Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
Great place to bike
ILNP Park Review
Our Visit I visited Red Rock Canyon during an extended trip to Las Vegas in February-March.
Our Weather Mid ’60s to ’70s temperatures and mostly clear to partly cloudy skies but windy
Overall Impression Nevada isn’t widely known for its natural beauty, and most people don’t travel to Las Vegas for the outdoor activities, but Red Rock Canyon, just miles from downtown Vegas, rivals many National Parks in its uniqueness and rugged beauty. Massive red and white rock formations rise from the cactus-laden brown valley, pine forests and streams await those willing to hike into the mountains, and the single one-way road through the park is a haven for cyclists and runners.
Visiting You can drive the main road through the park and make a few stops at some of the overlooks in about an hour. While this drive is full of great views, you really need to get off the road to experience the park. If you plan to spend more time in the park, the Visitors Center is a good place to start. It’s a nice center and has a gift shop, exhibits and turtles which will interest kids and adults. From the visitors center, you can hop onto the 13-mile, one-way scenic drive through the park. Watch out for cyclists and runners!
The park consists of two main areas of interest. On the northeast side of the park are the striated red limestone rocks of the Calico area. On the west side of the park is the banded sandstone of the Red Rock Escarpment and its canyons and pine forests. Both offer numerous hikes, and there are a few 4-wheel drive trails into the canyons.
The Calico area is home to a large, striated red rock formation a few miles long. While the parking areas offer views of the rocks, it’s worth at least a short hike down into the rocks to get a closeup view of their unique texture and coloring. If you have a few hours, and it’s a nice day, consider a hike up to the Calico Tanks from the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. This trail is strenuous and requires some scrambling in places, but at the end are a large pool which fills with water seasonally and a great view of Las Vegas and the valley. As you drive to the west from the Calico area (it’s one-way, you have to), the High Point Overlook is worth a stop.
On the north and east side of Calico is the Calico Basin area. This portion of Red Rock Canyon is outside the fee area, and the major parking area is at Red Spring. Red Spring is home to a picnic area and long boardwalk, and it also provides a good starting point to do a little rock scrambling into the Calico formation. A rocky trail runs up to a ridge line from the boardwalk. From the top of the ridge, it’s easy to get into the rocks. A word of caution–there are cliffs and loose rocks in this area, so watch your step and be careful with children. One of these rock ledges provided the spot for the adjacent photo which was my favorite from this trip.
The Red Rock Escarpment forms the western side of the park. These rocks and canyons rival many national parks and are worth a hike. No matter which of the trails you choose, you’ll be making a hike to get into the canyons. The first opportunity is the Lost Creek area, a spur off the main road. A short hike from the Willow Springs Picnic Area on this road takes you to a small series of petroglyphs. They aren’t the most interesting petroglyphs I’ve ever seen, but the short hike is easy and doesn’t take long. Another short trail takes you into the Lost Creek Canyon area. This trail is short but full of large rocks and steps and is not for everyone. It takes you through a natural tunnel of rocks to the base of a seasonal waterfall. When I visited in early March, the waterfall was just a small shower of drops from the cliff overhead.
As you drive further southwest, you drive further along the escarpment. Trails to Ice Box Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon all lead into the escarpment. All of these areas require a hike across a mile or so of desert before reaching the rocks. I hiked into Pine Creek Canyon where the desert quickly gives way to a sparse forest of tall pine trees and scrub oaks among the red rocks. Upon reaching the canyon, the trail somewhat disappears, and you’re left to find your way up the washes. In the canyon, I followed the sound of water to Pine Creek where I found a series of small pools and short waterfalls–a rewarding find in the Nevada desert.
Suggestions This is still the desert, so take plenty of water and some food if you plan on any hiking. This is a popular spot for runners, cyclists and bikers, so be sure to keep your eyes on the road. Red Rock Canyon is a very popular place, especially on the weekends, and the parking lots fill up fast–consider arriving early morning just after the gates open for both cooler weather and less crowds. A word about the trails–unlike the National Park Service who likes to keep clear trails, the BLM trails in this park are more generalizations than clear trails in many areas. The BLM term for this is “unimproved”, but I believe this is code for “where the heck did the trail go?” This makes it easy to explore, but it also increases the likelihood of getting lost. Consult a park guide (picked up at either the visitors center or entrance station) for trail lengths and pay attention to the level of the trail–a strenuous trail means you will be scrambling over rocks or changing your elevation significantly, and I found the trail classifications to be accurate. If you want to see some of the sites but don’t want to pay the daily entrance fee, there are options to experience Red Rock Canyon from outside the fee area. Red Spring and other areas in nearby Calico Basinare good for hiking, and the Red Rock Overlook south of the entrance station on highway 159 offers a great view of the Red Rock Escarpment, especially at sunrise. The Oak Creek Canyon and First Creek Canyon trails can both be easily accessed from parking lots outside the fee area.
Nearby Towns Las Vegas (Nevada)
Other Nearby Attractions Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Lake Mead NRA, Valley of Fire State Park
Official BLM Website Red Rock Canyon NCA
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