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Hot Springs in the Gila National Forest

By Renée Despres

Jordan Hot Springs
Jordan Hot Springs
From tall ponderosa to golden desert to high mountain peaks, the Gila National Forest in Southern New Mexico offers a veritable smorgasbord of natural wonders.  One of the area's strongest attractions seems unlikely in the Gila's arid climate:  hot water direct from the earth.  Hot springs dot the area, offering soaking opportunities for visitors of every inclination.  Although some springs are commercially developed, many within the bounds of the National Forest offer opportunities for wilderness bathing.

Hot springs in the Gila vary in their accessibility.  A trip to the Middle Fork hot springs, for example, only requires a half hour walk and a couple of river crossings, while others are a full day's hike and an overnight stay away.  But whether you're feeling adventurous or mellow, you can always find a chance for a relaxing soak in a beautiful outdoor setting.  With a little exploration, visitors can discover quiet, remote springs.

Middle Fork Hot Springs

Cliffs on the Middle Fork
Cliffs on the Middle Fork
Only have an hour or two to spend seeking hot springs? Not sure about your stamina or fitness level? Try a trip to the Middle Fork Hot Springs.  These springs are perfect for a short afternoon outing.  The water comes out at more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so visitors have dug a number of shallow pools next to the river.  The blending of river water and hot springs water produces a comfortably hot soaking temperature.  At this point, the middle fork canyon is still wide, but surrounding cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop for your hot springs dip.  Springtime visitors can watch migratory birds fly overhead while they soak.

The Middle Fork Hot Springs are located about half a mile north of the Gila Wilderness Visitors' Center at the north end of Highway 15.  To access the springs, drive to the parking lot beyond the center.  On foot, drop into the Middle Fork canyon and head upstream.  You'll find the pools beyond the second river crossing, on the east side of the river.  At the springs, the trail veers sharply over a large rock.  

Jordan Hot Springs

If you have more time and a yen for a serious hike, a visit to Jordan Hot Springs should be on your Southern New Mexico itinerary.  A trip to Jordan Hot Springs is an all-day hike, starting early and ending late, or an overnight backpacking trip.  But once you're there, you'll be glad you made the effort to visit these springs.  More accurately called warm springs, these springs offer a pleasant soaking opportunity far from civilization.  Tucked into a little cubby hole above the Middle Fork, Jordan Hot Springs must be one of the most beautiful spots in the Gila.

Valerie Messervy and her dogs on their way to Jordan Hot Springs
Valerie Messervy and her dogs on their way to Jordan Hot Springs
Getting to Jordan Hot Springs is straightforward.  Start at the Visitors' Center and continue past the Middle Fork Springs.  Jordan Hot Springs is located about 8 miles upstream from the Visitors' Center.  Be prepared to get your feet wet; there are about 50 river crossings on this route.  Do not try this route when the river is high, usually in early spring or during the summer rainy season.

Alternatively, you can hike in from TJ's Corral.  Drive to TJ's (on Highway 15, turn left toward the Cliff Dwellings instead of the Visitors' Center) and take Trail 729.  The trail climbs gradually to the junction with the Meadows Trail (Trail 164) and then descends into Little Bear Canyon.  For a special treat walk through this narrow canyon in late summer or early fall, when it is filled with beautiful, rare wildflowers.  Do not enter the canyon during flash flood weather, however.  Cross the Middle Fork and head upstream, crossing the river 15 times in all and traveling about 2 miles.  The springs are on the northeast side of the canyon, just beyond and above a wet area.

Jordan Hot Springs is extremely popular with backpackers and horsepackers, especially during college spring break times and holidays.  Check with the Forest Service for "leave no trace" camping guidelines.  Please be especially conscientious if you choose to visit these springs.

Turkey Creek Hot Springs

The more adventurous might want to try a trip to Turkey Creek Hot Springs in the southern Gila.  These springs are best visited as an overnight backpacking trip.  Several pools dot Turkey Creek in the area of the springs, each with a different temperature for your soaking pleasure.

There is no maintained trail to these springs, and you'll find yourself wading, bouldering, and squeezing through some tight spots.  The springs cannot be reached horseback.  Although these springs are difficult to access, they are popular amongst intrepid hikers.

Take Highway 180 to the town of Gila, and turn north on Turkey Creek Road. Stay on this road until it ends. Park where the road is washed out, cross the river, and hike to the mouth of Turkey Creek (Trail 155). Follow Trail 155 for about 2.5 miles, to the point where it turns up Skeleton Canyon to the rim of Sycamore Canyon. Continue traveling upstream for about 1.5 miles to find the hot pools.


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