Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon
One of the most scenic places in southern Nevada is as popular with visitors as it is with locals, and that place is Red Rock Canyon. Hands-down one of the most breathtaking places in the Silver State, nearly 2 million people come here to explore red-banded canyons, towering sandstone peaks, and ancient petroglyphs. Whether you are traveling across Nevada or from across the globe, the glorious desert landscape of Las Vegas and the surrounding area is definitely worth the trip.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Red Rock Canyon, which spans more than 195,000 acres, is Nevada’s first National Conservation Area and serves as a mecca which exemplifies the unique qualities of the Mojave Desert. Although the recreation area is just 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip – close enough that peak tops are visible from the Las Vegas Valley – it’s worlds away in terms of atmosphere.
Taking in the startling contrast of red sandstone layered through gray limestone in the sheer cliff faces (some of which reach a staggering 1,800 feet) is an incredible natural wonder that won’t soon be forgotten. This sandstone is part of the same geologic formation, known as the Navajo Formation, that is also found throughout the southwest United States.
Beyond the spectacular sightseeing and photography opportunities, Red Rock Canyon offers an array of recreational activities. With more than 30 miles of picturesque hiking trails and a 13-mile scenic drive, there’s something for every member of your family or car troupe to enjoy. Visitors can also horseback ride, picnic, and rock climb, a super popular activity in Red Rock Nevada. Horseback enthusiasts will find numerous trails among the fiery red sandstone of this Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed area, and it’s always a good idea to inquire about water and other hazards before tackling the trails. Stopping by the Visitor’s Center is a must, too, as the bookstore and exhibit rooms are well worth your attention.
Exploring Calico Basin
Calico Basin is what most visitors dream about discovering here: larger-than-life landscapes brimming with vibrant red landscapes and vistas, with easy access to boot. Situated outside the main entrance to Red Rock, some of the area’s best climbing and hiking opportunities lie within Calico Basin and the Red Springs Picnic Area.
Once you’ve gotten a lay of the land at Red Rock Visitors Center, given Jackson the Burro a good ol’ head scratch, and experienced the stunning Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive, backtrack to the Red Springs Picnic Area to check out the red sandstone Calico Hills to the west, a desert ridge to the south, and the gray limestone La Madre Mountains to the north. Fed year-round by water from three permanent springs—Red Spring, Calico Spring, and Ash Spring—you’ll also enjoy a grove of cottonwood and ash trees, honey mesquite, and saltgrass meadows. Take it from us desert dwellers: water is always a special and unique thing to see and appreciate here!
Calico Basin Trail is an easy 0.6-mile trail that runs from Red Spring Trailhead to the base of Guardian Angel Canyon and is also part of the Calico Hills Loop Trail. It connects with Girl Scout Trail as well as Kraft Mountain Trailhead. Pack a picnic and enjoy it at a handful of picnic tables at Red Springs, then hit Calico Basin Trail for great hiking and equestrian trails, ancient petroglyphs, wildlife, and access to some of the best rock climbing and bouldering in the region—and Western U.S.
Rock Climbing in Red Rock
Serious rock climbers crave the challenges of Red Rock, from its towering sandstone ridges to its huge boulders. With more than 1,200 named routes, there are plenty of choices for every ability—like a few hundred short sport routes to big 20-pitch outings with bolted anchors. Most of the rock is Aztec sandstone, with the desert varnish rock considered to be the most difficult and most exhilarating.
Before choosing and tackling your line, though, make sure you’re checking the weather! While Red Rock Canyon stays relatively warm most of the year, rain, rock climbing, and wet sandstone don’t mix too well. Plus, these sandstone majesties are fragile and easily damaged when they are wet, and holds have the potential to rip off. Some routes have been permanently damaged due to visitors attempting to climb after a heavy storm.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
At Red Rock, you’ll experience true freedom away from the noise and traffic of the city during the day. If you’re there at night, you’ll be able to see the dazzling glow of the city lights from Las Vegas, only then realizing how close you are to the city.
- Cannibal Crag: 19 routes ranging from 5.6 – 5.12d
- Dog Wall: Moderate routes with one 5.7 and several more advanced climbs.
- Panty Wall: Popular for its 5.6 to 5.12a routes Magic Bus: Routes range from 5.8 to 5.10a
- Black Corridor: Very popular for its high concentration of routes and for the fact that it’s almost always shady. Routes range from 5.9 to 5.12a.
- Tunnel Vision: 5.7 on the Angel Food Wall
- Dark Shadows: 5.8, good desert varnish challenge
- Olive Oil: 5.7 on the Rose Tower
Popular Red Rock Canyon Hikes
While rock climbing Red Rock is a can’t-miss-it day trip from the Strip, many visitors forget the epic hiking available throughout this massive area. Take a break from the city’s A++ neon and nightlife and weave your way through unique rock formations, caves, dramatic canyons, exciting ridges, and rolling red hills.
Some of the best hikes in Red Rock Canyon begin right as you enter the park, too. From strolls to switchbacks, you’ll find trailheads right off the 13-mile driving loop that takes visitors through the conservation area.
Low-Key Hikes in Red Rock Canyon
Lost Canyon Children’s Discovery Trail. We promise it’s not just for kids. A round trip of only .75 miles with a 200-foot elevation gain, this trail includes waterfalls, natural tunnels, petroglyphs, a boardwalk, stone stairs, and more than a few opportunities to catch some wildlife.
Keystone Thrust Trail. If you are looking to thoroughly immerse yourself in the geological grandeur of the area, the Keystone Thrust Trail is where the Pacific and North American continental plates signed their names into the earth. Beginning from the White Rock parking lot, this hike is about 2.2 miles roundtrip with 400 feet of elevation gain, and offers 360-degree views of Calico Hills.
White Rock/Willow Spring Loop Trail. This hike could be considered moderate for some, but only if you choose to add La Madre Spring to the mix. Also starting from the White Rock parking lot, this loop is 4.4 miles, taking you through a quintessential desert landscape complete with cacti, pictographs, and maybe even bighorn sheep. By adding on the La Madre Spring trail to your journey, the hike will end up being about 6 miles, but you’ll be rewarded with a year-round spring. Keep in mind that you’ll gain a considerable amount of elevation, but you can always stop for a break at the Willow Spring Picnic Area before making your decision.
Challenging Hikes in Red Rock Canyon
Turtlehead Peak Trail. It goes without saying that the best views come with the most work (but we’re saying it anyway). For an iconic view of Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, and beyond, tackle Turtlehead Peak Trail. This is a strenuous, 5-mile hike through exposed ledges, climbs past sandstone crags, and interesting washes. As you start to gain elevation (about 2,000 feet to be exact), hikers will traverse rocks, gullies, and more. If you’re an experienced hiker, you’ll really enjoy this trail that begins at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot.
Ice Box Canyon Trail. Ice Box is best taken during spring when the Nevada wildflowers are in full bloom. Enveloping adventurers by surrounding them with steep walls that ride up on three sides, this 2.2-mile hike showcases dramatic, charred-looking canyon formations, junipers, pinyon pines, and large boulders—some the size of cars!
Calico Tank Trail. Even though this hike is only 2.5 miles, there are a few parts that can be tricky to navigate. You will gain about 400 feet in elevation as you walk up some interestingly constructed stone stairs, and at some points throughout this hike, you’ll find yourself using both your feet and your hands. The “tank” that gives the trail its name is located at the furthest end of the hike. There’s a natural water catch area that, depending on the rainy season, will fill quite significantly. This is an in-and-out hike, meaning you’ll leave on the same trail you came in on. Parking for this trail is located at Sandstone Quarry.
Red Rock Canyon Camping
Red Rock has one developed campground allowing visitors to enjoy its natural beauty firsthand. The Rock Rock Canyon Campground is located just one mile south of the conservation area and offers shade structures, toilets, and water faucets for drinking water. Please note that there are no RV sites that offer electrical, water, sewer hook-ups, or dump stations.
Getting to Red Rock from Las Vegas
The Scenic Drive is open every day of the year with hours changing slightly according to the season:
• Nov – Feb – 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM
• March – 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
• Apr – Sep – 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM
• Oct – 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
The Visitor Center is open daily all year from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Admission is $15 per vehicle. Nevada BLM requires online timed entry reservations and purchase of daily entry passes for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (accessed via the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive) in advance. Get them at recreation.gov. Advanced reservations will vary in price by $2 depending on the season and time of day.