Hike Little Bear Canyon to the Middle Fork of the Gila River

Rate this Adventure TJ Corral Trailhead, Catron County, New Mexico, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    8.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1400 Feet

Beach
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Forest
Hot Springs
River
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Little Bear Canyon is a remote and scenic hike in the world's first designated wilderness.

After driving the winding mountain road from Silver City to Gila Hot Springs, I knew I had to do more than just see the Gila Cliff Dwellings (which are stunning, don't miss them). The Gila Wilderness is the first designated wilderness in the world, championed by Aldo Leopold. A hike into this remote Wilderness is a must.

The trail to Little Bear Canyon starts at TJ Corral, a short drive from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Visitor Center. No entrance fee is required to access TJ Corral.

The first half of the hike is across a scrubby desert landscape with sweeping Wilderness views. The trail then drops into the Little Bear drainage before terminating at the Middle Fork of the Gila River. As the hike nears the Middle Fork the valley narrows between towering hoodoo cliffs.

In the summer brave souls can continue for another 2.5 miles to Jordan Hot Springs (15 water crossings required). Backcountry campsites abound along the river.

Another option is to return via the Middle Fork Trail, making for an 11 mile round trip hike from TJ Corral. The Middle Fork Trail option requires over 30 river crossings.

To make a weekend of it: drive from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, check out the Cliff Dwellings, then make camp at either Upper or Lower Scorpion campground in the park (both free). Get an early start and hike Little Bear Canyon before returning to Silver City. If you have extra time, stop in the Visitor Center and grab directions to Lightfeather Hot Springs (less than a mile hike from the Visitor Center). Note that the road from Silver City is not passable for trailers and large RV's, and is slow going in any vehicle. 

Pack List

  • One gallon of water per person (potable water available at the Visitor Center)
  • Food
  • Camera
  • Water shoes if attempting the Jordan Hot Springs or Middle Fork Trail
  • Camping gear if camping
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Sara Sheehy Explorer

Writer | Nomad I Adventuress | Photographer

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