Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Needle Rock Recreation Site

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Desert Riparian species

Elevation: 1500'

Habitat:  Lush cottonwood, willow, and mesquite habitat along the Verde River

Overall Birding Rating: 4

Difficulty: 1 (Easy)

Birding Type: Easy Hiking

Facilities:  Parking, Restroom

Fees/Ownership:  $6.00 Tonto Forest Pass/Tonto National Forest

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Rio Verde /32 miles northeast of Phoenix

Getting there:  Reached from paved road on North Forest Road

Overview:  Tall and thin rocks with a unique appearance can be seen in this area, giving it the name "Needle Rock".  These tall rocks do resemble needles more than most things, and the Needle Rock Recreation area was named very well.  This site is part of the Verde River, and is owned by the Tonto National Forest.  A few miles north of the Box Bar Recreation Site, these two sites can make a day's worth of birding enjoyable being so close together, with similar habitats and bird species.  Needle Rock has less habitat to cover and go through than Box Bar does however, making Box Bar a better choice for an overall birding outing if one was to choose one or the other.  The west side of the Verde River is more narrow of a stretch and close to the boundaries of the road, making it difficult to bird a better amount of the west side of the river when the east side of the Verde River is harder to access (which the east side of the Verde River is closed December 1st through June 30th, due to nesting Bald Eagles).  There is much more sonoran desert and mesquite habitat to bird here than at the Box Bar Recreation Site.  The willow and cottonwood habitats are good here too, but with more limited habitat unless crossing to the east end of the Verde River.  Overall, this site will provide excellent birding on any early morning throughout the year in all seasons.  

Bird wise, similar birds as seen at the Box Bar Recreation site are to also be expected at Needle Rock.  In this area, the east side of the Verde River is closed half of the year due to nesting Bald Eagles in the area.  Bald Eagle nesting sites are protected throughout the state in Arizona, with this area being one of the key places of chosen breeding for Arizona's Bald Eagles.  The close by Salt River Recreation Area offers a much better chance of seeing breeding Bald Eagles in the desert, as there are more nests.  Other breeding birdlife here at Needle Rock will include Cooper's Hawk, White-winged Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barn, Western Screech, and Great Horned Owls; Gilded Flicker, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole. 

Spring and fall migrations here will have a lot of potential, with great migrant possibilities both common and rare. 

Birding Tip:  Cover all habitats thoroughly here, especially during migration, when a good variety of both migrant and resident birds will be seen.  The cottonwood and willow habitat is more limited here, and is more difficult to access in places.  It may be easier to cross the river here to bird the east side if desired.  This recreation site is part of the Tonto National Forest, and requires a six dollar daily use fee, which are scratch off passes that are to be displayed on vehicle dashboards.  The passes can be purchased at nearby gas stations.

Directions: From the Loop 101-East (Pima Freeway), take Pima Road north for 6.7 miles to E. Dynamite Blvd.  Once at E. Dynamite Blvd, head east (turn right), for about 13 miles.  Dynamite Blvd turns into E Rio Verde Drive and at about 13 miles, Rio Verde Drive reaches it's end and intersects with N. Fort McDowell Road south of Rio Verde Drive, and N. Forest Road north of Rio Verde Drive.  Fort McDowell Road turns into N. Forest Road.  Head north (left turn) on N. Forest Road for about three miles to the parking spot, where there is a sandy beach alongside the river.  If coming north, there is another smaller parking area in good mesquite bosque habitat just south of the main parking area.


Needle Rock Recreation Site Maps

Needle Rock Recreation Site eBird Data


Scenes and Sights from the Needle Rock Recreation Site:


Birdlife of the Needle Rock Recreation Site:

Cooper's Hawk


Back to Area 12-Lower Verde River

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