SILVER CITY FACED CATASTROPHE in the 1890s, when great floods wiped away Main Street and many of its buildings. But the townspeople quickly rallied, building a new thoroughfare parallel to the old one, which was buried in a gully that became known as the Big Ditch.
Today, Big Ditch Park is a landmark, and Silver City’s favorite spot for strolling, with a walkway shaded by tall, leafy trees along a gentle stream. “Now we have a creek that runs through the middle of our town and provides a riparian habitat, which is really rare in New Mexico,” says Charmeine Wait, executive director of Silver City MainStreet.
The town’s layout may have shifted since it was founded as a mining community in 1870, but its rich history still shines brightly. The verdant mountain refuge has become a haven for artists and a home base for visitors exploring the 3.3 million–acre Gila National Forest.
Spend mornings traversing the city’s charming downtown, where you can pop into shops like the new Made in Silver City Studio and Gallery for art and keepsakes created by local artisans. In Bear Creek Herbs, you’ll find bulk wild-grown herbs and extracts from all over the Southwest. Several self-guided tours help visitors feel at home while navigating Silver City’s 170 downtown businesses. Pick up the “101 Things to Do” postcard from the visitor center (near Big Ditch Park), which points out 70 murals hidden throughout town.
At the local-history-focused Silver City Museum, tucked into an old Victorian house, buy a copy of the $1 walking-tour map and explore downtown’s architectural gems. These include the Art Deco Murray Hotel, originally opened in 1938, and the Silco Theater, a 1900s-era film house that’s been revitalized and now shows new releases and past favorites.
The many eateries within walking distance include Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery and the enduring Nancy’s Silver Café, the locals’ favorite for New Mexican food. The café was recently one of just 25 in the country to receive a “small historic restaurant” grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Just outside of town, you’ll find miles of green hillsides and rolling mountains. The 3.4-mile Dragonfly Trail is perfect for families. More experienced hikers will enjoy the trails near the Fort Bayard Historic District, where a museum and post–Civil War buildings commemorate the former military outpost. The two-mile Big Tree Trail, for example, leads through rolling foothills to the nation’s second-largest alligator juniper.
“There’s lots of different hiking,” Wait says. “Or if you like the urban experience, this is a great place to be. You could spend a whole weekend downtown and never move your car.”
INTO THE WILDS
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument immerses you in the culture of the Pueblo people who lived here more than 700 years ago.
The Continental Divide Trail runs through the Gila National Forest, with hiking access near the historic village of Pinos Altos.
Camp beneath towering volcanic rock formations at City of Rocks State Park.