Heart of the Gila
The Little Creek Trail is an easy way to get into the heart of the Gila Wilderness without lots of creek crossings or mountain climbing. It follows a wide canyon with a gradual elevation change that ends at Little Spring. Little spring is a year round water source and has a great flat campsite. The advantages of this route are that it gives you lots of options for loop backpacks and day hikes. The most popular one is to continue on the little creek trail up over the Diablo mountains to McKenna park to white cabin on the west fork then down the west fork. Granite peak up and back is a day hike from the spring. Shorter loops of varying distances are an option via the ring canyon trail. Several cross over trail intersect it from the little spring trail. Water is an issue on the ring canyon trail. The trail begins at Woody's corral campground, which is the first campground on the left as you go west from the Gila cliff dwellings visitor center. A stop at The visitor center is a great place to start this hike because they do not get large volumes of traffic and the Back country ranger "Mike" (575-536-9461) is a wealth of information as far as water sources and trail conditions. The Miller spring trail (160) leaves the south east corner of the campground, crosses a small drainage and immediately takes a hard left uphill. There is about 400 ft of elevation change in the first 3 miles of the hike with long switchbacks and views back towards the visitor center. Basically what you are doing is crossing from one drainage to the next due south. At the three mile mark you intersect the Ring canyon trail which follows the ridgeline to McKenna park. Continue on the Miller Spring Trail straight for a mile downhill to intersect Little Creek and the Little Creek Trail. Go right on the Little Spring Trail 10 miles to little Spring. The best time to do this hike is in the spring because Little Creek with have water here from the high elevation snow melt. It always goes underground about 2 miles upstream the returns 2 miles later. In the fall it will be dry all the way too little spring. The trail follows this wide grassy ponderosa filled valley and there are two cutover trails to the ring canyon trail , the EE canyon trail at one mile and the ring canyon cutover trail at about 4 miles. The Little Creek Trail sometimes splits into two trails only to rejoin a few miles later. Just stay in the valley and you will not get lost. At about 10 miles from the trailhead the valley will narrow and some sheer walls will crowd in on you. Then it will open up through a burned area and after 14 miles you will arrive at a great flat campsite with a rock fireplace.
The springs are just up the stream due north of the campsite in the stream bed and another spring is located about a hundred yards up the Granite mountain trail. You will see the pipe on the trail and what looks like a discarded piece of metal on the trail. These are fairly reliable sources of water.
Trails intersect here go to McKenna park, which is a tough climb through a burned area with lots of dead fall. Granite peak trail with fantastic views of the whole Gila. Turkey creek trail that goes deeper into the Gila. Cienaga trail that goes to Mogollon creek. Little creek provides lots of access to the deeper regions of the Gila Wilderness. We camped here and did day hikes to Granite Peak and Turkey Creek then to McKenna park.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
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.