings is that once you leave Silver City, you will have not have cell service for very long. Most of the drive through the forest will be a dead zone. So, please don’t plan on relying on your cell phone for anything during your trip. Luckily, you really won’t need it for directions because once you get on Highway 15 out of Silver City, you just stay on the road until it runs straight into the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center.
Tip #6: You Can Only Take Water Onto the Trail
Because the Gila National Forest has been designated as a national wilderness area, you are only allowed to take water with you on your hike. No food, gum, tobacco products, or other drinks are allowed. There is a park ranger stationed at the beginning of the trail that will make you return any prohibited items to your car before you begin your hike. So, be prepared. Eat your snack before you begin. And save yourself the trip back to the car by not carrying food in your backpack. Don’t worry, the hike is only 1 mile round trip, so you will be able to easily do it without food.
Tip #7: Be Ready To Climb
The hike to the Gila Cliff Dwellings is not a difficult one at all. But, you do have to get from the bottom of the canyon up to the caves on the cliff. So, you will be climbing up on the first part of the hike. The trail is well maintained and has stairs built into it in various places, making it easier to navigate. And once you reach the caves, there are stairs leading to the first room and a ladder you must climb down (unless backtrack to the first room) to get out of the second room and back to the trail. So, don’t be surprised if you are breathing a little heavily once you reach the top. Fortunately, there are plenty of benches along the way to stop and rest if you need them. We saw several people in their 60’s making the hike without any problem, so it is suitable for most people. But, I want you to know what you’re getting into before you get started!
Tip #8: Keep Your Eyes Open For Wildlife
This trail is in the midst of a wilderness area, so there are critters out and about. When we went, we only saw one little lizard on the edge of the trail, but we were there in late February. If you are there in the summer, be sure to watch out for snakes and other animals. Some wildlife could add to your experience, while others could make it more dangerous. So, just keep an eye out and be aware of your surroundings.
Tip #9: No Need for Cash
The Gila Cliff Dwellings is a fee-free park. And since you should have brought food and water with you, there is no need for cash on this trip. You can do this entire trip without ever pulling your wallet out. This makes the Gila Cliff Dwellings a perfect budget-friendly trip for the family. Other than the gas to get there and back, this day trip will not cost you a thing!
These tips for visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings will ensure you are completely prepared for your trip to this unique national monument. By taking a few steps to prepare before leaving Silver City and then being aware of your surroundings while on your hike, you and your family will have a great day exploring these ancient homes. Enjoy your day in the Gila National Forest. For more on visiting this fascinating park, read our post on the Gila Cliff Dwellings and visit the National Park Service’s website. Happy travels!
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