Overview: The Catwalk National Recreation Trail, also known as "The Catwalk", is located on the western edge of New Mexico's Mogollon Mountains, and follows the narrow gorge of perennial Whitewater Creek. The Catwalk, which is actually the bottom section of the Whitewater Creek Trail #207, winds through the canyon along sections of conventional trail, and metal walkways known as "catwalks". Waterfalls, a rushing creek, towering canyon walls and a unique hiking experience make the Catwalk a popular local attraction. The entire trail is well marked, and features interpretive signs along the way.
Warning: Flooding occasionally blocks the trail, as well as highway 174, which provides access to the Catwalk. Check with the Glenwood, N.M. ranger district for current conditions. The Catwalk Trail is open during daylight hours only. Camping/backpacking is not permitted at the trailhead, or on the Catwalk Trail. Backpackers may use the Catwalk Trail to access the Whitewater Creek Trail #207 and the Gila Wilderness.
History: The story of the Catwalk dates to the early 1890's, when gold and silver mines were developed on Whitewater Mesa, above the creek. A stamp mill, known as the Graham Mill, was constructed along Whitewater Creek to process ore from the mines. Water to power the mill's generator was provided by a 3 mile long pipeline that ran up Whitewater Creek. The pipeline was supported by a wooden walkway that was anchored into the canyon walls. Workers who patrolled the pipeline referred to it as "The Catwalk". The mill shut down in 1913, and the pipeline was removed. The Civilian Conservation Corps reconstructed the Catwalk, and developed an unusual hiking trail along the canyon, during the 1930's.
Hike: The hike begins at the picnic grounds, next to the parking lot. The Catwalk trail heads up canyon along the north bank of Whitewater Creek, through plentiful sycamores and alders, and soon arrives at a signed junction. You can go straight and remain on the "old trail", or go right, across the bridge, and follow the "Universal Design Trail" (handicapped accessible bypass). Either way, both trails join up again at the 0.4 mile point.
Where the trails rejoin, the canyon walls close in. This is the beginning of the actual "Catwalk". The trail enters a slot canyon, and traverses a metal walkway. Support beams and cables firmly attach the walkway into the vertical canyon walls, above raging Whitewater Creek. This awesome stretch of trail comes to an end after a few hundred yards, at a viewing platform and interpretive sign.
Leaving the "Catwalk" section and the slot canyon behind, the trail continues on, and arrives at a wooden bridge at 0.5 miles. Before crossing the bridge over to the south bank, leave the trail and go upstream for about 50 feet. Here you will find Whitewater Creek sliding under some enormous boulders, forming a sort of grotto.
Beyond the grotto, the trail continues up the canyon, and climbs a little, as it follows Whitewater Creek. Oak trees and towering canyon walls provide some shade.
At 0.7 miles, a steep set of iron stairs descend to the creek bottom, where a 20 foot waterfall thunders through the volcanic bedrock. Swimming is available here.
Further up, the creek shares the canyon bottom with a large quantity of enormous, truck sized boulders. The Catwalk trail crosses over to the north bank again, over top of another waterfall, on what is known as the "Helicopter Bridge", so named for its method of delivery.
The trail then climbs along a sunny, south facing slope, before arriving at a signed junction, where the Whitewater Creek Trail #207 splits from the Catwalk National Recreation Trail. This junction finds the Catwalk trail crossing an interesting suspension bridge, below massive canyon walls. Downstream, Whitewater Creek forms multiple cascades over a jumbled pile of gigantic boulders, that have broken off from the towering cliffs above. Once across the suspension bridge, the Catwalk trail comes to an end on a narrow shelf of rock, below a large overhang. Across the canyon, the Whitewater Creek Trail #207 can be seen climbing the canyon side, heading for the Mogollon Mountain's high country. You can follow it up into the Gila Wilderness, or return the way you came.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.