A rare oasis in the desert, the 23,000-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area protects four perennial waterways—the Gila and San Francisco Rivers, and Bonita and Eagle Creeks. The region is home to a very special riparian ecosystem teeming with plant and animal diversity, including 200 species of birds. The canyon’s sandy, cottonwood-lined beaches remain cool year-round, and the Gila Conglomerate Cliffs tower 1,000’ above the Gila River. Visitors may see desert bighorn sheep scaling the jagged precipices, and may also see deer, javelina and black bears.
Best known for its birding, rafting, kayaking and canoeing opportunities, visitors to the conservation area can also enjoy hiking, fishing and hunting, and viewing historic cabins and prehistoric rock art and cliff dwellings.
Cultural and Historic Resources
Thanks to its location at the confluence of 4 desert waterways, humans have long been drawn to Gila Box. The archaeological record provides evidence of use by 4 ancient Indian tribes—Hohokam, Mogollon, Anasazi, and Salado. Rock art, cliff dwellings, and other artifacts dating to 10,000 years old signify the prehistoric and cultural importance of the area. As settlers moved in from the East, cabins such as Serna and Old Lady Gay Cabin sprung up around mining sites which can still be visited today.
Thanks to its cool temperatures and unique location, Gila Box Riparian NCA has been referred to as “Arizona’s best kept secret.” The canyon-walled waterways, like Bonita Creek, inspire rafters, kayakers, canoeists and anglers. Irresistible beaches evoke volleyball games, picnics, and grilling opportunities in places like The Flying W recreation site. In the mountains, visitors enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, big game and bird hunting, and off-highway vehicle driving. Black Hills Backcountry Byway stretches for 21 unpaved miles through the Gila Box Riparian NCA, featuring 1920’s relics like cabins, Stafford Road Bridge, railroad trestles, and gravesites. For wildlife enthusiasts,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.