Routes » Gila River Ramble


The Gila river runs between Kelvin and Florence, cutting through some of the most amazing country Arizona has to offer — from rhyolite cliffs to deep saguaro studded canyons, singletrack to freeride rock mesas and brutal roads. This loop has a little bit of everything, using an incredible stretch of the Arizona Trail as its backbone.

At less than 80 miles, this route is doable in a day, but don’t let the mileage fool you. There is over 10,000 feet of climbing and plenty of slow riding. It is best done as a two day bikepack. Maybe three to really take it in.

GPS Data

3D image from TopoFusion software – click to enlarge

Gila River Ramble 2013, recommended core loop, version 1 [updated 1/14/2013]
Gila River Ramble 2013, area Network, version 1 [updated 1/14/2013]
Full Gila River Ramble, 100 mile version including Ice Cream Loop to Superior (warning, in high water, reference the other tracks for the bridged crossing of the Gila on the west side) [updated 2014]

Route Notes

The AZT is all done in this amazing area. The time to get out there is NOW!

Fording the Gila River with a bicycle is not recommended, but is sometimes possible. November->January the river’s flow is very low, making crossing easy — this can seriously shorten the loop on the west side. Most times of the year, however, and especially in the spring, the flow is swift and deep. Crossing at the bridge and the diversion dam by Price is no longer possible due to construction and fencing. Instead you can cross the river’s flow on a gaging station catwalk some miles west of the dam, then continue west on roads to cross the Gila River (usually dry west of the diversion dam). See the Network GPX file. Check the USGS streamflow gage at Kelvin. Over 200 CFS is not recommended.

Two reliable water sources are shown as waypoints. Others may exist in wetter times, such as a flow down Box Canyon.

Area 52 is a rock mesa that can be an adventure in itself, for those so inclined. There are no trails, however, and a guide is recommended. The track follows a moderate route through some of the lower lines, but Area 52 can also be bypassed completely by taking the 4×4 road just north of the mesa. Check the GPX file for this bypass, which is recommended if you do not have a guide that has ridden 52 before.

Spring (late March into early April) is the prime time to do this loop. This area typically has some of the best wildflowers in Arizona. But generally the season is October to April. The rest of the year is quite hot and these are low AZ elevations.

Trip Reports

Desert Warmth, 100 mile version, a love story with Eszter Horanyi
2010 Gila River Ramble Trip 1 by Scott Morris, with Lee Blackwell
2010 Gila River Ramble Trip 2 by Scott Morris, with Chad Brown

Comments (29)

ScottMNovember 13th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Important update: the diversion dam at the Gila River (far west portion of the GPX file) is out of commission and is being rebuilt. Water is flowing down the main course of the Gila, so fording is now required. Depending on the water level (Gila River is controlled by a dam much further up stream) it may or may not be safe to cross. Nov/Dec the river generally runs low, but the rest of the winter it can be quite high.

Stay tuned for further updates.

paulJanuary 28th, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I wanted to try this in the spring. How and where do you cross the Gila River??

ScottMJanuary 30th, 2011 at 10:13 am

There are two options on the east end of the loop – a railroad bridge (where the GPX track shows) and a car bridge in Kelvin that is even further east.

The status of the diversion dam and the roads to the south is unknown. I have looked online for a project timeline for the repair of the dam but have found nothing. I need to get a call in to see if I can get info. Will post anything I hear.

paulFebruary 23rd, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I saw on one site an indication the loop was approx. 47 miles. Is that a different version of this loop or is the mileage just off? Anyone planning on riding this in March?

ScottMFebruary 23rd, 2011 at 2:27 pm

You might have seen the ride when Chad broke his frame and we had to turn around midway through the loop. It would be hard to do a version of the loop that is much shorter.

I still haven’t heard any reliable info on the state of the diversion dam. However I plan to do this loop sometime in March, so will be researching it soon.

paulFebruary 27th, 2011 at 11:30 am

I’ll probably be doing this solo so I’m wondering about cell reception out there. How about the SPOT locators? Never done any bikepacking in the desert so this shuold be interesting. Your pics are just fantastic!!

ScottMFebruary 27th, 2011 at 11:41 am

There is some cell reception out there. Surprising given the remoteness, it’s usually not too hard to find a signal somewhere (verizon). SPOT of course works everywhere.

Thanks for the compliment. Flowers aren’t going to be as good this year, but we just got another storm so hopefully things will start getting green out there soon.

ChadMarch 4th, 2011 at 11:26 am

Can’t wait to do this again…

paulMarch 9th, 2011 at 8:49 am

Scott, Any update on the diversion dam? I haven’t been able to get any information on that. Do you have an elevation profile for the route?

ScottMMarch 10th, 2011 at 4:57 pm

At this time it looks like the dam is closed, until the end of 2011. I would not count on being able to get across, though we are planning some recon to see if there are any other options once down there. Fording is an option, but the river is definitely not shut off (currently 350 CFS). Stay tuned for updates, though I myself will not be able to get out there for several weeks.

TylerMarch 15th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Fording the river below the dam will not be a problem. The wash/river bed down stream from the dam is wide enough that it will not be too deep to walk across with a bike. Fording shouldn’t be necessary at all since there are roads that run along both sides of the river all the way out to pavement.

ScottMMarch 16th, 2011 at 11:45 am

Tyler — you are right that fording the river west of the dam is not hard, since most of the water is in the canal. But you have to get across the canal — that is the problem. And without using the dam/bridge to get across, I don’t know of any other way.

Using the roads to go all the way to Florence is certainly an option for people. The problem is it adds approximately 18 flat miles of roads, which is not really the experience most people are looking for. Thanks for the input though.

ScottMApril 7th, 2011 at 12:11 pm

GPX file has been updated with a route around the Ashurst-Hayden diversion dam construction site. It adds quite a few miles to the route, but it does work. We are working to see if anything better exists, since it seems that the whole area around the diversion dam is unlikely to reopen to the public, even after construction completes.

Looking forward to next year when the AZT should be near complete in this area, which should seriously enhance this loop.

JasonApril 16th, 2012 at 9:29 am

Has this been repaired? Can a vehicle cross this bridge?

ChadDecember 11th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Some known water sources:

Latitude: 33.01988 Longitude: -111.023718
33.036966, -111.154063
33.048797, -111.049580

33.066876, -111.033010

33.056225, -111.045417

ScottMJanuary 14th, 2013 at 11:34 am

New 2013 GPX files added — with the full AZT through this area, and fording location for low water. Also includes ice cream loop to Superior, with LOST (Legends of Superior) route, off highway from Superior to the Picketpost. There’s so much to see and do in this area, and the time to head out there is NOW!

CassJanuary 31st, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Despite the rain, we had a great time on our Gila Ramble:

Arizona postcard | Pedaling in PlaceFebruary 2nd, 2013 at 10:46 am

[…] Scott Morris for scouting the loop and making following the route easy. And especially to Gary and Cass for the company. Check out Cass’s trip photos and words […]

Chris DunnFebruary 18th, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Is CCW the best direction? Thinking about doing it soon.

SECJanuary 2nd, 2016 at 9:24 am

Dan and I just did this loop- so good! Thanks for putting this together and for the maps, GPX, etc.
As far as water, the seep at 33.1920, -111.1364 was dry but the livestock watering hole, where the AZT meets the jeep road, was great. There was also trail angel water at the junction of N Telegraph Canyon Rd and the AZT and a large pothole right off the road further down Telegraph as you approach town; tank at the base of Peg Leg Rd and at southern end of route at 33.0195, -111.0238 were all good. Excellent beta and exceptional route.

BDJanuary 11th, 2016 at 1:35 pm

trying to piece a loop together and have a few questions- hoping to ride Picketpost to Picketpost via the Ramble route and AZT:
1. From Picketpost is it possible to connect to the Ramble route and Box Canyon via the Orphan Boy/ Ajax Mine/Cottonwood Cyn/Box Cyn? On TF it sure looks like it would work, but not sure about private property, etc. IF this would go, my plan would be to descend Box Cyn on Ramble route, cross river (?), over Ripsey and then AZT back to Picketpost.
2. I still feel unclear on what the river crossing situation is. Can one legally follow the track on the 2013 GPX track on this page and cross at the gauging station? If not, how are folks crossing. I would prefer to just ford at the indicated ford spot on the GPX track, but my dates are in April and not sure how raging the Gila will be then, but presume from what I have read that fording would not be a likely option at that time. Is there a non-fording legal option any longer?
3. IF this loop could go, does anyone have an opinion on best direction to do it in? Not sure if better to ascend on the sweet AZT and descend Box, or vis versa? Thanks, bd

ScottMJanuary 11th, 2016 at 7:45 pm

Hi BD,

1 – Yes, you can get to Box Canyon from the AZT using Orphan Boy/Ajax/Cottonwod. No issues with private land on that route.
2 – As best as we know, you can get across at the gauging station following the track as posted. It’s a number of extra miles, but perhaps better than taking a swim with your bike. You can check the USGS gauge online in April, but likely it will be too high to cross.
3 – I’d vote CCW, so you have the good direction on Ripsey, and option to do A52. I like climbing the AZT up to the inner canyon because you end up spending more time up there and don’t rush by the views.

Hope that helps.

JohnJanuary 12th, 2016 at 9:51 am

Gauging station crossing should be good to go, it was fine last spring and every other time I’ve been down there. There’s also an auto bridge only a few feet downstream that would work as well.

Here’s the water flow link for the Gila at Kelvin (this gives a good idea of the fording options),00060

For reference, I’m 6′ 2″ and at 150 CFS the Gila was mid thigh deep, 40 CFS was just over ankle deep. 200 may be my cutoff, but I’ve yet to be down there for that kind of flow. I see the river recently topped out near 1000 CFS!! No thanks.

BDJanuary 20th, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Thank you very much! Looking forward to it, and will try to post-up afterwards (I am famous for dropping the ball on that). Peace. Out.

Jesse SelwynApril 15th, 2016 at 6:36 am

We’re looking at doing the 80 mile loop in a few days and have a few questions, as we’re pretty green in bikepacking (experienced in backcountry travel)

Best spot to start near Kelvin?
Water: 2 stops, I’m assuming this is for the southern portion of the route since the portion to the north follow the river. Any reason not to use the river for water needs while by it?

HarrisApril 2nd, 2017 at 2:25 pm

So here we are, April 2017 and I am still confused how one crosses that damn river. Will be out there April 9th-12thish so the water will be running good. Cross at the dam? ride the tracks through the tunnel and across the trestle? what’s the word these days?

ScottApril 2nd, 2017 at 2:42 pm

The best thing to do is follow the ‘recommended core loop’ route as posted here (2013 file). This will get you across the river in times of high flow… which is generally every month except Nov/Dec. Only in those months is fording the river to shorten the loop a viable option.

Enjoy it out there. Flowers have been good this year!

RickApril 18th, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Has anyone ridden Picketpost trailhead – south tonthe river, camped and then ridden back out and back? Looking for a 1-night maiden voyage and any advice would be very much appreciated!

JohnApril 23rd, 2017 at 9:32 pm

Yeah, that’s a popular ride, both as a big day ride and an overnighter. 21 miles each way, but those aren’t easy miles!! It’s getting a bit toasty out there now, so unless a cool front moves in soon, you may want to wait until the fall to ride it. I have plenty of ride reports on the blog for that area.

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