Not far from Scottsdale lies a scenic gem of the Tonto National Forest known as Needle Rock Recreation Area. Its sole byway is Needle Rock Road. Pictures don’t do justice to the beautiful vistas that unfold along this 3-mile stretch, (though I will certainly post a few).
Lightly trafficked Needle Rock Road takes gentle turns through this simply splendid segment of the forest. And although there is no bike lane, the paved road is obviously favored by outdoor adventurers in the know, including cyclists, dune car drivers, and scooter riders.
Along the way you’ll find two rest areas, both with vault toilets and additional parking. The paved road terminates at a dirt road that rugged terrain recreational vehicles seem to enjoy. Turn around and head back out. Be on the lookout for animals, including bald eagles, blue herons, and wild mustangs.
Going the distance
Round trip along Needle Rock Road takes my husband on his bike and I on my scooter about 45 minutes. When wanting to go a bit more, we ride Box Bar Road, which is located just before the entrance to the site. The road dead ends after about a half mile at Rio Verde Ranch. Or, we exit the forest taking Needle Rock Road back to the Rio Verde Dr intersection where it continues as Forest Dr with a bike lane. No matter what parts of the area we choose to spin, we are always emotionally invigorated by the stunning views, bright blue sky, and fresh air.
Holiday season bonus
Starting at sunset from late November, be sure to check out the absolutely over-the-top, joyous, holiday lights display at Whispering Pines, a ranch located along Rio Verde Dr and 156th St. Prepare for amazement.
The only bummer
Needle Rock Recreational Area is named after the large spires of rocks situated along the Rio Verde River. These formations are not visible from the road, nor is there ADA accessibility. You must be able to hike to the river to see them.
Getting there (from Scottsdale)
Needle Rock Recreation Area is 14 miles east of Scottsdale. From Pima Road, turn east on Dynamite Road and travel 3 miles to where it merges with Rio Verde Drive. Follow Rio Verde Drive for another 9 ½ miles to Needle Rock Road / Forest Drive intersection. Turn left.
The first parking area on your right sells the required parking permit. We unload here for a 5-mile round trip ride along Needle Rock Road.
ADA vault toilets available at Needle Rock picnic area.