The Canyon Rims Recreation Area is often overlooked by the mainstream tourists in Moab, because two very popular National Parks are literally located next door. Another reason why hardly any mainstreamers notice this place is because the Canyon Rims Recreation Area barely appears on a map and little is mentioned in tourism brochures. For those who are familiar with this recreation area, the lack of publicity comes as no surprise, because it is a BLM property that the destructive uranium mining and gas fracking industries would like to buy the rights to. For this reason, Canyon Rims never really receives the attention it deserves.
On the flip-side, whatever the reason for the lack of publicity happens to be, it is like a blessing in disguise for those who want to escape from the big crowds at the neighboring Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Since the average Moab tourist simply does not realize that the vast Canyon Rims wilderness area exists, there is plenty of breathing room to be found!
The Canyon Rims Recreation Area may not be well known, but it sure is an appealing place to be. Just like the name suggests, this recreation area is located on a high mesa that overlooks the Canyonlands National Park to the west. To the east, this recreation area extends all the way to Highway 191 and there are plenty of noteworthy roadside landmarks to see, which include Wilson Arch and Window rock.
There are a few entrance points for the Canyon Rims Recreation Area and the southern most access is featured in this article. From the gateway town of Monticello, the Needles Overlook Road access point is about 21 miles north on Highway 191. An easy to spot landmark to look for is Church Rock, which stands out because of its unique shape.
An information kiosk can be found at the Canyon Rims Recreation Area entrance on Needles Overlook Road. It is best to get familiar with rules of this BLM Recreation Area, especially if camping is on the agenda. Taking a look at the map and the list of landmarks can help because this recreation area is so large, that a one day visit will not provide enough time to experience it all.
A good way to become familiar with any unfamiliar place is to start with a leisurely scenic drive. Touring Needles Overlook Road is best for first timers, because this road runs close to the edge of the high mesa all the way to the Needles Overlook and the views along the way are as majestic as can be. The distance from the information kiosk to Needles Overlook is 22 miles, but on the plus side, Needles Overlook Road is the only travel route that is paved in this park, so the going will be fairly smooth.
The first section of Needles Overlook Road passes through high mesa meadowlands that are riddled with odd looking eroded sandstone outcrops. These outcrops show plenty of wind erosion and the winds coming up from the vast Canyonlands do play a role in deciding on a camping spot. The Windwhistle Campground actually is nestled in a hollowed gigantic sandstone outcrop, so this camping area is naturally sheltered from high winds. The Windwhistle Campground setting is definitely unique, so be sure to check it out when passing by.
After going through the high mesa meadows, Needles Overlook Road starts weaving close to the canyon rim. From here the Canyonlands Needles District can be seen and great views can be found by doing a short hike from the main road.
A little further up the line there is a fork in the road. One road goes to the Kane Creek Anticline Overlook, which is quite a long distance away on a fairly smooth dirt road. The road at the fork that veers west is Needles Overlook Road, which hugs the high mesa cliffs all the way to the end point. The high cliffs are very close to the road in this seven mile stretch, so the views of the terrain down below are nothing less than spectacular.
There are a few dirt side roads that go east from Needles Overlook Road, but these roads just connect with the other interior travel routes in this park. For those who drive a 4×4, it is the dirt roads going west along Needles Overlook Road that are worth getting excited about. Some of the dirt Jeep trails go to primitive campsites on the cliffs that tower over the canyon floor below. Waking up to see a beautiful view is easy to do at the primitive campsites on the rim!
As can be seen in the photos, there are endless panoramic views along Needles Overlook Road. The Needles Overlook endpoint definitely is like the icing on the cake after the long ride, so the trek is worth doing. The Canyon Rims Recreation Area is one of those rare places where the majestic views never seem to end!
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