Hiking The Catwalk (Gila National Forest)
Nearest City/Town: Glenwood, NM
Length: 2.2 miles (Out and back)
Time: 1-2 hours
Since we’re spending two weeks in Gila National Forest, we wanted to get out and do some hiking on one of the numerous available trails. Our HelpX hosts suggested that we hike The Catwalk. The Catwalk is a hiking path built through an old mining canyon from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It runs over, above, and beside Whitewater Creek, a small, but flowing creek.
First things first, to get there, point your Google Maps or GPS to Glenwood, NM (point A on the map), then take NM-174 to Catwalk Rd until it ends in a parking lot (point B). You might have to drive through a few inches of water once or twice along the route, perhaps more in other seasons (we were here in early March). It’s $3 to park.
A Short History Lesson
The canyon was the site of mining operations in the late 1800s. Around 1890, a pipeline was built to deliver water to the town of Graham at the mouth of the canyon where a mill was built. It came to be known as The Catwalk by the guys that had to go repair the pipeline. Technically, Graham is a ghost town at the mouth of the canyon, near where you’ll park. In reality, there’s nothing there except the remains of the mill. Throughout its time, the canyon was used as a hideout by Butch Cassidy and Geronimo.
And Today, A Hike
The Catwalk is definitely not an off-the-beaten path type of hike. It’s a well-maintained trail and even on a Monday in early March, we passed probably 10 people on the 2.2 mile round-trip. It was probably the cleanest trail we’ve hiked, with no trash along the way.
So anyway, about the trail. It’s 1.1 miles each way, criss-crossing back and forth across the creek. Much of the early part of the trail is on a metal walkway bolted into the rocks. Once you get past the small seating area/observation deck about 1/4 mile in, you spend most of the time on well-maintained gravel paths carved into the side of the ravine. There are a few metal bridges and a sweet suspension bridge at the end. Even though the structures appear to be old and weathered in places, they are rock solid. The suspension bridge barely even moves.
On the way in, there are two different paths. On the right is “Easy Access” and on the left is “Moderate Access”. We were going to go Moderate on the way up and then see the Easy way on the way back, but the metal walkways were rough on Knox’s paws, so we just went Moderate both ways. Rest assured, even the Moderate path is quite easy. The trail gets slightly more difficult after the 1/4 mile point, but it’s still not all too hard. We passed a guy in his 60s hiking in cowboy boots and smoking a cigar, if that helps you see what you’re up against.
On the way in, the trail mostly goes up as you traverse up the canyon towards the waterfall. Along the way are layers upon layers of different colored rocks. Signs along the way describe the volcanic processes that formed this area 35 million years ago. There are narrow walkways between rocks and rocks hanging right over your head at points.
If you’re wanting to get a little closer to the water, there are quite a few places where you can leave the path, either on a steep staircase that goes down to pillars that used to hold a bridge or just on rocks that step down to the water. This water is COLD! We’re told that even in the summer it’s cold, but then it’s refreshing because of the New Mexico sun beating down on you and the heat radiating from the rocks. We stuck to dry ground.
One of the things that struck us was the variety of flora in the area. It’s rare to come across a 1 mile path with old growth pine trees, giant Arizona sycamores and other deciduous trees, and prickly pear cacti.
If the short 1.1 mile hike up isn’t enough for you, there are several trails that continue on. One of these trails runs another 14 miles up to 10,000 feet of elevation in the Mogollon Mountains (we’re told that’s pronounced moe-ghee-own…or muggy-awn by locals). We walked about 1/4 mile up the start of the trail to get a better view of the waterfall. The trails from there on are maintained, though far more primitive than The Catwalk.
A Destination For Many
One thing we noticed while we were there was that a lot of people have made it a destination hike. We saw license plates from Alaska, Vermont, Arizona, New Mexico (big surprise!), and Texas, plus our Kentucky plate. We also met two people from Alberta, Canada. It’s out of the way, but well worth a visit.
Overall, this is an awesome day outing. It’s not a strenuous hike or one where you’re going to find a lot of solitude, but it is a beautiful, well-maintained area that’s worth a trip. Here are some pictures that we took along the walk.