Needle's Eye Wilderness
Guide

Introduction

Needle’s Eye Wilderness was established in 1990 and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The public lands in the wilderness occupy 8760 acres and are located in Arizona, 20 miles southeast of Globe in Gila County.

The Mescal Mountains are the main feature of this natural area, with the southwest slopes rising 2500 feet above the desert floor and the Gila River flowing along the wilderness's southern border. The exposed striped limestone mountain faces create a striking backdrop, while the river winds through steep 1000 foot deep walled canyons. The canyon is so narrow it gives the region its interesting name, “Needle's Eye”. The river channel is lined with thick tangled vegetation supported by the water source and the dense foliage is difficult to traverse. There are several side slickrock canyons that connect to the main river chasms.

This wilderness area is ideal for experienced outdoor enthusiasts who are familiar with hiking and backcountry camping in harsh terrain. Needle's Eye Wilderness is remote and difficult to access as it is surrounded by private lands and the Apache Nation San Carlos Indian Reservation and there are no public access roads. To access the public lands, you will need to obtain permission from landowners or indigenous peoples to cross their land. This makes the Needle's Eye wilderness even more secluded.

While the Needle's Eye wilderness is not accessible for RVers, there are many wilderness areas and national forests nearby you can explore in an RV, and campgrounds where you can set up base with an RV and then explore Needle's Eye Wilderness. Local destinations include the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, Gila National Forest, Tonto National Forest, White Canyon Wilderness, and Gila River Recreation Area.

RV Rentals in Needle's Eye Wilderness

Transportation

Driving

Needle's Eye Wilderness is difficult to access and challenging to explore. To reach the public lands managed by the BLM, you must cross the San Carlos Apache Indian Tribe lands or lands owned or leased by private individuals. You will need to obtain permission from landowners or the tribe in order to cross their lands. To contact the San Carlos Apache Nation for permission to reach Needle's Eye Wilderness use the following link San Carlos Apache Tribe to obtain a recreation permit.

Once you have obtained permission and a permit, you can cross the reservation lands from Highway 70, east of the City of Globe and reach the public lands from the Coolidge Dam or Ranch Creek Road.

You can also float down the river to get to Needle’s Eye Wilderness. However, the next exit point is at Dripping Springs Wash, which is held by private landowners and leased state trust lands and you will need their permission to exit the river and cross these lands.

When driving in the region you will encounter naturally surfaced dirt roads and extreme temperatures. Ensure your vehicle is equipped to handle the harsh climate and rough terrain. RVers will want to park their units at local campgrounds and then proceed to the wilderness area in a vehicle equipped to handle the environment.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Needle's Eye Wilderness

Campsites in Needle's Eye Wilderness

First-come first-served

RV Camping

The Pioneer Pass Campground is located in the Tonto National Forests, Globe Ranger District, north of Needle's Eye Wilderness. The site is set in the Pinal Mountains and has excellent walking and hiking trails to explore the area. The campground is open from May to November and sites have raised fire pits. The dispersed dirt surfaced camping area has 27 sites, 4 vault toilets, and accessible campsites. Many sites can accommodate RVs up to 16 feet in length. Some of the sites are on a sloped grade and there are no services here.

The Christmas Recreation Site is located in Winkleman, Arizona, and is a free campsite managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The campground is open year-round and accommodates RVs up to 25 feet in length. It is situated on the Gila River and has vault toilets. Campsites have fire pits and picnic tables.

Alternate camping

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping in the Needle's Eye Wilderness is permitted; however, you will need permission from the local tribe or private landowners to cross their land and access the BLM public lands. Camping at the wilderness area is as per BLM regulations, which includes observing “Leave no Trace” principles.

The maximum stay at any one site is for up to 14 days and sites should be chosen on hard ground and preferably previously occupied camping locations. Campsites must be 200 yards from the nearest water source, and trash must be packed out.

This is a very remote area with no services and campers must be prepared for harsh conditions, temperatures changes, and rough terrain. Adventurous campers and enjoy the pristine wilderness, wild Gila River, soaring limestone mountain faces and canyon walls, and great dark sky star viewing.

Seasonal activities in Needle's Eye Wilderness

Off-Season

Hiking

Hike the Needle's Eye Wilderness in the spring or fall to avoid high daytime temperatures in the summer months. You will need to get permission to cross the reservation, private, and leased lands to reach the Needle's Eye Wilderness. Once there, you will find extremely challenging mountainous terrain.

The slopes of the mountains rise 2500 feet and the Gila River is situated in a deep narrow chasm. The entire region is laced with side canyons and washes and the region is very remote with few services or amenities nearby and little human activity. This provides a pristine wilderness environment for adventurous hikers, but also makes the area hazardous to explore. Even the riverside is difficult to navigate as it is lined with very dense tangled vegetation and runs a narrow course. Ensure you are properly equipped to hike the challenging terrain. Advice from local outfitters on appropriate routes is advised.

Winter Sports

Although snow sports may not be the first thing you think of enjoying in Arizona’s Needles Eye Wilderness area, there are ski resorts a short distance away in the mountains. You can drive to the Sunrise Park Resort to the north 150 miles, or Mt Lemmon Ski Valley 100 miles to the south.

These resorts have groomed downhill skiing and snowboarding runs, accommodations, ski rentals, and lessons for winter sport enthusiasts. So bundle up and enjoy the special winter wonderland at the high elevations.

Mount Turnbull

Mount Turnbull is located in the Santa Teresa Mountains, to the east of the Needle's Eye Wilderness. Mt Turnbull is situated on the San Carlos Indian Reservation and has an elevation of 6500 feet.

Because of its location on the reservation, this mountain is rarely climbed. However, you can get permission from the San Carlos Reservation and receive a permit to access the mountain and do some climbing. Fall is the best time of year to attempt the mountain, when temperatures are more moderate. Be sure to have appropriate climbing and safety equipment, and be well prepared to attempt this wilderness climb.

In-Season

River Adventures

You can arrange river floating trips down the Gila River with outfitters from nearby towns. The town of Winkleman just southwest of the Needle's Eye Wilderness is a great spot to arrange a river float. The river has enough water during the spring and summer to support river floating activities including kayaking, tubing, and rafting. Travel along the Gila River and enjoy the spectacular canyon scenery with cliffs towering above the river!

You can also float the river in inflatable kayaks when the river is low during the summer. Much of the land along the river is privately held, so ensure you have a plan on where to safely enter and exit the river.

Wildlife and Birding

The river supports vegetation and provides a water source for local wildlife like bighorn sheep and a variety of bird species. The secluded nature of the public lands at Needle's Eye wilderness make it the perfect spot for bird species with shelter provided by the limestone cliffs.

There are 280 species of birds that pass through or make the Gila River their home, and many can be observed in the BLM lands. Take a field guide, binoculars, and camera to discover the avian occupants of this remote wilderness.

Spring

Coolidge Dam

Visit the Coolidge Dam while visiting the Needle's Eye Wilderness. The San Carlos Lake formed by the dam is one of the largest lakes in Arizona and provides excellent fishing and boating opportunities. It is stocked with sunfish, largemouth bass, black crappie, and catfish as well as rainbow and brown trout.

Recreational activities such as jet skiing and water skiing are also permitted on the lake. You must obtain a permit from the San Carlos Indian Reservation to access and use the lake, which is located on tribal lands.

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