Driving Through Gila National Forest

It’s time to talk about yet another scenic drive in New Mexico, this time cutting through Gila National Forest. Way back in May 2010 on our first road trip, we stayed a night at The Wilderness Lodge in Gila Hot Springs (the red point in the middle of nowhere on the map below). Since that night, we’ve been planning to get back to Gila National Forest one way or another. And now we have the chance.

We’ve probably mentioned this before, but we actually didn’t expect a whole lot out of New Mexico. It’s a rather unknown and underappreciated state, so when we turned west out of Truth Or Consequences on NM-152 for Gila National Forest, we were absolutely floored, starting a fascination with New Mexico that’s led to us spending nearly 6 weeks here on this trip.

Gila and Apache National Forests

We’ve joked with each other several times about the seemingly arbitrary division of one giant forest into Gila National Forest and Apache National Forest. There’s no noticeable difference between them, so we’re guessing there was a need to use one resource to cover two names. Regardless, there isn’t a drive within these forests that isn’t incredible.

The first time we drove in, we went up to Gila Hot Springs, down to Silver City, then exited the forest to the south to Lordsburg, NM. This time we skipped the Gila Hot Springs stop, taking NM-152 and NM-180 direct to Silver City, then northward to Reserve, NM. From Reserve, we’ve driven to Springerville, AZ through Apache because it’s the closest grocery store.

All of these drives share a few defining features: dense forests, mountain roads, sheer drops, and a distinct lack of guardrails. These roads are all very curvy two-lane roads through some of the most amazing scenery we’ve seen. It can be difficult to focus solely on driving, but we advise doing so. Many of the curves have absolutely no guardrail.

If there’s a sign saying you should do 15 mph around a corner, you should do 15 mph around the corner. These aren’t the expressway entrance ramps that say 45 mph when you can realistically take them at 70 mph. Luckily, there are plenty of pull-offs for the driver to stop and take in the view.

Day Driving Vs. Night Driving

Just a quick note: the first time we drove this road, we ended up driving later than expected. These are hairy roads to be driving when it’s dark if you’ve never driven them before. The drive up to Gila Hot Springs is worse than the other roads, with sharper curves, deeper ravines, and narrower roads. But all of these drives are worth taking in the daytime, carefully.

Going Out Of Your Way

For most people, this drive is way off of the beaten path. The nearest decently sized cities are Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX, 60 and 110 miles to the south, respectively. If you happen to be on I-25 with some spare hours, you can easily take this as a side trip. From Caballo to Silver City is 75 miles and is a great drive. Up to Reserve from Silver City is another 100 miles and you could get back to I-25 from Reserve by aiming for Socorro, another 130 miles.

Unless you’re just aiming to drive 300 miles in one day, you’ll either want to pick a section of this drive or plan to stay somewhere along the way. Other than Silver City, there isn’t much in the way of “big” towns. Regardless, this is one area that’s worth going out of your way to get to. Gila National Forest as a whole is definitely worth spending some time in.

At A Glance

From: Caballo, NM
To: Reserve, NM via Silver City, NM
States: NM
Length: 173 miles each way (75 miles from Caballo to Silver City)
Nearby Cities: Truth Or Consequences, NM


Here’s a glimpse of the view we had on our drive.