Only thirty minutes from the Las Vegas Strip is a scenic wonderland filled with beauty and diverse landscapes. It's also a hiker's playground with over thirty designated trails and the ability to combine those trails in an almost limited array of loops and challenges of varying length and difficulty.
Welcome to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, one of only 16 areas of public land in the United States with that designation. Red Rock is managed by the Southern Nevada Conservancy under a formal agreement with the Bureau of Land Management.
This post discusses the 13-mile scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon and the major stops along the way.
There are sections of Red Rock Canyon that you can get to without paying a fee. However, to reach the Visitors Center and/or drive the Scenic Drive, there is an entrance fee of $15 per car. But, if you have a federal Annual Parks Pass, Senior Pass, or Access Pass, your entrance fee is covered.
There are usually several cars parked at the entrance taking photos for good reason.
Once through the entrance gate, you can go the Visitors Center or bear right and start in immediately on the Scenic Drive. The Visitors Center is fantastic, so we would recommend stopping there first.
The facility blends into the landscape nicely, and native plants adorn the gardens.
Inside, we watched the video about the park, got great suggestions about some hiking from the information desk, and checked out many of the exhibits. There is also a large gift shop.
Out the back door are more open-air, outdoor exhibits, and interactive areas with sculptures and excellent views.
We've traveled all over the country and visited lots of National Parks and other federal park units, and I have to say that this Visitors Center is one of the nicest in the country.
We left the Visitors Center and circled back to the Scenic Drive which is a one-way, paved road. Though it is not painted as two lanes, it is wide enough for those in a hurry to get around those that are taking more time. And it's in excellent condition.
Here's a map of the park and drive which runs counter-clockwise from the entrance and Visitors Center.
The first stop on the road is the Calico Hills parking area known as Calico I. It's probably the most popular stop on the loop as that's where the rocks transition from pink to red.
The information sign says "Sand Dunes Frozen In Time".
You can view and photograph the rocks from the parking lot, or you can get up close and personal on the various trails at the base of the rocks.
If you'd like to hike, it's a one mile hike from the Calico I parking to the Calico II parking which is the next stop on the loop. But then you have to make the return trip to get to your car.
As you can see, there are more trails from this parking area, and Calico II seems to have fewer people than Calico I. But the ability to explore the rocks is just as good if not better.
The next parking area is Sandstone Quarry.
Sandstone Quarry is at the end of the Calico Hills where the red sandstone transitions to white sandstone. It's 1.2 miles from Calico II and 2.2. miles from Calico I if you are walking.
It's also the trailhead for the popular Calico Tanks and Turtlehead Peak hikes.
The next stop is at the highest elevation on the loop at 4,771 feet, and it is appropriately named High Point Overlook.
It provides a panoramic view of the Calico Hills and the mountains on the opposite side of the valley.
From there, beyond the red rocks, you can see Las Vegas in the distance.
Next, there is a rough gravel road that most people skip. If you take it, it leads to the White Rock parking area where several trails begin.
If you skip the White Rock side road, you will start to descend in a curvy section and there is another side road. But this road to Lost Creek and Willow Spring is paved, at least to the Willow Spring Picnic Area, and it's a more popular spur due to some flowing water and, therefore, higher odds of seeing early-morning wildlife.
On this road, you'll first come to the Lost Creek parking area on your left where you can walk the half-mile Lost Creek - Children's Discovery Loop Trail.
That short trail is listed as Easy to Moderate, and though it's not difficult, there are some rocky sections and it's not exactly an easy stroll. The opening section in the photo above is a bit deceiving, as the middle part of the trail requires some uphill walking and some minor scrambling.
Continuing past the Lost Creek parking area, you will come to the Willow Spring parking area.
At Willow Spring, there are picnic tables, restrooms, and a 1.5-mile trail a portion of which is paved and wheelchair accessible.
Across from the picnic area is an easy, short trail to a Petroglyph Wall (0.2 miles roundtrip).
It's not the best petroglyph panel, but it's a nice little walk.
Beyond the Willow Spring area, the road turns to gravel and while not bad at first, it gets rough quickly and only high clearance vehicles are recommended. Most people don't go beyond Willow Spring.
Back out on the main scenic loop road, you come to the parking area for the Ice Box Canyon, a popular 2.2-mile trail into a shady, cool box canyon. It's especially popular in the hotter months.
The next stop is the Red Rock Wash Overlook. It didn't look interesting from the road, so we skipped that one.
And then we came to the Pine Creek Canyon parking area and trailhead.
Pine Creek Canyon is the last designated place right on the paved road to stop on the Scenic Drive, but there is one more potential stop back a decent gravel drive - the Oak Creek Canyon area.
Not far past the Oak Creek Canyon turn, the one-way Scenic Drive ends at Nevada Hwy 159.
A left will take you back toward the Visitors Center, but before then you may want to stop at the Red Rock Overlook which has a nice parking area (it will be on your left).
If your timing is good and the lighting is right, the views are outstanding.
So, if you are in the Las Vegas area, and you enjoy beautiful landscapes, take a half day or so and enjoy the Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
And if you love hiking or rock climbing, consider staying at the campground for a few days to take advantage of the multiple opportunities in the various canyons.
We'll definitely be back to camp for a few more days.