The Gila Box River Trail is the first water trail to be accepted into the Arizona State Trails System. It follows the Gila River corridor through the southwest corner of the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
. Visitors are invited to float the river in rafts, kayaks or canoes, or to follow the unmarked trail downstream on foot or horseback. The trail is closed to motorized vehicles and mountain bikes.
The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA) is about an hour from Safford. The trail begins near the confluence of Bonita Creek and the Gila River.
From Safford, travel approximately five miles east on U.S. Highway 70 to the town of Solomon and turn left onto Sanchez Road. Travel north for eight miles, crossing the bridge at the Gila River, to a Gila Box RNCA sign. Turn left onto that dirt road. Travel another 3.8 miles and take the right fork in the road. Travel 0.6 mile to another fork and turn right. At the next fork, follow the signs left to the Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area
and Serna Cabin Picnic Area
. The Gila Box River Trail is accessed by walking to the river from the Serna Cabin parking area. The river trail ends at the Dry Canyon Boat Take Out
, approximately three miles downstream. A picknic area is available at the Old Safford Bridge
Hiking, equestrian use, river floating, wildlife viewing, picnicking.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
Day use only on trail. No fees for trail use.
A four-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicle is not needed to access the site; it is located along a county-maintained dirt road. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed to access the Boat Take Out at Dry Canyon due to deep, loose sand. The Gila Box River Trail is mainly a water trail used for floating. Hikers should be aware that the trail traverses loose cobble and sand along the Gila River. The site is not wheelchair accessible. River crossings are often required; plan to get wet. River banks are slippery.
Camping and Lodging
Developed campsites are near the start of the trail at the BLM’s Riverview Campground. Dispersed camping is also allowed on public lands; campers should choose previously disturbed sites to reduce impacts. Roper Lake State Park
, located south of Safford, offers campgrounds and cabin rentals. Safford and Thatcher have a variety of lodging options.
Food and Supplies
Gasoline, food and supplies can also be found in Safford and Thatcher.
No first aid available on site. Dial 911 for emergencies; cell phone coverage is limited in some areas, so you may have to seek higher ground to reach cell service. The nearest medical facility is the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center in Safford.
This BLM trail is part of the Arizona State Parks Trail System, with partial funding provided by the Heritage Fund.
The type of boat you use will be partly determined by the amount of streamflow. The U.S. Geological Survey
provides up-to-the-minute flow data on their website.
The Graham County Chamber of Commerce
can provide more information about local recreation opportunities, as well as lodging and restaurant options on their website or by calling 1-888-837-1641.
Detailed Trail Information
Floating the River
Float boaters are discouraged from navigating the river trail on inner tubes and inflatable swimming pool toys, as these inflatables can be unreliable and unsafe. It is required that each person onboard a watercraft carry a properly fitted personal flotation device. Children 12 years of age or under must wear their life vests.
Except under high water conditions, the easiest to master, and the safest vessels for floating whitewater, are inflatable kayaks. Rafts are also appropriate, but may be too large for the river during low water periods. Open canoes and hard-shell kayaks are appropriate only for skilled boaters trained in the use of their craft on moving whitewater. The best time to float will be determined by the rate of flow in the river. Spring sometimes offers higher water due to snowmelt.
Hiking the Trail
Spring and fall are probably the best time for hiking due to pleasant temperatures If you are hiking the trail, remember that the route is not marked and the river may have to be forded several times. To help preserve streamside habitats, please seek a natural open route through or around vegetative thickets.
It is dangerous to wade in swift-moving water if the water is over the knees of the shortest member of your hiking party. Swift, deep water can easily knock someone off their feet and sweep them away. Hikers are encouraged to seek shallow (below mid-calf) crossings in swift water. A safe alternative is to swim or wade across in a deep, calm pool. Other problems you may encounter, when entering and leaving the river, are steep, slippery banks and round, moss-coated, unstable rocks.
In the case of encounters between pedestrians and equestrians, horseback riders have the right-of-way. Hikers should move carefully off the trail or out of the way of oncoming horse traffic. On uneven ground, hikers should move below trail level.
Traveling by Horseback
Equestrians should observe the same ethical and safety considerations noted above for hikers. Riders should only attempt the route if they are certain that their horse can handle wet conditions, slippery rocks, and soft sand.