Just a short 20 mile drive outside the Las Vegas Strip is a destination of incomparable natural beauty. A site with trails perfect for a morning hike to shake off a long night on the Strip. A place to experience the local flora and fauna, to gaze upon 3,000 foot high red rock formations. Perhaps even the ideal locale for a divine destination wedding!
This place? Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. From an easy self-paced looping drive around this corner of the Mojave desert, to more challenging hiking trails within, there is something for everyone to experience at Red Rock Canyon. Check it out!
Get Orientated At The Visitor’s Center
Where does one begin a Red Rock Canyon adventure? The Visitor’s Center, of course! Here you will find practically everything you need to maximize a day at Red Rock Canyon. Don’t miss the massive outdoor exhibit, complete with a stunning backdrop of the surrounding mountains. The views alone are worth the stop.
The Visitor’s Center is the ideal place for orienteering yourself to all the Canyon has to offer. Pick up trail maps, talk with park rangers to determine what sites to explore, and which trails to hike. The oh-so-knowledgeable rangers are ready and waiting to help you maximize your time at the Conservation Area, whether it’s four hours, or ten hours.
Go On a Scavenger Hunt
Got kids in tow? Set them on a kid-friendly scavenger hunt for their own pint-sized orientation to Red Rock Canyon. Pick up the scavenger hunt forms at the Visitor’s Center and then let’em loose! The kids will enjoy racing around the surrounding grounds in search of each item on the list.
Best of all, they will be having so much fun, they won’t even realize they too are learning all about conservation, Red Rock Canyon and the flora and fauna that lives within.
Program availability changes with time. If the scavenger hunt is not available, partake in one of the park’s other Junior Explorer programs. Pick up activity books at the Visitor Center, follow the program guide, and be off on a child-friendly, fun learning adventure.
Soak In Stunning Red Rock Vistas
Visitor’s Center exploration and scavenger hunt completed, trail maps are in hand. It’s time to take this adventure to the road! Head out of the Visitor’s Center parking lot and onto the one-way 13-mile loop road, where you will drive past stunning scenery carved out of red sandstone millions of years ago.
Do you know what makes these rocks so red? Iron oxide, built up over the centuries, creates those brilliantly multi-hued red rocks we see today. The surrounding scenery certainly can be thought provoking. What do you see out in that red-hued rocky terrain? My kids saw a slumbering elephant.
Be on the lookout for those who call this seemingly inhospitable land home. Rabbits, coyotes, bighorn sheep, hawks, eagles, lizards, and more, might just be over there, on the horizon, looking right back at you.
Scramble Up Rocks At The Sandstone Quarry
Take a pit stop at The Sandstone Quarry, aptly named because it really once was a sandstone quarry! During the early 1900’s a small quarry carved huge sandstone blocks out of the cliffs and sent them on to San Francisco. Turns out a sandstone quarry in southwestern Nevada transporting stones to San Francisco wasn’t very profitable.
After a short operational run, the quarry closed, leaving behind huge carved chunks of sandstone just begging to be climbed upon and scrambled over. Race to see who will reach the top of that ridge first. And if everyone is feeling a bit more ambitious, pick up one of the nearby trailheads like Calico Tanks for some further rock scrambling.
Hike A Red Rock Canyon Trail
Red Rock Canyon offers 19 different hiking trails, each with it’s own special features. Pick one. Any one! Just get outside that vehicle and experience Red Rock Canyon the way it’s meant to be – on foot. Enjoy a picnic at Willow Springs, take a break near a waterfall at Ice Box Canyon, explore scenery created by fault lines at Keystone Thrust, or scramble across sandstone at Calico Tanks.
Choose a hiking trail that suits your hiking style and skill level. Be aware of the heat before setting out, though. It can get quite hot here in the Mojave Desert. Our choice for the day? Calico Tanks and Lost Creek Trail. Our time was limited, the day was hot. Both trails were fairly short, yet afforded awesome views and discoveries without sapping all our energy.
Discover Along The Children’s Discovery Trail
Introduce the kids to life in the Mojave Desert and Red Rock Canyon along the Children’s Discovery Trail. This easy, self-guided trail leads intrepid young explorers past eight different discovery stations and through a discovery of canyon life past and present. Adults will like the trail too. No kids required to enjoy the Children’s Discovery Trail!
Stop. Look. Listen. Hear. Touch. Discover. Who knows what one might discover here? Maybe a box canyon with a hidden waterfall. Perhaps a western fence lizard skittering past, or a white crowned sparrow resting in a scrub bush. Learn how today’s residents thrive in this sometimes inhospitable land.
Or maybe you’ll discover evidence of a life long since gone. Learn how the ancient Paiute Indians once lived within these canyon walls. Search for their handprints left behind on red sandstone cliffs. What do they mean? Walk past petroglyphs and ancient limestone-lined agave roasting pits, each created by the Paiute Indians.
Meander along the the very same trails these ancient Indians once walked, past ancient shelters carved into sandstone cliffs. Nearly 10,000 years of human history can be found inside Red Rock Canyon.
Have You Left Las Vegas For Red Rock Canyon?
Though our time was limited to one day, exploring Red Rock Canyon was just the respite we needed from our adventures in Las Vegas. Learn more about Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and you too might want to trade the bright lights of Vegas for an afternoon of solitude along a Red Rock Canyon trail.
Have you been to Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area? What do you think? Was it a worthy expedition from the bright lights, hustle and bustle of Las Vegas? Do share!
Note: There is a small per-vehicle entrance fee to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
All images by C.Biederman