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Explore New Alternate Trails in the Gila Wilderness

Until now, the CDT alternate in the Gila Wilderness has had two trail options: the “river route” and the “high route.” Now CDTC is adding two more trails to the Gila Wilderness alternates. They improve safety and reduce overuse. The two new trails connect the river route to the high route. One is #28, the Big Bear Trail, and the other is #730, the Coop Mesa/ Garcia Springs Trail.

Melissa Green    Trail Information      04/18/2021
Melissa Green
Trail Information
04/18/2021

Where are the connector trails?

Check out the interactive map here
Map of Gila Wilderness on the Continental Divide Trail

Green highlight:Gila high route, Blue highlight: Gila river route and Red Highlights: new connector trails #730 and #28.

Why add more trails?

1. It improves safety: If you are on the 30 + mile river trail that is slow traveling because of all the river crossing and then the weather changes to very cold or the river starts flooding, you may want a way to escape the river bottom. (These are both common occurrences during the dates that CDT through-hikers travel the Gila Wilderness). Alternately, if you run out of water during a dry year on the high route, you may want to take one of these trails down to the river route.

2. It disperses use: A well dispersed trail system prevents overuse issues and damage to the natural resources. The connector trails provide an option to avoid high use and/or overused areas. The most heavily used area in the Gila Wilderness is the Little Bear trail #729 to Jordan Warm Springs on the Middle Fork (see map above). This is a part of the CDT river route and a part of a popular backpacking loop. You can avoid this section by starting on the CDT high route and then using one of the connector trails to hike down to the river upstream of Jordan Warm Springs. Taking this route helps protect the area and maintain the resource for sustainable shared use.

Worried about missing out if you bypass this section? The high use trail to Jordan Warm Springs is not necessarily the most beautiful. In terms of beauty and grandeur, my favorite section of the Middle Fork is between the Meadows (Middle Fork Trail junction with #28) and the Middle Fork Trail junction with Coop Mesa / Garcia Springs Trail #730.  (On the map above, it is between the 2 red connector trails).

“But I miss the warm springs” –  Warm springs are a treat but this area has multiple hot springs. There are privately owned hot springs at the Gila Hot Springs Campground in the resupply town of Gila Hot Springs. They are CDT-hiker friendly, with clean pools and a well-kept campground. There are adequate facilities to accommodate the use without doing damage to the natural environment. This contrasts with the steep canyon walls at Jordan Warm Springs and inexperienced campers that cause excess feces and trash in the river corridor. So, I would recommend stopping at the private hot springs during your resupply and skipping the Jordan Warm Springs.

About the connector trails:

A connector trail could sound like it is unimpressive and just getting you from one place to another. However, these trails offer beautiful views and are worth hiking just to see the terrain they travel through.

Canyon on the Continental Divide Traill

Photo by Melissa Green

Understanding the Gila

I worked on the Forest Service Gila Wilderness trail crew for over a decade. When funding disappeared, I helped create a trails program, which organizes volunteer trail projects and provides trail information in the Gila. I work with Gila Back Country Horsemen who have been doing volunteer trail work for over 17 years.

The trail projects, which benefit all trail users, and Gila Trails Info website aim to disperse trail use and to increase user safety and enjoyment of the Gila. There are so many places in the Gila that are beautiful and have water. There is no reason to over stress one area.

We organize a trail projects with the CDTC in the Gila Wilderness. Check out this year’s project in March on the CDTC website. To receive info on other Gila volunteer trail projects or plan a trip in the Gila – Check out gilatrailsinfo.org.


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Colorado, Continental Divide Trail
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Colorado, Continental Divide Trail
Photo by David Getchel

Continental Divide Trail

Considered by many to be the most remote and challenging of the triple crown trails, the Continental Divide Trail is a 3100 mile adventure through five western states.

3100 mi (4980 km)
$39.99 full guide
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About the Author

Melissa Green

Melissa Green has spent many years in the Gila Wilderness including working on the Forest Service Wilderness Trail Crew for a decade. She now leads volunteer trail projects for the Gila Back Country Horsemen in the Gila Region. She has spent much of the past 20 years working in the outdoor industry including leading 3-week backpacking trips for at-risk-youth in Oregon. In her free time, she does trail work in the Gila Wilderness, hikes and runs, works in her garden and does building projects. She is passionate about the Gila Trails and keeping them open for people to find rejuvenation in nature. To this end, she created the Gila Trails Info website which provides updated trail information for visitors and locals.