Riding in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico

December 14, 2014

Riding with Becky Campbell at Gila Hot Springs Ranch, which offers fully outfitted wilderness pack trips that will take you deep into the beautiful and rugged Gila Wilderness.

by Mary Ann Ellison

I was introduced to the Gila Wilderness about 20 years ago when a dear college friend moved to Las Cruces with her family. The locals told her of this very special place in the Mogollon Mountains about three hours west. Of course, at their first opportunity they went to the Cliff Dwelling in Gila Hot Springs and explored the area.

gila wilderness horseback riding

She insisted that I fly out and we go on a short pack trip. The experience was like going back in time. The history of the area lured me in as well as the beauty and peacefulness.

I have gone back every year since and truly understand what the locals meant about it being a very special place.

gila national forest horseback

The Gila National Forest is made up of 3.3 million acres in southwestern New Mexico. Most of the area is accessible only by foot or horseback. In fact, the road ends at the Cliff Dwellings just a short distance past Gila Hot Springs.

Fortunately, early on I met Becky Campbell, who owns the outfitting service her father started in 1940. Just the stories the Campbells have of growing up in the wilderness two hours from the nearest town are incredible.

Becky has a most unique string of horses for an outfitter in the "west" in that a high percentage of her riding horses are gaited. Her decision to use gaited horses makes for a very interesting campfire story. I must admit that I have appreciated the smooth rides and sure-footedness of her horses on the trips I have made with her.

gila hot springs ranch horseback riding

Becky takes pride in taking us somewhere different every trip. We have crossed the mountains from the western side back to the ranch. We have slept under the stars on the top of the 10000 foot Mogollon Baldy. We have ridden trails of the Apache, and seen where men looked for their fortunes in gold or silver. Off the beaten trails, we have gone into areas with Indian ruins and dwellings.

The scenery is so diverse, with riding down the rivers with high canyon walls on either side to high mountain meadows. The trees vary with the elevation from pinon pines, cactus and juniper to aspen and Douglas fir.

gila horseback riding new mexico

Options for riding at Gila Hot Springs Ranch are to stay on the ranch in the apartments and day ride from the ranch, take a true wilderness packtrip (no frills), or stay near Becky’s cabin on the East Fork of the Gila river for a little less primitive experience.

gila hot spring ranch horseback riding pack trips

The food cooked over the campfire is wonderful, the scenery is amazing, and stories told around the campfire make you feel like you have connected with another era of history.

gila wilderness swimming horseback

Check out more great options for horseback riding and global ranches at Top 20 Ranches and a complete guide to global dude ranches, guest ranches and horseback riding holidays in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide.

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