Situated far east in San Bernardino, County, Needles, California is located in the Mojave Desert region and shares a boundary with the beautiful Colorado River.
The state of Arizona is just across the river from the area, as Needles is the last city on Route 66 before leaving California. On the horizon are several majestic mountain peaks that helped give it the namesake Needles.
Where exactly is Needles?
Another notable aspect of Needles is that it is situated on the famous Route 66, offering refuge to weary travelers who have been on the road a while. Other notable cities within driving distance include Palm Springs (roughly 3 hours) and about 1.5 hours from Las Vegas.
Its fame is mostly derived from its intensely hot summers. Like Death Valley, Needles is known for extreme heat during the summers. Between the intensity of desert heat and the humidity of the Colorado river valley, it often frequents highest temperatures in the nation throughout July and August.
Despite the high temps, there are several thousand who call Needles, California home; 4,973, to be exact. Many have been asked why anyone would want to call it home, but locals note that it is the reason anyone in the early 1900s may have moved West. Affordability, a slower-paced lifestyle, and a less crowded atmosphere. It is certain that Needles is not for everyone, but for those in search of time, space, and solitude feel right at home.
Given some time there, you can see how it appeals. Many travelers have stopped through to rest and refresh on their long and arduous desert journeys, the intrigue of the Colorado River draws them in with its picturesque and attractive nature.
Beyond the stunning views, Needles also has a variety of stores and attractions that make it an ideal destination stop, whether you are staying for some time or just passing through on Highway 40.
Read more below for pointers on what to do while you’re in Needles.
1. El Garces Harvey House Hotel & Depot
Needles has a strong connection to the railroad industry of the early 1900s. El Garces Harvey House Hotel & Depot harks back to this notable history with amenities that represent this pastime.
Back when trains were the primary form of transportation, depots gave travelers the first impression of their destination and provided a place to visit.
Harvey House was a notable location in the early 1900s until its untimely closure in 1949. This location has since been restored and is a must-see for train buffs. It is a pleasant spot to rest and admire the building, along with its memorable place in railroad history.
2. Lake Havasu
When the Parker Dam was built in 1938, Lake Havasu was also created as a reservoir of the Colorado River. It is a popular spot for water-skiing, boating, and other recreational water sports.
Considering the heat in Needles, CA, Lake Havasu is an oasis of sorts from the otherwise dry and hot climate. Like a miniature Baja, California of sorts, Lake Havasu’s beautiful water is a favorite for locals and tourists alike.
There are also several restaurants in the area so you can grab a bite to eat once you’ve had enough fun on the water.
3. Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
Originally called Havasu Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
was established under executive order by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt for preserving and providing habitats to migratory birds.
It includes an expansive 37,000+ acres along the Colorado River between Arizona and California. Like the railroad travelers that stopped through Needles’s depot in years past, hundreds of birds also stop through the refuge on their long journey.
If you are into birding or generally enjoy wilderness areas, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge is a great stop to consider.
4. Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness
Nature lovers will also enjoy a visit to Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness. With over 85,000 acres to see, there is no shortage of space for recreational activities.
The horseshoe shaped mountain range opens toward the Colorado River and is densely populated with rolling hills, cacti, and the occasional agave plant.
The light-colored granite of the mountains and red rock add desert beauty to the landscape, making for an unforgettable view.
The area features species diversity thanks to its situation between the Sonoran and Mojave deserts’ ecosystems, adding to its unique beauty.
The Bureau of Land Management works hard to ensure the wilderness is preserved, so be sure to follow “Leave NO Trace” principles and plan to dispose of waste, respect the wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors.
5. Mohave Valley Raceway
Find a change of pace from the laid-back desert life at Mohave Valley Raceway. The track offers events for racing enthusiasts, and features races of various makes and models.
The raceway also includes concessions and drinks in their beer garden, so you and your family can grab a drink and snack as you watch the racers take to the track.
On special occasions, racers are also onsite for photo opportunities, autographs, and to answer any questions you may have about their cards. With every lap of these biweekly races, there is fun for all!
6. Topock 66 Colorado River
Located on Historic Route 66 and Interstate 40, Topock 66 is situated just east of Needles, CA. Open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the location is ideal for feeding the entire family.
If appetizers and drinks aren’t enough, Topock 66 also has a pool on premises to keep you feeling refreshed.
Between delicious menu options for every meal of the day and its relaxed poolside atmosphere, this one-of-a-kind location is a no-brainer for leisure and dining while you’re visiting the Needles/Route 66 area. Bringing Fido along? This location is also pet-friendly!
7. Dead Mountains Wilderness Area
(photo: Stan Shebs)
Can’t get enough of the desert vegetation and geology? Dead Mountains Wilderness Area is another great site for viewing typical Mojave Desert wildlife, including but not limited to bighorn sheep, coyote, jackrabbits, red-tailed hawks, rattlesnakes, and more.
Also available to hikers, bikers, and runners, the area is amenable to recreation – just be sure to hydrate and plan accordingly!
The wilderness is easily accessible and is frequented by campers who stay at sites just across the Nevada state line.
From the sweeping canyons at the base to the highest point, Mount Manchester, Dead Mountains Wilderness Area is another credit to the Mojave Desert region.
8. Mojave National Preserve
Three of four major North American deserts are found at Mojave National Preserve, including the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran.
The varied elevations support a diversity of ecosystems, including cactus gardens, forests of Joshua trees, and desert wildlife.
The variety of mountain ranges, dry river beds, mesas, sand dunes, and so on. It is an excellent place to explore and learn about geology, as the area is plentiful with rock features.
Important things to know to make your visit great: there are campgrounds onsite and pets are allowed. If you are looking for food service, you will have look into options in Baker or Primm, Nevada. Be sure to pack accordingly!
9. The Riverfront Café
Look no further than The River Front Café for traditional American food, salads, and pizza. Located on the Colorado River, you can look on with ease as you enjoy classic cuisine and the gorgeous landscape.
Their extensive menu includes spirits, kids’ options, and plenty of delectable entrees to suit a variety of palates.
Open Thursday – Sunday, The Riverfront is the ideal weekend destination for delicious fare on Route 66. Popular dishes include their fish and chips or spaghetti.
10. El Rio Golf Club
Tee time awaits at Mohave Valley’s Ultimate Golf Experience, the El Rio Golf Club. The stunning gold course is aptly named due to the region’s rich Spanish history and proximity to the Colorado River.
The 18-hole championship golf course include storybook views and facilities that are world-class.
The site also features a pro shop and practice facilities, so you can be sure you are geared up and warmed up to play.
Altogether, El Rio offers the amenities, equipment, and experiential value that make for an extraordinary experience.
Open from dawn to 6pm, the next breakthrough in your golf game is just around the corner at El Rio!
11. Mojave Road OHV Trail
An amazing slice of California history, The Mojave Road OHV Trail spans 137.9 miles from point-to-point. Considered to be moderately challenging, it takes an average of 61 hours to complete.
The course boasts off-road driving, great views, wildflowers, and other interesting terrain. It is a very popular area for off-road driving, but 4-wheel drive is a must for the rocky terrain.
All vehicles must be street legal in accordance with California DMV requirements.
Remember that you can never have too much water, so stay hydrated and enjoy the ride on the picturesque Mojave Road OHV Trail!
12. Picture Canyon
(photo: Bobby Chin)
It’s in the name: Picture Canyon is worth 1,000 words. The 3.1 mile out-and-back trail is near Needles and is considered a moderately challenging route and often takes about an hour and 15 minutes to complete.
The trail is open year-round and excellent for hiking. To get to the starting point, you will need a vehicle that is equipped for off-roading with good suspension.
There isn’t an official trailhead but there are several waypoints, including the main start, wash bottom, and the 1st Petroglyph – these stunning rock carvings showcase the lighter rock beneath the stone-chiseled facades of the patina (desert varnish).
Shade is hard to come by, so again, be sure to gear up and hydrate accordingly before enjoying the scenery and recreational opportunities Picture Canyon has to offer.
13. Wagon Wheel Restaurant
The Wagon Wheel Restaurant is a local favorite since 1978, serving up homemade favorites. Breakfast is served all day, and the each homestyle griddled option is best enjoyed in their comfortable diner décor.
The chicken fried steak is one of the top-rated menu options, coming with a generous helping of griddled hash browns and eggs.
The tenderized beef is hand cut and breaded, grilled, then topped with homemade country gravy.
The savory plates are loved by locals, tourists, and truckers who travel along Route 66.
14. Needles Borax Wagon
A visit to Needles is not complete without a visit to The Needles Borax Wagon, a quintessential landmark. Festooned with the words “Needles” and “California,” the wooden wagon is perfectly representative of the area it inhabits.
The Wagon was made by Studebaker Wagon company and has even been features in movies and television shows.
While it is a valued advertising signpost, it is also a valued relic of the western region and culture it represents.
Before you leave Needles, be sure to grab a photo at this memorable spot.
15. Old Trails Arch Bridge
(photo: Marine 69-71)
Referred to as the Old Trails Bridge, this site has also gone by the Topock or Needles bridge. Naming conventions aside, the bridge features a steel arch with a span of 600 feet and a length of 800 feet.
The construction was completed in 1916 and was, at the time, the longest and lightest arched bridge in America.
Prior to its construction, a ferry service was required to cross the river. It was originally constructed as a railroad bridge but was eventually converted to bear cars in 1947 when Route 66 was diverted over it.
The expansive structure is not only functional, but neat to look at. As you explore the Needles area and Route 66, Old Trails Arch Bridge is an essential to cross while you visit.