10 Top-Rated Hikes in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Authors Michael and Lana Law visit Las Vegas regularly and enjoy hiking and camping at Red Rock Canyon.
The glowing orange hills of Red Rock Canyon are visible in the distance from Las Vegas, enticing hikers. They stretch along the east-facing side of the Spring Mountains, on the western edge of the city, and are riddled with fascinating hiking trails.
The scenery is intriguing from afar but is best appreciated from the trails that weave their way through the dramatic canyons, along ridges, and over the rolling red rock hills. These are some of the best hiking trails near Las Vegas.
The hikes depart from trailheads off the 13-mile scenic loop drive, which winds through the park. Near the visitor center, at the start of the drive, the landscape and hikes are dominated by the signature red rocks.
On the far side of the park, the scenery is quite different, with high cliff walls; lush canyons; and rock that reveals more yellow and gray colors, rather than reds. In the spring, this side of the park is also home to an array of wildflowers.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is 30 minutes by car from the Las Vegas Strip and can be easily visited on a day trip from Las Vegas. America the Beautiful (aka National Park Passes) are accepted at this park. Note that timed entry permits are now required to access the scenic drive. Permits can be purchased online.
Before heading out on the trails, see our guide to the best hikes in Red Rock Canyon.
See also: Where to Stay near Red Rock Canyon
1. Calico Tank Trail
One of the most popular hikes in the park, Calico Tank, takes you through a wash at the start and then up a canyon into spectacular red and yellow rock scenery. Hills and boulders line the trail as you ascend, but views out behind open up to the mountains. The summit comes into view ahead as you climb.
Although this is only a 2.5-mile return hike, it does have some tricky sections, and you will need to negotiate your way up over rock faces. At some points, you will be using your hands and feet to climb. These sections are short-lived and much of the 400-foot elevation gain is achieved by walking up crudely constructed stone stairs.
The "tank" at the far end of the hike is a natural water catchment area that sometimes has significant water. For the best chance of seeing the tanks in their full glory, full of water, plan your hike in the spring or winter or after a monsoon storm in the late summer.
Calico Tank is an in-and-out hike, so you will leave on the same route you arrived on. Parking for this hike is at the Sandstone Quarry.
2. Ice Box Canyon Trail
This hike is very popular, and you don't even need to complete the entire 2.6-mile trail to find it enjoyable. This is especially true in the spring (April), when the wildflowers are blooming. From the parking lot, you can see the entrance to the canyon, where the sheer stone walls reveal a narrow opening in the distance.
Dramatic yellow and charred-looking black walls line this high-walled canyon. At the base are pine trees and other foliage, giving the canyon floor a relatively lush look. As this is a true box canyon with no outlet, the trail eventually dead ends, and steep walls rise up around you on three sides.
The hike begins by crossing a flat area of small trees and shrubs, from where there are great views of the canyon in front of you. This is almost as dramatic as walking through the canyon. It climbs slightly, winding through junipers and pinon pines. As you approach the opening to the canyon, the trees become much denser, and the area takes on the look of a forest.
Beyond the canyon entrance, the trail is littered with large boulders, some the size of cars, which you will need to negotiate. If you are not up for a difficult hike, you can turn back at this point. Continuing on, the trail eventually leads to the end of the canyon, where the stone walls seem to envelop you.
This is an in-and-out hike, and vistas on the return trip stretch out to the red rock hills across the valley.
3. Lost Canyon - Children's Discovery Trail
Although this trail is labeled the Children's Discovery Trail, it's a wonderful little hike of moderate difficulty, not an easy trail created with toddlers in mind. The trail is narrow, with trees; stone stairs; rock-covered natural tunnels; petroglyphs; a boardwalk; and depending on the season and rains, a waterfall.
This is an enjoyable trail for everyone, and it delivers plenty of diversity in a very short distance. This is a .75-mile hike with 200 feet of elevation gain. It's short enough that it's not overwhelming and has no scrambling or difficult areas but still offers plenty of variety.
The trail is quite narrow at points, with overhanging trees offering shade. In spring, the trees along the dry creek bed bloom in white and purple shades.
The hike can be slightly confusing near the start because the signage is awkward, with several trails mentioned at the parking area. For the Lost Canyon - Children's Discovery Trail, head to the right of the parking area along a wide trail bordered by rocks.
When you come to the dry creek, walk straight across it, not up the creek. From here, the trail leads up past boulders and rock walls with a couple of petroglyphs, then turns right and passes through a rock-covered archway, and eventually opens up to a small clearing at the base of the waterfalls.
From here, head back through the arch and continue straight, returning to the parking lot. If you are not interested in the petroglyphs and want a shorter hike, head straight out from the parking lot on the trail marked "Lost Canyon Trail" and this will take you directly to the waterfalls.
4. Calico Hills
The stunningly red Calico Hills, not far from the visitor center, is what most people picture in their minds when they think of Red Rock Canyon. The color of these huge rock hills and boulders is almost jarring against the muted tones of the surrounding desert and blue sky above. The Calico Hills are the park's signature feature.
You can access this area from several points along a hiking trail that runs from the visitor center to the Sandstone Quarry. The two main parking areas where people begin hikes are Calico I and Calico II.
The total length of this hike is six miles, but most people opt for hiking a shorter portion and generally hike about two miles. Your best option is to park at Calico I and do a two-mile return section heading towards the Calico II parking area, or beyond to the Sandstone Quarry parking area, and back.
This hiking trail runs along the front side of the red stone ridge and then takes you right up into this fantastic scenery, onto the rocks, where you can immerse yourself in the red surroundings.
5. Keystone Thrust Trail
Keystone Thrust offers a glimpse of the park's most important geological formation, the Keystone Thrust, where the collision of the Pacific and North American continental plates have left their mark. But it also offers some outstanding views from start to finish.
The 2.2-mile round-trip, in-and-out trail begins by heading up a gradual hill until it crests a saddle, and a red rock ridge comes into view on the backside. You then follow the trail out onto this ridge and beyond to a high gray ridge, where the trail ends. From here, 360-degree views stretch out over the Calico Hills in the distance and over the Keystone Thrust in the opposite direction.
Although the Keystone Thrust is the most geologically significant portion of the trail, the most impressive aspect is the ever-changing view.
Technically, this is an easy hike, and there are no scrambles, but the elevation gain is about 400 feet. This trail begins at the White Rock parking lot.
6. Moenkopi Loop
This easy two-mile hike is a pleasant walk in the desert, primarily along a limestone ridge. Fairly level most of the way and easy to follow, this is a perfect hike for those looking for a nice stroll. Along the way, you'll see flora and fauna typical of the deserts surrounding Las Vegas.
Of special note are the ancient fossilized pieces dating from the Triassic Era that you'll be able to see along the way. The trailhead is located at the visitor center, where you'll also find drinking water and restrooms.
7. White Rock - Willow Spring Loop Trail
The White Rock - Willow Spring Loop is a 4.4-mile trail through a diverse mix of scenery and sites, from pine trees and mountains to desert and cactus, and even some pictographs along the way. If you are lucky, you may see some wildlife, including bighorn sheep.
You can add on the La Madre Spring trail as an optional extra and turn this into a six-mile hike, which will take you to a year-round spring.
The trail begins at the White Rock parking area, located down a dirt road, just past the High Point Overlook.
Heading in a counterclockwise direction, the trail loops behind White Rock Mountain, through a forested area of pines and junipers. This is one of the nicest sections of the trail, giving you the feeling of a remote backcountry hike. Farther on is the cut-off for La Madre Spring, where you can decide if you want to head up to the spring, which will add on a considerable amount of elevation gain, or continue on the main trail.
Beyond the split, the main trail reaches the Willow Spring Picnic Area, where you are back to civilization and can stop for a break or enjoy a picnic. From here, the trail continues on, past some pictographs, and eventually up an old dirt road and back to the White Rock parking lot.
This is an easy to moderate hike, unless you choose to add on La Madre Spring, in which case, it is a little more demanding. You can begin this hike from the White Rock parking area, as described above, or from the Lost Creek Parking area or Willow Spring Picnic Area.
8. Turtlehead Peak Trail
For a heart-pumping climb to an outstanding view over the park and beyond to Las Vegas, look no farther than Turtlehead Peak. This is a strenuous five-mile hike with approximately 2000 feet of elevation, and it will require some scrambling over rocks. Exposed ledges are also part of this hike, so it may not be appropriate for children.
The exertion is well worth the reward. If you are an experienced hiker, you will enjoy this trail.
The trail leaves from the Sandstone Quarry parking area. It begins by crossing a wash, and then leads up a gully, climbing past sandstone crags and formations, and then comes to a Y junction, where the trail becomes a loop up to the summit. Navigation can be tricky, with sections that are difficult to distinguish as a trail and other paths intersecting with the Turtlehead Peak trail.
9. Petroglyph Wall
For a bit of ancient history, check out the Petroglyph Wall trail. Not really a hike per se, this 0.25-mile trail takes you to a good collection of symbols etched on a sandstone wall. This is a perfect family walk, as the trail is level as it ascends slightly up a wash to the site.
The petroglyphs are estimated to be over 800 years old, and their meanings are open to interpretation. The trailhead is at the Willow Springs Picnic Area, which makes it ideal for lunch, either before or after the trail.
10. Pine Creek Canyon
One of the best family hikes at Red Rock Canyon is the Pine Creek Canyon trail. This easy trail is three miles in length with minimal elevation gain and has features that every member of the family will enjoy.
For an enjoyable hike as a family, count on an hour or two. This will give the kids time to scramble up and down the large boulders and explore the old homestead. While you look around the ruins, give some thought to how hard life would have been out here in the wilderness way back when.
In the spring, a riot of wildflowers pops up through the desert scrub and gives the brown and tan landscape a splash of color.
When is the best time to visit Red Rock Canyon for Hiking?
The best times to visit Red Rock Canyon for hiking are in the spring and fall. In the spring, you'll have the best chance of seeing the colorful desert flowers in bloom, and water will be in the Calico Tanks. In the fall, the summer temperatures will have calmed down, making midday and late-day/sunset hiking possible. Winter is also a fine time to visit, but mornings can be quite cold and the days short.
Where to Stay near Red Rock Canyon
Most people who visit Red Rock Canyon come here on a day trip from Las Vegas. For easy access to the park, a hotel on the west side of the city is the best option. However, if you are most interested in seeing Las Vegas and just doing a single trip to Red Rock Canyon, you may want to base yourself on, or near, the Las Vegas Strip, and commute to the park, just 30 minutes away. Below are some highly-rated hotels in Las Vegas:
- If the main purpose of your trip is to explore Red Rock Canyon, the best place to stay is the luxury Red Rock Resort & Spa, just a five-minute drive from the park. It offers luxurious rooms and suites, an outstanding outdoor pool complex, and a variety of on-site dining options. Alternatively, you can immerse yourself in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, just 30 minutes away.
- Fine options in great locations here include the renowned Caesars Palace or the opulent Italian-themed The Venetian Resort Las Vegas.
- About a 30-minute drive from Red Rock Canyon, but just a five-minute walk from the Strip, the Marriott's Grand Chateau offers lovely, spacious rooms and villas. Villas offer full kitchens, perfect for self-catering. Just south of the Strip, and only a 20-minute drive to the park, Staybridge Suites Las Vegas is another good mid-range hotel, with free breakfast. Both of these hotels have seasonal outdoor pools.
- For a little more Las Vegas action, The LINQ Hotel & Experience features basic but trendy rooms in a fabulous, central location along the Strip, near the High Roller Ferris Wheel.
- At the upper end of the budget range, but just a 10-minute drive to Red Rock Canyon, is La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Las Vegas RedRock, with comfortable rooms, a small outdoor pool, and complimentary breakfast.
More Related Outdoor Articles on PlanetWare.com
Hiking and Camping near Las Vegas: Another great area for hiking within easy reach of Las Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park. Many of these are short but spectacular trails. For a complete look at the trails see our article on the Best Hikes in Valley of Fire State Park. If you are a camper looking to pitch a tent or set up your RV nearby, check out our article on the Best Campgrounds near Las Vegas.