Little Bear Canyon from TJ Corral

No short text A hike through piñon-juniper along a ridge with great views, and then through a dramatic slot canyon to the Gila River. A great day hike in the Gila Wilderness.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Gila National Forest; Wilderness Ranger District
Region: Southwest; Gila.
start: 5669ft; 1728m end: 5669ft; 1728m
min: 5669ft; 1728m max: 6400ft; 1951m
elevation gain/loss: 764ft; 233m.
Length: 8.26mi; 13.30km. Round-trip distance to the river.
surface: mixed dirt/rock
condition: Good to excellent, although part of the trail is in a stream in the canyon.
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None.
Horses sometimes use the trail.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. Snow in winter can be a problem. However, we regularly hike the Gila (including this trail) in winter without problems. Beware thunderstorm season, as the canyon would be bad in a flash flood.
Dogs: Yes.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The trailhead is a long drive from most everywhere. This is a good hike to do if you are already camping in the area.
Trailhead facilities: vault toilet(s), water.
Hike attractions: geology, scenery.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2000-12-27
Time it took us: 4:30.
Usage (people/hour): 0.00. We saw nobody, but this is probably due to the time of year we were hiking.
Cleanliness: 9.


Waypoint Type Description
LBCGRTrail junctionJunction of Little Bear Canyon trail (729) and the trail along the middle fork of the Gila River (157)
TJCORLTrailheadTJ Corral trailhead
TJWBTrail pointWilderness boundary on Little Bear Canyon trail
TJX1Trail junctionStock bypass and Little Bear Canyon trail junction
TJX2Trail junctionJunction of Little Bear Canyon trail (729) and forest trail 164


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Gila National Forest US Forest Service 1997 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) South half
Gila Wilderness US Forest Service 1984 1:63360 Y from Amazon (purchase) East half
Mogollon Mountains BLM 1987 1:100000 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

From near Silver City, take NM 15 to near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The trailhead is about a mile from the Gila Visitor's Center. Along the road to the cliff dwellings, a short distance after you turn off of NM 15, you will see the sign for TJ Corral. Unfortunately, at the moment, I have no better instructions. However, few roads exist in this area. If you are unsure, ask at the Gila Visitor's Center.
No short text

About the hike:

Diana at the trailhead
The trailhead is at a corral. You start by walking through Piñon, Juniper, and Scrub Oak.
After about 1/4 mile, you reach a junction with the sign pictured right (TJX1). Go right.
Kenneth at TJX1
Kenneth at TJWB
After a short distance with a gentle climb, you arrive at the wilderness boundary (TJWB). Honestly, I do more than just look at the GPS when we hike :-).

As you are hiking this part of the trail, you are rewarded with several nice views, like the one Diana took looking WNW.

The elevation change so far has always been gentle, but with an upward trend. After the wilderness boundary, the trail starts to descend into a canyon, but then comes back up and stays near the ridge.

View WNW
The rock meadow
An interesting place that the trail goes through is a "rock meadow". The area looks like a meadow, but you are walking on bedrock.

The next junction you reach, TJX2, is almost the high point in the trail. At this sign, go straight, towards the middle fork.

Diana at TJX2
View WNW from the high point of the trail

After about 10 minutes more hiking, you reach the high point of the hike. From here, you can get another nice view WNW.

Another 10 minutes of hiking and you will begin to descend into the Little Bear Canyon.

The trail crosses a (hopefully dry when you hike it) streambed. In fact, sometimes it is hard to tell if the trail is supposed to be in the streambed or not.

You also pass a dry waterfall with a small shelter cave on your left. It looks like a lot of water comes over this fall at times.

The canyon is notably cooler than the hike on the ridge.

The streambed the trail crosses many times
A small waterfall of ice
After a little time in the canyon, the stream has water in it. When we hiked, it was cold enough to make an ice waterfall. Click on the image to see the larger image, as the smaller one does not do it justice.
Diana will write more here about this iron seep and all the fun bacteria that live there. Look at the larger version of the picture because, again, the small one does not do it justice.
An iron seep
Ice in the stream

The canyon walls get much closer, and it becomes a slot canyon. While quite dramatic, this would not be a fun place in a thunderstorm when a wall of water came rushing through the canyon.

This photo is another one that you really need to see larger to get the full effect. The ice over the stream was beautiful.

We noticed another shelter cave on the left, and a cave on the right. We wondered what animals use these caves.
A cave in the canyon wall
Where Little Bear Canyon meets the Gila River

Shortly after the cave, the canyon arrives at the Middle Fork of the Gila River (LBCGR). This area looks like it would be a nice place to camp. A sign indicates that you can return to the visitor center by following the river for 6 miles. This would make the hike a loop and add about three miles. Since we were going to run out of daylight, we went back the way we came. However, we will return and make it a loop at some point, because the walk down the river looks beautiful.

A sign says that it is 4.25 miles to TJ Corral from here.

Plants we saw along the trail:

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