Photo by Diane Drobka
More about Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
Hot springs, river rafting, birdwatching, and miles of trails make this National Conservation Area popular among those in the know. Bonita Creek wildlife viewing area is accessible and has numerous interpretive displays and shade shelters.
The 23,000-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is truly an oasis in the desert. It has four perennial waterways - the Gila and San Francisco rivers and Bonita and Eagle creeks, which are the lifeline for this remarkable place. The Gila River canyon section, known as the Gila Box, is composed of patchy mesquite woodlands, mature cottonwoods, sandy beaches, and grand buff-colored cliffs. Bonita Creek, popular for birdwatching, hiking, and picnicking, is lined with large cottonwoods, sycamores, and willows. The perennial creek and riparian vegetation make this a cool year-round desert oasis.
Cliff dwellings, historic homesteads, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and over 200 species of birds make this year-round watery desert refuge worth the short drive from Safford.
The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is located 20 miles northeast of Safford in Graham and Greenlee counties and part of the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail.
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Hiking and Walking Trails
Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area has the following hiking and walking trails available to the public. Click the trail to learn more about it, it's length, difficulty rating and how to access it.
Lee Trail Picnic Area
Serna Cabin Picnic Area
The Cottonwood Trail is a 2.5-mile loop trail that links the Serna Cabin Picnic Area, Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area, Riverview Campground, Flying W Group Day Use Area, and Kearny Camp Monument. It is an easy trail that includes some gentle slopes and unstable surfaces. Spring and fall offer the most pleasant temperatures for hiking the trail.
More information about the Cottonwood Trail
Length: 2.5 miles
The following camping areas are available to the public in the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. Click the area below to learn more about it and how to get there.
Owl Creek Campground
Owl Creek Campground
Located within the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area which includes four perennial waterways, the Gila and San Francisco rivers and Bonita and Eagle creeks. This region is a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity. Impressive Gila Conglomerate cliffs tower more than 1,000 feet above the Gila River, and bighorn sheep are commonly spotted. Canoeing, kayaking, and rafting enthusiasts take advantage of the spring run-off to enjoy an easy to moderately difficult floating adventure down the Gila. Many people also float the river in inflatable kayaks during the low water of the summer. Lower water also affords hikers the opportunity to safely enjoy the scenic canyon.
Numerous prehistoric and historical structures can be viewed. A network of primitive roads provides hours of backcountry adventure for four-wheel-drive and mountain bike trekkers.
The Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area provides a bird’s-eye view of the riparian canyon below, with over 100 species of birds recorded here. A homestead cabin, rock art and cliff dwellings, show evidence of the occupation of this important perennial stream by earlier inhabitants.
Developed campgrounds include the 13-unit Riverview Campground and the 7-unit Owl Creek Campground. Each has tables, shade structures, grills, restrooms, and trash cans. Riverview also has potable water. Fees are charged at both. Camping is also permitted on adjacent public lands, but no facilities are available. Camping is not permitted in riparian areas and designated picnic sites. Lodging is available in Clifton and Safford, AZ. ? Access: The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is located 20 miles northeast of Safford in Graham and Greenlee counties.
Access: From Safford to reach the west side, travel five miles east on U.S. Highway 70 to Solomon, AZ. At Solomon, turn left on the Sanchez Road and follow the road to the end of the pavement. From there, follow the signs to Bonita Creek and the lower end of the Gila Box. To reach the east side from Safford, take Highway 70 east 10 miles to its junction with U.S. Highway 191. Turn left and follow Highway 191 about 29 miles to milepost 160, which is four miles south of Clifton, AZ. Turn left onto the signed Black Hills Back Country Byway, and follow the road four miles to the conservation area.
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