Warning to Gila Box Float Boaters
Two smooth-wire fences are now in place across the Gila River within the Gila Box. The fences are located 1.3 and 2.7 river miles downstream from the Old Safford Bridge Boat Put In which is accessed from the Black Hills Back Country Byway. Although these fences are designed to accommodate rafts and kayaks, float boaters should exercise caution upon approaching them, especially at water levels above 100 cubic-feet per second. Scouting from shore is advised.
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.
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.
Rafting, canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, birdwatching, scenic drives, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, sightseeing, historic interpretation, camping, horseback riding, photography, swimming, wildflower viewing, four-wheel driving, and hunting.
The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area 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.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
Fees are charged at two developed campgrounds, Riverview and Owl Creek. Use of the Flying W Group Day Use Picnic Area is free of charge, but can be reserved for a fee. Those floating the river also pay a permit fee. Camping at developed sites, and primitive camping elsewhere, is limited to 14 consecutive days. No permits or fees are required for primitive camping. Camping is not permitted in riparian areas or designated picnic sites. All other activities, such as fishing, hiking and back country driving within the Gila Box are free of charge.
Both Riverview and Owl Creek campgrounds, the Bonita Creek Wildlife Viewing Area, the Flying W Group Day Use Site, and all picnic areas are wheel-chair accessible.
Camping and Lodging
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.
Food and Supplies
Food and supplies are available in Clifton, Morenci, Safford, and Thatcher, AZ.
No first aid is available on-site. The nearest hospitals are in Morenci and Safford, AZ.
A large color brochure with map is available free from the BLM-Safford Field Office
. Major access points are generally reachable by passenger car, but other roads may be rough at times because of infrequent maintenance. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are required on many roads. Check with BLM for up-to-date road conditions. Elevations range from 3,100 to 4,400 feet. The conservation area is open year-round. Summer temperatures can be extremely hot, and some winter days quite cold. Flooding may occur during winter and summer rainy seasons, as well as during spring run-off. A portion of Bonita Creek supplies the town of Safford with its municipal water.
Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
Manager: Tom Schnell
711 14th Ave.
Safford, AZ 85546