Nestled in the southwest region of New Mexico, Silver City, about 150 miles from Albuquerque, emerges as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. With its close proximity to the Gila National Forest and the neighboring Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas, it offers an abundance of activities ranging from hiking and mountain biking to birding, camping, and delving into the rich local history.
Silver City is the administrative center of Grant County, which stretches from just south of I-10, extending northward near the Catwalk Recreation Area, west to the Arizona border, and reaching almost to Kingston on State Highway 152 towards the east. The expansive county spans a remarkable 3,968 square miles, providing an endless array of exploration opportunities. While we can’t cover everything, we’ll guide you through some thrilling outdoor adventures, all with Silver City at the core. Imagine this journey as a flourishing tree, where the heart of Silver City is the sturdy trunk, and numerous experiences form its intricate branches. Let’s explore!
Silver City, a historical mining town, serves as the ideal base for accommodation, dining, art gallery exploration, and unique shopping experiences. Outdoor enthusiasts can find helpful advice and equipment at specialized stores like Gila Hike & Bike. The Murray Ryan Visitor Center is the go-to spot for information and guidance.
From RV parks with full hookups to hotels ranging from classic to contemporary, Silver City offers a range of lodging options. You can also opt for traditional campsites or dispersed camping on public land. Check out our local guide for details on Silver City’s dining options, art galleries, shops, hotels, and special events, like the Silver City Blues Festival, a Memorial Day weekend staple.
Ever noticed the tall sidewalks in Silver City? They are designed to handle the occasional floodwaters that rush through the streets during the rainy season.
Big Ditch Park, transformed from Silver City’s main street after being carved out 55 feet below the original level by floods in the late 1800s and early 1900s, now stands as a serene park with walking paths and benches. Spot some unique birds, or enjoy the mural depicting the floods that created the Big Ditch by accessing it from the Murray Ryan Visitor Center.
Boston Hill, with its array of hiking and mountain biking trails, offers convenient access for those looking for a quick adventure. With trails ranging from three-quarters of a mile to 5.25 miles and varying difficulties, you can explore former mining sites and relive Silver City’s mining history.
Karen Pritchett and Todd Shelby of Animalia Studio favor Boston Hill for daily hikes or biking. Todd shares, “We can literally walk out the door and get to a trailhead. They are always improving and creating new trails on Boston Hill.”
NM Highway 15: Pinos Altos and More
Just a six-mile journey from Silver City, you’ll discover Pinos Altos, a charming town steeped in history. Visiting attractions like the Buckhorn Tavern, Pinos Altos Opera House, and a museum provides a glimpse into the past. Explore the fort relocated from Santa Rita and being restored by Buck Burns, one of the owners of Manzanita Ridge in Silver City.
Beyond Pinos Altos, you can enjoy breathtaking views and fascinating historical sites. Spot a monument dedicated to the legendary hunter Ben Lilly, explore mining history at the Arrastra Interpretive Site, or hike and bike along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT).
Buck describes, “From here, you can go up to the Twin Sisters in the Pinos Altos Range or you can go west and south… You can take the CDT all the way over the mountain range to Little Walnut, which is about five miles.”
Julia Osgood, a former resident of Silver City, suggests birdwatching and camping at McMillan and Cherry Creek campgrounds, part of the picturesque Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway.
McMillan Campground offers three rustic tent sites. Nearby, Tadpole Ridge Trail 232 and Signal Peak Trail 742 are two miles north, considered intermediate to difficult. Julia comments, “There’s a really nice trail at McMillan. You can access the trail from campsite two or three. As you hike up that trail, especially in the spring, you hit the 7,000-foot mark and high-elevation birds are all around: MacGillivray’s warblers, mountain chickadees, pygmy nuthatches, brown creepers, and red-faced warblers.”
For adventurers, explore 15 miles to Signal Peak for birds like cordilleran flycatchers. Eric Payne of Gila Hike & Bike notes, “For most of the year it’s just so good between Signal Peak and Tadpole Ridge to the Black Peak area. It’s up high and very awesome. And the trail, the CDT, is so nice around here. There’s good biking with a long descent that goes down Little Cherry Creek. In fall it’s beautiful with colorful leaves.”
Jay Hemphill adds, “The Signal Peak Trail goes from Highway 15 at Signal Peak all the way to the peak, about 2.5 miles up to the fire tower at the top. It’s steep and gains a couple thousand feet in 2.5 miles.”
Explorations Near Lake Roberts
Venturing onto NM 35 from NM 15, you’ll find Lake Roberts, a beautiful day-use area offering fishing and boating amidst the scenic Gila National Forest. Try the Purgatory Chasm Trail for a moderate hike, or find convenient camping at Mesa and Upper End Campgrounds.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: A Jewel of Grant County
A winding 44-mile journey from Silver City, lasting between 90 to 120 minutes, will lead you to the extraordinary Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Spend an hour exploring the moderately difficult one-mile loop, leading to ancient cliff-side caves overlooking Cliff Dweller Creek.
The visitor center displays Mogollon artifacts, while the trailhead and bookstore are located two miles away. Remember that only water is permitted on the trail, and only trained service dogs are allowed. Free kennels are provided for other pets.
Nearby, you’ll find four free Forest Service campgrounds ideal for tent camping, adding to the sense of adventure.
Highway 180 South of Silver City
City of Rocks
On the way to Silver City from Deming, when you get to NM 61, take a right turn to travel a short distance to City of Rocks State Park. This area showcases stunning volcanic spires that stand 40 feet above the arid desert. You’ll discover unique campsites hidden among the rocks, offering an otherworldly camping experience beneath the extraordinary night sky.
With more than five miles of hiking trails, options for RV hook-ups, and an array of tent sites, the park offers plenty of amenities. Bathrooms with showers are available at the visitor center, and pit toilets are situated throughout the campground. The abundant bird songs in the morning might compel you to use Merlin Bird ID’s sound recording option to identify them all!
Silver City is a gem in Southwest New Mexico with forest recreation, a vibrant historic downtown, art community, and dozens of festivals and events.
Fort Bayard Trail System
To the south of Silver City lies historic Fort Bayard, once an active fort, and later a hospital and tuberculosis sanitorium, and now a resting place for many military personnel in its national cemetery. The Fort Bayard Trail System offers a plethora of hiking and biking paths, which remain accessible all year and dry quickly after precipitation. Notable trails include the Dragonfly Loop Trail and Big Tree Trail, and the system contains 18 interconnected trails that stretch to Black Peak and Twin Sisters.
Jay says, “Mountain bikers can ride about 30 miles of trails. It’s flatter than other area trails and is good for beginning mountain bikers. But all levels of mountain bikers can find enjoyment at a place like Fort Bayard. Horse riders can enjoy these trails, too.”
The Big Tree Trail is renowned for an enormous juniper tree that stands guard along the path. Buck shares his fond memory of a summer visit, filled with towering sunflowers and vibrant yellows that surrounded the trail and the big tree. “There were sunflowers that were taller than me. Then coming out to the big tree, it was a sea of yellow when I crested the hill. It was phenomenal!”
Exploring Fort Bayard itself offers a different experience, where a ride around the old base reveals the historical buildings. Gay and John Mylius enjoyed their time on the Dragonfly Loop Trail but found it rocky. They found riding around Fort Bayard perfect.
John says, “The buildings were interesting historically. We rode all around and I’d like to go back for the Saturday tour.” Gay also added, “It was interesting to try to picture the soldiers marching on the parade grounds. It’s cool.”
Highway 180 North: Toward the Catwalk
Departing from Silver City north on Highway 180, a series of roads will guide you to the Little Walnut Trail System. Here, the proximity to the CDT offers various trails and two picnic spots.
Fit adventurers can challenge themselves on the Gomez Peak Trail. Easily accessible parking is available without fees. Julia provides her insight: “You can park and access the CDT from either side of the road. It’s pretty easy hiking in that area and the trail is scenic on either side of the road. You do have to watch for mountain bikers zooming past, but most of them are polite and give you a warning.”
Moving further north, at mile marker 87 you’ll find Bill Evans Lake and the adjacent Gila River Bird Habitat Area. Follow the Bill Evans Lake Road 3.4 miles to discover the avian sanctuary, where birdwatchers can enjoy a diverse bird population.
Continuing on this route, the Iron Bridge, built in 1915, stands as a monument over the Gila River. The nearby Gila River Preserve hosts a trail loop ideal for hikers and birders, with an array of local wildlife.
Near the lake, NM 211 at Cliff leads to Mogollon Box, a popular summer spot with free camping. Bird enthusiasts should head to the Nature Conservancy Preserve to spot distinctive bird species.
The Catwalk National Recreation Area
A highlight of this journey, the Catwalk National Recreation Area is worth the travel time. The Catwalk’s metal bridges, attached to the walls of Whitewater Canyon, provide a unique experience, with views of the creek below. Two trails lead to this structure, with the right-hand trail being handicap accessible.
Jay explains, “The Catwalk is a ton of fun because there’s so much water to play in. There are lots of waterfalls and pools. My kids love it! It’s my top kid-friendly hike because kids and water go hand in hand.”
For birders, opportunities to see American dippers, cordilleran flycatchers, and white-throated swifts abound.
If you’re looking to camp, the Cosmic Campground offers a Dark Sky Sanctuary, ideal for stargazing.
State Highway 90: En Route to Lordsburg
Eric says, “Another area we often recommend but people overlook is to the south in the Burro Mountains. On highway 90 going towards Lordsburg, about 30 minutes south of town, you’ll find Jack’s Peak CDT Trailhead. The Burros are just spectacular.” The region offers hikes with varying difficulties, and birdwatchers can spot unique species.
One Million Bones
Art enthusiasts can explore the breathtaking art installation at Bear Mountain Lodge. The ceramic bones, crafted by artists worldwide, make for an engaging hike and growing art display.
Silver City’s cycling terrain offers routes for challenging rides, including renowned roads like US 180 and NM highways 15, 90, and 152.
Horseback Riding the Gila National Forest
Many trails are suitable for horseback riding, and the Gila Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen’s website offers extensive information on accessible trails.
Gila River Festival
The Gila River Festival, celebrating New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, has been held for 18 years, with details available at gilariverfestival.org.
Whatever your outdoor preference, the area surrounding Silver City has something to offer. More information can be found at visitsilvercity.org.