The Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico was the world’s first designated wilderness area, dubbed as such by conservationist Aldo Leopold in 1924. Unlike many supposedly wild things around us these days, it still very much lives up to its name.
Among the 558,000 acres of pristine terrain is a trove of natural wonders, including both hot and cold springs, sheer cliffs, steep canyons and towering mountains. The Gila River and its tributaries nourish a landscape that offers occasional oases of lush foliage in an otherwise arid region.
One such spot is Jordan Hot Springs, and getting there (and back) makes for an ideal one- to two-day adventure, depending on how hard and fast you want to go. Start at the T.J. Corral trailhead and trek about four-and-a-half miles overland before dropping down to the middle fork of the Gila River. After a few more miles of walking through grass and flowers, you reach the springs, a 95-degree, pale-green pool just big enough for a couple of people to kick back in.
The 14-mile out-and-back hike is “a pretty good push for one day,” says park superintendent Steve Riley. But there are places to camp both near the springs and within a half-mile of the trailhead for those who want to make it an overnighter.
Recommended bonus: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, a short drive up the road from the trailhead. Touring the ancient pueblos built inside natural caves only takes an hour, and you’ll glean an era’s worth of architectural insight.
Permits are not required for camping or hiking in the national forest. A visitor’s pass for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is $10 per family per day, $3 per adult, and free for children 15 and under and for federal pass holders. Visit FS.USDA.gov/Main/Gila/Home for more information on fees and passes.