BLM Camping

Needle Rock ONA/ACEC

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for 1 in every 10 acres of land in the U.S.

Located in western Colorado, the Needle Rock Outstanding Natural Area/Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ONA/ACEC) is a unique natural area and an excellent destination if you have been searching for "BLM camping near me." The site is one of the hundreds of federal lands under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and its most prominent feature is the towering rock formation for which it's named. Found near the western edge of the West Elk Mountains, Needle Rock is the remnant of a volcanic plug that pushed up through the crust. Many visitors head to the site to observe the impressive geological formation and enjoy primitive camping underneath the stars.

The Needle Rock ONA/ACEC is also located near several notable destinations. The most popular are Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which lies 28 minutes southwest of the Needle Rock Natural Area, and Arches National Park in Utah, which is three hours and 19 minutes to the west. Several national forests and the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area are also located nearby and offer a variety of outdoor activities.

What to See and Do

What to See and Do

Hiking and BikingHiking and Biking

Gunnison Route Trail

Gunnison Route Trail is one of many awesome hiking trails found in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The challenging trail requires a wilderness permit to hike, which can be picked up at the on-site visitor center on a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors to the out-and-back route will enjoy memorable views, a beautiful river, and in most cases, plenty of solitude. The best time to visit the trail is between May and October.

Length: 1.8 miles

Intensity: Hard

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This cleverly named trail is also located within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and is manageable regardless of your hiking skill or fitness level. The out-and-back trail offers stunning views of the impressive Black Canyon and the majestic Gunnison River. Unfortunately, visitors to the route aren't permitted to bring their dogs along.

Length: 2.9 miles

Intensity: Easy

Mesa Lakes Trail

Mesa Lakes Trail is a gorgeous loop trail that lies within Grand Mesa National Forest about an hour and twenty-four minutes northwest of the Needle Rock Natural Area. While the serene route is most commonly used for hiking, many visitors make use of it for horseback riding as well. The trail features a peaceful lake, lush greenery, and picturesque scenery overall. You can bring your pups with you on the hike, but they'll need to be leashed at all times.

Length: 2.8 miles

Intensity: Easy

Fishing & Boating

The scenic Crawford State Park is located just thirteen minutes southwest of the Needle Rock Natural Area and is known as a quality fishery for catching perch and crappie. Additionally, the on-site Crawford Reservoir is inhabited by channel catfish, largemouth bass, and northern pike. The state park is also a popular spot for all sorts of boating, water-skiing, and other water sports.


If you're looking for quality rock climbing areas, your best bet near the BLM site will be to head to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and explore some of the routes there. Most of the designated routes can be found at the North Rim of the canyon, with trad climbing opportunities ranging greatly in difficulty from 5.9- to 5.11. There are also quality climbing routes found at the canyon's South Rim. In addition to being an exciting challenge, climbing in the park will also provide some incredible views of the surrounding area.

Wildlife ViewingWildlife Viewing

Some of the most compelling opportunities for wildlife observation will be within the nearby Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The site, which is located an hour and nine minutes southwest of the Needle Rock Natural Area, is home to coyotes, ringtail cats, mountain lions, mule deer, elk, and numerous smaller mammals. Other cool creatures that inhabit the area include river otters, chukar, raptors, and a variety of neotropical bird species. Alternatively, numerous interesting species can be spotted at the nearby national park to the south. Either way, you'll want to bring your camera along and keep your eyes peeled.


Even though there may not be any tables of shelters located at the Needle Rock Natural Area, many visitors choose to bring along a picnic blanket and eat near the amazing Needle Rock. If you don't mind taking a bit of a hike to get close to the impressive formation, you can enjoy your meal with a great view of the rock and surrounding landscape. Another great option is to take the short trip to nearby Crawford State Park and have a pleasant picnic by the lake.


Bureau of Land Management Camping

RV Camping Caravan Icon

Instead of "roughing it" with primitive camping, you can visit one of the nearby RV parks and enjoy RV camping with hookups and amenities. Mountain Valley Meadows RV Park, a mere twenty minutes northwest of the Needle Rock Natural Area, offers guests 30-/50-amp, full-hookup RV sites along with Wi-Fi, a dump station, a shower house, and laundry facilities. Fifty minutes to the northwest of the BLM site, Shady Creek RV Park features around seventeen RV sites with full hookups and Wi-Fi. There also are laundry facilities and a picnic and game area.

Free Camping Campground Icon

Visitors are permitted to partake in Bureau of Land Management free camping anywhere they like around the Needle Rock ONA/ACEC. If you choose to go the route of dispersed camping, though, you'll need to go without services or amenities. If you're looking for a serene experience, your best choice may be to find an unoccupied spot near Crawford Reservoir and set up your campsite there. Clear Fork Campground and Cottonwood Grove Campground are two Bureau of Land Management campgrounds near the Needle Rock Natural Area. Clear Fork Campground, just fourteen minutes southwest of the BLM site, features twenty-one RV sites with no hookups. However, there are vault and flush toilets, showers, and potable water available here. At Cottonwood Grove Campground, which is an hour and four minutes northwest, there are six sites. Camping is free here, and there is a boat ramp, a vault toilet, picnic tables, shade structures, and fire rings.

RV Rentals Near Needle Rock ONA/ACEC Plan your next adventure

Planning Your Trip

Credit: Vanna Mae, @vannamaeart

Planning your Needle Rock ONA/ACEC BLM trip

If you're planning to visit the Needle Rock ONA/ACEC BLM site, make sure to take care of your camping arrangements ahead of time. If you choose to go with dispersed camping and put together a makeshift campsite, remember to bring along your own drinking water and any equipment you'll need to create the site. As for food, you should go with meals that are easy to prepare without any cooking equipment. Make sure you bring plenty of food for as long as you intend to stay. Before you head out on your trip, check out our blog for all you need to know about BLM camping.

Leave No Trace Leaf

To help preserve the Needle Rock ONA/ACEC, the BLM requires that you strive to minimize your impact on the land during your visit. Be sure to plan and prepare, as making spontaneous decisions increases the odds that your travel and activities will affect the land. Properly dispose of any waste or garbage you produce, even if that means taking all of it with you when you leave the site. If you find anything interesting on the land, examine it with only your eyes and leave it as you found it. Only burn campfires in designated areas, and avoid lighting them in any wilderness areas. Never feed or approach any wildlife that you encounter. Finally, be considerate of other visitors to the site.

Leave No Trace

Needle Rock ONA/ACEC Location

To reach the Needle Rock ONA/ACEC BLM site from Glenwood Springs, CO, take Highway 82 South to Carbondale. When you reach Highway 133, merge onto it, and head west toward Hotchkiss. Continue until you reach the intersection for Highway 133 and Highway 92, and then take 92 SE to Crawford. Once you reach the town of Crawford, follow Dogwood Avenue eastward out of town. Dogwood Avenue will turn into Needlerock Road. If you continue east, it will take you to the site.

Ready to visit Needle Rock ONA/ACEC? An RV rental is a great way to experience your destination. Not only will you be close to all the action, but at the end of a long day of exploring, you'll have your RV to return to for the night, where you'll enjoy a full kitchen, bathroom, and nice, soft bed. Not sure about renting an RV? Here’s a step-by-step guide to renting an RV with RVshare.